Deputy to take interim charge of arts portfolio as Staněk finally goes

Antonín Staněk, photo: ČTK/Roman Vondrouš

Months after tendering his resignation, Antonín Staněk finally steps down as arts minister on Wednesday. He will be replaced in a temporary capacity by a deputy minister, though what will happen next at the Ministry of Culture remains most unclear.

Antonín Staněk,  photo: ČTK/Roman Vondrouš
Though not regarded as one of the key government departments, the Ministry of Culture has been the focus of political attention in the Czech Republic in recent months.

Minister Antonín Staněk of the Social Democrats tendered his resignation in mid-May but it was only accepted by Miloš Zeman this week.

The president is opposed to the Social Democrats’ choice of replacement, Michal Šmarda, and the party have threatened to exit the government over the matter.

Speaking alongside the outgoing minister at the arts ministry’s Nostic Palace on Wednesday, Prime Minister Andrej Babiš announced the name of his temporary replacement: deputy minister René Schreier.

“The media have major concerns about what will happen, but nothing at all will happen. Mr. Schreier has been assigned the role. If Minister Staněk remained in office and went on holiday tomorrow, he would probably also have had Mr. Schreier take over. So please don’t make a drama out of this. I can assure everybody the Ministry of Culture is working and will continue to work. There’s no reason for concern, and all the more so because of the government holiday.”

René Schreier,  photo: archive of Ministry of Culture
Mr. Staněk, who is regarded as being among those in the Social Democrats close to Mr. Zeman, again placed the blame for the current impasse with the party’s leadership.

“If my Social Democrat colleagues had perhaps been a little more accommodating, the Ministry of Culture might today have a full-fledged minister. That is not the case. But I believe this situation will be successfully resolved – and not to the benefit of one side or the other.”

Though the prime minister and his cabinet will be at least figuratively on the beach in the next fortnight, political observers will be keenly waiting to see what happens in mid-August.

That is the deadline that Mr. Babiš says President Zeman has set for the announcement of his decision on whether to give the arts portfolio to Mr. Šmarda.

This is despite the fact that under the constitution the head of state is merely meant to appoint ministers already selected by the head of government.

Prime Minister Babiš refused to be drawn on the matter on Wednesday.

Michal Šmarda,  photo: Michaela Danelová / Czech Radio
“The president has not yet made a definitive statement, so let’s wait for that… I don’t wish to comment. The president hasn’t said whether he will accept Mr. Šmarda, or respectively whether he is moving toward the acceptance of his nomination.”

Mr. Babiš also hit out at a journalist who quoted the Social Democrats as saying he was incapable and playing second fiddle to Mr. Zeman.

The prime minister listed his successes and then said he had fulfilled his duty by writing to the president saying that, under the coalition deal, the Social Democrats' candidate was Mr. Šmarda.

He then added, rhetorically, that he wasn’t capable of raping the president and must therefore be incapable.

Meanwhile constitutional law expert Jan Kysela says the temporary appointment of Mr. Schreier is wrong, even though deputy ministers have taken over at government departments in the past.

He told that not having a minister in place was in contravention of both the constitution and the Competence Act.