Opposition parties warn they will call vote of no-confidence over Stork’s Nest

'Stork’s Nest', photo: Filip Jandourek

A scandal over the suspect misuse of 50 million crowns in EU funding of the Stork’s Nest farm and conference centre, owned by Finance Minister Andrej Babiš, is continuing to simmer ahead of a special session of the lower house. The finance minister maintains that the application for European funds was put forward by the building’s former owner but is being called on to explain more next week. Coalition partners, the Social Democrats, are also holding a special meeting on Friday to discuss the matter.

'Stork’s Nest',  photo: Filip Jandourek
A special session of the lower house next week, in which Finance Minister Andrej Babiš has been called upon provide answers over the Stork Nest scandal, apparently can’t come soon enough. The opposition parties, the Civic Democrats, TOP 09 and the Dawn have already fired a shot across the bows, warning if the minister fails to explain the matter to satisfaction, they will push for a vote of no-confidence on the government. Civic Democrat leader Petr Fiala:

“This is such as serious matter that it fulfils the criteria... for a no-confidence vote.”

Petr Fiala,  photo: Filip Jandourek
According to the Czech news site Neovlivni.cz, the Stork’s nest farm and conference centre was owned by Mr Babiš’ agro-chemical giant Agrofert until 2008; then, its shares were transferred to bearer shares in order to claim EU subsidies of around 50 million crowns; but afterwards, the property was returned to the company. Now the manner of its funding is being investigated by the European Anti-Fraud Office and some see the affair representing the first real cracks in the current government.

The junior Christian Democrats backing of the special session next Wednesday, drew the finance minister’s ire: he hit back, suggesting their stance was part of an “early” election campaign. He also slammed the opposition, telling Czech TV the parties were spinning a fairy tale about trying to defeat the government:

“This is folklore by the Civic Democrats and TOP 09. If they manage to call a vote of no-confidence, we’ll vote.”

Andrej Babiš,  photo: ČT24
If the finance minister doesn’t sound particularly worried, it is because the opposition lining up against him doesn’t have nearly enough clout to bring the government down: only 49 votes when they would need a minimum of 101. Even if they do not call the vote, the opposition will nonetheless hope to press Mr Babiš on the matter significantly in next week’s session. As for the coalition? Most observers agree until now it has had considerably smoother sailing than the previous ones. But deeper fault lines could appear, not least if Stork’s nest is not properly explained. Regional and Senate elections are slated for this autumn and the general election for next year and even Mr Babiš has suggested the latter could be pushed up by several months, if members of the current coalition no longer get along.