Extraordinary meeting of the House of Representatives on the proposal to limit the extraordinary June valorization of pensions, February 28, 2023, Prague. From the left, Minister of Finance Zbyněk Stanjura (ODS), Minister of the Interior Vít Rakušan (STAN) and Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Marian Jurečka (KDU-ČSL).
Prague – On Thursday, at 10:35 p.m., after a two-hour break at the meeting of the ANO club, the House of Representatives returned to the debate on the government's proposal for lower pension growth in June. The break was preceded by the decision of the government majority not to allow a general debate on the bill. The debate thus moved straight into a detailed debate, in which MPs can present their amendments. The opposition was outraged by this move, and the ANO club then requested a break for the meeting. In addition, the Chamber previously decided to discuss the amendment to the law abbreviatedly. It means that there is no first reading and the final third round will take place immediately after the second reading.
The chairman of the Pirates parliamentary club, Jakub Michálek, said that abandoning the general debate is a somewhat non-standard procedure. According to him, however, this is a reaction to the opposition's statement in the sense that the real goal of the debate is not to discuss and communicate proposals, but to break someone. “And that is beyond the limits of how the Parliament is supposed to function,” he said.
“You set up a general debate,” ex-Speaker of the House of Representatives Radek Vondráček (ANO) reproached the governing majority and accused it of introducing totalitarian practices. “Every law should go through some kind of democratic discussion,” he argued. According to him, the coalition bypassed the Parliament. “We have a new totality here,” declared ANO chairman Andrej Babiš.
The opposition criticizes the bill itself, which foresees a lower-than-planned increase in pensions from June, which must increase due to high inflation. According to the opposition parties, this is a retroactive law. The opposition also does not like the method of deliberation in a state of legislative emergency, i.e. in abbreviated deliberation, which allows the law to be approved even in one day, in extreme cases. If the amendment is adopted, opposition politicians want to challenge the law in the Constitutional Court.
We have a new totality, Babiš declared in the House of Representatives regarding the coalition's progress
The chairman of the ANO opposition movement, Andrej Babiš, late on Thursday evening in the House of Representatives, in connection with the coalition's progress in approving the questionable restriction of the June valorization of pensions, declared that there is a new totality in the Czech Republic. Subsequently, he began to read speeches that the members of the movement could not deliver due to the non-allowance of a regular debate on the amendment. Babiš is one of the speakers with priority right to speak, and the restriction does not apply to him.
“We have a new totality here,” said Babiš, who before the so-called Velvet Revolution was a member of the then totalitarian communist party, worked in foreign trade and lived in Morocco, and is now on trial in Slovakia because of his record as a collaborator of the communist State Security (StB). The ANO leader and former prime minister said that the coalition represents 43 percent of the voters and “totally defeats” the opposition in the lower house. “Tomorrow (Friday) you will cut us, you would have a nice weekend,” prophesied Babiš, when the coalition in the House of Representatives wants to have the controversial amendment approved despite extensive obstructions.
Babiš thinks that the Senate, in which the ruling parties have a significant majority of votes, will also approve the draft on Wednesday, March 8, because, according to him, “it will be given by order”. He considers the incoming president Petar Pavel to be the “last hope”, who is expected to make a statement on reducing this year's extraordinary pension valuation after he takes the oath and takes office on Thursday, March 9. “And there we will see if it is a total totality, if the president will be part of a new totality,” said the chairman of ANO, who lost to Pavle, who was supported by government parties, in the final of the presidential election.
According to Babiš, ANO representatives want to ask Pavel for a meeting. “To explain to him what was happening here and how it is with the state budget,” he added.
According to the amendment, the average monthly pension will increase from June by 760 crowns instead of the expected 1,770 crowns. According to the reasoned report, the state will save 19.4 billion crowns this year and 33 billion crowns next year.
Jurečka refused to say that the government would only change pensions now because of the election of the president
On Thursday afternoon, Minister Jurečka objected in the House of Representatives to the opposition's accusations that the government could have presented an adjustment to reduce pension growth earlier and that it waited until after the election of the president. He repeated that the extraordinary June valorization of pensions according to the current rules would mean a budget expenditure of almost 600 billion crowns in the next ten years, and this impact would no longer be possible to limit in any way. A permanent statutory expenditure would threaten the sustainability of the pension system in the future, the minister said.
Jurečka rejected the connection between the time of the submission of the amendment on the reduction of the pension growth in June and the January presidential elections, saying that he had been talking about the need to change the valuation for many months. “In the fall and in January, I clearly declared that we need to adjust the long-term valorization mechanism because it is not sustainable in the long term,” he noted. In the presidential final, the chairman of the ANO opposition movement, Andrej Babiš, faced off against the victorious retired general Petr Pavlo, supported by the coalition. ANO MPs have pointed out several times in the parliamentary debate so far that the earlier submission of the current amendment could affect the outcome of the election.
Jurečka also said that the government expected an extraordinary valorization of pensions this year, but with effects on the budget for this year of up to 20 billion crowns. That they should be much higher, over 35 billion crowns, was caused by the jump in inflation between December and January, according to him. Thanks to the one-time reduction of the June valuation, the state will save approximately 20 billion crowns this year. The minister estimated the reduction of expenses in the next ten years at 316.4 billion crowns.
Jurečka also disagreed with the opposition's claims about the retroactive effect of the amendment and that it violates the legitimate expectations of pensioners. He emphasized again that the claim depends only on the relevant government regulation, which must be issued in this case by March 22. Using passages from one of the findings of the Constitutional Court, the minister also defended the coalition's approach against opposition obstructions in the House of Representatives. It consists in shortening the speaking time and setting a fixed time for voting.
In response to the minister's speech, ANO Member of Parliament Berenika Peštová said that according to the decision of the Constitutional Court, the government is obliged to prepare for the implementation of valid laws within the framework of the state budget. Her colleague from the movement, Margita Balaštíková, said that 400,000 pensioners are below the income poverty line. “Most people will not come for the social benefits that you are so happy to throw away,” said the ANO MP, which was criticized for its generous social policy and subsidies during the coronavirus crisis. Jaroslav Foldyna (SPD) noted ironically that the cabinet of Petr Fiala (ODS) managed to “reduce” inflation from the end of Babiš's government from five percent to the current 15 percent.
Today's parliamentary debate was also accompanied by disputes regarding the average income ratio towards the average wage and regarding the pension reform. Martin Kukla (ANO) urged the coalition to stop “committing political suicide”.