Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš | Martin Divisek/EPA

EU Parliament set to condemn ‘potential conflict of interest’ by Czech leader

Planned resolution expresses concern about Andrej Babiš’ role in negotiating and implementing the EU budget.

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The European Parliament plans to vote next week on a resolution condemning “potential” conflict of interests by Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and expressing concern about his role in negotiating and implementing the EU budget.

All political groups in the Parliament except the far-right Identity and Democracy group have already lent their support to the extensive 11-page resolution, which is scheduled for a vote on Friday next week. That includes Renew Europe, Babiš’ political family — a rare move for a political group to criticize a leader from their own camp.

Babiš has come under scrutiny in both Prague and Brussels for his links to an agricultural conglomerate he founded, Agrofert, which has received millions in EU funds. Questions about his continued ties to Agrofert have been the subject of a European Commission audit into a possible conflict of interest because he’s actively negotiating the EU budget and oversees a government implementing EU budget programs.

The latest draft of the resolution, obtained by POLITICO, says that Parliament “deplores that the Czech Prime Minister was and continues to be actively involved in the implementation of the EU Budget in the Czech Republic in his position as Prime Minister … while he still controls the Agrofert Company.”

Babiš is no longer the formal owner of Agrofert, but watchdog groups including Transparency International have argued he is still “the founder and 100% end-user of benefits” of the two trusts overseeing the firm. The prime minister, meanwhile, has maintained that he has given up his business interests and denies any wrongdoing.

The resolution adds that Parliament “condemns any potential situations of conflicts of interests that could compromise the implementation of the EU budget” and “insists that a conflict of interests at the highest level of government of a member state, if confirmed, cannot be tolerated and has to be resolved.”

The text also addresses EU leaders — who next Friday are set to hold a videoconference to discuss the next seven-year EU budget — calling on them to take “all necessary and appropriate measures to prevent conflicts of interest in the context of the negotiations.”

At the same time, the Commission should “set up a control mechanism to address the issue of conflicts of interests … ensure a policy of zero tolerance … and ensure a swift recovery of potentially irregularly paid out subsidies,” the resolution says. It adds that Brussels should “thoroughly supervise the process in the Czech Republic.”

The resolution also makes concrete proposals concerning funds paid out under the EU’s mammoth Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) farm subsidies scheme.

It “calls on the Commission to table a proposal modifying the CAP rules towards a more fair allocation of EU funds, to ensure that the CAP is fairly allocated to active farmers who cultivate the land and does not result in land deals that benefit a select group of political insiders or incentivise abusive practices during auctions privatizing state-owned land.”

The Commission should also present “a proposal for a maximum amount of direct payment per natural person as beneficial owner of one or several companies,” it says.

Finally, the resolution “strongly condemns the use of defamatory language and hate speech publicly used” by Babiš, who in February slammed a group of MEPs taking part in a fact-finding mission in the Czech Republic as “traitors.”

The leaders of the Parliament’s political groups decided Thursday that amendments to the resolution can be voted on next Thursday, while the final vote is supposed to be held next Friday.

Lili Bayer contributed reporting.

Authors:
Hans von der Burchard 

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