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An Interview with Věra Jourová, Minister for Local Development

“During difficult times, I realized how close each one of us in this country is to ending up under a bridge.”


 
She already had begun a political career, but because of the supposed ‘Budišov case,’ had to begin again from scratch. After seven years, she returned to the department, this time as a minister. Věra Jourová says she never again wants to experience such a fall and tries to be as ‘normal’ as possible. She also maintains that the power statements of other politicians in the media horribly disrupt her work.

“Madame Minister”… have you yet become used to being addressed this way? Do you internally feel like a minister?

No, not yet. I guess it will come in time. My internal resistance is working. I try to remain a normal human (laughter) and I don’t want to let this get under my skin. Today I’m a minister, but tomorrow I may not be. I already experienced one situation where I fell from the top to the bottom and I don’t want to re-live a similar shock. By that I don’t mean that I intend to leave. 

How does it look, specifically, when a minister tries to remain ‘normal’?

I havn’t changed my personal habits. A classic example is my minimal use of a car and driver. I try to use public transport and daily run my favorite trail, which is good for the head. Neighbors laugh at me when I go to recycle my own garbage, but it seems important to me not to lose my normal daily habits.

The Ministry for Local Development seems to be a logical choice in your case. Was it clear to you as well?

It was the simplest solution for me. I’m at home here and, in several areas, even really at home. These are the European Funds, where the ministry has a rather dominant role. In terms of actual focus, it is a natural progression in my professional career.

Is your return to the ministry a ‘political dream come true’ as you mentioned in one of your earlier interviews?

I would rather say that it’s a professional dream come true. Today I’m a politician, a Member of Parliament and I focus on politics in the sharpest sense of the word. I have a say in the main directions that our country should go. That’s the ‘roof’ over all else. But I see the essence of my work in my professionalism. I have assigned areas to take care of, where I try to move things in a strong, positive direction. As I mentioned, my dominant role is in European Funds, but I’m also learning quickly about other subjects. I got back into the tourism industry, which was my focus on the regional level. The area of public tenders, land planning, construction proceedings and housing policy – those are issues I try to quickly study up on.

In regard with your ministry, most people think mostly of European Funds and public tenders. Is there an area that’s somewhat overlooked, even though it’s problematic?

That would certainly be housing policy, which is a subject that has a huge social impact. According to research, up to 150,000 people in the Czech Republic today live in conditions that experts consider ‘non-housing.’ I don’t mean only the homeless here, they’re the extreme edge. This subject touches me very personally.

During my difficult times, when I was a divorced woman with child care and a mortgage, I realized how close each of us in this country is to living under a bridge. All that needs happen is for two feet of the tripod – health, family or work – to be kicked out from under you. A person is then headed to a complete fall, with the threat of losing the roof over their head.

The ministry focuses on housing issues from the position of preparing investments into housing. We closely collaborate with the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, where we deal with the ‘soft’ issues of which people are threatened by ‘non-housing’ and whether and to whom the state should guarantee housing, etc. This is related to the agenda of Minister Dientsbier.

So you will closely collaborate?

It will be very difficult. As is understood, inter-ministry affairs don’t do very well in the Czech Republic (laughter).

I wanted to ask about this. What do the first indications of inter-ministry collaboration look like?

Those will soon become apparent. The first meeting of an inter-ministry group is being arranged, where we will clarify our positions and put a schedule on the table in order to move on with the law concerning social housing.

You mentioned you need to study a number of new areas. How detailed were your thoughts about current problems with the agenda? A lot must have changed in the seven years you were away from the ministry...

I had an excellent overview of the Funds and tourism, as well as public tenders. The most unfamiliar for me are the areas of land-planning and construction proceedings. What helps me there is that I completed my studies in law quite recently in Prague, where I was tested on administrative law. I began focusing on the questions of housing at the moment I was appointed to this field within the ANO Movement. Back then, we laughed at it – ‘as a shadow minister’ – at time when, back in July, we had 0.5% voting preferences, this expression indeed seemed very funny...

So, prior to the elections you didn’t expect that the ANO Movement would have such success?

I didn’t expect it. In September, the preferences moved and then it soared upward. 18.7% was a huge surprise. Naturally, while we celebrated our success, I had a deeply wrinkled brow. Looking at the simple arithmetic, I knew our participation in the government was unavoidable.

Was that the moment you realized you’d become a minister?

From the moment we begun negotiations about the format of the coalition or the support of the government, I said I wasn’t going to the ministry. I saw my role more in the Chamber of Deputies. But then I understood I must go wherever I was the most needed. From then on it inevitably pointed toward the ministry. At one point Mr. Babiš and I discussed the Ministry of Justice, then after a few interviews I mentioned the Ministry of Culture. My original qualification was cultural anthropologist...

But you also studied law?

Then I completed my study of law. I was very interested in culture, but as a movement, we were rather strongly focused on economic subjects. Should the European Funds be properly implemented into the economy, it would have a huge positive influence on our country, so Mr. Babiš didn’t want to hear about culture. In the end, I’m here and it’s a natural development.

What would be a success for you in the Ministry as a personal goal?

Not to lose my social capital and remain normal. Perhaps I allow myself to center too much on my social capital from what people write me. They write that they see me as a normal, fair person, who got to the top despite great life difficulties. Besides top-level performance, they expect me to ‘not to go nuts’ and not to slip into the bad habits that have been a long-term problem within our state administration and politics.

Then I have a number of professional goals. It’s a cliché, but I really want to see a maximum amount of money used for good projects that bring development in measurable numbers – GDP and employment. So it’s not only to draw the funds, but also to direct them where they will bring the most positive results.

I would also like the ministry to gain a greater informal authority under my leadership. For a long time, it’s been discussed as something unnecessary and to be cancelled. The ministry can also gain informal authority by being a strong partner to the regions and municipalities in the government. These are key target groups for me. These are people in various functions and positions, without whom we can’t push the regional agenda from the top. We can’t do a thing without them. So I will work hard to build trust toward the regions and municipalities. It doesn’t mean I will meet all their requirements. Currently there are battles over new European funds and dealing with me is often a tough nut to crack (laughter).

How would you personally characterize the current Czech political culture?

It’s not factual enough for my taste. Certain people in certain parties already show notable signs of worrying about themselves, their positions and the showing off of power. We send too many power statements to each other through the media. It horribly disrupts me in my work and bothers me. We have to be forceful in sticking to facts and fulfilling what we promised in our program statements. It has to be a driving force – to focus on the subject and not on ourselves, procedures and competition.

How do you envision leadership?

For me, a leader must have natural authority and a huge amount of charisma. But leaders must also be able to target their goals, have an overview, a tempo and know precisely what they want to achieve. They also must be able to communicate it. If you add a matter-of-factness and the ability to find and implement simple solutions, that’s it. Naturally, they must surround themselves with strong personalities, people who are smart and capable.


Author: Jaroslav Kramer Source: Leaders Magazine - www.leadersmagazine.cz