Education minister shoulders criticism over EU funds, remains in post for time being

Dana Kuchtova

In recent days the Education Minister Dana Kuchtova has come under fire for failing to secure the drawing of around 60 billion crowns in EU funds for research and educational programmes. On Sunday Martin Bursik - the head of the Green party of which Ms Kuchtova is a member - conceded she might have to resign. For now, the minister has stuck to her guns, hoping to turn the situation around in time. So far, she has succeeded.

Mirek Topolanek,  photo: CTK
60 billion crowns (the equivalent of around 3 billion US dollars) in EU funds is no small amount to let slip through one's fingers, not least in the education sector, so it came as no surprise that Education Minister Dana Kuchtova found herself in hot water last week. There was serious doubt a Czech application for the first wave of EU funds could be redrawn in time, meaning that the Czech Republic would face a set-back of one year. Czech universities and research centres, along with a member of the Christian Democrats, mounted increasing criticism and even Ms Kuchtova's party leader, Martin Bursik, admitted she might have to give up her post. That hasn't happened, at least not yet. Over the weekend staff at the education ministry hunkered down to redraft the proposal in question. Monday's deadline set by the prime minister was met, and the proposal has been sent off for auditing. Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek:

"Over Saturday and Sunday it was possible to resolve many of the problems and outstanding issues and now we'll be able to follow up with the audit. Hopefully the whole programme will not have to be postponed."

The prime minister also backed Education Minister Kuchtova by indicating that problems with drawing EU funds were not exclusive to the education ministry and he also argued that a certain lack of preparedness had been "inherited" from the previous administration. At the same time the education minister made clear she was in no way shirking the blame:

Dana Kuchtova
"Let me say again, there were things in the programme which we failed to correct. I had July and August to correct certain imperfections. There were of course mistakes on my part and I am well aware of them."

But Ms Kuchtova also defended her position by saying that she had been in the post for only one month before what she called "no-longer valid material, prepared by the previous government", was sent to Brussels. And, she criticised the first former deputy minister - who resigned in June - for not informing her sufficiently of the situation.

Whether the Czech Republic will be in the first wave of approved projects by the EU now remains to be seen: the European Commission will decide on the proposal in mid-October. If it fails there is no doubt there will be serious repercussions for both the Czech education sector and the education minister's political future.