Distribution of EU funds in the Czech Republic faces several weaknesses, including a lack of clear system, said German MEP Monika Hohlmeier (EPP), who led a fact-finding mission of the Budgetary Control (CONT) committee to the country.
“There is no clear system in place to identify conflicts of interest in Czech Republic,” said Hohlmeier. “We arrived with a lot of questions, we got some answers. But we are leaving with a lot of new questions.”
Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and Agricultural Minister Miroslav Toman refused to meet with the delegation.
Hohlmeier’s team visited Prague for a two-day fact-finding mission to gain insights into the distribution of EU funds. According to the European Commission’s draft audit reports, Babiš still influences his former agrochemical holding Agrofert, which is among the top EU funds receivers in the Czech Republic, both from cohesion and agricultural funds.
In Prague, CONT committee members met with representatives of the Czech government, the parliament and the paying agency, as well as with local NGOs, journalists and farmers’ organisations.
In the coming weeks, the CONT committee will analyse “dozens of suggestions” they received during the visit. “We heard worrying accounts from civil society over irregularities in the use of EU funds in the Czech Republic,” said Hohlmeier.
The mission agreed that ‘connectedness’ of Czech businesses is among the most crucial problems in the distribution of EU funds. Due the high level of connectedness, large holdings can use EU funds through smaller companies.
“The mission agrees that the Czech Finance Ministry badly implemented the European Directive on money laundering,” added Czech MEP Mikuláš Peksa (Greens/EFA).
His Green colleague Daniel Freund, emphasized the “worrying fact” that the authorities were pushed by the government to continue with payments to the companies related to the prime minister, despite his alleged conflict of interest.
He also said that if the ongoing Commission audits – concerning both agricultural funds and cohesion funds – show a conflict of interest of the Czech prime minister, Babiš should not be allowed to take part in negotiations on the EU’s next long-term budget, the Multiannual Financial Framework.
Both draft audit reports leaked by Czech media say that Babiš is in a conflict of interest. One of the final reports has already arrived in the country but has not been published yet.
The alleged conflict of interests should be also on the agenda of the European Parliament’s March plenary session.
Mission members under attack
The CONT committee fact-finding mission was shocked by the fact that Babiš labelled as traitors Czech members of the CONT mission – MEP Tomáš Zdechovský (EPP) and Mikuláš Peksa (Greens/EFA).
“Mr. Zdechovský and Mr. Peksa, they are high traitors, because there are Czech people in the European Parliament and they should fight for Czech interests. However, they fight against Czech Prime Minister,” Babiš told TV Prima.
Zdechovský told EURACTIV.cz that “the mission is perceived very negatively here. We are under attack”.
“It is a fact-finding mission, we are not here to sentence or imprison the prime minister,” he added.
CONT members also received death threats from extremist groups. “We are facing a special situation here in the Czech Republic. I am very concerned about that,” said the delegation chief Hohlmeier.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]