8th Dec 2023


Pro-EU forces on the move in central Europe

  • Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki,Hungary's PM Viktor Orbán, EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and Czech premier Andrej Babiš when the three heads of the four Visegrád countries were in Brussels to protest against the latest European migration pl (Photo: European Commission)
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Pro-EU and liberal democratic forces got a much needed shot in the arm over the weekend in some of the Visegrad countries that have been viewed in recent years as "trouble-makers" in the the EU, with alleged corruption at the highest level of government, increasing concerns over judicial independence, and democratic backsliding.

In the weekend's Czech election - seen partly as a referendum on the rule of prime minister Andrej Babiš - the billionaire businessman narrowly lost the popular vote to a liberal-conservative coalition of opposition parties, called Together.

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The conservative ODS and TOP09, and the Christian Democratic KDU-ČSL received 27.8 percent of the votes, Babiš's populist movement, ANO, came in a near second with 27.1 percent.

The third party, with 15.6 percent of the vote, was the coalition of the social liberal Pirate Party and the centre-right Mayors. The far-right SPD also made into the parliament, but the two left-wing parties, allies of Babiš, did not make it to the 200-seat house.

The surprise result came shortly after the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists reported details of Babiš's overseas financial dealings in a project called the Pandora Papers.

Babiš has denied wrongdoing, as he did when the EU Commission found earlier this year him to be in conflict of interest over how his Agrofert conglomerate accepted subsidies from the EU.

MEPs have been regularly calling for Babiš to be excluded from the European Council of EU leaders when EU budget issues have been discussed, arguing that there was a conflict of interest.

Over his alleged graft there are ongoing investigations within the Czech Republic as well.

Nevertheless, Czech president Miloš Zeman, an ally of Babiš, has signalled that he will ask the leader of the largest party - not of the largest coalition - to form the next government.

This could make it possible for Babiš to stay in power for some time, although he is likely to face a no confidence vote in the parliament where he does not hold the majority.

For the time being, Zeman remains in intensive care, incapable of making a decision.

Babiš has clearly steered the country of 10 million onto the illiberal political path originally built by Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, who visited his Czech colleague just shortly before the election to support him.

The Czech businessman followed Orbán in attacking the EU and associating it with uncontrolled migration.

Last month at a summit in Budapest, Orbán told Babi,š referring to the election: "Please, win! We need you!"

The coalition Together explicitly ran a pro-European campaign.

Hungary run-off

In Hungary itself, a united opposition is also making news with a primary to select the united candidates running against Orbán's Fidesz party candidates and ultimately Orbán itself.

In the prime ministerial primary, MEP Klara Dobrev, vice-president of the European Parliament from the liberal-left Democratic Coalition came in first.

Budapest's green mayor Gergely Karácsony finished in second place and conservative liberal political maverick Péter Márky-Zay, a mayor of rural town coming in third.

After days of negotiations, Karácsony stepped back to support Márky-Zay arguing Dobrev will not be able to defeat Orbán because her party is led by the divisive ex-premier, her husband, Ferenc Gyurcsány, and Márky-Zay is in a better place to convince disillusioned ex-Fidesz voters.

The primary run-off exposes fault lines between the left and right wing of the Hungarian opposition, the Orbán's challenger will be chosen by 16 October. All three of the candidates run on a pro-EU platform.

And in Warsaw on Sunday, 100,000 people gathered with EU and Polish flags in the old town where former prime minister and ex-president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, spoke against the recent decision of the controversial Constitutional Tribunal to question the primacy of EU law.

He told the crowd the Law and Justice party (PiS) wanted to quit the EU, which PiS has denied.

"We know why they want to leave [the EU], so that they can violate democratic rules with impunity," he said.

Organisers said protests took place in over 100 towns and cities across Poland.

MEPs call for action in Czech PM conflict-of-interest case

Last month, the commission published an audit into subsidies granted to the Agrofert business empire, founded by Czech PM Andrej Babiš, and still controlled by him, despite having put his assets into trust funds when he became PM.

United anti-Orban opposition pins hopes on primaries

The primaries have been organised by a newly-united opposition alliance, with voting taking place in person and online. Over 633,000 people have cast ballots - around 25 percent of all opposition votes cast in 2018.


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