Czech cabinet reshuffle delayed, FinMin threatened

Czech coalition partners asked for time to consider the changes that may include the appointment of a new finance minister.

Czech cabinet reshuffle delayed, FinMin threatened

Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek delayed a reshuffle of his minority cabinet on Monday after coalition partners asked for time to consider the changes that may include the appointment of a new finance minister.

Topolanek has been seeking to strengthen the centre-right government after a heavy loss to leftist opposition in October regional and upper house elections, weeks before the country took over the rotating European Union presidency on Jan. 1.

The government's weakness has fuelled concerns among EU members about the central European state's ability to lead efforts to tackle Europe's worst economic crisis in generations, deal with conflict in the Middle East and address the Russia-Ukraine gas dispute.

"The coalition partners asked for an opportunity to discuss my proposals," Topolanek told a news conference.

"The changes will be done to make the cabinet more effective, it must be done in a way that will not threaten the (EU) presidency."

Topolanek refused to give details but his statement appeared to be in line with expectations the foreign and European affairs portfolios held by Karel Schwarzenberg and Alexandr Vondra would not be affected.

Topolanek's two coalition partners said they needed about a week to discuss the changes. The prime minister has twice postponed his cabinet reshuffle, in an indication, analysts say, of tough negotiations with coalition parties.

Topolanek's coalition has suffered infighting and defections that have narrowed the cabinet's ranks in the lower house to 96 of the 200 seats. The opposition wants the next election, due in 2010, brought forward.

The government will face tough votes in the coming months in parliament to ratify the EU's Lisbon treaty and a plan to host a U.S. missile defence radar.

Finance minister under fire

Jiri Cunek, head of the junior coalition Christian Democrat Party, proposed that Topolanek dismiss Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek, Cunek's rival within his party.

"The chairman confirmed to me that he had really put forward this proposal. I acknowledged it," Kalousek said in a statement, adding he would work to ensure a smooth handover of the ministry.

But Kalousek's fate remains unclear. He has won backing from Topolanek, who said he was the best minister the Christian Democrats ever had.

Under Kalousek's watch the Czech budget gap reached just 1.2 percent of gross domestic product last year, below the planned 2.95 percent.

A source involved in the talks told Reuters Cunek had offered to replace Kalousek with non-partisan Tomas Sedlacek, 31, chief macroeconomic strategist at bank CSOB, a unit of Belgium's KBC .

Cunek, who can nominate candidates to the Finance Ministry which his party controls, declined to comment but said he may give more information on Tuesday. He also declined to comment on reports that Topolanek wanted him to leave the cabinet.

Reuters
Last Mod: 06 Ocak 2009, 16:43
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