< /p> 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 – Despite the opposition's opposition, the House of Representatives agreed to discuss the controversial government amendment to reduce the June pension increase in an abbreviated manner. In addition, the coalition asserted that it would not hold a general debate on the proposal after two days of debates. The abbreviated meeting means that the first reading will not take place and the final third round will take place immediately after the second reading, in which MPs want to submit amendments to the draft. The procedure is made possible by the declared state of legislative emergency, the duration of which was confirmed by the lower house on Wednesday. The cancellation of the general debate on the amendment, in which a record 70 MPs signed up, sparked protests from opposition leaders. Because of this, ANO MPs requested a two-hour break in their meeting. The meeting will not resume until 22:35.
“It is outrageous that you have erased the general debate,” SPD chairman Tomio Okamura said. According to him, the coalition wants to censor the opposition. The chairwoman of ANO deputies, Alena Schillerová, described the decision of the lower chamber as unbelievable and an absolute violation of the rights of opposition deputies. “You will reap the rewards of your actions,” she told the coalition. Okamura warned against limiting the speaking time for his caucus MPs when loading amendments. He pointed out that 20 SPD MPs submitted a total of 102 proposals for amendments. Okamura also did not rule out that the SPD club would also request a break in its meetings.
The opposition questions the accelerated approval of the pension amendment in a legislative emergency, as well as the justification of such a procedure by the threat of significant economic damage. The parliamentary debate is accompanied by extensive obstructions, which have lasted about 45 hours so far. The lower house worked its way to the current vote after 58 hours from the start of the meeting on Tuesday. She decided twice, when the first vote was disputed by Schillerová. She stated that she was opposed and had a favorable opinion on the record. However, this did not affect the final result too much.
For the vote, the Chamber set a fixed time of 20:00 in the afternoon, according to the proposal opposition MP Patrik Nacher (ANO). The coalition originally proposed a vote on approval of the abbreviated discussion of the amendment at 3:30 p.m. today. Despite the extension of time for parliamentary speeches and the limitation of speaking time to a maximum of ten minutes, 43 legislators did not make it to the discussion.
Thus began the discussion of the pension amendment in the second reading. 60 MPs signed up for the detailed discussion, and they inserted around 350 amendments into the parliamentary system. In addition to the above, the extraordinary June valorization of pensions also concerns the setting of an inflation clause for cash compensation for churches in so-called church restitutions due to the current higher rate of price growth. The system registers another four dozen parliamentary applications for the debate for the third reading, i.e. the final approval of the amendment.
The government amendment assumes that the average monthly pension will increase by 760 crowns from June, instead of the expected 1,770 crowns, as would be the case under the current legal rules. According to the explanatory report, the state will save 19.4 billion crowns this year and 33 billion crowns next year, and the savings will be reflected in the future as well. Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Marian Jurečka (KDU-ČSL) estimated the reduction of budget expenditures in the next ten years at 316.4 billion crowns.
“I am convinced that we are not breaking down the legitimate expectations of recipients of old-age pensions or other pensions,” Jurečka said. He stated that when he negotiated with the opposition whether they would allow deliberations in due process but with reduced deadlines, he learned that such a procedure would be vetoed by the opposition. He also said that due to the recent growth of pensions and the growth of their ratio to gross and net wages, intergenerational solidarity is starting to break down. He also reiterated that if the government did not act on the change, it would represent a burden on the state budget in the amount of around 600 billion in the next ten years. He called it an extremely high impact at a time when these expenses are not covered by either premiums or past surpluses.
The opposition points to the alleged retroactive validity of the draft, according to it, the process of its approval is also unconstitutional. If the amendment is adopted, he intends to challenge it at the Constitutional Court. ODS MP Karel Haas, who appeared as the last speaker in the debate on the assessment of the conditions for the abbreviated discussion of the amendment, thinks. that the government justified the proposal correctly and that the House acts in accordance with constitutional principles. “As a lawyer, I believe that the law will pass the constitutionality test,” he said.
Jurečka denied that the government would submit a change in pensions until now because of the election of the president
Today in the House of Representatives, Minister Jurečka objected to the opposition's accusations that the government could have presented an adjustment to reduce the growth of pensions 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”.