Government programme approved by lower house

Photo: CTK

The new centre-left coalition government headed by Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla narrowly won a vote of confidence on Wednesday in its first major test. All 101 deputies from the three parties in the coalition - Spidla's Social Democrats and the smaller centrist Christian Democrats and right-of-centre Freedom Union - voted in favour. In a predictably tight vote ninety-eight opposition MPs in the 200- seat parliament voted against. Pavla Horakova was there and talked to MPs before the vote.

Photo: CTK
Prime Minister Spidla has made the country's membership of the EU the key aim of his administration, but has put ambitions to join the euro on hold, due to plans to run high fiscal deficits as he creates a broader welfare state. The Czechs, along with nine other countries, are hoping to join the EU in 2004. Is this date really feasible, a question for Trade and Industry Minister Jiri Rusnok.

"I think the Czech Republic will be ready. The only question is will the EU be ready to accept new members."

I put the same question to MP Jaromir Kohlicek of the opposition Communists.

"I can't see any essential obstacle to this timing, whenever the EU is able to define its common agricultural policy and several other items."

Immediately after the confidence vote the newly approved cabinet got to work, meeting on Wednesday night to discuss the 2003 budget. They approved Finance Ministry plans for a record budget deficit of 157 billion crowns, about six percent of the gross domestic product. Plans to run high public deficits have aroused the fury of the right of centre opposition Civic Democrats. This aspect of the government's policy makes Civic Democrat MP Martin Kocourek think there is not a long life ahead of the ruling coalition.

"This plan of debts and deficits will be very dangerous for our economy, so I expect after two years some type of crisis in our economy. It will be the first situation when the government coalition will be under the pressure of the opposition and then we will see. Of course, also the final conditions for our entering the EU will be the next step for the coalition to show their force."

Communist MP Jaromir Kohlicek was even more sceptical in his estimates.

"I am not a visionary but 101 votes of such a heterogeneous coalition can't be something that could be for me an indication for the possibility for this government to survive for more than this year's preparatory action of the new year's budget."

To the question whether he thinks the coalition would last its full four-year term, Trade and Industry Minister Jiri Rusnok had only this to say.

"I hope."