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Vondra leaves Defense Ministry

Published : 28 November 2012
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On 28th November 2012, during press conference following the traditional weekly government meeting, Mr. Alexandr Vondra announced his resignation as Defense Minister which will be effective on next 7th December.

Mr. Vondra justified his departure with his defeat in the last October senatorial elections. «A minister needs not only Premier’s confidence and competence, but also electors’ confidence. Senatorial elections proved that I don’t have sufficient confidence» said Mr. Vondra.

Premier Petr Nečas underlined that decision of Mr. Vondra’s departure was taken immediately after the above-mentioned elections but because of important activities – in particular the 2013 Budget approval, the visit in Prague of NATO Secretary general Rasmussen and Mr. Vondra’s trip to the USA – the departure was delayed.

Mr. Vondra leaves his position after two years in the government and was presented as «the most competent Defense Minister of the last 20 years» by prime Minister. Even Jan Hamáček, the social-democrat shadow Defense Minister, hailed him as somebody who knows perfectly the defense Ministry.

The main reason of Mr. Vondra’s decadence was the ProMoPro case, named according to a company that heavily increased costs of audiovisual services during the 2009 Czech Presidency of the Council of the European Union. At that time Mr. Vondra was Vice-Prime Minister in charge of European affairs. The police investigations were not able to find any direct link between him and the prime suspects, however he had to assume the political responsibility of this inappropriate situation. This case was made public in 2011 by services of Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek. The latter didn’t like Mr. Vondra’s efforts to suppress go-betweens in the armament acquisitions process which were detrimental to Omnipol company managed by Richard Hava who is a close friend of Mr. Kalousek. In April 2011, Mr. Vondra gave back his position to Premier but Mr. Nečas chose to keep him in the government since Mr. Vondra was a powerful ally.

Mr. Vondra’s defeat in the senatorial elections changed the situation. He was no longer capable to keep his position of ODS vice-president during the last congress of this party at the beginning of November and could not help Mr. Necas who was threatened by some internal rebels. Mr. Vondra’s departure was inevitable (see Opinicus article – Commanders conference), only the date was not known.

Mr. Vondra’s track record as Defense Minister is quite positive. He took over the Ministry in July 2010, in a difficult period of time due to the economic crisis and the suspicion of corruption of his predecessor Martin Bartak. He managed to stabilize the Ministry, to slow down the budget cuts and to give clear orientation to subordinates. Mr. Vondra’s initial roadmap is far from being accomplished, however strong basis have been built.

The first goal of Mr. Vondra was to assess the situation of the Ministry thanks to a fundamental document – The White Paper on Defense and Security – which was initiated in September 2010 and published in May 2011. The document, which is not perfect, at least gave a clear idea of the threats and needed capabilities together with a methodology to start reforming the Ministry.

Other posterior documents either completed or precised those orientations: air defense concept (2011), modification of the law regarding the Defense acquisitions which now allows the Defense Ministry to buy directly abroad without recurring to go-betweens (2011), Defense Strategy (2012). One of the last action of Mr. Vondra as Defense Minister will be on next Monday the presentation to the State Defense Committee of the new Concept for Use of reserves.

Two other documents are about to be finished:

  • The update of the Law on Military status which should reorganize the professional career paths of Czech soldiers in order to give more legibility and transparency;
  • A new law that should clarify the calculation of salaries.

Major reorganization are undergoing within the Ministry such as the simplification of the Command structure (dissolution of the Joint headquarters) or the modification of the armament acquisition chain with the creation of a Central Office for acquisitions.

The future of Czech supersonic air force appears to be guaranteed since the last Swedish offer for prolongation of Gripen leasing appears to be satisfying for the Czechs. Mr. Vondra will brief on Monday 3rd December the State Defense Committee about this last round of negotiation.

The Czech Defense budget seems to stabilize around 42 billion crowns (around 1.68 billion €) in 2013. It is not sufficient – around 1% of GDP, far from the 2% recommended by NATO – but considering the initial proposals of Ministry of Finance (38 billion CZK (1.52 billion €) in 2013 and 35 billion CZK (1.4 billion €) in 2014), the Defense Ministry managed to avoid total collapse. It will be difficult to maintain the current capabilities but at least nobody talks about massive loss of capabilities that would have been necessary if the Defense budget would have gone down according to Mr. Kalousek plans.

Mr. Vondra’s successor will have a lot of work to maintain the impetus in the reform process and to keep the current obtained benefits. For the time being neither Mr. Vondra nor Mr. Nečas wished to talk about the name of the new Minister. But it is probable that Defense Ministry will be given to the LIDEM party (Liberal Democrat), the 3rd partner of the current political coalition.

Effectively, the departure on 3rd December 2012 of Pavel Dobeš, the current Transport Minister and member of LIDEM, could trigger a shift in the ministries repartition. ODS seems to have a strong interest in gaining the Ministry of Transport and could offer the Ministry of Defense to LIDEM.

Two names are put forward in case LIDEM will take over:

  • Karolina Peake, the current LIDEM chairwoman. Her current position of Vice-Prime Minister in charge of coordination of struggle against corruption is not a real ministry. She could wish to gain more “authority” thanks to a prominent Ministry. However her total inexperience in the Defense and Security domain would be a strong drawback for the ministry in a very sensitive period of time;
  • Viktor Paggio, a young Representative who is vice chairman of Defense and Security Committee in the National Assembly. Mr. Paggio could compensate his young age (31) with his good knowledge of the current affairs.

But if the internal fight of the parties turned out detrimental to LIDEM, it exists an interesting solution putting forward a man who does not belong to any political party and thus is completely compatible with the coalition partners (ODS-TOP09-LIDEM) and even with the opposition: General Vlastimil Picek. The current first deputy Defense Minister in charge of international relations and former Chief of Defense Staff knows perfectly all the dossiers and is unanimously recognized as a good professional. That way he could take care without any problem of the implementation of the undergoing reforms. The name of the happy new Minister should be known before Christmas.

Mr. Vondra didn’t want to unveil his plans for the future and just said that he is workaholic and cannot stay without doing anything. There are some rumors saying that he could replace the current Czech Ambassador in Moscow or even be proposed as successor of NATO Secretary general Rasmussen whose mandate will expire in 2014. Alexandr Vondra rejected this last idea saying that it was not realistic.

Or he could temporarily withdraw from the political scene in order to wait until the ProMoPro case will cool down and could come back in a year and a half to candidate for the 2014 legislative elections… or perhaps even earlier if the government is toppled.