Prime Minister Andrej Babiš who defended himself in Parliament on Thursday
following a second preliminary EC audit suggesting he has a conflict of
interest, refused to say whether he would step down if a final audit
confirmed this suspicion.
He said he had fully complied with Czech legislation and repeated that he was certain the Czech Republic would not have to return any subsidies to the EU.
Meanwhile Jan Hamáček, leader of the Social Democrats, a junior partner in the coalition government, said he sees no reason why his party should leave the government in connection with the scandal surrounding Prime Minister Andrej Babiš's alleged conflict of interest.
Following a meeting of the party leadership on Thursday Hamáček told media that the Social Democrats did not join the cabinet in order to solve their coalition partner's problems but to implement the party’s own policy programme.
The Social Democrat leader stressed that if any subsidies had been drafted in violation of the law they must be returned.
The damage by late spring frost to the Czech fruit harvest is expected to
exceed 100 million crowns, according to the head of the Association of
Czech Fruit Growers, Martin Ludvik.
The worst-hit areas are in northern and western Bohemia where farmers have lost much of their harvest. In Moravia farmers report damages due to severe hailstorms.
The annual value of the country’s fruit harvest is at around 1.3 billion crowns. In recent years farmers have repeatedly suffered losses due to spring frost or summer droughts.
EU Commissioner Věra Jourová is the most influential woman in the Czech
Republic, followed by Prague High State Attorney Lenka Bradáčová and
Finance Minister Alena Schillerová, according to the Czech edition of
Forbes magazine. Commissioner Věra Jourová tops the list for the first
time this year, replacing Lenka Bradáčová who held the top spot for six
years in succession.
Věra Jourová has served as EU commissioner since 2014. According to the head of the Czech edition of Forbes, Petr Šimůnek, she is now considered one of the most influential female politicians in Brussels.
Opposition MPs will jointly file a complaint with the Constitutional Court
against a law pushed through by ANO, the Social Democrats and the
Communists to tax church restitutions.
The law which would tax money being paid out to churches for property seized by the Communists, which the state can no longer return, is to come into force at the beginning of 2020. The complaint was signed by 62 right-wing deputies.
The tax bill was vetoed by the Senate as “unconstitutional” but the veto was later overturned by the lower house and the bill was signed into law by President Zeman. Its supporters argue that the sum being returned to churches is “overinflated”, critics argue it is wrong, in principle, to tax stolen property on its return.
Aside from returning land and property, the restitution law approved in 2013, counts on paying church organisations 59 billion crowns divided into annual payments over a period of 30 years. If taxed, the pay-outs would be reduced to 48 billion.
The centre-right opposition parties in the lower house have welcomed the
decision of the State Agricultural Intervention Fund to suspend all
subsidies to companies with links to the prime minister and agriculture
The head of the Christian Democrats Marek Výborný said it was essential to ensure that any subsidies that had been paid out in violation of the law would be returned by the entity in question and that the financial burden would not rest with Czech taxpayers.
According to Jan Fárský from the Mayors and Independents Party this case shows how important it was for the Czech Republic to join EU structures. They are now helping us to maintain the rule of law, Fárský said.
Agriculture Minister Miroslav Toman of the Social Democrats has dismissed
suggestions that he could have a conflict of interest in connection with
his family’s business Agrotrade.
At a press briefing in Prague on Thursday Toman said he “absolutely cannot” influence subsidies in favour of his family.
The agriculture minister said the European Commission’s preliminary audit report on agriculture subsidies was full of mistakes and his ministry would not publish it.
The State Agricultural Intervention Fund (SZIF) will suspend all further
subsidy payments for Agrofert group projects approved after February 2017,
when Prime Minister Andrej Babiš transferred the group to trust funds in
order to comply with a new Czech conflict of interest law, the head of the
State Agricultural Intervention Fund Martin Šebestyán said in response to
a second preliminary audit by the European Commission on Thursday. He
confirmed that between 2012 and April 2019 the fund paid out 6.5 billion
crowns to Agrofert companies.
The State Agricultural Intervention Fund will also suspend all further money to the Agrotrade company run by the brother and father of Agriculture Minister Miroslav Toman of the Social Democrats. The head of the fund said the steps were being taken as a precautionary measure in connection with the findings of the European Commission’s second preliminary audit relating to agricultural subsidies.
The second report also states that Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has a conflict of interest, though it does not say how much EU funds the Czech Republic may have to return as a result. According to the Czech media a considerable part of the report is also devoted to Agriculture Minister Miroslav Toman, whose family runs an agricultural business.
According to the head of the State Agricultural Intervention Fund the EC audit does not specifically state that Minister Toman has a conflict of interests but the Czech Republic has been asked to explain certain matters of procedure in connection with the case.
This May some 88 companies went belly up, the highest number of
bankruptcies in two and a half years, according to the Czech Credit Bureau
(CRIF). The figure is up by 35 compared to April.
Last month 551 people in business for themselves also declared bankruptcy, the highest number since May 2018.
Despite the relatively high number of bankruptcies in May, their number continues to decline in the long term, CRIF analyst Věra Kameníčková said, commenting on the figures.
President Miloš Zeman has asked the Russian ambassador to come to Prague
Castle to explain draft legislation now in the Duma stating that Soviet
troops took part in the 1968 of Czechoslovakia to suppress “an attempted
Earlier this week, the Czech Foreign Ministry also criticized the Russian legislation for misrepresenting the Soviet-led invasion that crushed the Prague Spring reform movement.
A spokesman for President Zeman said on Twitter that the Czech head of state had invited Russian ambassador Alexandr Zmejevský to meet him on 13 June.
The Czech foreign ministry has said the draft Russian legislation "stands in stark contrast to international law” and a 1993 treaty between Prague and Moscow.