It has not been a good week for the Czech prime minister. Not only has a European Commission found Andrej Babiš to be in a conflict of interest, demanding the Czech state return the money paid to the Agrofert conglomerate he founded, but criminal proceedings have been restarted against him in a subsidy fraud case that has dragged on for years. Mr Babiš’s coalition partners are thus far standing by him, but another mass anti-government demonstration is being called for next week.
President Miloš Zeman has stood up for the embattled Czech prime minister
in the face of increasing pressure for him to resign in the wake of an EC
audit confirming that he has a conflict of interest and the decision of the
Supreme State Attorney to renew an investigation into whether he committed
EU subsidy fraud ten years ago.
In an interview for Barrandov TV President Zeman said Babiš should remain in office despite the renewed investigation, adding that the only reason for him to go would be if his party lost the next general elections.
The president confirmed that, at Babiš’ request, he would not use his right to stop the renewed investigation or pardon the prime minister.
Jan Hamáček, leader of the Social Democrats, a junior party in the ruling
coalition, has said his party will not be taking part in a meeting called
by the opposition Pirate Party in response to the EC audit alleged to have
confirmed that the Czech prime minister has a conflict of interest.
The opposition centre-right parties are seeking coordinated action in response to the news and are calling for the audit to be made public.
The Social Democrats are refusing to be drawn into the dispute, with Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček telling journalists that the audit is primarily the problem of the prime minister’s ANO party.
The Czech Republic will increase its contribution to the NATO budget by
about ten percent as of next year, the CTK news agency reported, citing
defence ministry sources.
The country is currently contributing 580 million crowns and should pay around 620 million as of 2020.
NATO member states agreed to increase their individual contributions after the US, which had been contributing the lion’s share for years, announced it would be lowering its input.
The funding of the alliance and defence spending will be the main focus of an upcoming NATO summit in London next week.
The Czech Republic will be represented by President Miloš Zeman, Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček, Defense Minister Lubomír Metnar and Czech Ambassador to NATO Jakub Landovský.
Senate chair Jaroslav Kubera has dismissed comments from President Milos
Zeman regarding his planned trip to Taiwan next year as a message directed
not to him but to the Chinese authorities.
President Zeman said in an interview for TV Barrandov on Thursday that should Senator Kubera travel to Taiwan it would impact their „relatively good“ relationship.
Senator Kubera said earlier he would be going to Taiwan on a trade mission. The Senator was previously criticized by China for attending a reception at the Representative Office of Taiwan in Prague, and responded by saying China must get used to the fact that the Czech Republic was a sovereign state which would not be pushed around.
Leaders of opposition parties in the Chamber of Deputies praised the work
of the BIS counterintelligence service after it released a report
highlighting the activities of disseminators of pro-Russian disinformation
in the Czech Republic.
The head of the Mayors and Independents group, Jan Farský, said, however, that the work of the counterintelligence was being complicated by President Miloš Zeman, who has repeatedly refused to promote BIS chief Michal Koudelka to the rank of general.
Mr. Zeman’s spokesperson, Jiří Ovčáček, said it was wrong of BIS to dub those with alternative outlooks as peddlers of disinformation. He said this was an attack on free speech.
Czech presidential elections are still three years away, provided Miloš Zeman finishes his second term. But candidates hoping to succeed him should already start building their “brand” at least two years before voters head to the ballot box, experts say. A new poll sheds light on the qualities Czechs want in their next head of state.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation should focus on fighting
international terrorism, the main, if not only, enemy of civilised states,
Czech President Miloš Zeman said at a meeting of Czech heads of military
command on Wednesday. He and Defence Minister Lubomír Metnar also said
they were against a withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The Czech president also mentioned the recent remark by his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, who said in a recent interview with the Economist magazine that NATO was in a state of "brain death". Mr. Zeman said that “if NATO is not to be in a state of brain death, it should become more offensive and realise what its real role in the current world is.”