Current Affairs Miroslav Kalousek named Finance Minister of the Year for Emerging Europe 2011
Czech Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek has been named “Finance Minister of the Year for Emerging Europe 2011”, an award presented by the Washington-based Emerging Markets magazine. The award, given for Mr. Kalousek’s commitment to consolidating public finances amidst a worsening global outlook, is seen as confirmation of the Czech government’s prudent fiscal policy and on picking up the award a beaming Miroslav Kalousek was quick to promise the nation “more cuts in public spending” in the year to come.
The Czech finance minister beamed with pride as he picked up his award from Emerging Market’s magazine in Washington. All in all, it had been a good week. The minister’s draft budget for 2012 was approved unanimously by the cabinet and given the coalition government’s comfortably majority in the lower house there is little cause to fear for its fate. Even a downward revision of the country’s economic growth for next year left the minister undaunted:
“If the lower growth predictions turn out to be correct it will mean just one thing –we will have to progress from across-the-board cuts to very targeted and very effective cost-cutting measures.”
Mr. Kalousek’s tight hold on the purse string may not make him popular with his cabinet colleagues or the public, but his uncompromisingly frugal policy contributed to the country’s recently upgraded credit rating by Standard and Poor’s to AA- at a time when many other states are struggling to ward off downgrades.
While for a few hours at least the Czech finance minister could bask in the praise from foreign financiers, at home he can expect a cold reception. Not only has the government failed to find backing for its 2012 budget cuts and structural reforms from employers and trade unions, but the finance minister has come under fire for lack of political finesse and his manner of riding roughshod over any opposition he encounters. In recent days the finance minister made headlines for slapping a young man on the street who yelled insults at him, calling some of the country’s MEP’s “a bunch of insignificant idiots” and telling the prime minister through the media that he was in the post only thanks to his party’s godfathers. The prime minister retorted that he feared for the finance minister’s mental health. Commentator Jiri Pehe says that where the Czech Republic is concerned this kind of behaviour in top level politics has unfortunately become the norm and no longer surprises anyone.
“The country’s reputation has never been great in this respect. The Czech Republic may be known for having a rather good financial outlook, but it certainly does not have the reputation of being politically competent or being a well-run country. So I don’t think that these conflicts between the prime minister and finance minister or conflicts within the ruling coalition, come as a great surprise to observers abroad, simply because no one who has followed Czech politics for a certain period of time can have a very high opinion of Czech political culture. In general, I think Czech political culture has reached a point where it can only improve. It is very low right now and the exchanges we are witnessing are a syndrome of that.”