President Pavel tells government pensioners should not carry burden of economizing alone

Petr Pavel

Czech President Pavel has signed into law a controversial government proposal to reduce the indexation of old age pensions in June of this year. At the same time, he said the procedure by which it has been pushed through Parliament was dubious and the law’s validity should be assessed by the Constitutional Court.

It was the first major test in office for the new Czech head of state. Less than a week after his inauguration President Pavel found himself in the unenviable position of “arbitrator” between the ruling parties and the opposition over a bill that would cut the projected growth in old age pensions guaranteed by law depending on the given level of inflation.

The ruling coalition is seeking to invalidate the mechanism, saying the country can no longer afford the expense in view of the poor state of public finances. The opposition claims the government is robbing the most vulnerable group of society.

Announcing his first major political decision in office, Petr Pavel admitted there were valid points on both sides.

“This decision has not been an easy one to make. Given the circumstances there is no good solution to the problem, certainly not a solution that would be good for everyone.”

The president said that what tipped the scales in favour of the bill was the growing deficit in public finances and the fact that by vetoing it he would only add to the existing complications.

He moreover refused the role of arbitrator saying that the Constitutional Court alone has the right to judge whether the law –which is to be applied retroactively and was approved in a state of legislative emergency – was in violation of the Constitution.

“If I were to use my right of veto under the present circumstances, it would be an absolute veto, because the lower house would not have time to overrule it. And in that I would be abusing the situation and overstepping my powers. The only authority that can judge whether it is legally in order is the Constitutional Court. The opposition has said it will file a complaint about it. If, for whatever reason it does not, I would file such a complaint myself.”

Plenum of the Constitutional Court | Photo: Constitutional Court

The president said he understood the government’s need to rein in the spiraling deficit and slow down the growth in pensions. However he took a swipe at the ruling parties, saying he was “greatly concerned” to hear they had refused an opposition bid to consider freezing their own salaries to help lower the deficit in spending.

“I am convinced that in these difficult times, it is not possible to cut the growth of pensions on the one hand and to maintain the growth of salaries of state officials on the other. So I am calling on the government to cooperate with the opposition so as to ensure that we all economize, without distinction."

The ruling coalition welcomed the president’s decision to sign the bill into law and regarding his rebuke over the salary freeze, said it would present its own proposal to the lower house. Meanwhile the opposition ANO party says its legal experts are already working on a draft that would challenge the controversial pensions bill in the Constitutional Court.