Sunday

17th Oct 2021

Opinion

Why doesn't Babiš get same focus as Hungary and Poland?

  • There is no reason to believe that a future Czech government aligned with Babiš would adopt the measures recommended by the EU to address the ongoing issue of corruption and erosion of media freedom (Photo: anobudelip.cz)
Listen to article

In November 2019, on the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, 300,000 Czechs took to the streets of Prague to demand an end to corruption and that all Czech politicians respect the rule-of-law. One activist group warned that "justice and the public media are in jeopardy."

Nearly two years later, Czech voters will have an opportunity to reject the government of billionaire prime minister Andrej Babiš, which has been inundated with conflict-of-interest charges and allegations of corruption.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

In comparison to other European Union members that have faced similar accusations, the Czech government has escaped relatively unscathed.

The populist governments in Hungary and Poland are facing serious consequences for testing the EU's tolerance towards members that undermine the core democratic values outlined in the EU Treaty's Article 2, which include respect for "human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and … human rights. Their violations of these values have led to the triggering of the Treaty's Article 7 proceedings which could lead to the suspension of their EU voting privileges, and in the worst case, the termination of their membership.

Despite clear evidence of similar violations, Babiš and his government have managed to evade similar attention and disciplinary action by the EU. The European Commission's April 2021 ruling that the Czech prime minister breached EU conflict-of-interest rules fits a pattern of ongoing disregard for the rule of law and basic democratic values.

Babis and his multi-billion-dollar agro-chemical conglomerate Agrofert, have been under investigation by Czech police of the alleged improper use of EU subsidies to finance a hotel-resort owned by Agrofert named the "Stork's Nest".

In a separate investigation, the European Commission ruled in April 2021 that Babiš breached EU conflict-of-interest rules when his company was paid EU subsidies while he was prime minister. Despite having put his assets into two ostensibly blind trust funds, the commission found that Babiš was able to direct and control Agrofert's decision-making regarding the EU subsidies.

The Czech government has been ordered to repay over €17m in subsidies to the EU, and in August 2021, the EU said that subsidies earmarked for the Czech Republic would be suspended until the government fixed its conflict-of-interest laws.

The EU Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO) drew attention to the growing problem of corruption in the Czech Republic in its 2016 report which stated that "corruption, and weak anti-corruption measures, have been among the more serious public policy problems in the Czech Republic for years."

Follow-up reports in February 2019 and March 2020 lamented the Babiš government's "very low level of compliance with the recommendations" made in previous reports and found the Czech government's failure to act to be "globally unsatisfactory".

Control the narrative

When allegations of corruption collide with Babiš's political interests, he can count on his vast Czech media empire to help control the narratives.

His significant Czech media holdings include some of the most widely-read national newspapers and popular radio stations - posing a significant challenge to Czech media independence and plurality.

British researcher Andrew Foxall wrote in Foreign Policy in 2015 that Babiš was contributing to the "oligarchisation" of Czech media and that Babis used his media assets to advance his political interests which regularly feature "sympathetic coverage of Babiš - and criticism of his opponents."

Concerns about about possible political interference in the operations of the country's public broadcaster, Czech Television (CT), were raised by opposition politicians ahead of the October 2021 election.

The European Broadcasting Union warned in April 2021 that "it has become alarmingly clear that the Czech Republic's government is trying to exert pressure on that very independence, directly and indirectly."

In addition, Freedom House's 2021 Nations in Transit report noted that media owned by Babiš "disproportionately benefitted" from Czech government subsidies intended to alleviate financial stresses caused on media companies by the COVID pandemic.

Unlike the EU which has accused the Hungarian and Polish governments of breaching European values, for their intolerance towards minorities, Czech president Milos Zeman has joined their anti-LGBTQ chorus calling transgender people "disgusting", while Babiš has articulated his support for Hungary's anti-LGBTQ legislation, stating that he does "not know why we should meddle in Hungarians' laws."

While there is some speculation that Babiš could step down after the October election in return for the government dropping its corruption investigations - this would not prevent Babiš from seeking the Czech presidency in 2023. There is no reason to believe that a Czech government aligned with Babiš would adopt the measures recommended by the EU to address the ongoing issue of corruption and erosion of media freedom.

If Babiš is reelected, the EU should consider the application of Article 7 to deter future breaches and to protect the rule-of-law and core EU democratic values in the Czech Republic.

Author bio

Marcus Kolga is a human rights and anti-corruption activist. He is a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, led the Canadian civil society campaign for Magnitsky legislation, and is the founder of DisinfoWatch.org.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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.

News in Brief

  1. Poland legalises refugee pushbacks
  2. Report: China's Xi to snub UK climate summit
  3. Norway killings 'appeared to be' Islamist 'terrorism'
  4. Le Pen vows to 'dismantle' wind-power plants
  5. Slovenia PM tweets antisemitic conspiracy theory
  6. Italy sentences ship captain for Libya pushback
  7. Polish PM and von der Leyen to clash in Brussels next week
  8. MEPs call for improved roaming rules

Time for EU to grow up as a democracy

Conference on the Future of Europe must address shortcomings in the EU model of 'dual democracy' and prevent backsliding in member states.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew report reveals bad environmental habits
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersImproving the integration of young refugees
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNATO Secretary General guest at the Session of the Nordic Council
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCan you love whoever you want in care homes?
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals

Latest News

  1. MEPs urge Sassoli to sue EU Commission on rule of law
  2. MEPs seek EU law on bogus anti-media litigation
  3. Africa seeks EU help on global vaccine-waiver
  4. Giant of 20th century European design recognised by EU
  5. Italy on edge as neo-fascists stir violence
  6. Gas-price spike will backfire on industry, energy guru says
  7. Scientists raise alarm on Greenland's ice-sheet loss
  8. EU calls for ban on Arctic oil and gas drilling

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us