At least 120,000 Czechs took to the streets of Prague on the evening of June 4 to call for the resignation of Prime Minster Andrej Babis (ANO), who is caught up in a conflict of interests scandal and accused of misusing EU funds. The protests are the biggest seen since those that took place during the fall of communism in 1989.
Babis might have to go to court over his role in the case where he is accused of using his political office to channel EU funds into one of his own companies, daily Hospodarske Noviny wrote on June 2, calling Babis one of the most problematic leaders in Europe.
As bne IntelliNews went to press, around 120,000 protesters had gathered in Prague’s Wenceslas Square, filling it to the brim, to demand Babis' resignation. The protest drew crowds from the capital and surrounding towns and was the latest in a series of big protests.
The current series started in April in a reaction to the appointment of Marie Benesova as Minister of Justice. There are claims she is biased in Babis' favour and will obstruct an independent investigation into the so-called Stork’s Nest case that has implicated Babis in the misuse of EU funds.
“I believe this actually is 'the nail in the coffin'. I expect public anger and I hope that even more active action from the opposition ranks will lead to the end of ‘system Babis’. This grant seeking needs to be finished,” said the director of Transparency International David Ondracka at a press conference, streamed by online Seznam.cz, called by the initiative Million Moments for Democracy, which is the main organiser of protests against Babis and Benesova across the country.
The opposition leader Petr Fiala (Civic Democrats, ODS) called on the minority Babis’ government to seek a new vote of confidence from Parliament. Fiala pointed to a damning draft European Commission report that bluntly accused Babis of misusing EU funds that was leaked last month. Babis rejected the criticism saying there is no grounds for action as the report has yet to be officially submitted.
The leader of Babis’ junior coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party, Jan Hamacek, said he still has faith in the coalition and would not draw any conclusions based on findings from a preliminary audit.
The government agreed that a draft response to the audit will be written by public officials, rather than ministers. “We have civil servants who should not succumb to the influence of ministers. So, if you want to know which ministers will draft a response to Brussels, I say none. It will be done by the civil servants of the ministries concerned,” said Hamacek, online iDnes.cz reported.
According to the leaked copy of the European Commission’s audit report, Babis has a conflict of interest, despite the fact that his former businesses have been placed in trust funds. There are suggestions the Czech Republic will have to return hundreds of millions of crowns to the European Union budget if the report is accepted.