The cabinet has approved the format of contracts on property restitution compensations that will be signed with religious institutions. The Czech government is set to pay out a total of 59 billion crowns over the next 30 years to churches and other religious institutions as compensation for property that was confiscated by the communist regime. Prime Minister Petr Nečas is hoping to sign the contracts before the end of the week. The Social Democratic and the Public Affairs parties have said that the government should wait until the Constitutional Court issues a decision on their suits against the restitution law. One part of the complaint lodged by the Social Democrats claims that the government does not have the right to sign civil contracts concerning government property with legal entities.
The opposition Social Democrats have lodged a constitutional complaint against the law on church restitutions in a last-ditch attempt to scupper an agreement that continues to divide Czech society. Their decision to challenge the law is perfectly legitimate, but some of the arguments behind it have raised eyebrows.
The Social Democrats have filed a constitutional complaint against the law on church restitutions. The complaint is based on the argument that the scope of the restitution, which amounts to 135 billion crowns, is inflated and churches are allegedly set to receive more than was confiscated by the communist regime after 1948. Senator Jeroným Tejc, who filed the complaint in his name on Monday, noted that 7 of the 17 churches and religious groupings who are benefactors under the restitution law did not even exist before the fall of communism in 1989. The law’s critics also warn that the legislation could open the door to claims for property seized by the state before the communists took power in 1948. The restitution law, approved by Parliament late last year, envisages a transfer of land and property to the tune of 75 billion crowns and compensation money for the rest to the tune of 59 billion crowns to be paid by the state over a period of 30 years.
After a meeting with president-elect Miloš Zeman, the head of the Public Affairs deputies’ group in Parliament Katerina Klasnová said that the future president commended her party for filing a constitutional complaint over the church property restitution law. The two also agreed on the need to increase the powers of the Supreme Audit Office. Later on Thursday afternoon Mr Zeman was also due to hold talks with the Communist Party leader Vojtěch Filip. A meeting with TOP 09 leader Karel Schwarzenberg, Mr. Zeman’s unsuccessful rival in the presidential election, has been scheduled for Friday. The newly-elected head of state is still refusing to meet with the leader of the newly-emerged political grouping LIDEM, a break-away faction from the Public Affairs Party, on the grounds that it lacks legitimacy.
The Constitutional Court will not deliberate on the complaint filed by members of the Public Affairs party over the law on church property restitution, because not enough parliamentarians had signed it. The Public Affairs party asked the court to strike the law down. The head of the party, Radek John, said that the requirement to have either 41 deputies from the lower house or 17 senators sign such a request to be considered by the court was discriminatory. He added that he plans to approach senators for support. Communist deputies are also preparing to file a legal complaint against the restitution law that was pushed through in the fall by the governing coalition.
The two candidates heading into the runoff have already begun battling for supremacy. In a news conference at his election headquarters, Karel Schwarzenberg described Mr. Zeman as a man of the past (he also sang the Czech national anthem). The latter replied about an hour later by saying that Mr. Schwarzenberg was a man of the present, in that he was responsible for the actions of the current government, including tax rises, pension reform and church restitution. He also highlighted the link between his opponent and his TOP 09 colleague Miroslav Kalousek, who is seen as the de facto head of the party and as finance minister is the chief architect of the financial reforms. Mr. Zeman said the runoff would be a left-right vote along the lines of the Hollande-Sarkozy battle for the presidency in France last year.
The opposition Public Affairs party has filed a complaint to the
Constitutional Court over the restitution of church property, its deputy
head said on Friday. The group complains about alleged irregularities in
the procedure in the lower house of Parliament, which approved the deal,
and other issues. The court received the complaint on December 31, its
Last November, the Czech Parliament approved a massive church property restitution deal under which the Roman Catholic Church and other religious group will get back property confiscated by the communist regime worth around 75 billion crowns; they are also set to receive another 59 billion in compensation for property that cannot be returned.
The Finance Ministry has announced that it is expecting the deficit for this year to reach five percent of the GDP, in comparison to last year’s 3.3 percent, due in large part to the recently approved church property restitution bill and problems with drawing of EU funds this year. In October, the ministry was still counting on an annual deficit of 3.2 percent, but Friday’s fiscal outlook shows a different prognosis.
Speaking on Wednesday, Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek said that a recently approved church restitution bill would have an impact on the budget for this year, even though the state has not yet begun making payments to church organisations. He said that was because under European Union rules the CZK 59 billion would have to be accounted as a one-off outlay this year. Mr. Kalousek said the 2012 budget deficit could therefore reach 5 percent of gross domestic product, rather than the projected 3.5 percent.
Leaders of Jewish organizations, government officials and experts from a number of countries came to Prague this week to review the restitution of Jewish property taken during the Holocaust. The conference, which focused specifically on the area of immovable property, was held three years since the adoption of the Terezín Declaration, a document that sought to ease the process. The conference found that although some progress has been achieved, the declaration seems to have failed to accelerate the restitution of Holocaust-era assets.