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29th Sep 2022

MEPs: Czech PM Babis can't be in budget talks

  • MEP Monika Hohlmeier heads the parliament's committee overseeing the spending of EU funds (Photo: European Parliament)

Czech prime minister Andrej Babis should not take part in the negotiations on the next seven-year EU budget because of his potential conflict of interests and possible misuse of EU funds, MEPs said Wednesday (7 May).

MEPs on the European Parliament's budget control committee overseeing the spending of EU funds said Babis should "fully resolve" his potential conflict of interests before participating in budget talks.

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If the conflict of interest is confirmed, MEPs said that Babis, a billionaire tycoon, should sell his business interests, stop receiving any public subsidies including EU funds, or step down as prime minister.

Babis is under scrutiny over millions of euros of EU funds paid to Agrofert, a food, farming, chemicals and media conglomerate he owned, and whose ownership he transferred to two trust funds in 2017.

The EU commission and its fraud agency have been investigating, and according to leaked reports last year the EU executive confirmed the conflict of interest. Babis has denied any wrongdoing.

MEPs on Wednesday in a report summed up their mission to Prague in February to find out about how authorities protect EU funds.

"Mr Babis should not be involved in the next MFF [budget] negotiations," MEP Monika Hohlmeier, the chair of the committee, stated.

Hohlmeier said their concerns have "probably got a little deeper rather being alleviated in any way" with every meeting on the mission.

"The suspensions that we had going to Prague were substantiated, and we have quite a lot of worries that money is not reaching where it should reach," MEP Daniel Freund said.

"We have the extraordinary situation in the Czech Republic that the prime minister is the biggest beneficiary of EU funds in the country, that is a situation we need to resolve as quickly as possible," the German MEP added.

He said it was a matter of regret that the Czech government still had not replied to the commission's audit, while the conflict of interest continues to exist unchecked.

Freund said the commission should come out with the finalised audit report as quickly as possible.

He argued that EU leaders should enforce EU rules and refuse to sit down with Babis to negotiate the budget.

The MEPs' report calls for a better control in the Czech Republic on the conflict of interest - which is currently only based on a 'declaration of honour' with no follow-up.

MEPs said they found "oligarchic structures are fostered by an opaque system of dispersed control and lack of overview and responsibility for conflicts of interest."

The MEPs also highlighted the Czech court of auditors' limited competences, arguing it needs to be able to perform systematic on-the-spot checks of final beneficiaries.

"No government body was able to tell us who is exactly in charge of investigating these conflicts," MEP Sandor Ronai said.

Babis and the agriculture minister Miroslav Toman cancelled their meeting with the delegation.

Police protection in Prague

The MEPs Prague trip saw them subject to personal attacks.

"I have never been so aggressively attacked by a prime minister [Babis] or had that be the case for colleagues," Hohlmeier said.

"It went as far as colleagues needing police protection. I have never seen this in any other member state," she said.

Babis, whose ANO party belongs to the liberal Renew group, labelled as traitors Czech members of the mission, MEP Tomas Zdechovsky from centre-right EPP and Mikulas Peksa from the Greens.

In its budget proposal, the commission proposed linking the disbursement of EU funds to the rule of law and the sound implementation of EU spending.

But the commission has been traditionally reluctant to shame governments that oversee misuse of EU funds.

Analysis

Pro-EU forces on the move in central Europe

Last month at a summit in Budapest, Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orbán told Czech PM Andrej Babiš referring to the election: "Please, win! We need you!"

MEP in police protection after Czech PM calls him 'traitor'

Three MEPs received numerous death threats in the Czech Republic for asking questions about how EU funds are being spent. One of them had his entire family under police protection after people threatened to murder his four children.

Opinion

Questions for Czech PM Babis on Agrofert

In meticulous detail it exposes the ways Andrej Babis has obscured the fact he remains the sole beneficiary of his agrochemical corporation, Agrofert and how he has been fraudulently accessing subsidies both on the European and the national level.

Column

EU should admonish less, and listen more, to the Global South

Whether on Russia, or gas, or climate change, or food security, the EU's constant finger-wagging and moralising is becoming unbearably repetitive and self-defeating. Most countries in the Global South view it as eurocentric and neo-colonial.

Podcast

How Europe helped normalise Georgia Meloni

Should Georgia Meloni be considered neofascist? She insists she's a patriotic conservative. And indeed, if she's prime minister, she's expected to respect Italy's democracy — if only to keep money flowing from the EU.

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