Sphinx, Chateau Budisov
In the next few days, ANO’s deputy chairwoman, Vera Jourova, will become the regional development minister, returning to the ministry after a gap of some seven years.
In October 2006, Jourova was arrested and taken into pre-trial detention, charged with soliciting bribes for facilitating an EU grant to pay for the reconstruction of Chateau Budisov near Jourova's home town of Trebic. The charges were later dropped. In February 2006, she had been removed as the CSSD deputy minister of regional development. Her party boss at the time, the then prime minister Jiri Paroubek, described her as a ‘dear woman’; her ministerial boss, Radko Martinek, was more direct, calling her ‘incompetent’.
In April 2006, a few weeks after leaving public office, Jourova established Primavera Consulting, a lobbying boutique which specialises in tapping EU funds on behalf of private clients. In April 2013, she transferred the ownership of the firm to Adam Joura, who I assume is her son.
Whatever Paroubek and Martinek thought of Jourova, the chairman of ANO obviously holds Jourova in high esteem. And the respect is mutual, with Jourova describing Babis as a ‘visionary’ and ‘incorruptible’.
There is no doubt that Jourova has the practical experience to head the national coordination authority for all the Czech Republic’s operational programmes financed from EU funds.
But whether Jourova has the right credentials to become a member of government is much less obvious. Like Babis, Richard Brabec and Antonin Prachar, who will all join her in the cabinet, she has a clear conflict of interest.
There is nothing wrong in being the mother of a man who owns a lobbying company the profits of which will depend in part upon an ability to gain access to senior officials in the regional development ministry. The conflict lies in that fact that the mother is to be the minister.
Jourova's conflict is small compared to that of Babis. According to HN this morning, firms belonging to the Agrofert conglomerate are awarded nearly one billion crowns a year in agricultural subsidies.
Pavel Telicka, another ANO enthusiast with ambitions to replace Stefan Fule as the Czech Republic’s next EU Commissioner in early 2015, has announced that he will close his lobbying boutique, BXL Consulting, in order to remove all conflicts of interest.
The only way to eliminate the risk that Vera Jourova will allow her decisions as minister to be influenced by Adam Joura is to follow Telicka’s good example and shut down Primavera Consulting.
In the eyes of the law, Jourova is innocent of the bribery charges made against her in 2006. Even so, she is not an appropriate person to become the regional development minister. It would have been much wiser to have placed her in a less prominent position, where her past would have been less problematic. Or is ANO so short of talent that it is forced to turn to CSSD’s tarnished hand-me-downs to fill its seats in government?
Vera Jourova is neither guilty of soliciting bribes nor is she a suitable cabinet minister. Her nomination to the post of regional development minister is yet further evidence of Andrej Babis’s staggeringly poor political judgement.
And it is evidence of how well integrated in the mainstream of Czech politics ANO 2011 really is.