Horsetrading continues as Czech Senate passes civil service bill

By bne IntelliNews October 2, 2014

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The Czech Senate finally passed the Civil Service Act on October 1, as the government races to meet an EU deadline to push through the key legislation, but President Milos Zeman is threatening to  veto the bill unless amendments are made.

The life of the bill to depoliticise and clean up the country’s notoriously inefficient and corrupt civil service has taken  a series of particularly Czech twists. A civil service bill was actually passed in 2002 but never came into practice. Eventually the Czech Republic -  the last EU country without effective civil service legislation  - was threatened by the EU last year with the loss of structural funding unless it gets legislation in place by 2015. President Milos Zeman made the same demand before appointing the CSSD-led coalition under Bohuslav Sobotka in January.

The EU deadline put the wheels in motion, but has only helped create a free-for-all amongst the fractious political class. Following deadlock between the government and opposition, a compromise bill has been finally passed by parliament to depoliticise the country's bureaucracy, but the government's proposal that the civil service should be administered by a "super bureaucrat" - an independent head who would have a seven-year term in office and enjoy protection from political interference - has fallen by the wayside. That leaves the civil service open to widescale changes with every new government. 

The rightwing opposition has complained that the government is actually trying to lock the civil service under a left-leaning head for the next seven years. Critics have also complained that an independent civil service would spiral totally out of control, swelling  the amount of red tape. 

Zeman has railed against the compromise bill for weeks. He claims the law would actually increase politicisation of the civil service, and insists he will veto the bill. He has also threatened to apply to the Constitutional Court should parliament override the veto. Zeman, a wily operator and longstanding enemy of Sobotka, makes no bones about his effort to influence the country's governance. His threats are clearly intended to force the government to accept his proposals as it races against the EU deadline. 

The tussle also reflects intra-government squabbles between the CSSD and coalition partner Ano, led by powerful Finance Minister Andrej Babis. The two parties have been struggling for supremacy in the government as the ratings of the newly-formed centrist Ano have surpassed its mainstream partner. That fight has often revolved around cabinet posts and the appointment of deputies.

With the electorate highly cynical of the political class, critics insist the delays to the civil service bill stem from self interest. Politicians are accused of trying to maintain the status quo, with the servile civil service implicated in numerous corruption cases. 

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