Government’s fall may weaken Czech EU presidency, slow down reforms

Karel Schwarzenberg, photo:

The collapse of Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek’s centre-right government has opened a great many questions – who will be at the helm in the coming months, how will this development affect the country’s EU presidency and the Czech Republic’s ability to deal with the effects of the global financial crisis? Political analyst Jiří Pehe says the main decision is now in the hands of one man – the country’s president.

“The Czech Republic now has to find a new government and the country’s president, Mr. Václav Klaus has now become the main player on the political chessboard. It is really almost entirely up to him what the next move will be. He may decide to appoint Mr. Topolánek as head of a caretaker government and leave him and his government in office until the end of the Czech EU presidency but he may also decide to name a completely new government, so I guess we will know more at the end of this week.”

As you said we are in the middle of the EU presidency, we are in the middle of an economic crisis – how much damage will this do?

“Well, as far as this government is concerned I think that many people wished for it to go, but at the same time I think it was very unfortunate that this government was defeated in the middle of the Czech EU presidency. Not that it has not happened in the history of the EU, but the Czech Republic is one of the newer members and this will be seen by the rest of the EU as another sign of instability and a lack of trustworthiness on the part of the new members as such. So in a way the Czech Republic has just damaged not only its own reputation but also that of the other new members. I think that as of now the presidency will be very inefficient simply because the Czechs will be reduced to organizing meetings and taking care of organizational matters but as far as political leadership is concerned I think that other countries will take over simply because a government that does not have legitimacy at home can hardly have any legitimacy on the European level.”

Would it be more advantageous for the Czech Republic if this government were left in office for the reminder of the country’s EU presidency?

“From my point of view I think this government has worked on the European level quite well, it has done a reasonably good job and it knows the ropes, so it would be detrimental to get rid of this government and start from scratch.”

We are also in the middle of an economic crisis, there are reforms to be undertaken. Does this spell an end to reforms in the country?

“Yes, I think that the Czech Republic will not see any reforms for at least a year or two because whatever government takes over before the elections it will not be able to introduce any reforms and of course any new government will need time, so at least for a year or two we will not see any reforms in the Czech Republic. But then, we don’t really need any radical reforms at this point, what we need is a good manager, that is a government that manages things well, is able to respond to various concrete crises and meet the needs of entrepreneurs and people who are loosing jobs – and for that I don’t think we need any significant reforms but the problem is of course that even this role – the role of manager – may be undermined now.”

So when do you forsee early elections in the Czech Republic – if at all?

“I am pessimistic about the prospect of early elections. Despite the fact that the two largest parties are talking about early elections it is extremely difficult –under the Czech Constitution - to trigger early elections. We would need a constitutional majority to pass a special constitutional amendment in order to hold early elections because the three scenarios that are described in the Czech Constitution (which could open the way to early elections) are so rigid that they are basically useless. So my feeling is that there will be a lot of talk about early elections but in the end we will be lucky to have early elections at the beginning of next year, and it is more likely that we will simply have regular elections in June 2010 and until then the Czech Republic will be governed by a government of experts.”