Education minister resigns over EU funding flaws

Dana Kuchtova, photo: CTK

For some time now officials in Brussels have criticized the Czech Republic for a lack of know-how when it comes to drawing on EU funds. Belated or botched applications could cost the country millions of euros in lost funds, paralyzing important research and development programmes. The first head rolled on Tuesday, when Education Minister Dana Kuchtova announced she was resigning in connection with a poorly drafted bid for EU funding.

Dana Kuchtova, photo: CTK
The education minister has been the target of mounting criticism ever since it emerged that, due to a botched application, Czech universities and research centers could lose out on up to 68 billion crowns (3.4 billion US dollars). EU officials rejected an application from the Education Ministry in July and it has so far been unable to draw up a new one. Minister Kuchtova, said on Tuesday that she was unable to do her job under this kind of media and political pressure.

"The mounting pressure from politicians and even academics has become untenable and I can no longer work in this environment. I want to stress that it is not because I feel incompetent to do my job, but simply because under the circumstances I do not have enough time and space to draft the EU bid. The Czech Republic had two and a half years to do that and I am now expected to get it done in next to no time."

Dana Kuchtova admitted to her share of the blame, but said that her predecessors should bear a greater responsibility because they had drafted the botched application. She also said that she suspected the pressure on her was political - fuelled by motives other than the fear of losing EU funds. The Green Party, of which she is a member, is divided over her resignation but Kuchtova asked her supporters not to rock the boat by threatening to walk out of the governing coalition. Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, who heads a cabinet with a fragile majority in Parliament, was clearly grateful that the matter had been resolved without open conflict.

Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek and Dana Kuchtova, photo: CTK
"I have immense respect for the minister's decision to resign of her own accord, and I would also like to acknowledge the manner in which the Green Party handled this matter."

Paradoxically, news of the education minister's resignation came as a big surprise to officials in Brussels, who said that the lack of know-how in applying for EU funds was common to most Czech sectors - and the Education Ministry was no better or worse than other applicants. Apparently the Environment Ministry and the Ministry for Local Development have serious problems as well. This statement is particularly interesting in the light of the fact that the Local Development Ministry is headed by vice-premier Jiri Cunek ,whose Christian Democrats pushed very hard for minister Kuchtova's resignation and the Environment Ministry is headed by vice-premier Martin Bursik - Kuchtova's party boss, who made very little effort to defend her.