Current Affairs On eve of appointment, coalition still at loggerheads over deputy ministers
A new three-party government is just about to be sworn in. However, even before it takes up office, coalition leaders are already butting heads. The Social Democrats want their choice to be a deputy under ANO chief Andrej Babiš at the Ministry of Finance, in line with long-standing tradition. He insists he alone will decide on who gets the job.
On Wednesday, ministers from the Social Democrats, ANO and the Christian Democrats will be sworn in at a ceremony at Prague Castle. But one sizable issue surrounding the new coalition will remain unresolved.
The largest party, the Social Democrats, are insisting that a hitherto tradition among coalitions be maintained – namely that ministers from one grouping accept deputy ministers nominated by the others.
In concrete terms, they want their man Jiří Peřina to be deputy minister for taxation under finance minister Andrej Babiš, who is chairman of ANO.
Mr. Babiš refuses to countenance that appointment, leading Social Democrats leader and prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka to accuse him of trying to create his own fiefdom at the ministry.
The Social Democrats’ soon to be human rights minister Jiří Dientsbier told Czech Television there were sound reasons for following previous practice.
“It’s about the coalition working well. It’s like the agreement we reached during negotiations that all party leaders be in the government – in order to simplify communication. Similarly, it’d be good if all the parties had deputies at the ministries where they don’t have a minister. It’s for the same reason – so we don’t have to deal with any failures of communication and can push through the government’s programme effectively.”
However, talks on Monday evening between the two main party leaders failed to produce a resolution, with Andrej Babiš evidently digging his heels in on the issue.
“I just went through the coalition agreement again and there’s no mention of deputies in it. It’s a tradition but it’s a stupid one. Everybody should be responsible for their own ministry. A key deputy’s role just can’t be annexed by a partner. In the past what happened was that a minister came from some party but a deputy from a different party created some trouble or corruption scandal – making the whole ministry look bad.”
While the ANO boss insists on keeping the deputy for tax issues in his own hands, he says he would accept nominees from the other parties in different deputy ministerial posts.
For now the dispute has been put on the back burner, with further talks scheduled for Friday. But the Social Democrats only have three more seats than ANO in the lower house – and which side comes out on top could provide some indication of the real division of power in the centre-left coalition.