Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš remains defiant in the midst of a storm following the leaking of a preliminary EU audit which states that he has a conflict of interests and the country many have to return close to half a billion crowns in EU grants as a result. The prime minister insists that the country will not have to return anything and has refused a call for him to ask the lower house for a vote of confidence in his minority government.
Prime Minister Andrej Babiš’s alleged conflict of interest has become the number one domestic issue, discussed not just in the government and Parliament but at demonstrations and pubs around the country. Demonstrations against the Czech prime minister have become increasingly frequent since the police proposed that he be charged with EU subsidy fraud in April. Now, the preliminary EU audit, which concludes that he has a conflict of interest, has only fueled opposition to the billionaire-businessman-turned-prime minister.
However, characteristically, Babiš is holding his ground, insisting that he is innocent of any wrongdoing and his ministers in government have closed ranks around him. At a press briefing following Monday’s cabinet meeting the Minister for Regional Development Klára Dostálová noted that the preliminary EU audit contained a number of serious inconsistencies. Environment Minister Brabec, who was named in the report as a former boss of one of the Agrofert companies at the centre of the dispute even said he said he was considering taking legal steps over the report’s “groundless, fabricated claims”.
The affair puts the prime minister’s coalition partner –the Social Democrats –in a tight spot. The opposition expects them to guarantee a fair and independent response to the EU audit and would like to see them support some of the opposition parties’ demands – such as a renewed test of the government’s support in the lower house and the immediate suspension of all national grants to Agrofert.
Social Democrat leader Jan Hamáček, who has repeatedly stated he still has faith in the coalition project, said it was premature to reach any conclusions on the basis of a preliminary audit and rejected the opposition’s demands that ministers from Babiš’s ANO party should not write the draft response to the EU report.
“The Czech Republic has a civil service law. We have civil servants who should not succumb to the influence of ministers. So if you want to know which ministers will draft the response to Brussels, I say none. It will be done by the civil servants of the ministries concerned.”
Meanwhile, the preliminary EU audit, which was to have been confidential, is being debated and analyzed in the press, by Parliamentary bodies, the National Centre for Combatting Organized Crime and other institutions. And the question everyone is asking themselves is- will the final draft arrive at the same conclusion as the preliminary one –and, if it does, how will that impact the Czech political scene.