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September 11, 2018 12:00 am | FILED UNDER: politics

Pirates Call For Halt To Church Taxation Talks Pending Analysis

By ČTK Ivan Bartos Milos Zeman

Prague, Sept 11 (CTK) – The Czech opposition Pirates today called on the cabinet to draft an analysis of the financial sum churches are receiving within restitution and the lower house should interrupt its debate on the sum’s taxation pending the analysis, Pirate MPs’ group head Jakub Michalek has said.

 

The Chamber of Deputies is to debate the bill imposing a tax on the money that churches receive as compensation for the property that cannot be returned to them in the second reading at its current session.

 

The bill, proposed by the opposition Communists (KSCM), has been supported by both government parties, ANO and the Social Democrats (CSSD), and also the opposition Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD).

 

The opposition Civic Democrats (ODS), TOP 09 and Mayors and Independents (STAN) are against it.

 

The bill seems to have a chance of being passed, but observers say critics may successfully challenge it at the Constitutional Court (US) afterwards.

 

“It ensues from the positions of experts in the constitutional law that the restitution can be revised only if it is proved that a fundamental flaw, release of wrong information etc. occurred,” Michalek said, referring to the church restitution law from 2012.

 

Michalek said the KSCM’s proposal to tax the compensation sum does not refer to any such flaw.

 

That is why the Pirate deputies addressed a letter to PM Andrej Babis (ANO) today and called for the cabinet to submit an expert analysis, Michalek said.

 

The analysis is to be based on the current data of the Czech Statistical Office (CSU) and it should transparently show what unreturned property the financial sum is to compensate for.

 

Finance Minister Alena Schillerova (for ANO) said the analysis can be completed, but did not say how long it may take.

 

Schillerova supported the proposal to tax the financial compensation sum, which, in her opinion, is excessive.

 

She said the taxation might take effect as of January 1, 2019, if the bill made it through parliament in time.

 

CSSD deputies’ group head Jan Chvojka said the system of compensation needs a change.

 

The CSSD promised the taxation of the compensation sum as early as before the general election in 2013, but eventually, the cabinet of Bohuslav Sobotka (CSSD; 2014-17) did not submit the proposal because it was fiercely opposed by the KDU-CSL, then a junior government partner, Chvojka said.

 

Chvojka dismissed the speculation that the inclusion of the issue in the agenda of the current lower house session has anything to do with parties’ campaign before the October local and Senate elections.

 

KSCM chairman Vojtech Filip said the Communists know that the bill might face complications in parliament, mainly in the upper house, but he is convinced that it will finally make it through.

 

Filip rejected the opinion that the taxation of the compensation would go counter to the constitution.

 

Supporting the bill, SPD chairman Tomio Okamura said his party believes that “any revenue should be subject to taxation.”

 

The ODS says the bill is at odds with the constitution.

 

“Even its authors feel that it will be turned down by the Constitutional Court,” ODS deputies’ group chairman Zbynek Stanjura said.

 

He said the ODS is not preparing a constitutional complaint for now as it expects this to be done by churches.

 

KDU-CSL chairman Pavel Belobradek said the proposal crosses the border between the rule of law and lawlessness.

 

“The issue is neither political nor religious, it is a legal issue,” Belobradek said, adding that it is no sheer accident that the Chamber of Deputies is going to vote on the bill shortly before the October 5-6 local elections.

 

STAN deputies’ group Jan Farsky said the proposal is destructive for the rule of law and that STAN will vote against it.

 

Farsky warned that after churches, someone else may be presented as an enemy. “Who will be the next to face an attack? NGOs or public media?” Farsky asked.

 

TOP 09 deputies’ group chairman Miroslav Kalousek said the bill on the taxation of the financial compensation going to churches is scandalous.

 

If a constitutional complaint against it were formulated by MPs, TOP 09 would join it, Kalousek said.

 

The law on property settlement between the state and churches, known as the church restitution law, was passed by the cabinet of Petr Necas (Civic Democrats, ODS) in 2012 and took effect as of 2013. It says 16 churches and religious groups will be returned real estate worth 75 billion crowns and given 59 billion worth of compensation for the unreturned property in the course of 30 years.

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