Czech Right Seeks New Leader to Stave Off Elections

The Czech Republic’s ruling conservatives tried to find a replacement for Petr Nečas on Monday who resigned as premier a day earlier. They hope to continue their right-wing coalition although Nečas told reporters the same day that President Miloš Zeman would rather call early elections.

Nečas quit after prosecutors charged his chief of staff with bribery and illegally ordering military intelligence agents to conduct surveillance operations. She and seven more officials were arrested on Thursday in connection with graft scandals.

While Nečas denied personal involvement, the revelations embarrassed his own party as well as its liberal coalition partners who had staked their credibility on fighting corruption in a country that has had its fair share of political and business scandals since the collapse of communism. Read more “Czech Right Seeks New Leader to Stave Off Elections”

Corruption Scandal Tests Czech Right-Wing Coalition

The future of Czech prime minister Petr Nečas’ administration hinged on the support of junior coalition partners as of Saturday who said that they were considering whether to stay in government with him after a close aid to Nečas was detained over corruption charges.

A court in the eastern city of Ostrava ordered the detention of Jana Nagyová, who has been in charge of Nečas’ office for years. Prosecutors allege that she bribed politicians and illegally ordered military intelligence agents to conduct surveillance operations. Seven more officials were arrested on Thursday in connection with graft scandals.

Nečas’ own liberal conservatives do not have a majority in parliament. If either of his partners pulls out of the coalition, the government could fall, possibly triggering new elections or forcing President Miloš Zeman to appoint another premier. Read more “Corruption Scandal Tests Czech Right-Wing Coalition”

Leftist Former Prime Ministers Wins Czech Presidency

Former Czech prime minister Miloš Zeman won his country’s presidential runoff election on Saturday with 55 percent support against 45 percent for the libertarian candidate and incumbent foreign minister, Karel Schwarzenberg.

Zeman, who was a Communist Party member before the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, played a key role in the revival of the Czech Social Democratic Party after the end of the Cold War, which he led as premier between 1998 to 2002. He tried and failed to win its presidential nomination in 2003 after which he retired from politics.

Young and urban voters were skeptical of Zeman’s past and swayed by the incorruptible Schwarzenberg, who carried a fiscally conservative party he helped establish in 2009 to a third-place finish in 2010’s parliamentary election. It is now part of the country’s right-wing government. Read more “Leftist Former Prime Ministers Wins Czech Presidency”

Aristocrat, Leftist Square Off in Czech Presidential Election

Former Czech prime minister Miloš Zeman faces a tough election challenge from aristocrat Karel Schwarzenberg on Friday and Saturday in the second round of the Central European country’s presidential vote. Whichever candidate wins is likely to correct outgoing president Václav Klaus’ Euroskepticism in favor of a more conciliatory policy toward the rest of the continent.

Zeman, a Social Democrat who emerged as the frontrunner from the first election round earlier this month, framed the runoff as a choice “between a candidate from the left and one of the right” in an attempt to tap into voters’ dissatisfaction with the conservative government which has cut public spending, raised taxes and reined in pension payments to keep the nation’s budget shortfall under 3 percent of gross domestic product as prescribed by European fiscal treaty.

Schwarzenberg, a libertarian and the incumbent foreign minister, came in a surprisingly strong second in the first round of the election with 23 percent of the votes, knocking early favorite Jan Fischer, another former premier, out of the race. His popularity stems in part from the fact that he is untainted by corruption scandals while many Czech voters are suspicious of Zeman’s Communist past. Schwarzenberg has also made more of an effort to reach out to young voters. Read more “Aristocrat, Leftist Square Off in Czech Presidential Election”

Czechs, Poles to Keep German Green Energy Out

A German electricity transmission power, February 2, 2009
A German electricity transmission power, February 2, 2009 (Martin Lang)

The Czech Republic and Poland intend to build switches on their borders to keep German energy off their nets. Hopes of achieving a pan-European electricity market are undermined by Germany’s embrace of unreliable green energy production.

Germany wants to meet 80 percent of its energy needs by renewable production in 2050. To achieve the goal, it has doled out huge subsidies to encourage local green energy production and forces consumers to buy it. As a result, electricity prices have sharply increased. But the biggest problem is that intermittent wind and solar energy are causing Germany’s power grid to fluctuate.

Such fluctuations hit neighboring countries, tied in to the same net. Indeed, the Czech Republic and Poland alleviate the Germans of their electricity burden as their infrastructures absorb the fluctuations. No more, though. Read more “Czechs, Poles to Keep German Green Energy Out”

Ahead of Key Euro Summit, Germany Losing Allies

Ahead of a European Council summit on Thursday where leaders are scheduled to discuss plans for deeper economic integration, Chancellor Angela Merkel is losing support from countries that are typically considered German allies.

Although Northern European politicians are cautious not to stray too far from the German line, there is mounting concern in the Czech Republic, the Netherlands and Sweden that Merkel will succumb to French, Italian and Spanish pressure. Read more “Ahead of Key Euro Summit, Germany Losing Allies”

Czech Right-Wing Coalition May Cling to Majority

Prime Minister Petr Nečas of the Czech Republic in Paris, France, February 11, 2011
Prime Minister Petr Nečas of the Czech Republic in Paris, France, February 11, 2011

The Czech Republic’s right-wing government may cling to a legislative majority despite the defection of one of its partners. That would enable it to avoid elections and continue to implement a strict austerity agenda.

Deputy Prime Minister Karolina Peake of the minority Public Affairs party told the Reuters news agency that she had the ten votes necessary to provide a slim majority for the government.

With her statement, Peake parted with Public Affairs leader Radek John who announced on Monday that this party would go into “constructive opposition.”

The liberal anti-corruption party, which commands 24 seats in the Czech Chamber of Deputies, balked at government proposals to raise the value-added tax rate, slow the indexation of pensions and introduce enrollment fees at universities. The measures are part of an austerity package that is supposed to reduce the country’s deficit to under 3 percent of gross domestic product as is required by European fiscal treaty.

The collapse of the ruling coalition would throw the austerity plans in disarray as the opposition Social Democrats, who hold a nearly 20 percentage point lead in the polls, have vowed to repeal deep spending cuts.

If elections were held today, Prime Minister Petr Nečas’ conservative Civic Democratic Party would place third with 17 percent of the vote, behind the far left. Public Affairs would not win any seats.

Nečas had proposed to call a vote of confidence in parliament on Friday to test the support for his cabinet. If Peake is able to deliver the ten votes, the prime minister will seek to sign a new coalition agreement with her group.

The libertarian and pro-European TOP 09 party, led by Prince Karel Schwarzenberg, the foreign minister, is expected to enter a right-wing coalition again.

Political Cowardice Wrecking Europe’s New Right

In 2010, a new right rose in Europe. Parties that were or had become economically conservative and socially liberal came to power despite the left blaming their free-market ideology for the financial crisis. Now, the tides are turning.

Denmark’s Christian Democrats and liberals were ousted in September of last year after a decade in government and replaced by a left-wing administration.

Theirs had been a minority government, supported in parliament by the far-right and nationalist Danish People’s Party which parted with other two right-wing parties on entitlement and labor market reforms. By positioning itself as the champion of pensioners and the working class, the People’s Party appealed to a constituency which increasingly mistrusted the typically pro-European and pro-globalization conservatives and liberals.

In the Netherlands, a similar administration took office in September 2010. The liberal party had won the elections on a platform of economic repair and formed a minority cabinet with the Christian Democrats who had lost half of their seats, many of them to Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party, ideologically equivalent to the Danish People’s Party.

Wilders supported the conservative-liberal coalition in parliament until this weekend when he rejected additional austerity measures.

The government had initially planned only the barest possible of spending cuts but was forced to consider steeper reductions to bring the deficit under 3 percent of gross domestic product in 2013 per European treaty rules. Now, it may have lost the legitimacy and the majority to do so.

Prime Minister Petr Nečas’s center-right government of the Czech Republic is also aiming to balance the budget by reining in health-care and pension spending and raising taxes but it too could lose the support of one of its coalition partners, raising the possibility of parliamentary elections as early as June.

Like their Dutch counterparts, the Czech right-wing parties never made the philosophical argument for smaller government. The left-wing opposition, rallying with trade unions in the streets against “devastating” cuts and “asocial reforms,” is winning the public debate.

The godfather of Europe’s new right-wing movement, David Cameron, remains fairly popular in the polls despite enacting policies that are similar to his beleaguered counterparts on the continent. His “detoxification” of the Conservative Party brand of one that cares only for the rich hasn’t stopped the Labour opposition from credibly arguing that his government doesn’t care for the little guy though. It is only because of Labour’s ineffectual leader Ed Miliband that the party hasn’t managed to mount a more convincing stand against British austerity.

Cameron’s position is far from enviable however. His lackluster austerity agenda has failed to wield significant results. The British economy remains in recession but the political and public resistance to further budget restraint is so high that it’s probably too late now for the coalition to change its tone and argue that it’s shrinking government for anything but pragmatic reasons.

Margaret Thatcher didn’t win three elections telling voters that she didn’t have a choice but to enact unpopular austerity measures. She convinced them that it was the right thing to do.

When times are tough, people will be inclined to vote for the party that seems to them capable of managing the nation’s finances. As soon as a crisis is averted, which many left-wing parties seem to believe is the case, the political managers lose their appeal. People don’t just care for policy. They crave for a politics of vision.

Austerity is not an ideology. It is a means to an end but when the end is left unsaid, who but a masochist would vote for it? The left, at least, has its appeal to “fairness.” Europe’s right hasn’t dared articulate an alternative vision for fear of appearing asocial and losing elections — and now it’s losing anyway.

The Rise of a New Right in Europe

Old-school socialists may allege that the credit crunch once and for all proved that free-market capitalism and globalization had failed yet across Europe, a new generation of liberal and conservative politicians is stepping up who favor even smaller government.

In the wake of the financial crisis, social democrat and labor parties across Europe lost ground to both their larger conservative counterparts as well as third or fourth party liberals who championed deregulation and austerity. As countries braced for spending cuts this summer, from Britain to the Netherlands to the Czech Republic, voters had greater confidence in candidates who were frank about the need to slash public spending than politicians on the left who resisted any suggestion of welfare reform. Read more “The Rise of a New Right in Europe”

Political Right on the Rise in Central Europe

After the election of the conservative Fidesz party in Hungary last month, neighboring Slovakia is also taking a right turn, evicting the imcumbent prime minister in favor of an array of small parties campaigning of a platform of free-market capitalism and ethnic harmony.

Since the ascendance of a right-wing coalition in September 2002, Slovakia has pushed through market reforms and prospered spectacularly. Major privatizations, especially in finance, are nearly complete while foreign investment is rising. Slovakia does suffer from a high unemployment rate, currently second in Europe. The country has been a member of the European Union and of NATO since 2004 and adopted the euro in January 2009.

Prime Minister Robert Fico led a broad government of social democrats, nationalists and conservatives since July 2006. Both minority partners lost significantly in April’s parliamentary elections. Fico managed to win rather more votes than four years ago but due to the collapse of his coalition and a surge in support for newcomers, the opposition, headed by Christian Democrat Iveta Radičová, is expected to form a new government. The sociology professor will become Slovakia’s first female prime minister. Her party won just 28 seats in parliament but should be able to gather 79 out of 150 seats for a new coalition.

Newcomers include Most-Híd (from the Slovak and Hungarian words for “bridge”), formerly rooted in Slovakia’s Hungarian minority but now seeking to cross the ethnic divide as well as Freedom and Solidarity, zealously neoliberal and architect of Slovakia’s flat tax.

The party of Vladimír Mečiar, who, as prime minister, led Slovakia to a disengagement from the Czech Republic and was heavily criticized for his authoritarian tendencies, failed even to pass the 5 percent treshold required to enter parliament. The xenophobic Slovak National Party squeaked in, losing more than half of its seats. Both were Fico’s coalition partners and have apparently disqualified him in the eyes of mainstream voters.

The new coalition faces daunting challenges. One is to rein in public spending. Slovakia’s deficit has risen to 6.8 percent of GDP following an economic contraction of almost 5 percent last year. The other is to repair ties with Hungary which have been damaged in recent years over language disputes and a Slovakian law that strips people of their passports if they take dual Hungarian citizenship. Radičová has signalled that she wants to get rid of this measure and for good reason: Hungary ranks among Slovakia’s foremost trading partners.

Slovakia’s election results echo those of the Czech Republic two weeks prior where perceived corruption on the part of traditional parties swung votes behind newcomers as well, particularly in Prague and among young people. The Social Democrats lost 18 seats in the republic’s Chamber of Deputies whereas the new, liberal conservative TOP 09 won 41, making it the third largest party in the country.

TOP 09 is led by the aristocratic former foreign affairs minister Prince Karel Schwarzenberg and champions free markets and European integration. He is set to form a coalition with the slightly more conservative Civic Democratic Party and the other newcomer, Public Affairs, which campaigned on transparency in government and fiscal conservatism.

Public finances are a matter of concern in the Czech Republic as well. The country wants to bring down its deficit to the European maximum of 3 percent by 2013, down from 5.3 percent this year. It will probably be more difficult to effectively put an end to corruption. The old parties maintained dangerously close ties with Czech business for so many years that it might be hard to root out this “cancer,” as Schwarzenberg calls it, within short time.