Populist victory puts Czech EU policy in doubt

Ondrej Houska — Prague Today Oct 23, 2017

Andrej Babis

The Czech elections, where anti-establishment parties just won an overall majority, was the biggest victory for populists in the EU since the Brexit referendum.

It happened in a country where economic growth was solid, unemployment and inequality were among the lowest in the Europe, and wages were rising.

“The Czechs have rejected traditional politics based on ideas, which they associate with clientelism,” Petr Honzejk, a commentator for Czech business daily Hospodarske Noviny, said.

“They want strong authority. This is the fundamental meaning of this election,” he added.

The vote, held on Friday and Saturday (20 and 21 October), was a personal triumph for Andrej Babis, the country’s second richest man

His Ano movement (Action of Dissatisfied Citizens, an acronym which also means “Yes” in Czech) received 29.64 percent of the vote, almost 20 points ahead of the second party, the right-wing ODS (11.32%).

At a European level, Ano, which Babis founded in 2011, belongs to the liberal Alde party led by Belgian politician Guy Verhofstadt. Experts often describe it as a one-man party with no internal democracy.

Although Babis was until last year deputy prime minister and finance minister, he has succeeded in portraying himself as an outsider fighting a corrupt system of traditional parties.

Babis says he wants to run the country as successfully as he has his business empire – which spans from chemicals and agriculture to media.

“Babis has managed to galvanise voters with his claim that it is ‘now or never’,” said Jaromir Volek, a sociologist at the Masaryk University in Brno.

He won despite the fact that, earlier this month, the businessman-turned-politician was charged with fraud in a case involving a €2-million subsidy from EU cohesion funds.

Also this month, the Constitutional Court in Slovakia, where Babis was born, ordered a lower court to revisit a case on whether he collaborated with the Communist-era secret police.

Babis denies wrongdoing. He calls both cases a “brutal disinformation campaign”.

During the run-up to the election, he constantly criticised the EU and ruled out giving Brussels any new powers.

He also said that the euro was bankrupt.

He wants the EU to concentrate on stopping migrants and has repeatedly said he did not want to accept any refugees at all.

Babis, a pragmatic

He said all people fleeing to Europe were economic migrants and that the EU should seal its borders against them, ideally with the help of Nato.

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