Education Minister Josef Dobeš resigns “over budget cuts”

Josef Dobeš

The embattled Czech education minister, Josef Dobeš, has announced he will step down. Mr Dobeš, who has come under severe pressure over a number of issues including EU funds and his planned university reform, cited further austerity measures as the reason. But observers point out that the minister just seized the opportunity to resign before he would be forced out of office.

Josef Dobeš
Josef Dobeš, of the Public Affairs party, has not had an easy time during his nearly two year term at the Education Ministry. His plans for a reform of the Czech higher education system brought thousands of university students out into the streets. His choice of the bizarre far-right figure Ladislav Bátora as his advisor almost caused the fall of the whole government, and the European Commission refused to fund some of his botched educational programmes. Most recently, Mr Dobeš controversially reversed a decision to cancel graduate programmes at the ailing Plzeň law school.

Josef Dobeš weathered all these storms although last year, his career at the ministry nearly came to an abrupt end when Prime Minister Petr Nečas wanted to sack him over his party’s shady background. Dobes was saved by the fact the President Václav Klaus refused to formally dismiss him, arguing that he was the best education minister the country had had since the fall of communism.

Photo: Jana Šustová,  Radio Prague International
On Wednesday however, Mr Dobeš had a change of heart. He refused further spending cuts in his ministry’s budget, although the government agreed to lower them only by half. A day later, Mr Dobeš announced his decision to step down from his post.

“Having to slash 2 percent from teachers’ salaries is unacceptable for me because it would go against the government’s programme. In February, I allocated 4.5 billion crowns to regional schools and now, in April, I would have to cut one or two billion? That’s something I simply refuse to do. That will have to be decided by my successors.”

Some observers however noted that mounting problems at the ministry would have led to Mr Dobeš’ demise in any case. The daily Hospodářské noviny reported that Prime Minister Petr Nečas would have sacked the troubled education minister if he had not stepped down of his own accord. Under these circumstances it seems that Mr Dobeš took advantage of the situation which allowed him to make a dignified exit. The prime minister welcomed Mr Dobeš’s decision with relief.

Petr Nečas
“I consider his decision to be politically correct and honest. All ministers in my government know they have to back the cabinet’s key fiscal decisions, the only possible protest being their resignation. Mr Dobeš has made the right choice.”

Josef Dobeš will formally tender his resignation to the prime minister on Friday, and will remain in his post until the end of the month. The leader of the coalition Public Affairs party said either MPs Dagmar Navrátilová or Milan Štovíček might replace Mr Dobeš at the Education Ministry.