Czech PM defiant in face of EP resolution, opposition pushing for change

Andrej Babiš, foto: ČTK / David Taneček

A resolution by the European Parliament criticizing the Czech prime minister’s potential conflict of interest and the lack of a reliable mechanism in the country to identify and prevent misuse of EU funds has evoked mixed reactions on the Czech political scene. While the prime minister’s party speaks of “unacceptable interference” in the country’s internal affairs, opposition politicians say the time is ripe for the Czech prime minister to make up his mind whether he wants to be in business or politics.

Photo: Michaela Danelová, Czech Radio

Controversy surrounding the Czech prime minister’s potential conflict of interest has dogged his heels ever since he entered politics in 2013 as a billionaire businessman and owner of the massive agro-chemical conglomerate Agrofert. In 2017 he placed the multi-billion crown empire into trust funds in order to adhere to a newly approved conflict of interest law and has refused to hear any criticism on the subject ever since–be it at home or abroad.

He has now accused the European Parliament of interfering in the country’s internal affairs saying the resolution is a political proclamation inspired by Czech “MEPs who did their best to harm Czech interests in Brussels.”

Klára Dostálová, photo: Michaela Danelová, Czech Radio

Regional Development Minister Klára Dostálová from the prime minister’s ANO party, who staunchly defended him against an audit by the European Commission which also concluded that the prime minister has a conflict of interest, said the EP resolution was “over the top” and her ministry would pen an official response to it.

“I fully understand the prime minister’s outrage, because I too was offended by some of the claims made in it. We have a sophisticated system of financial controls and reliable mechanisms to prevent abuse of funds. I don’t understand by what right the European Parliament is interfering in the country’s internal affairs.”

Not so the centre-right opposition which has welcomed the resolution, saying that its approval by a majority vote proves beyond any doubt that this is not a political campaign against the prime minister, but a very real problem that had been obvious to all from the start.

European Parliament, photo: ČTK / AP Photo / Francisco Seco

TOP 09 chair Markéta Pekarová Adamová said it was time for the prime minister to make up his mind whether he wants to be in business or politics. The Civic Democrats and Mayors and Independents said that by defying the European Parliament and European Commission Mr. Babis would lead the country into ever greater isolation.

Clearly, this is a concern shared by the prime minister’s coalition partner, the Social Democrats, who had been sitting on the fence in the face of this problem for some time. Party deputy chair and Culture Minister Lubomír Zaorálek told Czech Radio the resolution deserves attention.

“I think the resolution contains many points that need to be taken seriously. It clearly states that the system is not transparent and needs to be rectified. In this respect it outlines tasks for the European Council, for the European Commission and tasks for individual member states.”