Accused of conflicts of interest, Czech prime minister steps up attacks on Brussels

At the entrance to the “Stork’s Nest”, a gigantic complex housing a luxury hotel, a stud farm and an “eco-center” located one hour from Prague, the caretaker does not bother with precautions. From his gatehouse, this Thursday, September 30, he offers all visitors who wish “Share, before they forbid it!” », The latest work by Andrej Babis, owner and current Czech Prime Minister, campaigning for his re-election in the legislative elections held on Friday 8 and Saturday 9 October in this central European country.

“Take it, it’s free”, said the keeper, holding out the book which features on the cover a close-up photo of the man who is also the fifth fortune in the country. Since 2017 and the coming to power of this 67-year-old businessman, the “Stork’s Nest” is nevertheless supposed to be managed independently from the Prime Minister, by one of the two trust funds in which he has placed all his assets. . In any case, this is what Mr. Babis retorts to all those who accuse him of ” conflict of interest “ because its group of more than 250 companies, ranging from agrochemicals to the media, including tourism, receives millions of euros of European funds each year.

In April, a long report from the European Commission confirmed what is obvious to the “Stork’s Nest”: the independence of these trust funds is relative. “Considering that Mr. Babis has defined the objectives of his trust fund, appointed all his directors, that he can dismiss them, it can be considered that he retains a direct as well as indirect decisive influence”, write the European officials, asking the Czech Republic to repay more than 50 million euros of EU funds paid to the Prime Minister’s companies since 2017.

Article reserved for our subscribers Read also For legal experts at the European Commission, the Czech prime minister is in a “conflict of interest”

The Czech government has decided to challenge this decision. And, unperturbed, Mr. Babis has been campaigning since “To defend our sovereignty” versus ” Brussels “, who would like to force the Czech Republic “To welcome illegal migrants” Where “Impoverish us because of environmental madness”. Although he is a member of Emmanuel Macron’s very pro-European Renaissance group in the Strasbourg Parliament, he also regularly appears with the Hungarian nationalist prime minister, Viktor Orban, his “Friend”.

“A tactical populist”

How to explain this drift of a businessman who entered politics in 2011 at the head of his party called “Action of discontented citizens” (ANO, in Czech) and initially intended to “Beat the hydra of corruption” ? Mr. Babis did not respond to requests for an interview. On the contrary, he even had The world and other foreign media from a press conference and campaign rally with Mr. Orban on September 29. Known for his great versatility, this former communist, who was listed as a collaborator of the political police in the 1980s before mysteriously enriching himself in the 1990s, is “A tactical populist who aligns himself with his electorate and knows how to seduce him with his simple language”, says Otto Eibl, director of the political science department of the University of Brno.

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