What can the new government achieve if it survives the next two years? And what ever became of Stanislav Gross's promise to have more women ministers?

Das neue tschechische Kabinett (Foto: CTK)

After over a month of talks the Czech Republic finally has a new government. Or rather a "new-old" government, featuring the same three parties that were in the last coalition: the Social Democrats, the Christian Democrats and the Freedom Union. New prime minister Stanislav Gross has been saying that the government - which has a majority of just one - aims to do more than simply survive until the next elections in 2006. But how much can they really achieve? And what ever became of Mr Gross's promise to have more women in cabinet?

The new government, photo: CTK
Speaking at Prague Castle on Wednesday, Prime Minister Stanislav Gross promised his "new-old" cabinet would go to work with great energy and ‚élan. He also said the two years until the next general elections was plenty of time to undertake serious, responsible and courageous tasks. But can his 18-member cabinet do more than just survive? That's a question I put to Vladimira Dvorakova of the Prague School of Economics.

"I think they can. In fact the situation is almost the same as it was with [Vladimir] Spidla's cabinet; that means they have a 101 majority in the Parliament. That's a very, very small majority. But it would depend on the situation in the political parties, mainly the situation in the Social Democrats, whether they would really support their cabinet.

"And maybe there would be problems with the Freedom Union. But if the political parties were somehow disciplined there is a chance to do a lot of things. Because in fact the programme that was started by Spidla will in some sense continue with some small changes."

If you were a betting woman would you bet that the cabinet of Mr Gross will last until 2006? Would you bet money on that happening?

"I would suppose that they will finish in 2006. It's possible."

What about the size of the cabinet? Eighteen members is unusually big - I think it's the biggest ever in the history of the Czech Republic. Do you think it's simply too big, as some people say?

"I think it's quite big; all the time when there are coalition partners sometimes you have cabinet posts only because it's necessary to do that during the bargaining over who will have which posts and so on.

"There was some criticism about the new minister who has no department, Mr Jahn, who is from Czechinvest. I think this is very positive - the person is very positive, very competent, and it's somehow necessary to strengthen the economic situation in the cabinet. There was somehow a lack of a real economist, and it will be necessary to co-ordinate [with the Finance and Industry and Trade Ministries].

"This person is not a member of any political party, he has no department, so he can be in some sense independent. He - it would depend on him - he can gain some authority. So I was not unhappy because of this growth of the cabinet. It's another question that some other departments or ministries could have been somehow joined, the problems and so on."

Analyst Vladimira Dvorakova was referring towards the end of that interview to Martin Jahn, a non-party technocrat who has been appointed deputy prime minister for the economy. Mr Jahn - at 34 the same age as the prime minister - is one of eight members of the cabinet who are under 40 years old.

Milada Emmerova, the new health minister, photo: CTK
But while Mr Gross may have delivered on his vow to bring more young people into government, a promise to have more women on the front benches has not really been fulfilled: of 18 cabinet members just two are female.

I discussed the issue of women in government, and Czech politics in general, with Eva Novakova, an MP for the prime minister's Social Democratic Party. She says the lack of women in cabinet simply reflects Czech society as a whole.

"It's a tradition here in the Czech Republic that even other women like bosses to be men. It's a traditional thing so I don't think it's Mr Gross's fault really."

The two women who are in the cabinet, Petra Buzkova who is the education minister and Milada Emmerova the new health minister, are both in what you might call 'caring' ministries. And the three other women who have been in cabinet since 1993 were all health ministers as well - does it bother you that women don't get appointed to more 'important' posts?

"Well, it's also the traditional role of women here in this republic to take care of children. I can imagine really women being in the Defence Ministry or whatever, but I don't think the men would be willing to put them in that place. So it's part of the tradition of this republic and we are even happy that we have these two women in the government."

The new government, photo: CTK
When you sit in the Chamber of Deputies most of the people around you, the vast majority, are men - does it ever feel like a kind of boy's club?

"Oh yes, it is something like a boy's club, you are right. You must behave a little bit like a man and you even have to dress a little bit like a man, because the temperature [in the Chamber] is lower because the men are dressed differently than women and we'd really like to change that.

"And even the time we spend there is suitable for men, not for women really. We sit there for a long time and discuss things, and women are quicker I think and wouldn't sit there before the holidays, and during the holidays, as the men do."

Would you say that most Czech men politicians would be glad if there were even less women in Parliament?

"Not less but definitely not more. They like women there because they like to talk to us and so on, but I think they sometimes don't take us as seriously as they would take men."