European liberals call out member Babiš over part in Orban conservative event

Andrej Babiš

Ex-Czech prime minister Andrej Babiš has had his wrist slapped at international level. The ALDE liberal group at the European Parliament, of which his ANO is a member, has condemned Mr. Babiš’s recent appearance at a highly anti-liberal CPAC gathering in Budapest hosted by Viktor Orban. I discussed the situation with Pavel Havlicek of Prague’s Association for International Affairs.

“Andrej Babiš once again expressed his strongly illiberal tendencies and joined the conservative congress in Budapest recently, along with people like Viktor Orban, the host of the meeting, speaking about family and traditional conservative values, how Europe is decadent and going away from traditional principles.

Viktor Orbán | Photo:  European People's Party,  Flickr,  CC BY 2.0

“This was obviously going very much outside of the ranks and intellectual milieu of the ALDE group, which is why he [Babiš] was called for that publicly.

“I’m not surprised that this actually happened – I am surprised that it took so long for this to actually be called out by the European liberals.”

Andrej Babiš says that ANO is a catch-all party. He never seems very ideological. But is he in some sense aligned with the right or populist far-right?

“This is clearly his new turn.

“We are seeing once again the populist nature of Andrej Babiš’s politics.

“He’s turning in another direction. First there was a move from the right, where he started, to the left wing – taking over the voters of the Social Democrats and the Communists.

“And now, again, he’s going for very radical right-wing ideas, combining them with very strong welfare politics.

Pavel Havlíček | Photo: Kateřina Cibulka,  Czech Radio

“This is something that we would see as very comparable with the Polish ruling party PIS and many others: combining left and right slogans and politics under one banner – some very nationalist tendencies with some left-wing tendencies.

“By many interpretations his participation in the Budapest-based conference has been the launch of his campaign for upcoming European Parliament election, in June next year.”

What happens next at European Parliament level? Will ANO be able to remain in this ALDE group? Or would it make more sense for them to join another group, for example the group of right-wing populists?

“This is indeed a big question, still unanswered.

“Honestly, this will also be part of the post-election logic.

“I think it will so much depend on what actually happens during the election and how big the support is for Andrej Babiš.

“If the support is big enough, I am convinced that many of the parties inside the ALDE party, the Renew Europe group, will in fact be tempted to keep him in their ranks, because he would deliver the seats needed for more prominence in European Parliament policy making.

“But at the same time, there will obviously be more and more values-based conflicts.

“Already in 2019 we saw a number of those conflicts, with representatives of Andrej Babiš’s party trying to mediate between the very strong rhetoric of Andrej Babiš himself versus the softer tone of people like Dita Charanzová or some others.

“They are not Eurosceptics, they are rather active participants in European policy-making in some areas such as digital regulation and others.

“They are very prominent in the European Parliament ranks, they are very capable, some of those people.

“But they are just so far away from this kind of rhetoric that was vocalized during the recent Budapest congress.”