The Commission’s audit findings confirm the ongoing conflict of interest of Czech Prime Minister Babiš that Parliament raised in several resolutions and discharge reports.
In a draft resolution adopted on Wednesday with 26 votes in favour, none against and 4 abstentions, the Budgetary Control Committee calls on the Commission to address this conflict of interest alongside reports of the Prime Minister’s influence on Czech media and the judicial system. MEPs want any alleged rule of law breaches to be investigated and, if confirmed, they want the conditionality mechanism for the protection of the Union’s budget to be activated.
Concerns over rule of law
In their report, MEPs remark on the lack of initiative by the Czech government in addressing the conflict of interest situation and quote reported Czech government attempts in March 2020 to legalise Babiš’ conflict of interest via ad hoc legislation. MEPs are also concerned by the political pressure exerted on independent Czech media as well as the resignation of the prosecutor general, who stated pressure from the minister of justice as their reason for resigning.
The draft text voices “serious doubts on the independence of Czech authorities” in charge of distributing direct agricultural payments and asks the Commission to open an audit procedure into the management of the State Agricultural Intervention Fund.
Czech citizens should not pay for Babiš’ conflict of interest
The committee condemns the practice of withdrawing projects from European funding to finance them via the national budget when Commission or EU auditors detect irregularities. Czech citizens “should not pay for the conflict of interest of the Prime Minister”, MEPs say. They demand that Agrofert group companies repay all subsidies unlawfully received from EU or Czech national budgets, and call for the disbursement of EU funds to companies controlled by Babiš or other members of the Czech government to be stopped, until the cases of conflict of interests are fully resolved.
Babiš should not be involved in negotiations linked to the EU budget while in conflict of interest
MEPs find it unacceptable that the Czech Prime Minister has been, and is still actively, part of Council negotiations on budget and EU programmes, including the negotiations on the Common Agricultural Policy, while continuing to receive EU agricultural payments via the Agrofert group companies. “No minister, member or representative of a national government shall participate in negotiations while affected by a conflict of interest”, they say.
Systemic weakness in EU reporting
The draft resolution criticises the lengthy EU audit process, and the contradictory procedures as well as financial correction procedures lasting several years. MEPs call for a revision of the rules to allow for more timely conclusions and recovery of unduly paid EU funds and for a standardised and publicly accessible format, such as an interoperable digital reporting and monitoring system to disclose the end beneficiaries of CAP disbursements.