The Shape of (Central) Europe 2021

03. December 2021

This year’s annual Aspen Institute Central Europe conference, traditionally supported by the media house Economia, was held online, streaming from Prague Crossroads. The topics of government effectiveness, artificial intelligence and defense, education, and pedagogical leadership resonated all the more in the online environment. However, The Shape of (Central) Europe 2021 Conference not only highlighted the challenges that the Czech Republic will face in the coming decades, but also revealed the shortcomings the Czech Republic suffers from compared to its European competitors.

Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright officially opened the conference with an online broadcast from the US, reminding us that democracy remains the best system of government and that the rule of law is the foundation of democracy, where no politician is above the law. She concluded by sharing her views on how a good political leader should function and how to motivate quality youth to work in government.

As in previous years, the conference commenced with a state-of-the-art analysis from McKinsey & Company and the Aspen Institute CE Expert Groups. The research was then used to summarize recommendations for improvement in each area. Next, four follow-up discussion panels offered great ideas and timely theses from experts and industry players. These included business, academia, the non-profit sector, and government representatives.

The current level of performance of the state administration in the Czech Republic is not sufficient, even for solving common problems. Therefore, regardless of political orientation, the government will have to digitalize and strengthen its institutions’ efficiency to gain citizens’ trust and compete internationally.

Danuše Nerudová, the rector of Mendel University in Brno, believes that not only is the trust of citizens in the state of utmost importance, but so is the trust of the state in citizens.

In the debate on making the state more efficient, experts agree. Education and improvement of human resources work in the state administration are crucial. Another requirement is attracting talented individuals and retaining, developing, and using them effectively. It is also necessary to adjust the structure and functioning of public administration bodies. This includes, for example, the sharing of specialists and a friendly user experience, leading to better cooperation between ministries. 

According to the AICE expert study, these objectives would be best pursued by a highly competent team led by the Prime Minister or Deputy Prime Minister and focused on concrete results. “A high-quality sectoral analysis is needed for digital transformation and to build an organization of work. Therefore, the civil service must be led by the best leaders who have strong support from the government. At the same time, we must find the courage to change,” said Pavel Rehak, Vice Chairman of Aspen Institute CE and Chairman of the Board of Direct Insurance.

A McKinsey & Company study for Aspen Institution CE listed three vital pillars needed to improve the recruitment of capable people. We first need to develop a strategy for working with talented employees to build the critical skills employers – i.e., the state – will value. The second point is to ensure, through appropriate recruitment, that the right people with the right skills become civil servants. Lastly, there is a need to train and upskill existing staff continuously.

The Aspen Institute Central Europe presented its 2021 Leadership Award 2021 at the annual conference. This year's winners were Slovak diplomat Ľubica Karvašová and Polish activist and inequality expert Jan Mencwel. The laureates received their awards from Ivan Hodac, Chairman of the Board of Directors of The Aspen Institute CE, and Cordell Carter, Executive Director of the Socrates Program at The Aspen Institute (US).

A recording of the entire conference is available on Czech TV’s iBroadcast here.

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