Speculation is growing that PM Petr Nečas (right) will soon demand the resignation of Education Minister Josef Dobeš (left)
Education Minister Josef Dobeš has faced intense criticism in recent weeks over planned reforms of the Czech higher education and an announcement by the European Commission that it is suspending the payment of Kč 1.2 billion of EU funds earmarked for several programs within the Education for Competitiveness Operational Program (ECOP). Now with the threat of losing Kč 53 billion, Dobeš’ position appears untenable.
The server lidovky.cz reported on Friday that Prime Minister Petr Nečas (Civic Democrats, ODS) received a letter from the European Commission (EC) informing him of the possibility that all funding for projects within the ECOP may be suspended. In all Kč 53 billion has been earmarked for the Czech ECOP. “There really is a danger of suspension,” Nečas was cited as saying by the server.
According to Czech Position’s information, the confidential letter was sent by Czech ambassador to the EU Milena Vicenová, who learnt from EU commissioners that the Commission has absolutely no trust in the leadership of the Czech education ministry and is thus considering blocking funding for all ECOP projects coordinated and overseen by the ministry.
In response to the warning, Nečas met with Dobeš in the lower house of parliament on Friday. “It was an informative meeting during which the minister told me about the current state of affairs with the drawing of operational program funds and put suggested ways of resolving issues. The Education Ministry must now apply maximum effort to resolve the whole matter,” Nečas told lidovky.cz.
Dobeš on Friday denied any knowledge of the warning: “I haven’t heard about any letter from Brussels,” he claimed. A reliable source told Czech Position that when Nečas spoke to Dobeš about the letter on Friday, the minister asked, “Who’s behind this, [Jaroslav] Škárka or [Kristýna] Kočí?,” referring to MPs who both left Public Affairs after reporting VV de facto leader and paymaster Vít Bárta to the police for allegedly offering then cash bribes to “remain loyal.”
The news of the EC’s apprehensions about releasing funds to Dobeš’ team in the ministry will not come as a surprise to many. During his tenure at the Education Ministry beginning in July 2010, Dobeš has for various reasons replaced no fewer than five executive managers of EU funds: first he appointed Jan Vitula, then Jaroslav Kuba, Jakub Hodinář, Michal Zaorálek, Robert Plaga — who lasted just eight days in the post — and now acting executive, Dita Schautová.