Civic Democrats back Alexandr Vondra as defence minister

Alexandr Vondra, photo: CTK

Defence Minister Alexandr Vondra has survived in his post after he was backed on Monday by the leadership of his party, the Civic Democrats. Mr Vondra was under mounting pressure by the other coalition parties to step down over his role in a questionable 2009 government deal during the country’s EU presidency. The Civic Democrats also came out strongly against what they said was interference by other parties in their internal affairs.

Alexandr Vondra,  photo: CTK
In the biggest coalition clash since the government took office last July, the senior ruling party, the Civic Democrats united on Monday behind Defence Minister Alexandr Vondra.

Pressure on him to quit mounted earlier this week in connection with his role as the minister for EU affairs in 2009, when the country held the rotating presidency of the bloc. Mr. Vondra had allegedly been aware of a dubious contract with the Promopro firm that supplied audiovisual service for the presidency, in which millions of crowns were wasted.

Several high-ranking members of the other coalition parties, TOP 09 and Public Affairs called publicly on Mr Vondra to step down after he failed to satisfy their demands for an apology. Finance Minister, and deputy TOP 09 head Miroslav Kalousek, even suggested Mr Vondra should no longer participate in any future coalition negotiations.

In response, however, the Civic Democrat party leadership came out strongly in Mr Vondra’s support. Prime Minister and Civic Democrat leader Petr Nečas has this to say.

Petr Nečas,  photo: CTK
“We are satisfied with Mr Vondra as the defence minister; he’s doing a good job. The Promopro affair is a thing of the past that has caught up with him.

“On the other hand, Mr Vondra assumed political responsibility for the issue, and I believe he had not breached the law. As far as who should take part in coalition meetings, let me again stress that the Civic Democrats’ executive council refuses any attempts by other political parties to interfere with our party’s internal affairs.”

Some commentators said the strong response was motivated by the equally powerful push by TOP 09 officials, particularly by Finance Minister Kalousek himself. Mr Kalousek has close ties to some of the arms dealers that have supplied weapons and equipment worth of billions to the Czech army over they years. These links are now threatened by Mr Vondra, who is working to remove arms contractors from the supply chain altogether. Alexandr Vondra told Czech TV on Monday that this was the real reason why he found himself under fire from coalition partners.

“It’s no coincidence that the pressure has mounted in recent days because I’m going to put forward to the government new legislation that will substantially curb the role of middlemen in future purchases of arms for the Czech army. Our analyses have shown that purchases were much more expensive because of these contractors, and the losses were much higher than the amounts that are mentioned in connection with Promopro.”

Both TOP 09 and Public Affairs leaders backed off after the Civic Democrats voiced unanimous support for Alexandr Vondra. But the conflict within the coalition is far from over. Mr Kalousek repeated once again his party no longer trusts the defence minister, a view shared by leaders of Public Affairs. They said they might side with the opposition to summon an extraordinary session of the lower house, adding more strain on the already shaken coalition.