The election of Ursula von der Leyen as the new president of the European Commission has elicited both enthusiastic and sceptical reactions from Czech MEP, who were divided in the vote according to party lines. Those in favour of her election highlight her understanding of Central and Eastern Europe, those against point to her weak mandate.
Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and Social Democrat leader Jan Hamáček have
requested a meeting with President Miloš Zeman to try to resolve the
protracted crisis surrounding the change-of-guard at the Culture
Ministry.The date proposed is next week, despite the fact that the
president will still be holidaying at his country cottage at the time.
The Social Democrat leadership on Monday confirmed Michal Šmarda as the party’s nominee for culture minister and gave party leader Hamáček a stronger mandate in talks with the president and prime minister.
The party has been threatening to quit the government if the president refuses to accept its nominee for culture minister and has urged the prime minister to put pressure on the president to do his constitutional duty and appoint the man of their choice.
The Social Democrats’ party leadership on Monday set a final condition for remaining in the minority government of Andrej Babiš – that his ally President Miloš Zeman appoints their nominee for culture minister. But while urging the prime minister to use his constitutional power to ensure the appointment, the party’s ultimatum did not include a deadline.
The police have started a criminal investigation into the financial
management of the Stork’s Nest Farm and Hotel Complex, which is part of
the Agrofert conglomerate established by Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, the
news site Neovlivni.cz reported on Tuesday citing police spokeswoman Eva
According to Neovlivni, the police suspect the firm of extensive tax evasion. Agrofert spokesman Karel Hazelka said the management of the conglomerate had received no information on the case, but ruled out any financial irregularities at the firm.
Police earlier concluded an investigation into the Stork’s Nest Farm in connection with suspected EU subsidy fraud and proposed that Prime Minister Andrej Babiš be charged. The state attorney’s office dealing with the case has not yet reached any conclusion.
Prime Minister Andrej Babiš who established the multi-billion crown agro-chemical empire put it into trust funds two years ago in order to meet a strict new conflict of interest law.
If the Social Democrats decide to leave the government at a meeting of the
party leadership on Monday, then no party in Parliament would be willing to
enter into a coalition with Prime Minister Andrej Babiš’ ANO party,
according to a survey conducted by Czech Radio.
The opposition Civic Democrats, TOP 09 and the Pirate Party said they would not, under any circumstances, support a cabinet headed by Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, but his resignation might open the door to a cabinet reconstruction, thereby avoiding early elections.
The Freedom and Direct Democracy Party which has expressed readiness to support the Babiš cabinet on condition that its program priorities would be implemented also said it would not want to be represented in such a cabinet.
The Communist Party alone has refused to reveal its position.
The Czech branch of the International watchdog Transparency International
has decided to sue Prime Minister Andrej Babiš over statements which it
says are damaging the organization’s reputation.
In a statement released on Friday, TI Czech Republic said it had filed a slander complaint at the regional court in Prague and would be represented by lawyer Pavel Uhl.
The head of the Czech branch of TI David Ondračka said that on several public occasions the prime minister, who himself is suspected of EU subside fraud, had referred to Transparency International as a corrupt organization, with the clear intention of damaging the organization’s good name.
The opposition parties have criticized the drawn-out political conflict,
calling it a theatre of the absurd and arguing that the present government
is harming the country’s interests by a never–ending series of scandals
that prevents it from focussing on the country’ real problems.
The head of the Pirate Party, Ivan Bartoš, says it is not the culture minister who is at the core of the problem, but Prime Minister Andrej Babiš who is suspected of EU subsidy fraud and unwilling to stand up to the president.
Miroslav Kalousek, head of the TOP 09 deputies group in the lower house, argues that the present head of state has no respect for the Constitution and is being left to do as he will.
The Ministry of Transport, which is currently reviewing one of the two
preliminary EU audits that point to a conflict of interest of Prime
Minister Andrej Babiš, has partly admitted to one of the conclusions in
the report, news site iRozhlas reports.
The specific case concerns the transfer of CZK 2 billion from the Ministry of Transport to the Ministry of the Environment in 2016. The auditors claim this is one piece of evidence of the PM’s conflict of interest because the changes were made in order to support the country’s chemical industry, which is dominated by Agrofert, a company founded by Mr. Babiš. At the time the cabinet argued that the Transport Ministry’s plans were not sufficient and a potential loss of the amount of granted subsidies could be limited.
However, in an interview with Czech Radio’s Radiožurnál, Deputy Trade Minister Tomáš Čoček said that this year’s statistics prove that the concern was unfounded and the ministry’s plans were sufficient.
Swedish statistician Ola Rosling is co-founder of Gapminder, a foundation that aims to chart trends and use data to fight what it calls “devastating ignorance” using “fact-based worldviews everyone can understand.” On the invitation of Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, he recently visited the Czech Republic to share his vision with local politicians and decision-makers. His message to them in part was to reexamine their assumptions about the world – because the Left and Right are “equally wrong” – and embrace nuance over binary thinking.
If the Social Democrats quit the government and the cabinet is
reconstructed, Prime Minister Andrej Babiš of ANO would not need to seek a
fresh vote of confidence, the Communist Party’s Vojtěch Filip said on
Tuesday. Mr. Filip said the Social Democrats had around a third of the
seats in cabinet, meaning it would not be a major change.
The Communist Party chief said if other parties disagreed with this they could seek a vote of no-confidence. The Babiš government survived such a show of hands for the second time two weeks ago.
The Social Democrats are threatening to pull out of the coalition over the refusal of ANO leader Babiš to force the president to accept the resignation of the party’s arts minister.