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17. 2. 2014 10:10

Liechtenstein Palace hosts the first of this year’s series of discussions on the preparation of the National Reform Programme for 2014

Last week, the Office of the Government of the Czech Republic held a series of informal discussions on economic policy priorities and the preparation of the National Reform Programme for 2014. The sessions were attended by representatives of the Czech Parliament, economic and social partners, local government representatives, the academic community and other relevant civil societies. Representatives of 33 institutions took part in the four round-table discussions.

The Deputy State Secretary for European Affairs, Martin Tlapa, started by explaining the draft structure of the document and the timetable for its preparation. Like last year’s version, the document will be divided into four core thematic areas: Public Finances and Institutions; Business Environment and Infrastructure; Employment, Education and Social Policy; and Innovation and Research. Other integral parts of the programme will focus on the Council Recommendation and Cohesion Policy.

Jan Michal, the head of the European Commission Representation in the Czech Republic, summed up observations from the European Commission’s technical visit in the week starting 3 February 2014. He also noted that the deadlines at the end of the European Semester, when proposals for Council recommendations are discussed, would be very tight this year because of the elections to the European Parliament. The Commission believes that the adoption of a high-quality law on civil service is the number-one priority, and places an emphasis on the de-politicisation and the safeguarding of the effective performance of state administration.

Representatives of the Ministry of Finance presented the current outlook for the Czech economy, which looks moderately optimistic compared to the previous year’s. The Ministry of Finance’s current estimates indicate that the 2013 general government deficit was only 2.5% of GDP, which is mainly due to the higher forecast of VAT collection. It is therefore quite likely that circumstances are in place to draw a successful conclusion to the excessive deficit procedure conducted against the Czech Republic since 2009.

During the round-table discussions, individual ministries presented thematic drafts of their priorities for the coming period and offered partners the opportunity to make comments and suggestions at this early stage of document preparation. All those involved in the discussion appreciated the broad engagement of relevant partners in dialogue and the inclusive approach taken by the Government Office to the discussion of the document. Economic and social partners have singled out the lack of a long-term vision for the government’s economic policy and poor coordination as particular problem areas. They drew attention to the high number of ministerial strategies that are not compatible with each other and are not then implemented. They stressed that economic policy must be backed by an overarching document under the auspices of the Prime Minister. The problems they have identified mainly comprise resortism, the inadequate coordination of economic policy, lack of pressure to implement individual measures and the almost non-existent evaluation of the benefits of reform.

During the discussion, individual speakers pointed out the problem of rising structural deficits in public finances and declining public investment. The budget should be more pro-growth focused to support sustainable economic growth. The partners also reminded those present of the need for a systematic and coordinated approach to the economy’s structural problems. In addition, they called on the Government not to take the Council Recommendation lightly.

The partners consider fiscal instability, rising unemployment, poverty (especially among the elderly) and social exclusion to be problem areas. The discussion participants also noted the need to approve the updated State Energy Concept and improve the process of assessing the impact of RIAs, especially at the stage when proposals are debated in Parliament. A hotly discussed topic was education, which should be more responsive to the future needs of the labour market. A number of talks were related to science and research funding, issues concerning the sustainability of research organisations and the transfer of results into practice. As regards cohesion policy, the participants mentioned the need to apply it efficiently and optimally, rather than maximally.

The Government Office, in close cooperation with the relevant ministries, will now use the results of the informal dialogues as a basis to work on the content of the National Reform Programme for 2014. Efforts will be made to ensure that the final document reflects not only the Government’s policy statement and the Coalition Agreement, but also the country’s current economic problems as perceived by businesses and workers. In March 2014, the first consolidated version of the document will be available and will be subject to further informal and formal consultations and negotiations. The deadline for dispatch of the final version of the document to the European Commission is mid-April 2014.

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