Sunday, 24 March 2019

HN: Babiš has chance to change ČR into normal EU member

15 December 2017

Prague, Dec 14 (CTK) - Andrej Babis (ANO), prime minister of a new Czech government, has a chance of changing the country from a permanent troublemaker into a normal EU member, and his first steps in this respect look hopeful, Ondrej Houska writes in daily Hospodarske noviny (HN) on Thursday.

In his campaign before the October general election, Babis often spread "myths" about the EU, of which he evidently knows very little. For example, he asserted that the EU is controlled by its big members while the small ones lack any influence. In addition, he mentioned the Czech Republic as one of the small members, Houska writes.

Babis was wrong for two reasons. Small members naturally do have an influence if they seek it and are capable of gaining respect. Second, the Czech Republic should finally realise that it is no small state. Only 10 EU countries have more inhabitants. The Czech Republic's population is larger than those of 16 other EU members including Sweden, Finland, Austria and Denmark, Houska writes.

Nevertheless, Babis is right in that the influence of Czechs is much weaker than that of the above mentioned countries. However, it is the Czechs who is to blame for this. They are often incapable of saying what they want. They often raise angry protests and seem to be capable of nothing but criticism. Faced with such a partner, other countries have no strong reason to negotiate or make swap deals, Houska writes.

Now that Babis has become prime minister, he is asserting that everything will change in this respect. He is speaking of his "pro-European" orientation and says it is very important for the Czechs to be "more active" in Europe. He says the Czechs are competent enough to submit proposals and draft solutions in Brussels and at meetings with partners, and to negotiate actively, Houska writes.

Babis is quite right. The Czech Republic should do all this and it should finally start behaving as a normal EU country with all its rights and duties. It should no longer be only seeking the EU's support and refusing to bear any costs, though EU membership does include costs, Houska writes.

The question is, however, what the real effect of Babis's words will actually be, he continues.

Sources close to Babis admit that he has never shown much interest in the operation of the EU and that he knows very little about it, Houska writes.

True, he regularly attended finance ministers' meetings in his previous capacity as Czech finance minister, but the agenda he presented there was rather monothematic. He actually showed interest in nothing but his favourite issue of tax evasion. Otherwise, it was a problem to attract his attention for more than five minutes, Houska writes, citing insiders.

Never mind, a lot of newcomer prime ministers know little about the EU, this is no special feature of Czechs. It is important with what people Babis will surround himself and whether he will follow their advice. Simply, it depends on who will write down on the almost blank slate, which Babis definitely is in relation to the EU, Houska writes.

Babis's first steps in this respect do not look bad. Ales Chmelar will keep the post of the state secretary for the European affairs, and Babis often consults ANO MEPs Dita Charanzova and Martina Dlabajova on EU issues. All of them are competent people. They, along with a few Czech diplomats, have probably contributed to Babis's fresh announcement that he wants to push through the Czech ratification of the fiscal stability treaty that all EU members except for Prague and London signed five years ago, Houska writes.

The only reason why Prague stood outside the treaty at the time was then PM Petr Necas's (Civic Democrats, ODS) fear of then president Vaclav Klaus's reaction, Houska writes.

The Czech ratification of the fiscal compact would be a welcome gesture, a signal indicating that Babis will no longer only criticise the EU and lash out at it, which he did within his election campaign, Houska writes.

Also positive is that Babis shares the previous cabinet's plan to financially contribute in support of improving the situation in Libya, he writes.

However, it will be even more important to see whether all this will remain a mere isolated step or the beginning of a change, Houska writes.

It is not difficult to bang one's fist on the table and say: "I don't want the migrant relocation quotas." The real art is to persuade the largest possible number of EU members about it, Houska says.

Now it is important to see whether Babis will take the same approach to the EU which he took before the elections, when he often criticised it, including unrightfully, or whether he will take a pragmatic approach and complement his occasional well-founded criticism by calm negotiations with partners and an effort to push through Czech priorities, Houska writes.

Furthermore, Babis should be explaining to the Czech people that Prague must not only remain a part of the EU but also become its active member, since an obstacle to this goal is the public opinion, which has not mentally absorbed the fact of the Czech EU membership as yet, Houska writes.

To Czech people, the EU is something strange and alienated. Babis must change this unfortunate public opinion also because he contributed to it by his pre-election rhetoric, Houska concludes.

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