“I have fulfilled my mission at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; I look forward to my next career challenge“
There are a lot of widespread stereotypes and myths amongst the general public about the Czech civil service. From my own experience, however, I know that there are many talented, educated and hard-working individuals working there. JUDr. Petr Gajdušek, LL.M. (Cam), M.St. (Oxon), who currently holds the role of State Secretary at the MFA stands as proof. He studied at Charles University’s Faculty of Law, and he studied Political Science and International Relations at Charles University’s Faculty of Social Sciences. He then obtained a Master of Laws (LL.M.) at the University of Cambridge, and also studied at the University of Oxford (M.St.), focusing on international law and human rights. Along with his studies at these two prestigious UK universities, he has undertaken study visits to no less prestigious universities in the USA (Georgetown) and in Bologna, Italy. He holds the Bolzano Prize for best thesis. Petr Gajdušek speaks fluent English and French.
Before joining the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Petr worked as director of the International and Legislative Department at the Office for the Protection of Competition, and he has experience of the private sector from working in an international law office, where he focused on the energy sector.
And if you think everything always takes a long time anywhere in the civil service, Petr is your proof that there are exceptions. After two and a half years, in which he has fulfilled his mission to ratify the Foreign Service Act, he has asked to be released from his role, and as of 1 October he has been named government representative for international organisations.
Despite a busy schedule, I managed to meet Petr Gajdušek in Tuscany Palace where I myself began my work at the Diplomatic Academy 15 years ago. I was reminded that there is no quiet summer period for diplomacy, whether because of the number of consular cases, or because of the number of strategic meetings which take place during the summer. We met shortly after his departure from his role was announced, and when new ambassadors were being approved, always a subject of much debate and speculation.
Since relations with journalists and the press have recently been very tense, to break the ice I congratulated him on his studies and invited him to a meeting of Cambridge and Oxford alumni which is being organised by OCAS (Oxford and Cambridge Alumni Society) in Prague. I myself am an Oxford alumni, so the first question was easy. His response to the question of which university he preferred was the first and last which I didn’t find entirely persuasive. Cambridge is just much more romantic being located at the river.
Mr Gajdušek, your study successes can serve as an example to the young generation, which in my opinion does not always value and utilise all the opportunities on offer today. You have said that graduating from both universities was a dream come true for you… Where did you get your motivation, and what recommendations do you have for today’s young university students?
I’m from Mosty u Jablunkova, a small village right in the east of the Czech Republic. I knew I wanted to spend my life doing something I enjoyed; international law and philosophy: and the only way to do so was high quality education. International law and philosophy are taught together to a high quality at Anglo Saxon universities in particular. Since I wasn’t good at technical subjects and I’m not great manually, Třinec heavy industry wouldn’t have got me far. As such, I decided to leave my region. And as for recommendations for others, if I could give any advice, then I think humility and courage are essential. Universities abroad taught me humility; respect for people who truly know something. I met a lot of exceptionally talented colleagues who perhaps weren’t as lucky as me and didn’t get a grant or were simply born at a different time. So that made me appreciate the chance I had got even more. And courage because if you decide to take a certain path, you have to stay on it, even if it is a leap into the dark.
After work in a law office, your career up to now has been in the civil service. Were you not deterred by the many stereotypes of the rigid and slow environment?
They didn’t deter me. I think there are a lot of prejudices about the civil service. But I was lucky I was able to do what I enjoyed in my last job at the Office for the Protection of Competition; an agenda which included collaboration with international organisations such as the OECD and the World Bank, and work on new laws. In the civil service, a lot of it is about who you work with. If you’re part of a good team you have the opportunity to change a lot even within a rigid environment. A rigid environment is the result of rigid people. If you’ve got a dynamic team, rigidity won’t affect you. At the MFA, I’ve been able to surround myself with personnel staff and lawyers who have moved the department forward, in no small part due to the fact we have had many successes. I’m glad to be able to be a part of such changes.
You’re leaving the Ministry of Foreign Affairs after two and a half years having fulfilled your mission, which mainly involved securing the independence of the civil service and adoption of the Foreign Service Act. Using sports terminology, you’re leaving at half- time; you were nominated for five years. I’d like all state projects (especially the repair of the D1 motorway) to be similarly fast. How did your mission play out, and what specific successes did you have (from the perspective of the public)…
I joined at a time when the MFA was standing before a key fork in the road. On the one hand, the Civil Service Act did not reflect the MFA’s peculiarities, portending big problems. On the other hand, we had received a real mandate to begin to change things, so there were massive opportunities. In essence, the window of opportunity had opened – it was now or never. I knew that if we wanted to succeed we would have to take a path which no-one before us had completed. Thanks to the team I had the honour to be a part of, we managed in a short time to get a so-called technical amendment to the Civil Service Act adopted, which amongst other things saves a few hundred million crowns from the state budget each year and allows for the basic working of the MFA. But this still didn’t solve a number of other problems which the MFA had been suffering from for a number of decades, such as the lack of health insurance, damages and little legal protection for returning employees. For this reason, following the technical amendment we immediately set to work on the Foreign Service Act. If I compare it to similar foreign amendments, the Czech act goes much further in terms of employee rights and a stress on system transparency. Now, the act needs to be interpreted to ensure actual conditions at the MFA change for the better. And that’s a human factor which no law can affect. In any case, it is a huge satisfaction for me after almost three years of work and night shifts, to have been a part of this change. And also that we have fulfilled the promises which we gave to MFA employees a few years ago.
The politicisation and depoliticisation of the civil service is a constant issue. How do you see it? Not only in your role as State Secretary, but also as a civil servant…
The quality of every person must be the decisive factor. Their professional knowledge and also their personality. I think that just as important as expertise are empathy, an ability to reach agreement, and to be able to listen. If a civil servant has these traits, it is irrelevant what party they vote for, what church they are in or with whom they spend their private life. The problem occurs when people in key positions only get the role because of who they know without having the expertise required. That is one reason that I am glad that there are absolutely strict language, security and other conditions required at the MFA to be able to hold a particular role. They are essentially stricter than in the civil service, although this is also due to the peculiarities of diplomacy work.
In your new position, you’ll be responsible for the Czech Republic’s representation in international organisations. From my own experience, I know that Poland is far more successful in filling positions in international institutions. Where are we, and what can be done to ensure Czechs are better represented?
In the middle of the last year, we were asked by the Office of the Government to begin working on a strategy to increase the number of Czechs in international organisations. This was also conditional upon the strategy not leading to an increase in the number of civil servants or an increase in the budget. Thus we first had to undertake a thorough analysis of the situation, and the figures we came up with are not positive ones. Compared to our neighbouring countries, the Czech Republic is not in a good position, despite membership in almost 500 international organisations and the high sums we pay towards their budgets. This leads to a simple correlation: there is supply from international organisations, and there is also demand from the Czech side. So we need to create a system in which supply and demand meet each other in some intelligent form. As such, we want to create a database of suitable candidates, a list of international organisation priorities, assistance with preparing for tenders, communication across resorts, etc. But it’s a long game and we are a number of years behind some of our neighbours. We won’t be able to catch up in all the statistics in a year or even two.
What are you most proud of in your career so far? Looking at your next position, what are your career ambitions and plans in the medium-term?
In terms of the MFA, I am most proud that I was a part of the big changes to take place there, and part of an extraordinary team of people, deputies, lawyers and personnel workers. I’m glad we managed to implement all the changes within a short timeframe, something we didn’t have a choice over in any case. In terms of my further plans, first of all I’ve got to hand over my role properly, and then my superior will put me in a suitable role at MFA headquarters. The role of government representative is an honorary one, as the whole strategy is designed without any funding from the state budget. In the short- term, I need to take the rest of my holidays, and in the medium-term I would like to focus on international law at a transnational level.
By Linda Štucbartová