Glopolis is a non-partisan, non-governmental organization which focuses on the analysis of economic globalization, trade, development, agriculture and climate change.
All those who go to vote today and tomorrow will help decide many important matters facing the country in the near future. And yet, there is a set of serious questions that will remain virtually untouched by the elections. These include critical international problems and many issues for which there is a consensus on the political scene.
As an analysis of the global agenda on eight party platforms showed, several of these issues – energy vision, the competitiveness of agriculture and economic growth – belong to both of these groups. However, the Czech political scene needs a greater plurality of opinions in many of these areas where there is now agreement. And on the other hand, there needs to be greater cooperation on partisan issues.
Everything indicates that these elections will again fail to alleviate one of the great troubles facing the Czech political scene. The negative campaigns of the major parties show that politicians aren’t terribly interested in rectifying the sharp right/left division of society. On the contrary: they’ve driven the public into trench warfare where the main cause is fighting the opposition, not promoting ideas for improving society. The absence of bipartisan agreement and a lack of will to agree on national priorities in health care, education or retirement reform are naturally related to the narrow global outlook and sense of international responsibility of the majority of Czech political parties.
The Social Democrats and the Left in general are clearly pulling on the shorter end of the rope in efforts for cooperation. In the economic realm they criticize the excessive role of the selfish market and call for greater solidarity through collective decision-making mechanisms such as public expenditures. But on the political market they behave very individualistically: in reality a victory in a political contest is far more important for the Czech Left than strategic collective cooperation. With only a few exceptions in the Social Democrats’ platform (neither the Communist Party nor Zeman’s adherents devote much attention to international problems), efforts for cooperation in reforming international economic rules (which have a great influence on the country) do not match efforts to regulate the Czech economy. On the other hand, in many areas such as agriculture, the Social Democrats cunningly attempt to profit as much as possible from global competition while restricting it at home.
The EU presidency offered the Czech Republic a unique opportunity to get out of it own shadow, to show that we know how to work together – to show that our political interests are more than provincial. The fall of the government in the middle of the term not only caused long-term damage to the reputation of the country and disappointed thousands of skilled experts engaged in resolving great problems that stretched far beyond the borders of the country. It also thwarted the promising and necessary process for the European advancement of the Civic Democrats, a party that had showed significant progress in many positions, including climate change, thanks to the EU presidency. Today, unfortunately, it appears that this blow below the belt earned the Social Democrats more than a few points and that the global dimension of the Czech presidency left absolutely no traces on the Czech political scene.
Of course, the Right cannot boast a great deal of global responsibility or efforts to build consensus. While the Right does not promote different economic models at home and abroad like the Left, the Civic Democrats and TOP09 are consistently in favour of the free market, small government and open international trade with equal access for all countries. But they are lacking any sense about whom (and under what conditions) this policy actually helps. Christian Democrats and the Green Party have no such doubts. The appetite for unregulated economic growth has long been the cause of environmental problems all over the planet. But the liberalisation of international trade is connected not only to the deregulation (instability) of global financial markets, but also to global hunger. It is responsible for the wave of imports that have contributed to the disappearance of viable agriculture in poor countries and, mainly, the evaporation of the income for the majority of their inhabitants.
The global financial and economic crisis quite clearly demonstrated that not only poor countries but even the Czech Republic through no great fault of its own (and within the protective embrace of the EU) can lose many jobs, decent profits and, above all, tax revenue. The parties have spent the campaign pointing fingers at one another over responsibility for the looming government deficit. Of course we should be more frugal in good times: the crisis has uncovered a great number of long-term problems in the Czech budget. But we’ve lost sight of the fact that there wouldn’t be nearly so much talk about this today without the unprecedented collapse of the global financial markets after that fall of Lehman Brothers. And that another crisis can only be prevented by global reforms and not domestic measures, regardless of how expedient they may be.
The congruity of platforms should therefore be reason for optimism on the combative political scene, all the more so if they result in a more responsible approach by the Czech Republic to the environment and poor countries. A Glopolis campaign analysis has shown that there is consensus across the political spectrum on the need for energy efficiency and a more varied and low-carbon economy, as this is the only way to prevent the catastrophic impacts of climate change. But voters should have a say in which low-carbon route we should take. Nevertheless, the main reason for energy consensus is not environmental, let alone development concerns for those threatened by melting glaciers and rising ocean levels (the majority of these people already lead rather miserable lives). And the fears of the population are definitely not a factor in discussions on the modernisation of coal-fired power plants or exceeding mining limits.
Instead, opinion is dominated by pragmatic efforts to increase Czech energy security and the profitability of the Czech economy. Such is the irony of national politics: the fear of Russia and unavailable oil is one hundred times more effective in forcing our politicians to do something for the poorest inhabitants of the planet than all of the moral appeals and scientific studies in the world.
It is naturally quite rare for Czech economic and security interests to go hand in hand with environmental and development interests. The heart of more than one NGO certainly skipped a beat yesterday during the final television debate between Paroubek and Nečas when we learned that both camps support aid to poor countries – one of their few shared priorities. Reality, however, urges us to curb our enthusiasm. Despite long years of strong economic growth, the Czech Republic not only failed to create a government surplus, it couldn’t even begin to fulfil its international obligations in the fight against global poverty (this year’s official development aid should amount to 0.17% of GNI, but will have a very difficult time amounting to 0.12%). The parties’ platforms do not suggest that there will be any significant changes after the 2010 elections.
In fact, development aid is missing entirely from many party platforms. When it does appear, it is often only there to support the economic and security interests of the Czech Republic. For example, the Social Democrats’ platform regards development aid as a tool for post-conflict renewal and for conflict prevention, despite the fact that in the foreign affairs committee in parliament the party actively supports important reforms in the entire system of foreign development cooperation. These reforms gained the support of the Topolanek government thanks in part to the Civic Democrats. However, the Civic Democrats’ platform makes it quite clear that development aid should primarily benefit Czech subjects. TOP09 simplifies the matter to a great extent, calling for “trade instead of charity” for developing countries.
What then does an analysis of both poles of the Czech political spectrum show? The Left and the Right do not agree on how to promote international security (the debate over sending troops to Afghanistan). They do not agree on the form of basic economic reforms in the Czech Republic and the EU. But they agree that the national economy and security are the most important values in foreign policy, more important than the environment or development responsibility. There is also no consent over whether growth in the Czech economy should be fuelled by lower taxes or higher public spending. But they agree that the economy must grow, mainly by means of higher exports, regardless of what the consequences of global competition and the quality of current economic growth might be.
The Right and the Left (including the Christian Democrats, who are critical of contemporary economic values) are naturally missing a basic analysis of the causes and consequences of the global financial and economic crisis. Nearly all of the parties remain confident that the key to social development is economic growth and that existing global economic rules are fully in the Czech national interest. The majority of parties agree that the country should definitely not get involved in attempts to rewrite the economic rules and reform international financial architecture.
Czech politics is dominated by an interest in security and the economy. But there is no interest in what security actually costs or how safe our economy and the global economy actually are. This is precisely the unsettling trap of consensus in Czech politics. Czech democracy also needs an alternative voice in this area, for without it there can be no public and political discussion on delicate issues. These are issues that should be addressed in the elections, but which haven’t garnered interest so far.
The 80-page Glopolis campaign analysis illustrates, compares and evaluates the positions of individual parties on these issues. As the comprehensive graph below indicates, there are significant differences among the largest Czech parties in the extent to which they look over the fence of the Czech garden. Reviewing party platforms is naturally one possible way of approaching the elections. The brief conclusion of the analysis is that neither the classic Right nor the classic Left satisfies the basic need for a healthy democratic discussion on complicated and important issues.
Therefore, if you are still undecided on who to vote for today or tomorrow, consider choosing candidates that offer a broader vision, a culture of responsible cooperation and the courage to ask unpleasant questions.
A complete evaluation of the parties, including illustrative graphs and party report cards are found in the Who is looking over the fence of the Czech garden analysis.