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An Orban ruse, Kiska farewell and Babis conflicts… What’s new?

Didn’t have time to read the news lately? Kafkadesk’s got you covered. Here’s our recap of the latest political news: Hungary’s Orban keeps European alliance options open, outgoing Slovak President bids farewell to the Czech Republic, and Czech Prime Minister Babis in a tough spot after long-awaited and damning EU report on conflict of interest.

Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban keeps options open after EU vote

With 52% of the votes in last month’s EU elections, PM Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party unsurprisingly emerged as the uncontested winner of the European ballot in Hungary. But the fate of the Premier’s conservative party at the EU level remains uncertain, as Orban appears to be keeping his options open and playing both sides before deciding on his place in the future European Parliament.

For several months, speculation has been rife about whether or not Orban’s Fidesz would, after the election, be joining the far-right, Eurosceptic alliance put together by Italy’s Matteo Salvini. But a few days after the EU elections, Orban’s chief of staff Gergely Gulyás seemingly dismissed this option once and for all: “I don’t see much chance for a cooperation on a party level or in a joint parliamentary group”.

According to analysts, the Hungarian Prime Minister intends to keep his Fidesz party in the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), the largest political grouping in the EU Parliament from which Fidesz was temporarily suspended earlier this year. At least for the time being, and until Viktor Orban feels his 13 Fidesz MEP’s can still influence and harden the EPP’s line, most notably on the topic of immigration.

Moreover, Hungary’s recent decision to delay its planned judicial reform, which would have created a parallel administrative court system, seems to indicate Orban’s desire to accommodate his EPP allies (even though the Hungarian government is still pushing through several other controversial reforms, including the takeover of the research network of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences).

The Hungarian PM meets with Fidesz supporters on May 22 / Credit: Official Facebook Page of Viktor Orban

Outgoing Slovak President Andrej Kiska wraps up last foreign trip

Last week, Slovakia’s outgoing President Andrej Kiska visited the Czech Republic on his last foreign trip before leaving office in less that two weeks. He was received by Czech counterpart Milos Zeman at the Lány Castle, the Czech presidency’s summer residence, on Thursday afternoon. “I’ll miss you, Andrej”, Zeman told Kiska in front of reporters, despite their notoriously rocky relationship and regular disagreements on a number of issues. Kiska, who recently confirmed his intention to launch a new political party after stepping down as president, had previously bid farewell to Visegrad Four allies Poland and Hungary in April and May respectively.

On June 15, Slovakia’s president-elect Zuzana Caputova will be officially sworn in and take office as the first female head of state of the Central European country. Keeping in with the tradition between the two close neighbours, according to which Czech and Slovak heads of state visit one another for their first and last foreign trips, Zuzana Caputova announced that her first trip outside of Slovakia will also take her to the Czech Republic in the weeks following her inauguration.

Andrej Kiska and Milos Zeman at the Lany Castle, north-west of Prague / Credit: Jakub Poláček

Czech PM Andrej Babis in conflict of interest, according to EU Commission

According to a long-awaited report by the European Commission, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis is in conflict of interest due to his Agrofert business empire. If confirmed in later proceedings, the findings of the EU report could result in the Czech Republic losing or forced to reimburse some European funds paid to Agrofert or affiliated companies. The EU investigation was launched at the request of corruption watchdog Transparency International, and has been pushed by opposition parties that argue that Babis is still the ultimate beneficiary of Agrofert – and therefore violates EU and domestic law.

Babis, who has always denied any wrongdoing, reacted angrily to the report and “resolutely rejected its position”: “The Czech Republic will certainly not have to return any subsidies. There is no reason for that because I do not violate Czech nor European legal rules regarding conflict of interest”, he told Reuters reporters. The Czech Premier, a billionaire and second richest man in the country, is also facing a separate domestic investigation for alleged abuse of EU funds.

Czech Justice Minister Marie Benesova, who has faced growing calls to resign in recent weeks, urged caution over the preliminary findings of the EU audit and argued the Prime Minister fulfilled all the legal obligations by putting his business assets into a trust fund two years ago.

Czech PM Babis angrily denied the conclusions of the EU report / Credit: Official Facebook Page of Andrej Babis