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Cablegate: Czech Parliament Makes Committee Assignments, And

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RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHPG #1142/01 2581351
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 151351Z SEP 06
FM AMEMBASSY PRAGUE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 7980
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS PRAGUE 001142

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SENSITIVE
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E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL EZ
SUBJECT: CZECH PARLIAMENT MAKES COMMITTEE ASSIGNMENTS, AND
MAKES LIFE EVEN MORE DIFFICULT FOR MINORITY ODS GOVERNMENT

1. (SBU) Summary: Nearly 15 weeks after the June 2-3 general
election, the Czech parliament has finalized committee
assignments. The Social Democrats (CSSD), which came in
second in the election behind the Civic Democrats (ODS)
arguably took the best assignments. The smaller parties have
fewer chairmanships than in the previous parliament,
accenting the competition between the two main rivals. The
committee assignments were made within the context of ongoing
negotiations on the formation of the minority ODS government.
If that government doesn't pass its vote of confidence,
expected for October 4, some of the assignments might change.
The assignments for the foreign affairs and defense
committees signify relative continuity; more conflict is
likely on economic and social issues. END SUMMARY

2. (SBU) Negotiations over committee assignments in the new
Parliament have been a critical but behind-the-scenes part of
the wrangling that followed the deadlocked June elections.
All the assignments were made this week, with leadership
positions apportioned in a manner that favors the two largest
parties. All parties have agreed on a 2/2/1/1 formula under
which the six-person leadership of every committee includes 2
ODS, 2 CSSD, 1 Communist (KSCM) and 1 from either the Greens
(SZ) or the Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL). The one exception
will be the petition committee, which has one representative
from each of the five parties in parliament. The Greens were
given one committee chair - Party Deputy Chair Ondrej Liska
will be the Chair of the EU Committee, a position that could
be fairly important in the run up to the Czech EU Presidency
in 2009. Green Chairman Martin Bursik will be on the
Environment Committee, but will not be chair. KDU-CSL also
got only one chair - Libor Ambrozek, former Environment
Minister, will be Chair of the Environment Committee.
Several existing committees were split to create more places
for the outgoing CSSD Ministers. The Health and Social
Affairs Committee, for example, was split into two new
committees. Outgoing Health Minister David Rath (CSSD) will
chair the new Health Committee, outgoing Labor and Social
Affairs Minister Zdenek Skromach (CSSD) will chair the Social
Affairs Committee. The previous Defense and Security
Committee was also split in two. CSSD will get Security for
outgoing Interior Minister Frantisek Bublan. Jan Vidim, ODS,
who previously chaired the Defense and Security Committee
will get the new Defense Committee. Outgoing Finance Minister
Bohuslav Sobotka (CSSD) will chair the Budget Committee.

3. (SBU) Jan Hamacek, a 28 year old freshman parliamentarian
from CSSD, will be the new Chair of the Committee on Foreign
Affairs. The outgoing Speaker of Parliament, and CSSD Shadow
Foreign Minister, Lubomir Zaoralek is the only other CSSD
member with significant foreign policy experience. As a
Deputy Speaker of the Parliament, Zaoralek is unable to head
a committee. Hamacek was previously the CSSD International
Secretary and an advisor to former Prime Minister Jiri

SIPDIS
Paroubek.
The full leadership of the Foreign Affairs Committee is given
below:
ODS David Seich
ODS Tomas Dub
CSSD Jan Hamacek (Chair)
CSSD Jan Splichal
KDU-CSL Cyril Svoboda
KSCM Katerina Konecna

4. (SBU) The presence of former Foreign Minister Cyril
Svoboda, an active supporter of close ties to the United
States, is a positive. The Communist representative is
interesting as KSCM was expected to choose Vaclav Exner, the
63 year old parliamentarian and ideological hard-liner who
was on the leadership of the foreign affairs committee in the
previous parliament. Instead, KSCM put forward a 24 year-old
woman with relatively little foreign affairs experience,
Katerina Konecna. Hamacek told post that this had been done
in an attempt by KSCM to improve its image. Seich is the
only member carried over from the leadership of the previous
committee, making predictions more difficult. However, the
departure of Exner, former Committee Chair Jan Kavan, and
former Deputy Chair Vladimir Lastuvka makes it likely that
the committee will prove easier for us to deal with. While
we have been impressed with Hamacek in the past, he is
untested in a leadership role. On missile defense --
possibly one of the most contentious issues this committee
will confront -- Hamacek has been a critic but is not
adamantly opposed.

5. (U) The Defense Committee, led by its former Chair, Jan
Vidim of ODS, also includes:
ODS Michael Hrbata
CSSD Antonin Seda
CSSD Miroslav Svoboda
KSCM Alexander Cerny

KDU-CSL Vlastanova Parkanova
Cerny was on the previous Defense and Security Committee and
is the Communist Party's Shadow Defense Minister. As such he
is in favor of the Czech Republic pulling out of NATO. Seda
was also on the previous Defense and Security Committee.
Parkanova was a former Minister of Justice, was Deputy Chair
of the previous Defense and Security Committee, and was
nominated as Defense Minister in the three-party coalition
put forward by Mirek Topolanek in an unsuccessful attempt to
form a government earlier this summer. With four of the six
leaders carried over from the previous leadership, there is
some expectation that this body will pursue positions similar
to those of its predecessor.

6. (U) The following is the complete list of committee
chairs:

Economic, Oldrich Vojir, ODS
Agriculture, Jiri Papez, ODS
Constitutional & Legal, Marek Benda, ODS
Public Administration, Tom Zajicek, ODS
Education and Culture , Walter Bartos, ODS
Defense, Jan Vidim, ODS
Budget, Bohuslav Sobotka, CSSD
Foreign Affairs, Jan Hamacek, CSSD
Security, Frantisek Bublan, CSSD
Social Affairs, Zdenek Skromach, CSSD
Health Care, David Rath, CSSD
Immunity, Miloslav Kala, CSSD
Audit , Vladimir Konicek, KSCM
Petition, Zuzka Bebarova-Rujbrova, KSCM
Environment, Libor Ambrozek, KDU-CSL
European Affairs, Ondrej Liska, Greens

7. COMMENT. (SBU) Czech politics has for many months been
plagued by a partisan stalemate as the country lumbers
towards what is expected to become a predominantly two-party
system. The same rivalries that stymied progress before the
election, during the campaign, and in the post-election
struggle for power, will now continue thanks to the high
number of important committee assignments given to members of
the outgoing Social Democrat government. For example, before
the election, CSSD Finance Minister Bohuslav Sobotka and ODS
Shadow Finance Minister Vlastimil Tlusty accused each other
of presenting inaccurately hopeful budget numbers. The
quarrel continues today with Tlusty as Finance Minister and
Sobotka as Chairman of parliament's Budget Committee.
Similarly, earlier this year, CSSD's Health Minister David
Rath and ODS Shadow Health Minister Tomas Julinek exchanged
vitriolic allegations. Julinek is now Minister of Health and
Rath the Chair of Parliament's Health Committee. Rath was
approved as Chairman with 102 votes, including one from
former Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda (KDU-CSL). He didn't
get any votes of support from the 81 ODS parliamentarians. It
is difficult to see Rath and Julinek setting aside their
differences and working together in a non-partisan and
effective manner. Of the ODS Chairs, Jan Vidim received the
fewest votes in his confirmation. He is blamed by CSSD for
playing a part in the release of allegations against CSSD
just days before the election in the so-called Kubice Affair.
The committee appointments will perpetuate the dynamic that
has beset Czech politics recently: Things can only be
achieved if the two large parties, ODS and CSSD cooperate.
But during the struggle for power, initially in the
pre-election campaign, and now during the prolonged period of
government formation, the two sides seem more intent on
bashing each other and scoring easy political points than in
tending to the pressing tasks of government.

8. (SBU) In the spheres of Foreign Affairs and Defense it
should be easier for the ministries and relevant
parliamentary committees to cooperate. The Foreign Minister,
Alexandr Vondra, and the Defense Minister, Jiri Sedivy, are
both new and unaffiliated (although Vondra has already become
a target for criticism from CSSD); neither of the committee
chairs are expected to take overly political positions. But
the areas where solutions are urgently needed, such as the
budget or health care, are precisely those in which personal
and party animosities are the greatest. The minority
Topolanek government, with its limited shelf life, is going
to have a difficult time passing painful, controversial,
though much-needed reforms. If the committee assignments are
anything to go by, its work just got tougher.

9. (U) Another point to keep in mind is the tenuous nature of
the assignments. If Topolanek's minority government doesn't
pass its vote of confidence, expected on October 4, and if
the result is the formation of a ODS-CSSD grand coalition
government, then some of the current CSSD committee chairs
might end up as ministers in the next government, and some of
the current ODS ministers who are also members of parliament

might want to compete for positions as committee chairs in
parliament. In addition to the power and prestige, the job
comes with a car and a raise from the usual MP salary of
$2450/month to $3550/month. There is no guarantee how long
the newly-selected chairs will be able to keep their cars.
MUNTER

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