Embattled Czech PM survives second no-confidence vote in a year

Andrej Babiš, photo: ČTK/Vít Šimánek

Prime Minister Andrej Babiš's government, as expected, survived a no-confidence vote early on Thursday morning, despite EU concerns over possible conflicts of interest and mass rallies demanding his resignation for alleged graft.

Andrej Babiš,  photo: ČTK/Vít Šimánek
After a marathon 17-hour session of at times heated debate, MPs began voting just before four in the morning. The vote was split along party lines, with 85 MPs voting in favour of the no-confidence motion and 85 voting against it, and the remaining 30 MPs either absent or –in the case of the Communists – abstaining.

The no-confidence vote was prompted by a preliminary European Commission report that found Babiš retains influence over the Agrofert holding he was obliged to place in a trust in 2017 after a change in Czech conflict of interest law – dubbed ‘Lex Babiš’.

Addressing the lower house at the start of debate on Wednesday, the Slovak-born billionaire insisted the final EU audit would clear him of wrongdoing, and characterised other allegations against him as a smear campaign.

“The opposition talks about ‘conflicts of interest’ and say I somehow pose a threat. Yet you resolved the conflict of interest question already in 2016, 2017. You enacted ‘Lex Babiš’ – a special law against Babiš. I left the holding and placed it in a trust according to your law. I did exactly what you wanted! So why talk about ‘conflicts of interest’ now? I have none. I followed Czech law.”

The final EU audit expected later this year could result in Agrofert having to repay up to 17.4 million euros in EU subsidies. Meanwhile, police have recommended charging Mr Babiš in connection with a 2 million euro EU subsidy scam from a decade ago, over his Stork Nest complex.

Again dismissing the allegations, the prime minister said the Czech Republic had enjoyed economic prosperity, higher wages, low unemployment and a balanced budget thanks to his policies – alluding also to his earlier tenure as finance minister.

Stork Nest | Photo: Filip Jandourek,  Czech Radio
Mr Babiš went on to present a laundry list of national interests he said he was fighting for in Brussels, such as to preserve nuclear power in the energy mix and protect the automobile industry, and domestic issues that required urgent attention.

“I’m the prime minster of all Czech citizens, and fight for the interest of all. So, I don’t understand why the opposition would want to destabilise our country; why you would want to introduce insecurity into a society which, unfortunately, is now growing more divided; why you would want to harm our country.”

The headers of the five opposition parties that initiated the no-confidence vote – the Civic Democrats, Pirates, Christian Democrats, TOP 09 and Party of Mayors and Independents –went on to make their case that Mr Babiš is unable to effectively represent the country in Brussels also because of the threat of criminal prosecution and alleged conflict of interest, both regarding EU funds.

Furthermore, the opposition argue, Mr Babiš has defrauded the EU and Czech state of millions; interferes in the editorial process of the major media he de facto still controls; and installed a new “loyal” justice minister after police recommended he face prosecution over the Stork Nest affair, thereby threatening independence of the judicial branch.