MPs want rule of law violations investigated
Commission audit findings confirm continuing conflict of interest of Czech Prime Minister Babiš which Parliament has raised in several resolutions and discharge reports.
In a draft resolution adopted Wednesday by 26 votes in favor, none against and 4 abstentions, the Committee on Budgetary Control calls on the Commission to address this conflict of interest alongside information on the Prime Minister’s influence on the Czech media and the system judicial. MEPs want any alleged violation of the rule of law to be investigated and, if confirmed, they want the conditionality mechanism for the protection of the EU budget to be activated.
Concerns about the rule of law
In their report, MEPs point out the Czech government’s lack of initiative in resolving the conflict of interest situation and cite attempts by the Czech government in March 2020 to legalize Babiš’s conflict of interest through legislation ad hoc. MEPs are also concerned about the political pressure exerted on the independent Czech media as well as the resignation of the Attorney General, who cited pressure from the Minister of Justice as a reason for resigning. The draft text expresses “serious doubts about the independence of the Czech authorities” in charge of distributing direct agricultural payments and asks the Commission to initiate an audit procedure for the management of the National Agricultural Intervention Fund.
Czech citizens should not pay for Babiš’s conflict of interest
The committee condemns the practice of withdrawing projects from EU funding and funding them through the national budget when Commission or EU auditors detect irregularities. Czech citizens “should not pay for the prime minister’s conflict of interest”, say MEPs. They demand that the Agrofert group companies repay all grants illegally received from the national budgets of the EU or the Czech Republic, and demand that the disbursement of EU funds to companies controlled by Babiš or other members of the government Czech Republic be stopped, until the conflict of interest cases are stopped. fully resolved. Babiš should not be involved in negotiations related to the EU budget in the event of a conflict of interest. MEPs find it unacceptable that the Czech Prime Minister has participated and continues to participate actively in the Council negotiations on the EU budget and programs, including the negotiations on the common agricultural policy, while continuing to receive agricultural payments from the EU via the companies of the Agrofert group. “No minister, member or representative of a national government should participate in negotiations in the event of a conflict of interest,” they say.
Systemic weakness of EU reporting
The draft resolution criticizes the EU’s long audit process, contradictory procedures as well as financial correction procedures which last for several years. MEPs call for a review of the rules to allow for faster findings and recovery of overpaid EU funds and a standardized and publicly accessible format, such as an interoperable digital reporting and tracking system to disclose final beneficiaries CAP disbursements.
“It is unacceptable to see how the oligarchic structures have developed, consolidated and enriched with European and Czech national funding. MEPs cannot, and Member States must not, allow people with a clear conflict of interest to decide on the programming and distribution of common agricultural and cohesion funds. Billionaires should no longer be able to receive hundreds of millions of EU grants, ”said rapporteur Monika Hohlmeier (PPE, DE).
In April 2021, more than two years after the launch of the audit procedure, the Commission published its final report on the implementation of EU structural funds in Czechia, confirming the concerns expressed by Parliament for a long time. It found that funds had been unduly granted to entities of the Agrofert group of which the Prime Minister was the beneficial owner. The report also confirmed that Prime Minister Babiš was actively involved in the implementation of the EU budget in Czechia while in a conflict of interest situation. Agrofert is a conglomerate of more than 230 companies in several European countries (including Germany and the United Kingdom). The audit of agricultural payments in the Czech Republic is still ongoing.