Early shadow over the Czech Presidency

The time has already come next week: at the beginning of July, France will hand over the reins to the Czech Republic. The EU Council Presidency comes at a particularly tricky time: the Ukraine war and persistent inflation will undoubtedly determine what happens at EU level in the coming months.

The serious allegations in Czech domestic politics are all the more inconvenient: because, as the EUobserver website writes, it was expected that a “new type of Czech government” would take over the presidency, an “EU-friendly, anti-corruption movement, determined to bring honesty back to the country’s politics.”

Allegations against Prague transport companies

The corruption scandal is now shaking up these expectations at European level. The scandal started in the capital Prague: According to the Czech media, several people are accused of influencing the award of contracts by the Prague Transport Authority (DPP) and demanding bribes.

The EUobserver writes that the members of the alleged criminal network are even said to have had code names. Apparently it is also in the room that illegal drugs were consumed in the course of the money exchange, the site continues. There were raids over the weekend – and arrests, including of the previous Deputy Mayor of Prague, Petr Hlubucek. Under the code name “Henne” he is said to have been part of the network – now he is in custody and submitted his resignation.

picturedesk.com/CTK/Michaela Rihova

Prague Deputy Mayor Hlubucek was arrested at the weekend

Hlubucek is a member of the Party of Mayors and Independents (STAN), which is part of the coalition and the party with the third most MPs, just behind Prime Minister Fiala’s Civic Democratic Party. The alleged head of the network, the entrepreneur and lobbyist Michal Redl, who was also arrested, also had connections to STAN, whose family was one of the party’s supporters.

Education minister resigned

Among other things, this led to Education Minister Petr Gazdik resigning on Sunday. Gazdik stressed over the weekend that he didn’t feel guilty. In a post on Twitter, he wrote that he only wanted to avert damage to his party and the coalition, especially so close to assuming the presidency.

Czech Interior Minister Vit Rakusan

APA/AFP/Michal Cizek

STAN party leader Vit Rakusan sees no reason to resign

But it may already be too late for that. Because the more the scandal comes into focus, the louder the allegations against the mayor’s party and its leader Vit Rakusan, who is also the interior minister in the Czech Republic. Opposition leader and ex-Prime Minister Andrej Babis raised serious allegations: “The real head of the Hydra is Rakusan, who as Minister of the Interior covers STAN’s organized crime,” quotes “Politico” Babis. “By keeping Rakusan in government, Fiala condones STAN’s mafia-like and predatory practices.”

Party leader sees himself firmly in office, gets support

But Rakusan sees no reason to resign: “I cannot and must not influence the work of the police. The proof is that the police are acting. Everyone sees that,” the APA quoted the Interior Minister as saying. He was backed by Premier Fiala, who expressed his confidence in Rakusan.

Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala

APA/AFP/Michal Cizek

Prime Minister Fiala tried to remain calm before taking over the presidency

In general, Fiala is obviously trying to calm down before taking over the Council Presidency. Last but not least, the disappearance of STAN would undoubtedly bring down the government. He saw the resignation of the Minister of Education as an “honest solution” that “we were not used to in high politics in recent years,” he wrote on Twitter. But the rumblings at STAN continue: On Monday, MEP Stanislav Polcak also suspended his party membership.

Expert sees contradiction to anti-corruption ethics

“When you have a platform built on liberal democracy and anti-corruption ethics, a scandal like this is very embarrassing and will have a major impact on perceptions,” expert Jan Kovar of the Prague Institute of International Relations told EUobserver.

“Sadly, this seems to be a recurring theme in Czech politics and will likely further undermine people’s trust in politics,” meanwhile Jiri Pehe of New York University in Prague told Politico. Last but not least, memories of the last Czech Council Presidency in 2009 are likely to be awakened, when Mirek Topolanek’s government was overthrown during the Presidency. Babis, head of the opposition party ANO, wants to refrain from doing so, it has now been said – also to avert damage to the Czech Republic.

“Europe as a task”

Even if a look at the Czech media shows that the topic is making the headlines: the Council Presidency is fast approaching. Last week Fiala announced the motto “Europe as a task”. He named controlling the influx of refugees from Ukraine and planning subsequent reconstruction as priorities: “After the Russian aggression against Ukraine, the world is no longer the same.” Other topics are said to be energy security, strengthening Europe’s defense capabilities and cyber security. 14 informal ministerial meetings and one summit meeting are planned.

Leave a Comment