Lithium mining and Czech national interests take centre stage in run-up to general elections

Less than five days ahead of the general elections, deputies in the lower house held a stormy nine-hour debate on the future of lithium mining in the Czech Republic, accusing the ruling Social Democrats of selling out the country’s national interests.

Andrej Babiš, photo: CTKAndrej Babiš, photo: CTK A final special session of the Czech lower house, called to assess a memorandum on lithium mining, signed by the Czech trade and industry minister and an Australian mining company just weeks ahead of the elections, triggered a stormy debate on the country’s national interests.

Insults and accusations flew through the air as the ANO party accused its partner in government, and main rival in the elections, the Social Democrats of selling out the country’s national interests. ANO leader Andrej Babis, who described the memorandum as “daylight robbery”, said Czechs would be cheated out of billions of crowns by a deal which handed the mining rights to a foreign company. The Communists echoed this warning, suggesting that the impact of such a deal on future state budgets would be similar to that of “the iceberg on the Titanic”.

Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka of the Social Democrats said the debate surrounding the memorandum was an attempt to divert attention from the fact that the ANO leader, whose party is slated to win the elections, is charged with subsidy fraud.

“The party badly needs to divert attention from its own problems, because otherwise the public and media might ask how it is possible that the leader of ANO and his chief deputy, who are both charged with fraud, remain at the head of the party and are running in the elections. So they come up with a Wag the Dog scenario.”

Bohuslav Sobotka, photo: CTKBohuslav Sobotka, photo: CTK After nine hours of heated debate, the house passed a resolution asking the government to annul the memorandum with the Australian based company European Metal Holdings and stating that the country’s reserves of lithium should be extracted by a state-owned company with the yields going to the state budget.

The resolution is not binding and many deputies openly admitted that the final session of the lower house had been little more than a hefty dose of election rhetoric broadcast live on national television.

However, the parties which provoked the debate in the lower house – ANO, the Communist Party and the Freedom and Democracy movement are satisfied with the outcome. Environment Minister Richard Brabec from ANO says his party tabled its opposition to the memorandum and even if the present government disregards the resolution it will be a pointer for the new administration.

Richard Brabec, photo: CTKRichard Brabec, photo: CTK “There are still four to five years left until the actual launch of lithium mining in the Czech Republic. This will give the next government and lower house time to consider the options so as to maximize the profit from this activity for all Czech citizens.”

European Metal Holdings has refrained from commenting on this latest development while the Czech firm Geomet, which holds a prospecting license for natural resources at the Cínovec mining site in the north of the country and is part of EMH ,said it was sorry to see the facts overshadowed by emotions, and warned insecurity could put off future investors.