Petr Dubinsky

Brussels Rejects Request For 2nd Delay In Conflict Of Interest Inquiry

The European Commission has rejected the Czech request for a 60-day postponement regarding comments on how the control of conflicts of interest in the distribution of European subsidies has improved. The deadline was set for them on Wednesday 22 September in a letter available to the server last Friday. Minister for Regional Development Klára Dostálová stated at today’s press conference that the Czechia will be able to send a statement. 

The Commission warned in August that if the measure did not improve, it could stop subsidies. In April, the commission published a final audit report, according to which Prime Minister Andrej Babiš (ANO) is in a conflict of interest, as he controls the Agrofert holding even after investing in trust funds and also participates in decisions on the distribution of EU subsidies. Grandma denies it.

“In view of the hearing of our Directorate-General in the European Parliament’s Committee on Budgetary Control on 27 September 2021, I insist that I receive a comprehensive state of implementation by 22 September,” Franck Sébert of the Directorate-General wrote. for regional policy. He refers to the meeting, which is to take place next Monday.

The Czech authorities were originally supposed to send a letter with information on how the conflict of interest control is currently being carried out by 8 September. The Ministry of Regional Development, which coordinates communication with Brussels, requested a postponement in the first week of September.

“We are responding on time as the European Commission wants. We are fulfilling everything we have agreed with the European Commission. We will meet the deadline of 22 September,” Dostálová said.

According to the Minister, the Czech answer will contain what the European Commission asks for. However, she did not want to give details because the communication with Brussels is confidential. According to Dostalová, the main requirement was for the Ministry of Industry and Trade to implement the methodological guideline, which it did. He is not afraid that subsidies could be stopped.

The European Commission is requesting a number of preventive and corrective measures from the Czech authorities to ensure compliance with the Conflict of Interest Act. For example, keep a list of public officials and companies they own or control. Or to incorporate into the procedures a methodological opinion that addresses conflicts of interest in relation to trust funds. The Czechia should now describe to Brussels the “ongoing improvement of the management and control system” and set a deadline for its completion. And it also requests information on “re-verification to be performed on 12 operations along with a deadline for their completion”.

Following an audit of conflicts of interest, the European Commission ordered an in-depth review of 12 projects of Agrofert’s subsidiaries last October. It was to be carried out by the Ministry of Industry and Trade. It has previously stated that it is working on it, but so far it is probably still without results, the server writes.

The Ministry of Regional Development stated in the letter of request two reasons for postponing the deadline – the complexity of changes to the current system in terms of preventing conflicts of interest, and the pandemic situation, which left insufficient experts in the Czech Republic to perform the required verification of 12 Agrofert projects.

The Ministry of Industry and Trade, due to which the postponement was requested, as it did not manage to improve the control of conflicts of interest, did not answer the questions of the editorial staff.