Prague House in Brussels proves a failure

25-07-2003

As the capital city of a European Union candidate country, Prague decided to open its own office in Brussels last June to promote itself as a city of culture and business opportunities. However the Prague House, as the representative office is called, has proved to be a serious disappointment.

Symbol of Prague City HallSymbol of Prague City Hall Prague was the first region from the ten candidate countries to launch its own mission in the EU capital - a cosy villa at a prestigious Brussels address, whose renovation cost the city close to 50 million crowns.

"The office was established because Prague felt it should be closer to European Union institutions and get involved in some projects, get access to financing, and therefore they came up with the idea of establishing an office in Brussels, like other European cities, Berlin, Vienna and so on."

Marketa Reedova is a representative for an opposition party called the European Democrats at Prague City Hall. She says the high expectations put into the Prague House did not materialise.

"We didn't get any important information which we would not have got without the Brussels office. We didn't get any database of contacts, we didn't get any valuable information."

Soon after the opening of the Prague House, the initial enthusiasm was dampened by the August floods back home and consequent expenses for the city. However, that appeared to be only part of the problem. The European Democrats, an opposition party at City Hall, point the finger of blame at the head of the office Zdenek Werner. They say he has proven a bad representative of his country and a bad diplomat. If that is all true, how is it possible that such a person was appointed to that position in the first place? City representative Marketa Reedova.

"I think he charmed several people. He looks like a person who knows everyone and speaks several languages and he established very good relationships with some politicians. The situation now is that, hopefully, he will finish, and we will choose someone else through a public tender for the position. But what is really bad at the moment, is that he will stay until October, which I think should not be, because we have enough reasons to sack Mr Werner - because not only did he not do anything but also the financial management was really poor."

An audit showed Mr Werner bought expensive furniture for his Brussels apartment, travelled by taxi every day, organised costly lunches and receptions and went on business trips which were not approved by his superiors. And what does Mr Werner himself have to say to that?

"Firstly, I would like to say that I have not seen the results of the audit yet because I just came back from holiday after the two weeks in which the audit is said to have been carried out. I would like to see the figures first, to be able to comment on it properly. Secondly, I don't think the audit could have turned out badly because my deputy and assistant is an accountant and I don't believe he would have made any mistakes in our accounts."

Is a new manager of the Prague House going to put things in order in Brussels or is the idea of a Prague office in Brussels a lost cause altogether? City representative Marketa Reedova.

"Not at all, I think the idea is very, very good, and I think we should strengthen the position of the place but we need to employ good people, professionals, and not people like Mr Werner."

25-07-2003