Thursday

19th Sep 2019

Babis unmoved by EU scam allegations

  • 'Why should I resign? I did nothing illegal,' Czech prime minister Andrei Babis said

Czech crowds have piled on pressure for the country's oligarch ruler, Andrei Babis, to step down.

But criminal allegations and leaked EU reports look unlikely to topple him any time soon.

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Between 200,000 and 260,000 people urged Babis to go in a rally in Prague on Sunday (23 June), according to police and other estimates.

The crowd, carrying banners such as "Resign" and "We've Had Enough", was the largest in the country since the fall of communism there in 1989.

"It is unacceptable for our prime minister to be a person under criminal investigation," Mikulas Minar, a student activist in the anti-Babis movement, said at the event, according to the Reuters news agency.

"Our country has many problems and the government is not solving them. It is not solving them because the only worry of the prime minister is how to untangle himself from his personal problems," he told the rally.

The first protests erupted in April when Czech police recommended Babis be charged for allegedly fraudulently obtaining €2m in EU subsidies for his business 10 years ago.

A leaked European Commission report poured fuel on the fire by saying he was guilty of conflict of interest on further EU subsidies worth €17.5m.

But Babis denies wrongdoing and the 64-year old billionaire shows little sign of moving aside.

"Why should I resign? I did nothing illegal," he told Czech newspaper Lidove noviny also on Sunday.

"From morning to evening I work for the citizens of the country ... I fight for the interests of the Czech Republic," he said.

He defended his recent appointment of a new justice minister, Marie Benesova, amid allegations that she was put in place to quash the anti-Babis fraud case.

"She is a decent lady who in the past fought for the independence of our judiciary," Babis said.

The idea that Czech rule of law was at risk was "nonsense" made up by "activist journalists", he added.

The fact the massive protest went ahead on Sunday was a sign that all was well in the republic, he also said.

"The important thing is that we have democracy, we have 30 years since the revolution and people have expressed their opinion," Babis said.

The Czech leader is part of a wider populist axis in central Europe.

Similar governments in Hungary, Poland, and Romania have provoked an EU backlash over corruption and rule of law.

A Babis spokeswoman, Jana Adamcova, also said Sunday's demonstration was "a perfect example of the fact that freedom and democracy in our country are not at risk".

But the people's voice in the capital looks unlikely to put Babis at risk either.

His ANO party and its allies hold enough votes to survive no-confidence votes in parliament.

The party came top in European Parliament elections in May with 21 percent of the vote despite the protests having already begun.

And it still had 27.5 percent support in a poll by the Kantar agency on 9 June.

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.

Defending the 'European way of life' name splits MEPs

European People's Party group leader Manfred Weber defended Ursula von der Leyen's decision to rename a commission portfolio, partly dealing with migration, "protecting the European way of life". He said it means rescuing people in the Mediterranean.

Hungary claims EU 'witch-hunt' over rule of law hearing

Hungary was quizzed by EU ministers over its domestic crackdown on media, judges, academia and NGOs. Hungary's minister responded by saying the country had defended "the European way of life" for centuries, and it should be respected.

EU divided on how to protect rule of law

Poland and Hungary have argued that rule of law is purely a domestic matter and the EU should respect legal traditions, but Dutch foreign minister warned backsliding was a worry for all.

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