TOP 09 demand opens fresh fissure in weak coalition

Miroslav Kalousek, photo: Filip Jandourek

Within hours of being elected president, Miloš Zeman called for early parliamentary elections, leading to speculation about the chances of Petr Nečas’s right-of-centre coalition serving its full term. Now the embattled prime minister is coming under pressure from within: TOP 09, perhaps buoyed by their chairman’s showing in the presidential vote, on Tuesday issued a demand that opens a fresh fissure in the government.

Miroslav Kalousek,  photo: Filip Jandourek
The Czech Republic and the U.K. are the only states in the European Union not to have signed up to the bloc’s Fiscal Compact, which sets strict limits on the budgets of eurozone states.

On Tuesday, the second biggest grouping in the Czech government, TOP 09, announced they would only sign a revised deal setting the agenda for the remaining 18 months of the three-party coalition - which is currently on the table - if it included a commitment to joining the fiscal pact by the end of the year. Such a move is opposed by mildly Eurosceptic coalition leaders the Civic Democrats.

TOP 09’s call came only days after its elderly chair Karel Schwarzenberg was defeated but still received over two million votes in the presidential election. The man regarded as the party’s de facto chief, Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek, said perhaps his colleague could instead become Prime Minister Schwarzenberg.

Industry and Trade Minister Martin Kuba, who is first deputy chairman of the Civic Democrats, says the timing of TOP 09’s demand appears significant.

Martin Kuba,  photo: Filip Jandourek
“I think the way it was sent to us, as an ultimatum and through the media, is likely because colleague Kalousek analyzed the use of any potential that arose through Mr. Schwarzenberg’s presidential campaign and now may be an advantageous time…It can be regarded as creating pressure and squabbles in the coalition that could eventually result in its collapse and early elections.”

There may perhaps be something in that. However, if anything Karel Schwarzenberg tried to distract attention from his involvement in TOP 09, and its unpopular economic policies, while on the hustings. Many who backed him for president have little affection for his party.

For his part, Miroslav Kalousek denies attempting to weaken the government or to exploit Mr. Schwarzenberg’s popularity.

“We firmly believe that we will extract electoral gains from our own policies, from what we are trying to do in good faith in the interests of the future. In our view the future lies in a pro-European policy, which means joining the Fiscal Compact.”

The Civic Democrat prime minister, Petr Nečas, says the country could sign up to the EU treaty after parliament approves a so-called financial constitution setting national limits on debt. Mr. Kalousek counters that other states have done things the other way around.

Karel Schwarzenberg,  photo: Filip Jandourek
The spat has been defused somewhat by TOP 09 statements that the coalition could continue even without a freshly agreed agenda, with Mr. Kalousek suggesting such deals are in any case largely a formality.

But that does not take away from the fact that if his party are to capitalise on the Civic Democrats’ unprecedented weakness and become the biggest force on the right, they are probably more likely to achieve that with Karel Schwarzenberg - still their greatest asset - on their posters. Given that he is 75 years of age, they would not perhaps be too put out if a general election took place before June 2014.