Czech parliament approves pension reform in victory for PM Necas

Wed Nov 7, 2012 5:45pm EST
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PRAGUE (Reuters) - The lower house of the Czech parliament on Wednesday cleared the way for pension reform to get underway next year, giving its final approval to legislation that will allow change, a victory for the country's unpopular and unstable government.

The lower house chose to ignore President Vaclav Klaus who had vetoed the reform bills in a vote that will in time permit Czechs to divert part of their social security payments to private pension accounts from state ones.

The plan has been criticized for being both too tame and too radical and the vote came hours after the lower house had approved a bill allowing the government to increase value-added and income taxes next year to raise revenue for the budget.

The two votes showed that the center-right government - which has been weakened by defections that have left it with just 99 out of 200 seats in the lower house - could still muster a majority after quelling a backbench rebellion.

The reform, discussed by successive governments but only adopted by Prime Minister Petr Necas's cabinet, aims to help people build up pension savings to mitigate against the risk of lower state pensions in future due to an ageing population.

In the short to medium term, the reform will reduce revenues for the state as people divert part of their social security contributions away from the budget.

The spirit of the reform runs counter to steps taken in recent years by governments in Hungary, Poland and Slovakia who have rolled back fund-based systems to plug budget holes.

Rating agencies have cautiously praised the proposed Czech reform but both private sector economists and opposition politicians have criticized it.

Klaus said he vetoed it because it came at a time of financial market uncertainty, lacked cross-party political acceptance, and was badly timed during economic turmoil in Europe.   Continued...

Czech Republic's Prime Minister and Chairman of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) Petr Necas gives a speech during the party's congress in Brno November 4, 2012. REUTERS/Petr Josek