Tuesday

22nd Oct 2019

Czech PM attacks EU after fraud report prompts outrage

  • Andrej Babis (l) used anti-EU rhetoric reminiscent of Hungary and Poland (Photo: e.europa.eu)

The Czech Republic's billionaire prime minister, Andrej Babis, has accused the EU anti-fraud office, Olaf, of trying to "destabilise" his country.

"I consider the [Olaf] audit an attack on the Czech Republic, an attack on the interests of the Czech Republic ... It is a destabilisation of the Czech Republic," he told Czech MPs in parliament on Tuesday (4 June).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

"The Czech Republic certainly won't have to return any [EU] subsidies. There's no reason for that, because I'm not violating any Czech or European legal norms," he said.

Babis spoke as a rally by some 120,000 people in Wenceslas Square in Prague, the biggest since the country overthrew communism in the 'Velvet Revolution' in 1989, called on him to resign for the good of the country.

The protest came after a Czech newspaper, Hospodarske noviny, leaked details of the Olaf investigation into Agrofert, a Czech chemicals, farming, and media conglomerate.

Babis, its former owner, put the business into trust when he was elected in 2017.

But Olaf said he still had a direct economic interest in the company, at the same time as exercising control over Czech agricultural and industrial policy - prompting speculation it might be forced to give back about €19m of EU subsidies and be cut off from future payments worth much more.

The draft Olaf report was sent to the Czech finance ministry for comments prior to being finalised in Brussels.

"This  is a provisional finding and recommendation by the European Commission auditors, which can be changed on the basis of further information from national authorities," the finance ministry said in a statement.

"In the event that a certain expenditure is ineligible, the Czech Republic has the tools to recover it from the beneficiary," it added.

The crowd in Wenceslas Square was more outspoken, however.

"We will not act like it is normal that the prime minister of our country remains ... in such a conflict of interest that his personal problems damage the whole country," Mikulas Minar, a former theology student who organised the rally, said at the event.

"Mr Babis: You can probably buy a lot, but you cannot buy our honour, our hearts or our freedom," Jitka Cvancarova, a Czech actress who took part in the protest, also said, according to The New York Times.

Babis, whose private wealth is estimated at €3.2bn by US magazine Forbes, was originally elected on an anti-corruption ticket.

But protests broke out last November after his son, who is mentally ill, claimed his father had forced him into hiding in order to obstruct a police investigation into Agrofert.

The anti-Babis mood swelled when Czech police charged him with fraud over a €2m Agrofert subsidy in April.

It swelled again after he appointed a friendly justice minister, Marie Benesova, in what appeared to be an effort to quash the case.

The Green group in the European Parliament (EP) also urged the European Commission's anti-trust office in a letter on Tuesday to look into €10m of Czech subsidies for the conglomerate which "might lead to a distortion of competition in the EU single market", the Reuters news agency reported.

Babis, whose party, Ano, sits with the liberal Alde group in the EP, is less eurosceptic than other populist rulers in Hungary, Poland, and Romania.

But his attack on EU institutions mirrored their rhetoric and his justice ministry appointment resembled their efforts to meddle in national judiciaries.

The Czech prime minister has also used Twitter and Facebook to denounce the Olaf probe in recent days, as well as personally sending SMS messages to Reuters.

"I resolutely reject its [the report's] position and will fight for its change," he told the news agency.

The next Czech elections are not due until 2021 and Ano came out on top in the recent EP vote, even though its popularity dipped from 32 percent in April to 28 percent in May, according to the CVVM pollster.

Ongoing support by the Social Democrat party in the Ano-Led ruling coalition, as well as informal backing by far-left and far-right parties in parliament, mean that he would be unlikely to lose a no-confidence vote even if one was held.

Feature

Babis - 'pro-EU' leader of sceptic Czech Republic

For Andrej Babis, a businessman turned politician, EU membership is a matter of conviction as much as of economic opportunities, in a country still looking for a purpose.

Hungary tops EU anti-fraud investigation list

In its annual report, the EU's anti-fraud agency said it concluded nine investigations into Hungary and found irregularities in seven cases. In total, the agency recommended the recovery of €371m EU-wide.

News in Brief

  1. MEPs criticise Juncker over climate and tax policies
  2. Juncker defends commission record on Greek crisis
  3. Croatian MEP criticises EU parliament for trusting Šuica
  4. Brexit is waste of time and energy, says Juncker
  5. Abortion and same-sex marriage become legal in Northern Ireland
  6. Germany wants internationally controlled zone in Syria
  7. EU parliament refuses to debate Catalonia
  8. Four businessmen charged in Slovak journalist murder

Stalling on VAT reform costing billions, says Commission

German media outlet Correctiv, along with other newsrooms, have revealed how criminals annually cheat EU states out of billions in VAT fraud. The EU Commission says solutions exist - but member states refuse to budge on tax unanimity.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  3. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  4. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  5. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  7. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  11. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work

Latest News

  1. MPs vote on Johnson's latest push for Brexit deal
  2. Macron breaks Balkans promise in quest for EU dominance
  3. Snap elections in North Macedonia after EU rejection
  4. UK opposition MPs attack new Brexit deal
  5. Deep divisions on display over post-Brexit EU budget
  6. Juncker: 'Historic mistake' against Balkan EU hopefuls
  7. EU leaders spent just 12 minutes on climate
  8. Crunch Brexit vote in UK This WEEK

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us