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Would grand Coalition be a solution?

A recent suggestion by Civic Democratic Party (ODS) Deputy Chairman Miroslav Macek that the ruling Social Democrats (CSSD and the ODS should form a grand coalition has caused a controversy. Some politicians from both the ODS and the CSSD have flatly rejected the idea, while others have described as an "interesting thought."

Macek argued that a grand coalition may be necessary in order to prevent a further deterioration of the economic situation in the country. In his view, the two parties could jointly implement a reform program, whose main purpose would be to lead the Czech Republic out of the economic crisis. Some ODS officials, including ODS Chairman Vaclav Klaus, have insisted that in proposing a grand coalition Macek was presenting his own ideas, which had not been endorsed by the ODS leadership. Leaders of smaller opposition parties have, however, insisted that the ODS leadership used Macek to test how the idea of a grand coalition would be received by the public and the media.

Although a majority of both journalists and politicians have been skeptical about the possibility of forming a grand coalition, Macek is right in presuming that the economic situation in the country will continue to deteriorate. In fact, the Czech economy appears to so fragile at the moment that a collapse of yet another major enterprise or bank could threaten the whole economy with a collapse. Under such circumstances, calls for a strong government, supported by sound majority in the parliament, would grow.

A grand coalition between the CSSD and the ODS could indeed restart the stalled engine of economic reforms, should ODS and CSSD leaders be able to agree on basic reform measures. Some analysts, however, point out quite rightly that if the two parties were capable of reaching such a consensus, they could do so already now, when they cooperate under the so-called opposition agreement. So far, however, they have found it difficult to find a common language in most areas.

There is also a real danger that reaching a consensus on basic economic reforms would be accompanied by a number of trade-offs that could slow down the Czech Republic's attempts to meet various requirements of the European Union. The ODS has increasingly advocated policies that are, in essence, anti-EU. Not only does Klaus repeatedly claim that the Czechs have to make sure that their national identity does not dissolve in the EU like a sugar cube in a cup of coffee. ODS leaders also more and more speak about protecting Czech national interests against EU bureaucrats. The ODS resolutely opposes the decentralization of the state administration system, a measure required by the EU.

The CSSD has been less nationalistic than the ODS. In fact, as far as its rhetoric is concerned, it is a pro-EU party. In practical terms, however, the CSSD government finds it difficult not only to implement various EU laws and work hard on meeting EU criteria, but it tends to opt for policies that occasionally directly contradict EU standards. The government has, for example, opted for protectionist measures in some cases and recently approved a revitalization program for the economy that has ben criticized by some EU officials as putting too much emphasis on the role of the state in solving the problems of private enterprises.

A grand coalition between the two parties could easily result in a unholy alliance of those forces in both parties that are, for different reasons, skeptical about the Czech Republic's efforts to join the EU soon. Those same forces have found a common language in openly criticizing NATO's intervention in Yugoslavia. In fact, ambivalent attitudes of both CSSD and ODS leaders toward NATO and the EU are responsible for the fact that support for both organizations is relatively low in the Czech Republic.

Should the two parties be united in a grand coalition they would be tempted even more than they already are, as they cooperate under the opposition agreement, to "cement" their dominant role in Czech politics by changing the electoral law and the Constitution to their advantage. Politicians from both parties have also shown an appetite for amending media laws in such a way that public television and radio become more dependent on the parliament--and thus on major political parties.

A grand coalition between the ODS and the CSSD could temporarily help the economy but could also accentuate negative tendencies in the policies of both parties and, therefore, could damage the Czech Republic's reputation in the long-term. It is almost certain that a joint ODS-CSSD government would steer the country toward nationalism and defensive policies vis-a-vis the EU and NATO. Such a development the Czech Republic cannot afford.

Reuters - 11. 5. 1999