“I believe this is the last nail in the PM’s coffin”, says head of Czech Transparency International after EU Audit

Andrej Babiš, photo: ČTK/Michal Krumphanzl

Last week’s leaked preliminary EU Audit, which found Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš to be in a conflict of interests, continues to make headlines across the country. Mr. Babiš has denied any wrongdoing. Civil servants are now waiting for an official Czech translation to be sent after which they will send their state’s reply to the findings. I asked the director of the Transparency International’s Czech branch, David Ondračka, whether he thinks there is any chance the findings of the preliminary report will change in the final version.

Andrej Babiš,  photo: ČTK/Michal Krumphanzl
“The European Commission will not change its point of view on the findings. Of course, procedurally, they need to give the opportunity to national institutions to reply.

“However, I do not expect any major change in the findings and the final verdict will be very similar to the proposed one.

“The conflict of interest of the prime minister, the primary suspect in this case, is dramatic in the sense that his people at the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Regional Development are the ones drafting the Czech reply to the audit. That is what makes things even worse.

“Nevertheless, I do not expect that the European Commission will change anything specific.”

The findings go beyond Andrej Babiš with the audit stating that, among the analysed samples, there was an absence of minimum thresholds for evaluation criteria and serious deficiencies in control systems. How big of a problem is the lack of adequate evaluation of projects requiring EU funds in the Czech Republic?

“It is a very negative report for the Czech administration. We had a lot of corruption scandals relating to abuse of EU funding in the previous financial period and we hoped that the system had now been fixed.

“However, as this report shows, it wasn’t. It has deficiencies and is not able to enforce all the requirements.

“That is a terrible outcome and we need to fix it very soon for all programs, because that could have even more dramatic consequences for the country and in extreme cases they could actually stop the funding completely, like in Bulgaria and Romania.”

With the current political situation, is there a chance the Czech Republic will change its evaluation system ragarding EU funding any time soon?

“I believe that if there is a political will to do it, it can be done. It needs to be done.

“There has to be a professional and detailed audit of the system.

“We need to make sure that we put the rules into practice and they do not just remain on paper.

David Ondračka,  photo: Jana Přinosilová / Czech Radio
“Ultimately however, I believe that this ‘system Babiš’ needs to end, because that is what underlines the whole use of EU funds these days and we do not want to end up in the Hungarian scenario where one politician controls the whole country and all the money flows.”

What do you say to the PM’s claims that the audit is simply “copying” the previous audits made by the Pirate Party and Transparency International?

“Transparency International sent its complaint last September and the EU Commission basically confirmed our view now.

“The auditors of the European Commission are an independent institution they simply evaluated all of the documents, all of the procedures in each individual report.

“I do not buy into any of the paranoid views of the prime minister. I believe he is in a corner and might be done quite soon, so he is trying to attack everyone around.”

You say he might be done quite soon. Would you say this report is the last “nail in the coffin” for the prime minister, or will he still hold on for some time?

“I believe it actually is 'the nail in the coffin'. Czechs are usually tough, but they won’t let an oligarch prime minister trick us forever.

“I expect public anger and I hope that even more active action from the opposition ranks will lead to the end of ‘system Babiš’. This grant seeking needs to be finished.”