The EU Commission should suspend all EU funding to the business empire linked to the Czech PM and recover funds paid out irregularly, MEPs demanded on Thursday.
In a resolution adopted by 434 votes to 64 with 47 abstentions, MEPs ask the Commission to publish all documents related to the possible conflict of interest of the Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and explain what steps it intends to take to remedy the situation.
MEPs point out that Mr Babiš has been revealed to be the beneficial owner of Agrofert, the controlling company of the Agrofert Group conglomerate. Companies belonging to the group have received amounts ranging from EUR 42 million to EUR 82 million from the European Structural and Investment funds in 2013 – 2017.
According to the declaration of income of Czech public officials, Mr Babiš received an income of EUR 3.5 million during the first half of 2018 from the Agrofert Group via his trust funds , while at the same time serving as the chairman of the national “Council for the European Structural and Investment funds”.
MEPs to the European Commission: step up efforts
The new Financial regulation – the rules governing the management of the EU budget – prohibits conflicts of interest , and MEPs call on the Commission to apply a zero-tolerance policy when dealing with such cases. They regret that the Commission has long remained passive, despite serious indications since 2014 that Mr Babiš was entangled in a conflict of interest.
Having previously pointed to a possible conflict of interest during the annual discharge procedures, MEPs now demand that the Commission fully investigate the legality of all EU subsidies paid to the Agrofert Group since Mr Babiš joined the Czech government.
The Commission should further set up procedures to check and intervene when national authorities fail to act in such situations.
“Business and politics is a delicate combination that should not leave any doubts for a conflict of interest. The role of Andrej Babiš as head of the Czech government and his business dealings obviously create this conflict, as also concluded by the European Commission’s legal service”, said the Chairwoman of the European Parliament’s Budgetary Control Committee, German MEP Inge Gräßle.
“We insist that the Commission suspends all EU funding to Agrofert until the conflict of interest is fully investigated and resolved”, said Gräßle. “The Commission should also recover all funds that have been illegally or irregularly paid out. The principle of avoiding a conflict of interest is clear and not hard to follow. It is all the more disappointing to see that the usually very moral Liberals are now bowing their heads in silence when the problems start rising from among their own ranks”, Gräßle noted.
In September 2018, Transparency International Czech Republic lodged a formal complaint with the Commission, claiming that Mr Babiš had persistently violated EU and Czech law on conflicts of interest.
Quoting an internal European Commission document, media recently reported that EU funds received by Agrofert, a network of companies currently put into a trust by Mr Babiš, constitute a conflict of interest for the Czech Prime Minister.