‘It was not a good year’: President Zeman sees vaccination, nuclear power, ending tax exemptions as way out of myriad crises

Miloš Zeman

President Miloš Zeman used his traditional Christmas address to call on the government sworn into office the week before to take bold steps to tackle three major challenges: the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the looming energy crisis, and a ballooning budget deficit.

“It was not a good year,” President Zeman said at the outset of his speech, in which he mentioned the Christmas holiday only once and laid out a litany of issues.

NATO’s withdrawal from Afghanistan has returned the Taliban to power and undermined global security, the European Union faces an energy crisis and soaring prices due to its embrace of the Green Deal, and the coronavirus pandemic rages on.

The Czech head of state has long warned of what he sees as an existential threat to Europe posed by Islamist and ecological “extremists”. But in a striking reversal, President Zeman used his Christmas speech to advocate for mandatory vaccinations against Covid-19.

“This pandemic has returned in many waves. We are always pleased when the number of infections drops, only to face an even worse wave a few weeks or months later. I see vaccination as the only way out of this pandemic.”

“Those who say that their ‘freedom’ is threatened by vaccination probably would not try to stop a someone from committing suicide by jumping out a window, out of respect for their freedom to choose, and thus his death.”

President Zeman – whose lengthy hospitalisation due to an undisclosed chronic illness and subsequent bout with Covid-19 had delayed the swearing-in of the new government – said Austria’s approach had inspired his gradual embrace of mandatory vaccinations.

The new government of by Prime Minister Petr Fiala, he said, is well aware that it has three crucial tasks ahead of it: to suppress the pandemic, tackle the energy crisis and soaring prices, and stabilize the state budget.

Abandoning the EU Green Deal and bolstering Czech nuclear energy capacity, President Zeman argued, will be key to reversing the sharp rise in electricity and natural gas prices – now on course to rise a further 30 percent and 50 percent in 2022, respectively.

“Let’s move on to the last problem, and that is the budget. I have said publicly that I consider the draft state budget, as presented, insufficiently pro-investment and insufficiently economical, and that I have considered vetoing it. (…)

“I present to you a proposal that I have repeatedly expressed in my speeches on the budget in the lower house of Parliament. That proposal is to abolish tax exemptions.

“If all tax exemptions were abolished, I said it would save 380 billion crowns, which is almost as much as the estimated state budget deficit this year.

“So we would have a balanced budget and we would not owe future generations. But there is one catch. Behind every tax exemption lies the lobby group that fought for it.”

President Zeman concluded by calling upon the government to take bold rather than “cosmetic” steps to rein in the deficit, wrapping up his speech with the famous words of John F Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”