Environment Ministry gets rid of former NGO activists

Pavel Drobil

In just a few months, the Czech Environment Ministry has gotten rid of a number of officials who had in the past worked for environmental NGOs. The new minister, Civic Democrat Pavel Drobil, who was initially honed for the post of industry and trade minister, said he wanted to steer the ministry away from ideology. But environmental activists are concerned about the consequences of the swipe.

Pavel Drobil
When Prime Minister Petr Nečas announced his pick for the post of the environment minister by the end of June, he took many by surprise. 38-year-old lawyer Pavel Drobil had until then been mostly involved in industrial projects, like in the construction of the large Huyndai plant in northern Moravia. Mr Drobil was in fact hoping to become the industry and trade minster in the new centre right government that stemmed from the last general elections, and said he would ’breathe for Czech industry’.

But PM Nečas said the environment ministry was ridden with ideology, and had turned into a haven for “the green guerrilla”, and Minister Drobil now seems to be doing everything he can to change that.

In one of his first moves after his appointment, Pavel Drobil introduced a dress code for the employees of the ministry, who are no longer allowed to wear T-shirts or sandals to work. A month later, several officials in key ministerial posts have been fired – all of them had worked for environmental NGOs before joining the ministry.

One of them is Daniel Vondrouš, who has been chief advisor to four environment ministers since 2002, and previously worked for the Czech branch of Friends of the Earth. Another is the head of the sustainable energy department, Petr Holub. Former spokeswoman and advisor Karolína Šůlová, who has been with the ministry for eight years, has also had to go.

Karolína Šůlová
Martin Fadrný is a lawyer with the Brno-based NGO, Environmental Law Service.

“The question of motivation is crucial from my perspective. I know it’s a media shortcut but Minister Drobil said he would ‘breathe for the Czech industry’, so he is probably getting rid of people who were breathing for the environment.

"The declared goal is to purify the ministry of ideology but the fact is that the people who were made to leave were not partisan, whereas the new people are mostly from the Civic Democrat party, so from my perspective, this is no ideological cleaning.”

But things at the ministry began to change earlier than that. The swipe was triggered with the demise of Jan Dusík, who refused in March to approve a controversial modernisation project for the Prunéřov coal power plant, and stepped down instead. His successor, Ruth Bízková, then abolished the entire department of climate protection, whose head, Aleš Kuták, had also worked for an NGO.

Mr Fadrný says all of these changes might have serious implications

Martin Fadrný
“I think that when we lost good and motivated experts, we also missed an opportunity for good environmental legislation, which is again a pity for the quality of life and our compliance with EU law.

“But the issue of non-compliance could also have economic implications. In Slovakia, the problems with implementing the Aarhus convention made the European Commission stop transferring EU funds to Slovakia.”

Unlike in neighbouring Slovakia, however, the Czech Republic at least still has the Environment Ministry. The former Slovak government abolished theirs, the new cabinet in Bratislava is now trying to it bring back.