Daily news summary
State Agricultural Intervention Fund suspends subsidies in wake of EC audits
The State Agricultural Intervention Fund (SZIF) will suspend all further subsidy payments for Agrofert group projects approved after February 2017, when Prime Minister Andrej Babiš transferred the group to trust funds in order to comply with a new Czech conflict of interest law, the head of the State Agricultural Intervention Fund Martin Šebestyán said in response to a second preliminary audit by the European Commission on Thursday. He confirmed that between 2012 and April 2019 the fund paid out 6.5 billion crowns to Agrofert companies.
The State Agricultural Intervention Fund will also suspend all further money to the Agrotrade company run by the brother and father of Agriculture Minister Miroslav Toman of the Social Democrats. The head of the fund said the steps were being taken as a precautionary measure in connection with the findings of the European Commission’s second preliminary audit relating to agricultural subsidies.
The second report also states that Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has a conflict of interest, though it does not say how much EU funds the Czech Republic may have to return as a result. According to the Czech media a considerable part of the report is also devoted to Agriculture Minister Miroslav Toman, whose family runs an agricultural business.
According to the head of the State Agricultural Intervention Fund the EC audit does not specifically state that Minister Toman has a conflict of interests but the Czech Republic has been asked to explain certain matters of procedure in connection with the case.
Agriculture minister vehemently rejects conflict of interest
Agriculture Minister Miroslav Toman of the Social Democrats has dismissed suggestions that he could have a conflict of interest in connection with his family’s business Agrotrade.
At a press briefing in Prague on Thursday Toman said he “absolutely cannot” influence subsidies in favour of his family.
The agriculture minister said the European Commission’s preliminary audit report on agriculture subsidies was full of mistakes and his ministry would not publish it.
Opposition welcomes suspension of subsidies
The centre-right opposition parties in the lower house have welcomed the decision of the State Agricultural Intervention Fund to suspend all subsidies to companies with links to the prime minister and agriculture minister.
The head of the Christian Democrats Marek Výborný said it was essential to ensure that any subsidies that had been paid out in violation of the law would be returned by the entity in question and that the financial burden would not rest with Czech taxpayers.
According to Jan Fárský from the Mayors and Independents Party this case shows how important it was for the Czech Republic to join EU structures. They are now helping us to maintain the rule of law, Fárský said.
Opposition MPs to file complaint against taxing church restitutions
Opposition MPs will jointly file a complaint with the Constitutional Court against a law pushed through by ANO, the Social Democrats and the Communists to tax church restitutions.
The law which would tax money being paid out to churches for property seized by the Communists, which the state can no longer return, is to come into force at the beginning of 2020. The complaint was signed by 62 right-wing deputies.
The tax bill was vetoed by the Senate as “unconstitutional” but the veto was later overturned by the lower house and the bill was signed into law by President Zeman. Its supporters argue that the sum being returned to churches is “overinflated”, critics argue it is wrong, in principle, to tax stolen property on its return.
Aside from returning land and property, the restitution law approved in 2013, counts on paying church organisations 59 billion crowns divided into annual payments over a period of 30 years. If taxed, the pay-outs would be reduced to 48 billion.
Forbes: Commissioner Věra Jourová most influential woman in Czech Republic
EU Commissioner Věra Jourová is the most influential woman in the Czech Republic, followed by Prague High State Attorney Lenka Bradáčová and Finance Minister Alena Schillerová, according to the Czech edition of Forbes magazine. Commissioner Věra Jourová tops the list for the first time this year, replacing Lenka Bradáčová who held the top spot for six years in succession.
Věra Jourová has served as EU commissioner since 2014. According to the head of the Czech edition of Forbes, Petr Šimůnek, she is now considered one of the most influential female politicians in Brussels.
Fruit growers suffer severe losses due to early spring frost
The damage by late spring frost to the Czech fruit harvest is expected to exceed 100 million crowns, according to the head of the Association of Czech Fruit Growers, Martin Ludvik.
The worst-hit areas are in northern and western Bohemia where farmers have lost much of their harvest. In Moravia farmers report damages due to severe hailstorms.
The annual value of the country’s fruit harvest is at around 1.3 billion crowns. In recent years farmers have repeatedly suffered losses due to spring frost or summer droughts.
Friday should be clear to partly cloudy with scattered showers and day temperatures between 22 and 26 degrees Celsius.