PM Petr Nečas (left) nominated Tomáš Chalupa as Enviornment Minister on Monday
With the nomination of Tomáš Chalupa (Civic Democrats, ODS), once again the principle that the Environment Minister should be at least marginal sensitive to environmental issues has been discarded. And while he may not be as inclined to favor industry over environment as his predecessor, Chalupa is a blank slate in terms of environmental experience.
‘Minister of War’ for the eco-tender
Before even arriving at the Ministry of Environment, Chalupa will need to don the armor worn by ODS deputy head Pavel Drobil to wage the fratricidal war over the proposed massive eco-tender to clean the country’s most troubling environmental sites: Prime Minister Petr Nečas (ODS) aims to kill the tender while Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek (TOP 09) is fighting to preserve it.
While Drobil, who resigned as Environment Minister following allegations he tried to cover up corruption at the State Environmental Fund (SFŽP) that is subordinate to his ministry, relished the role of a general leading the charge, Chalupa, who dreamed of a diplomatic career, seems unfit for battle. Meanwhile, for Nečas — whose own authority is more and more undermined — the war means everything. And so Chalupa will have no choice but to go on the offensive.
In any case, the theme of Chalupa’s first statements was hardly of an environmental nature. He hadn’t even set a foot in his new office before declaring that he would not reinstate Michálek, the whistleblower in the Drobil affair, to his position at the SFŽP. On this most precarious issue, he plans to immediately call for an audit of the situation with SFŽP. It will certainly be worthwhile to see who will get the contract to conduct the audit.
The advantages of subordination
Chalupa was a vocal advocate of the now-abandoned “octopus” building designed by Jan Kaplický to house the national library. The green monster project was to be built in Chalupa’s area of jurisdiction — Prague 6. However, when former Prague mayor Pavel Bém (ODS) came out against the project, Chalupa performed a quick about turn and came out against it as well.
Also for a long time he insisted on plans to build the northern stretch of the Prague ring road right next to Suchdol on the edge of Prague 6. This would pollute the ears and air of many local residents and lead to the devastation of a couple of villages on the right bank of the Vltava River. Now, however, Chalupa’s not opposed to a second, less controversial plan that will see the road pass further north. “One or another, just as long as it’s built as soon as possible,” he recently said.
Chalupa’s and others partially successful lobbying of the extension of the A line of the Prague metro to the airport has resulted in the far cheaper project to modernize the Prague-Kladno railway passing through the airport being shelved — the metro is currently being extended to Motol, and now there is no money for the modernization of the railway, let alone the far more expensive extension of the metro to the airport. Slow buses will service the airport for the foreseeable future.
The public will expect Chalupa to defend the environment and advocate policies geared toward sustainable development. But how will a minister who has no experience in the field or track record of taking a stance on ecological issues go about this? A telling issue will be a projected bypass for the Břevnov district in Prague 6. Chalupa was a proponent of the project as the district’s mayor, but the Ministry of Environment was opposed. The ministry eventually caved in but insisted on a whole series of binding conditions. It will therefore be interesting to see if these conditions are preserved with Chalupa at the helm of the ministry.
Chalupa will undoubtedly face concerted pressure from several ministers simultaneously to ease the environmental conditions and regulations for infrastructure projects, and one wonders if he will capitulate as he did with the octopus library and ring road route.
There are also two significant infrastructure projects on the cards for Prague 6: a new water treatment plant for the capital city and the extension of Prague airport. And how will the internal conflict between mayor and environment minister play out?
Ability to listen
Chalupa has earned a reputation as someone who knows how to listen to all opinions, including those juxtaposed to his own — and his interests. He has even shown that he is able to take opposing opinions into account and adjusting his opinions accordingly. And this is certainly a hopeful sign for a new environment minister, because it wouldn’t be possible to run a ministry and be in juxtaposition with one’s own vocation. And that wouldn’t bother some Czech technocrats one bit.