The government's consolidation package caused an outrage in the ranks of opposition politicians, including Deputy Speaker of the Chamber and former minister Klára Dostálová. She was further outraged by the "sloppiness of the highest order", in her own words, surrounding European funding. However, her grandson Kryštůfek, whom she spends a lot of time with, always helps settle her nerves.
Another protest against the government recently took place at Prague's Wenceslas Square. Do you believe that this is the way to bring about change?
I always say that protests are proof that freedom exists, so it's a very healthy thing in that regard. Also, people have a right to protest. Either way, they can highlight the most burning issues in society. What I do see in a very negative light, though, is the way protesters are being labeled. It is rather embarrassing what the "Demobloc" – as the coalition of five likes to call itself – is doing.
The consolidation package was one of the things that displeased the public. The government is saying that it is its way of cleaning up after the previous cabinet, but the opposition is strongly against the package. Why?
The consolidation package does not consolidate in any way, shape, or form, and so I refuse to call it that. It is a tax increase plain and simple, so it's a tax package. The highest one-time tax increase in Czech history. I'm not the only one strongly opposed to it, which would be understandable for an opposition politician, but numerous economists have spoken out against it as well. The whole thing is wrong, and even the Ministry of Finance and the CNB have admitted that the package will lower our GDP.
What bothers you the most about it?
I specialize in European funding and regional development, so what bothers me the most is the fact that the government intends to take tens of billions straight from people's pockets but is letting funding lie unused in Brussels – currently, it's about 100 billion crowns. If the government doesn't step up, a large part of that money could become forfeit. That's sloppiness of the highest order. I've been very vocal in calling on the ministries to be more active and "overcommit" in the new program period and on the minister of finance to push for more funding to be drawn from Brussels. And nothing is happening. Other things that bother me are various absurd individual points. Things such as increased property tax, rising living expenses due to increased VAT (from 10 to 12 percent) on water, heat, communal space cleaning services, and municipal waste collection. We are the only country in Europe where living expenses are rising. Another absurdity is the inclusion of female hygienic products, water for babies, and flowers in the highest VAT bracket.
Do you not feel that public finances need revitalizing?
Of course, they do, but in a completely different way. We need to be more diligent in collecting taxes; we should have kept EET, which is a standard throughout Europe. We need to make use of all the funding opportunities provided by the EU. Even the CNB confirmed that this is not the right way. In its August report, it said that the package was inflationary and would cost the Czech economy roughly 70 billion in 2024. That's the number it will collect from people in tax revenue. Does that make sense to you? It sure does not to me!
You mentioned EET being canceled. Do you see that as a big misstep?
Without a doubt. And the government politicians know it too, they just won't say it out loud because getting rid of EET was one of the flagships of their election campaign. The treasury could be 18 billion richer every year.
With grandson Kryštof
How do you feel about the government putting together a campaign worth millions to explain just how important the package is to the public?
Explaining things is necessary, but spending millions of taxpayer money to do so certainly isn't. The government has enough time to make media appearances, put together and publish infographics, explain things on social media. With the timing of this campaign in mind, if it wants to cover both the European and regional elections, it smells an awful lot like anti-competitive practices in the election race. But people aren't stupid and they'll see through it quickly. Because this tax increase is so bad that there's no way to explain it, no matter how much money you spend on publicity.
Your party lodged an appeal with the Constitutional Court against the amendment of pension valorization that the coalition got approved. Do you believe that the court will side with you?
I am convinced it will, but I don't mean to presume. I'm not a constitutional judge. All I can do is have faith and hope that they'll prove to be impartial. Either way, the government shouldn't have taken this risk. If the Constitutional Court validates our appeal, we will be forced to not only retroactively calculate and pay out the already allotted and disbursed pensions, but the ruling could also have an effect on the granting of early retirement in the coming year. The coalition of five clearly broke the law as laid down in the Act on the Rules of Procedure during the approval process – it is taking money from the elderly retroactively. The Constitutional Court is an assurance of constitutionality, now that even the Senate has failed.
The influx of refugees has once again become an issue in Europe. How do you feel about the signing of the agreement on migration?
Minister Rakušan most certainly overstepped his authority. Something like this is within the prime minister's power, not the minister of interior's. He had no mandate to sign the agreement. What's even worse, however, is that the government didn't engage in dialog about such an important document. Why didn't Minister Rakušan go to the government or the Chamber's committees, and say, "Here's the agreement on migration, how do you feel about it? Here are my thoughts." The migration pact is merely a whitewashed quota, which is something that Andrej Babiš's government rejected unequivocally. It contains a formula to determine how many migrants a given member state has to take and the sum it has to pay if it refuses. But a society-wide discussion is lacking on a variety of topics.
Let us move on to something more optimistic. Did you enjoy your summer break and the time with your grandson Kryštof?
I did, although I still had quite a lot of work. Those are moments when I'm truly happy. I traveled around Czechia and went to the sea as well. I'm able to truly tune out and enjoy the peace and quiet when I'm on vacation. And Kryštůfek is my darling. We're even able to have fairly complex discussions now. I'm sometimes left speechless at the simple solutions a child's mind can come up with.
Does he bring you back to the pure essence of thinking?
That's what I mean. Simplicity and directness, just getting to the heart of the matter. That's the children's way of thinking that we all lose as we get older. I feel that politicians would benefit if they took inspiration from children's directness and candor.
Klára Dostálová (born March 13, 1971, in Prague) is an MP for the ANO 2011 movement and deputy speaker of the Chamber of Deputies.
Following her studies at PUEB, she worked at the Czech Savings Bank, Stavokomplex CZ a.s., as well as Hotel Černigov. She came into her own as director of the Center for European Planning in Hradec Králové, which she led successfully for many years (together with her colleagues, she played a major part in revitalizing the Kuks municipality).
In the years 2014–2017, she was the deputy minister of regional development, later taking over the ministry and leading it herself until 2021. The new Construction Act was her flagship project at the ministry and ultimately received the Law of the Year award. While working as a minister, she was also the chair of the Czech Mountain Rescue board of directors.
She has been an MP for the ANO movement since October 2017 and a member of the Hradec Králové Regional Assembly since the autumn of 2020.
Dostálová is married and has two children and a grandson, she lives in Hořice near Jičín.