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Grayling Political Digest, February 2018

15th February 2018


Licence to govern

Despite the numerous hiccups accompanying the current government of prime minister Andrej Babiš – the failed vote of confidence last month, the lengthy negotiations with other potential coalition partners, and not forgetting the infamous police investigation into the potential EU subsidy fraud surrounding the Stork’s Nest case – it seems nothing can diminish the determination of this administration to govern. 

The PM has submitted the government’s resignation to the re-elected president Miloš Zeman, but this doesn’t prevent the administration from acting as a regular government and making numerous changes to the most important positions at ministries and key public institutions.

For example, the health minister Adam Vojtěch faced a backlash from the media and other politicians when he decided to remove Svatopluk Němeček – the former Social Democrat health minister – from the management of Ostrava University Hospital.

However, the president himself has confirmed that Babiš will have unlimited time to form a government in his second attempt. Furthermore, just this week the Slovak authorities confirmed the courts’ ruling that Babiš had been listed as an agent/informant of the state security under the Communists. So it remains to be seen if yet another scandal surrounding the PM might knock his “licence to govern”.

 

To smoke or not to smoke?

One of the major achievements of the previous government, headed by the Social Democrats, was the introduction of a smoking ban in all restaurants. It has not been a year since the amendment to the Public Health Protection Act took effect and already we have a proposal to soften the legislation.

Unsurprisingly, the proposal is being tabled by none other than Mr Marek Benda (ODS), the former member of the Healthcare Committee who was strong opposed to the Act, but most of his proposals were rejected at the time. Some of the major changes in the new proposal include: the option for owners of small (less than 80 m2) establishments that do not serve food to decide for themselves whether to allow smoking in their business, and the possibility of establishing dedicated smoking rooms (of up to 30% of the total space) with no service and a ventilation system.

The heated discussion at the latest Healthcare Committee meeting this week, where this new proposal was discussed, indicates that the approval is going to be an interesting process to follow, since this is the type of legislation on which everybody has an opinion. Some committee members fear that it would open up the Act to other amendments, which could potentially harm the original purpose of the legislation. On the other hand, the proposal seems to have fairly strong backing across the aisle of the Chamber of Deputies, with MPs from eight out of nine parliamentary clubs voicing their support for the amendment.

 

Airbnb ban on the horizon?  

Following the example set by Berlin, Amsterdam, Paris and London, some Czech cities and municipal authorities might be next to regulate one of the most popular platforms in the shared economy – Airbnb. According to the former government’s digital agenda coordinator and newly anointed deputy minister for internetisation, Ondřej Malý, a specific plan on how to regulate these accommodation services is to be introduced in the upcoming months.

Legislative measures are envisaged to follow this initiative in order to enable local authorities to regulate short-term lets to a limited number of days per year, which is one of the proposed solutions in the mix. One of the main reasons behind this regulation method is that local authorities have first-hand information on housing utilisation during the year. A discussion on the final proposal is under way among other ministries and we are keen to see how it turns out.   

 

When transparency effort hits a wall 

Following up on the information in our last Digest about a new amendment to the Freedom of Information Act tabled by the Pirate party, which is specifically focused on lifting the information veil surrounding the state-owned energy giant ČEZ, this transparency initiative seems to have hit a wall. This week the proposed amendment was discussed by the government, which has issued a neutral position on the document.

However, the list of reasons underpinning the government’s decision signals that, if anything, it is leaning towards a negative stance, as it recommends a very restrained approach in this matter of transparency because it might threaten “the fiscal interest of the state”. We will keep a close eye on the upcoming discussion in the Chamber of Deputies, but this position is a clear indication of the strong opposition to follow.


Grayling Team

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