Subsidies to Agrofert suspended after Babiš conflict of interest vote in Brussels

Andrej Babiš, photo: ČTK/AP/Geert Vanden Wijngaert

The European Parliament has just passed a resolution regarding possible conflict of interest involving the Czech prime minister. Under the decision, the European Commission will suspend subsidies to the Agrofert conglomerate linked to Andrej Babiš until the situation surrounding his alleged conflict of interest is settled.

Andrej Babiš,  photo: ČTK/AP/Geert Vanden Wijngaert
Four-hundred and 34 MEPs voted on Thursday to pass the resolution “on conflicts of interest and the protection of the EU budget in the Czech Republic,” submitted by the European Greens with the support of the European People’s Party, with 64 voting against and 47 abstaining.

The process was set in motion earlier this year by the Prague branch of Transparency International, which says Mr Babiš continues to benefit from Agrofert despite having placed it in trust funds; this was supported by a leaked European Commission legal opinion. During a debate in the European Parliament on Wednesday, EU Budget Commissioner Günther Oettinger said the Commission was not going to pay subsidies to the companies linked to the Czech PM until the situation was resolved.

“We have made it clear from our point of view that the legal situation hasn’t been satisfactorily reflected. Moreover any potential conflict of interest has not been eliminated, although we were not able to ascertain any attempt to use money illegally.”

According to Carl Dolan, director of Transparency International EU, the resolution makes it very clear that Mr. Babiš has to respond to the concerns of the Parliament and the Commission.

“If you remember, this debate had come about in part because of a text of a legal opinion which confirms that there is a state of conflict of interest between Mr Babiš’s economic interests in the Agrofert group and his position as prime minister.

“There is also the political opinion of the European Parliament that this is something that needs to be enforced as soon as possible. So I think the next thing for Mr Babiš to do is to clarify how he will resolve the situation.”

Mr Babiš has always presented himself as a pro European politician. Do you think this affair might change his attitude towards the EU?

Carl Dolan,  photo: archive of Transparency International EU
“I would hope that if anything, it would make him even more pro-EU, because the European Union is first and foremost a community of values. What we are seeing is that the European Commission and the European Parliament are playing their role in providing these checks and balances within the system.

“So I would say this is a perfect example of how the European Union should work. It shows that nobody is above the law, whether you are a PM or a citizen and that’s exactly what we value in the EU.”

An audit of the EU funds received by Agrofert is due to take place in January and February. Meanwhile, Mr Babiš, who continues to deny any wrongdoing, has assured MEPs he would continue to cooperate with the European Commission legal service.