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An Interview with the Minister of Industry and Trade, Jan Mládek

“We are a country with a great industrial tradition, that’s ‘in people’s blood."

 Jan Mládek the experienced Czech politician studied at the University of Economics in Prague, then received a Candidate of Sciences title (similar to PhD.) at the Prognostic Institute of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences. During Jiří Paroubek’s government, he served as the Minister of Agriculture for almost a year, while also holding the positions of Chairman of the Presidium of the Land Fund of the Czech Republic. He also served as Director of the Czech Institute of Applied Economy, s.r.o., was Vice-Governor of the International Monetary Fund for the Czech Republic and held the function of the First Deputy of the Minister of Finance. In recent years, he served as the Shadow Minister of Finance for ČSSD. He is a member of the Supervisory Board of the Czech Post Office.

Mr. Mládek, you spent over twenty years in politics in the state administration. What do you consider to currently be the peak of your political career?

That’s not entirely precise. I do have extensive experience from the state administration, but, of course, with some breaks into the private sector. And only time will tell whether this is the peak of it and whether we will be able to actualize the goals we set for ourselves. In terms of the area of Industry and Trade, what I see as critical in the upcoming years is mainly to stabilize and ensure a supply of reasonably priced energies for homes and enterprises, support the development of trade through the path of economic diplomacy and gain investments in order to increase employment. And as for my career up until now, I consider my professional peak to perhaps be my work in the position of the First Deputy of the Minister of Finance, between 1999 – 2001. 

Mr. Mládek, you spent over twenty years in politics in the state administration. What do you consider to currently be the peak of your political career?

That’s not entirely precise. I do have extensive experience from the state administration, but, of course, with some breaks into the private sector. And only time will tell whether this is the peak of it and whether we will be able to actualize the goals we set for ourselves. In terms of the area of Industry and Trade, what I see as critical in the upcoming years is mainly to stabilize and ensure a supply of reasonably priced energies for homes and enterprises, support the development of trade through the path of economic diplomacy and gain investments in order to increase employment. And as for my career up until now, I consider my professional peak to perhaps be my work in the position of the First Deputy of the Minister of Finance, between 1999 – 2001. 

During Jiří Paroubek’s government, you were the Minister of Agriculture. Do you also think about that now and why, in the end, you decided for the Ministry of Industry and Trade?

I must admit I didn’t consider agriculture this time. Although it’s true that some agriculturists approached me with the question of whether I’d be interested in possibly coming back to the ministry, possibly because I wasn’t connected to any particular interest group in the agricultural segment and would lead the ministry unbiased and fairly, as I did between 2005 and 2006.

How detailed was your awareness of the challenges at the Ministry before you took the office? And what surprised you most in your first days from this perspective?

Of course I knew the problems in this sector. In some areas, I think I knew them in great detail, such as the support of export and foreign investments. CzechInvest is an issue I supported from the get-go. I must admit it will take me a while before I get entirely oriented on subjects such as the Czech Trade Inspection. I’m still a bit unsure about the systems of function in this institution that are significant for protecting consumers. However, I see the issues of consumer protection on both national and international levels as very important.   

As soon as you took office, you had to deal with issues around Amazon and the OKD issue is ongoing, Temelín... I guess working in this field will be a challenge. Do you see it that way?

Exactly. Those are complicated, yet important issues and true challenges for the minister. Although you can see how the problem could be best solved technically, you cannot forget other circumstances; the social dimensions of such solutions, the consequences in international politics, because we are a part of a strong European structure, as well as ecological impacts and more. You have to keep all this in mind as you try to make a decision that is optimal. But again, I see as the essential issues at the moment, gaining foreign investment for creating new jobs, issues of economic diplomacy that are becoming even more significant in the current international political situation and the area of energy policy of the state is absolutely critical.        

When it comes to Amazon, how do you explain the unwillingness of the administration to participate in this project?

Partly, I recognize the unwillingness of the Brno administration as related to the fact that Amazon, as an important foreign investor able to bring several thousand jobs to the area, selected two locations for their business that make sense from the perspective of logistics – they are both close to airports and highways. But they omitted the social aspects of these locations. Both areas, near Brno and near Dobrovíz, are close to large centers, therefore with lower unemployment. Personally, I don’t see the decision of the Brno representatives as a positive one, but I respect it. Immediately after Brno repeatedly showed disinterest in the investment, as well as the jobs, there were dozens of other areas that appeared and that have higher social needs.

Věra Jourová, Minister of Local Development, says that we still haven’t learned to do Public-Private Partnership projects in the Czech Republic. Do you plan to collaborate between ministries in order for us to ‘learn’ these lessons?

Yes, Minister Jourová is entirely correct. Public-Private Partnership, as a method, is suitable for the construction of economically demanding projects, lineal construction, etc. For example, compared to Great Britain, we’re not doing very well. It’s up to us, as government members, to work together and solve problems though the partnership method, so I’ll be happy to support Minister Jourová in this.

If you were to select three problems that you would like to solve as quickly as possible and three that you feel cannot be solved within a single election period, what would they be?

I’m repeating myself, but it’s important… I fully devote myself to increasing foreign investments and, therefore, decreasing unemployment. The second item would be to satisfactorily solve the limits of mining in the Ústí Region. And this is actually preconditioned by the third problem, which is approval of energy and natural resources for the next time period. And what can’t be solved within this election period, but what we must work on, is a responsible decision about completing or postponing the construction of the Temelín nuclear power plant. Then there remains the introduction of the Euro within the time-frame of 2019 – 2021, as well as the diversification of external energy sources. That’s a truly long-term international matter.

Statements concerning the necessity of bringing investors into the Czech Republic continue to resound in the media. What do you personally consider to be the main arguments for their interest in the Czech Republic?

We are a country with a great industrial tradition, that’s ‘in people’s blood.’ A country that has a permanent position between the three states with the largest contribution of industry to GDP in the entire EU! And we must sustain this unique position. Thanks to this tradition, we can offer educated, qualified, yet relatively cheap labor. Access to the unified EU market is also important.

What will you consider success as head of the ministry?

Success has clear criteria. It is definitely the growth of GDP, growth of exports, creating new jobs and decreases in unemployment.   

Between 1992–1995 you worked as an external advisor to the Minister of Industry and Trade. Do the memories come back and which ones specifically?

I particularly and vividly remember the negotiations concerning the Czech Republic entering the OECD, that I actively participated in and was completed in 1995.

One of your articles from 2013 is called ‘We Have a Good Chance to Start Paying with Euro on January 1, 2021.’ Would you still sign your name to this statement? And if so, why?

I would sign it and in this respect, I would be even more optimistic now. Today I would even change the title to the date of January 1, 2019. The government of the Czech Republic made the first step toward accepting the Euro, by rejecting the so-called ‘Klaus’ Condition’ over signing the Lisbon Treaty. Prime Minister Sobotka is about to sign a fiscal pact, which is another important step. And as the beautiful Chinese proverb says, ‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.’

As a Minister, what makes you personally the most happy and what saps most of your energy?

Frankly, I’m the most pleased about the pragmatism of the new government. What saps most of my energy is the ongoing negative mood in our society. Just observe the public comments on internet news servers. They are full of aggression and vulgarity…

How would you characterize and what’s the essence of the Czech political scene in 2014?

I would say that, at least in terms of the government, the proper inquiry and meeting of differences across the government ČSSD, ANO and KDU-ČSL parties. I see an effort to find compromises, despite ideological variances, which is important…

Actually, why do they call you the Great Bear?

That’s an old nickname from my youth that got eagerly picked up by the media, but to be honest, I no longer use it.

And finally – what does a real leader look like in your view?

In my eyes, a leader is a person who is decisive and willing to act, but who is also perceptive toward ordinary people and humble toward those who are experts in their fields.


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