Green-tinged cracks appear in ruling coalition but collapse unlikely for now

Cracks seem to be appearing in the three-party ruling coalition over a number of issues, but are they deep enough to cause a real crisis? A gulf seems to be opening up between the Green Party and their coalition allies - the Civic Democrats and the Christian Democrats. But with a vote on crucial tax reforms due in early June, the coalition has no choice but to maintain a semblance of unity.

The Greens do not seem to be singing from the same hymn sheet on many issues, but chief among them is the plan to allow Washington to station a radar base on Czech territory as part of its missile defence system. Green Party chairman Martin Bursik says there is little point in the Czechs tearing their hair out over the radar base, when the U.S. Congress hasn't even agreed to pay for it yet.

Deputy chairman Ondrej Liska, meanwhile, has suggested the Greens might support a referendum on the issue - something deeply opposed by the other two parties. And the Green Party's Plzen chapter (the radar base would be located in the Plzen region) - has called on the party leadership to do everything in its power to stop the base going ahead.

Jan Zahradil
The Greens also don't like the Civic Democrats' choice of MEP Jan Zahradil as the country's chief negotiator on drawing up a new constitutional treaty for Europe. The two parties are like chalk and cheese when it comes to Europe - the Greens are largely pro-federalist, the Civic Democrats won't even utter the dreaded phrase "European constitution". The Green Party doesn't like Mr Zahradil's suggestion that individual EU states should retain an ironclad veto in certain issues.

Meanwhile, in domestic affairs, the Greens have repeatedly issued ultimatums calling for deputy PM and Christian Democrat leader Jiri Cunek to step down from his cabinet post until he clears his name over bribery allegations. Those ultimatums have been completely ignored.

The Greens also don't want to see Vaclav Klaus win a second term as president. Mr Klaus is supported by the Civic Democrats, the party he founded in the early 1990s. But his anti-environmentalist stance has won the Green Party's lasting enmity.

And on a related issue, and one of crucial importance to the Green Party - introducing a tax for people who use coal for heating their homes, the so-called environmental tax. Here too the Greens have found little understanding among their coalition partners.

It's not just Greens vs everyone else. There are rumours that the Civic Democrats are unhappy with the Christian Democrat Defence Minister Vlasta Parkanova, believing she's simply not up to the job. There is no way, however, that Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek can countenance removing her now, before June's crucial tax reform vote. The Christian Democrats would be furious.

But despite these obvious differences of opinion in the cabinet, it is unlikely to collapse any time soon. This is because there is little alternative. Dissolving parliament and calling new elections is extremely difficult in this country. And even if there were new elections, they might not change anything. The most recent opinion poll suggested that the result would be identical to that of last June, when a 100-100 left-right split in parliament produced seven months of political stalemate.