On Wednesday, MEPs debated with Council and Commission about the findings on the breach of conflict of interest rules involving Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš.
European deputies have harshly criticized Mr. Babiš for failing to resolve his conflict of interest while the recent European audit concluded that the Czech prime minister is in a situation of conflict of interest because he “still controls Agrofert”.
Thirty legislators joined the debate, and no one, except for two members of Babiš’s ANO movement, spoke in support of him. The discussion thus showed that Babiš has no allies in the EU Parliament.
In the debate, MEPs commented on the recent conclusions of the Commission’s 2014-2020 audit into a case of conflict of interest in which Andrej Babiš has been implicated, saying that the extent to which oligarchic structures have developed in Czechia is “inacceptable”, and that the funds in question have to be retrieved.
Others said that this issue should not be used as an excuse to enhance EU competencies, and some underlined that the recommendations of the audit are being implemented now.
Whereas the Portuguese Minister Augusto Santos Silva, President-in-Office of the Council, said the Council could not formulate any view on such specific cases, Commissioner Johannes Hahn informed MEPs that so far no expenditure has been declared for any of the operations affected by this audit and that therefore the EU budget “has been and remains fully protected”.
The Romanian Socialist MP Maria Grapini described Babiš as a “mobster” who “enriches himself with EU money”, while the Austrian Hannes Heide said that “the European Union is not a cow that needs milking.”
The next steps will depend on the progress the Czech authorities are making in addressing the remaining recommendations, Hahn added.
A resolution will be put to the vote during the June plenary session. The links to the full debate and to the individual speeches can be found here.
The Commission’s audit confirmed that as Prime Minister, Mr. Babiš exercised influence on the allocation of EU subsidies to Agrofert, an agro-chemical conglomerate that he founded himself. The Commission confirmed the concerns Parliament has voiced many times in recent years.
In 2018, 2019, and 2020, MEPs adopted resolutions pointing to the misuse of EU agricultural funds in Czechia and the Prime Minister’s possible involvement.
They called for stronger measures to protect EU spending, in particular for a control mechanism to be set up to address the issue of conflicts of interest, and for more transparency on the final beneficiaries of EU funds. Currently, no EU law obliges a member state to disclose the ultimate beneficiaries of EU subsidies.