Czech FM: Babis' corruption cases 'leave bad taste'
October 2, 2019
The largest protests in the Czech Republic for 30 years have failed to shift its prime minister, Andrej Babis. DW's Conflict Zone asks the Czech foreign minister, a coalition partner, if he will quit Babis' government.
Tomas Petricek on Conflict Zone
The alternative to the current coalition government would be one "supported by populist and extremist forces," the Czech foreign minister has said.
In huge protests that began in April – the largest since the end of communism in 1989 – demonstrators called for the resignation of Prime Minister Andrej Babis, a billionaire businessman who came to power having vowed to tackle corruption.
Prime Minister Babis leads his ANO party, the larger party in the governing but minority administration, with Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek's Social Democratic party.
Asked on DW's Conflict Zone at what point he would be forced to leave the government, Petricek said the alternative was "certainly not in the interests of [his] country."
"That's why we probably bear the costs of this coalition."
Petricek did not comment on his coalition partners, citing an agreement not to do so, and said it was up to them whether Babis had to go.
"We need to play the role of keepers and that's our task in the government," said Petricek.
Europe's awkward squad?
The Czech Republic and its Visegrad neighbors, Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia, have been dubbed by some as Europe's "awkward squad" over apparent resistance to policies to tackle climate change and migrant quotas.
"I don't think that we are a strange club of countries in the center of Europe. First of all, we are very active in the European Union on many issues," said Petricek.
On climate change, the Czech prime minister himself said at a recent EU meeting on emissions targets, "Why should we decide 31 years ahead of time what will happen in 2050?"
Petricek said such policies did need to happen now but "as an industrial, export-oriented country, we would like to see that all the options that are on table will not lead to de-industrialization, loss of jobs. We don't want to have a jobless future."
"It is not helpful," said Petricek, but this was not only a problem in the Czech Republic.
"We have witnessed this trend across the European Union and we need to have a strategy how to fight it."
On Brexit, the foreign minister declined host Tim Sebastian's invitation to say he trusted UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson over Brexit and replied instead that "all options" were still possible.
"Boris Johnson said that he's willing to leave the EU without agreement and for us this is not a good option. But if the UK is not able to find a compromise and to have a majority in the parliament for agreement, I don't see any other option," said Petricek.
But were the 27 remaining countries of the European Union really so unified over Brexit? Charles Michel, the incoming European Council president, says no deal is better than a bad deal, while Ursula von der Leyen, the next commission president, says she would be willing to extend Britain's exit date.
Petricek said the difference was "minor."
"If the UK wants to extend the period for negotiations and there are good reasons for that presented by Westminster, let's consider it."
But the most significant point in the negotiations between the UK and the EU — the 'Irish backstop' — seems no closer to being resolved.
UK proposals on changing the backstop — the mechanism in Theresa May's deal designed to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and hated by hard Brexit supporters —were dismissed last week in Brussels.