Verhofstadt says Czech election winner Babiš an ally for reform

Andrej Babis, Slovak-born billionaire and leader of the ANO movement, speaks to media after a meeting with Czech President Milos Zeman following the Czech general elections at the Lany Castle in village of Lany, Czech Republic, 23 October 2017. [Martin Divisek/EPA]

Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the liberals in the European Parliament said on Wednesday (1 November) that the Czech government being formed by Andrej Babiš would be an ally in pushing forward EU reforms needed after Brexit.

Billionaire businessman Babiš’ ANO party was the runway winner of last month’s Czech election, having pledged to run the state better, fight corruption and take a tough stance against European Union overreach.

But concerns have risen among diplomats, analysts and commentators that his resistance to deeper EU integration, his criticism of migration policy and coolness to euro adoption could add to rifts seen already between the bloc’s executive and central European allies Hungary and Poland.

Babiš, though, has struck a more pro-European tone while saying the EU must change.

Andrej Babiš: Who is the new Czech prime minister?

Czech President Miloš Zeman instructed Andrej Babiš to form a new government. With 99% of the votes counted, his party ANO, collected 29.76% of popular support.

ANO is a member of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, which is led by Guy Verhofstadt and takes a strongly pro-integration stance.

Verhofstadt said after meeting Babiš on Wednesday that chances for reform were opening in Europe after elections in France and Germany, including in issues such as defence, migration and new governance of the eurozone.

“My conclusion after meeting Andrej (Babiš) today is that we can count on ANO to push for such a reform agenda,” he said.

Verhofstadt said all countries needed to play a role in reform after Britain leaves the EU.

Babiš reiterated on Wednesday his opposition to talk of two-speed Europe, referring to varying integration speeds, and said Europe needed to reflect more on the reasons for Brexit.

Czech tycoon Babiš to be named prime minister but may struggle to find partners

Czech President Milos Zeman said yesterday (22 October) he would name Andrej Babiš prime minister, but the tycoon leader of the anti-establishment ANO party may struggle to find coalition partners despite his emphatic election win.

“Europe has to think why Brexit happened and why there are so many citizens in Europe who have a negative opinion of Europe, why Europe issues so many laws and regulations. So this is the priority for us,” he said.

Despite winning 78 seats – three times more than its nearest competitor – in the 200-strong lower house, Babiš’ party is having a hard time finding coalition partners or other parties to support his effort to form a minority government.

Rivals say Babiš poses a threat to democracy because of his conflicts of interest with his business empire – placed in a trust this year – and also due to charges he faces connected to allegedly hiding ownership of a company a decade ago to gain EU subsidies. Babiš denies any wrongdoing.