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New Czech coalition face a challenging agenda - interview with Petr Ježek

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Today (28 November), Petr Fiala has been appointed as Prime Minister of the Czech Republic by President Miloš Zeman. The appointment follows elections where the party in government won the most seats, but where a coalition of opposition parties acted together to form a coalition government*. EU Reporter spoke to former diplomat and former Liberal MEP Petr Ježek about the new government. 

EU Reporter (EUR): What do we know about Petr Fiala, the new Czech PM?

PJ (Petr Ježek): Fiala is a well-known and  experienced Czech politician. He was already a member of one of the former governments and the chairperson of the Czech, I would say, Conservative Party, which leads the coalition.

EUR: Is this a stable coalition?

PJ: It remains to be seen. The logic behind cementing this coalition was to bring a change and to topple the populist Prime Minister Andre Babis. There may be some differences between conservatives and liberals within the coalition, but I think that the bottom line is that they want to be responsible and bring the changes which will move the Czech Republic again into the family of normal regular European countries, because with a populist Prime Minister and populist president, it was not the case.

While welcoming the new government and the change it brings Ježek does not underestimate the challenges the new government faces. 

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PJ: I think that there are a number of issues which make life difficult for the new government, not not only that they are a partnership of five, but because there is still the president of the Czech Republic (Zeman), who with his aides and collaborators behave unscrupulously. They do whatever they want, regardless of the constitution, that's one problem. 

The other is the public service, people who were loyal to the Prime Minister were appointed and not on the basis of their qualifications and quality. So we have a very inefficient public service.  

The other problem will be that the opposition in the parliament will be either populists or extremist parties, where every mistake by the government will be used by them. In this respect, there is also a broader dimension [for the wider Visegrad region] that opposition to populist leaders in Hungary and Poland will need to team up and build broader coalition's in order to win, if the Czech Republic's coalition is success story, it will reinforce them, it will help them; but if not it may very well reinforce the populist leaders. So the responsibility is not only for the Czech Republic. 

Ježek says there is also quite a legacy for any incoming government.

PJ: First of all, there are pressing issues like the COVID pandemic, the energy prices and the huge budget deficit. These problems are enormous, but this aside there is also the need to deal with the failings of the previous government who failed to modernize the country. They didn’t improve the highways, not to mention new technologies or the green agenda.  So the government faces huge challenges that will not be easy in the face of an opposition made up of populists and extremists. 

EUR: Fiala’s party in part of the ECR group which also include the Polish Law and Justice Party, which is challenging the rule of law, in particular through the politicization of the judiciary. Do you think that Fiala will stand behind his Polish colleagues in the ECR group? Or will he take a different position that defends the rule of law?

PJ: I would say that Petr Fiala a realistic person and someone with good intentions. There is a certain legacy in the party of the former chairman Vaclav Klaus, who was Prime Minister and President and he was strongly against the euro and other aspects of closer European Union, which still hangs over the party and I would say that there is still quite a few MEPs, who are part of the ECR group, who share this view, who think that what happens in Hungary and Poland is just a case for the two countries and it has nothing to do with the EU. 

I hope that Fiala will bring together strands to transform the party along the lines of regular European right parties on the right, like CDU in Germany, for example, who would like to see all member states observe the rule of law and other commitments. I hope that when he meets his counterparts within the European Council, that it reinforces him, and it helps to shape his views on that issue.

EUR: Petr, I know you from your time as an MEP on the TAX3 Committee, which was set up after numerous scandals, such as LuxLeaks and the Panama Papers. A lot has happened over the last year, what do you think of these developments? And also, we know that one of the most prominent politicians who was mentioned in the most recent leak the Pandora papers was Andre Babis. Is that Is there anything happening about that? 

PJ: Well, I think that there's been huge changes not only in the atmosphere, but in the effort to make tax more just, in particular there are the OECD developments on a minimum corporate tax around the world. There is also a huge effort in the EU to eliminate problems related to tax avoidance and tax evasion. I think politicians realized that they must do something. There are some states who are delaying their efforts, but I would say that the pressure is enormous, and sooner or later, the situation will be significantly improved.

EUR: And former Prime Minister Babis?

PJ: One should know all the details. I think that the French authorities and the US authorities as well, because the US entity was involved, will investigate it all.

For the full interview please watch the video above.

*Fiala (ODS, ECR Group) will lead a coalition of five parties including: Mayors and Independents (STAN, EPP Group), Christian and Democratic Union – Czechoslovak People’s Party (KDU/ČSL, EPP), Tradition Responsibility Prosperity (TOP09, EPP) and the Czech Pirate Party (Piráti, Greens/EFA)

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