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Respekt: Babiš pays no heed to his foreign policy experts

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Prague, Jan 16 (CTK) – ANO leader and possible next Czech prime minister Andrej Babis has several foreign policy experts, but he does not listen to them and ANO MPs nearly always support his view, weekly Respekt writes in its latest issue out on Monday.

The main expert in foreign policy is Pavel Telicka, head of the ANO group in the European Parliament and former Czech EU commissioner. When journalists ask Babis about ANO’s position on foreign affairs, he usually says “We are in the EU, we are in NATO and Mr Telicka will give you the details,” Respekt writes.

However, Telicka seems to have little influence on the formation of the official stances of the ANO chairman. Telicka says the country must accept refugees based on international agreements, while Babis promotes a strong protection against all outsiders and declares that all those seeking a better life cannot be let in Europe, Respekt writes.

Telicka and Babis also take different positions on the sanctions that Europe imposed on Russia in reaction to the annexation of Crimea. Babis is strictly against the sanctions, while Telicka says the Russians might have been controlling Kiev if no sanctions had been imposed.

Telicka heads the ANO foreign commission established two years ago whose main task is to help the party’s representatives, often newcomers in politics, understand European affairs. But the reports that the commission issues seem to have little significance for the party, Respekt writes.

“If we present something from the commission to the ANO lower house group, most MPs join the view of the boss without any discussion,” Respekt quotes MP Bohuslav Chalupa as saying.

The figure of journalist Jan Machacek, board chairman of the Institute for Politics and Society think tank linked to ANO, is another paradox of Babis’s foreign policy, Respekt writes.

Babis entrusted Machacek with participation in the work on the foreign policy of the current government of the Social Democrats (CSSD), ANO and the Christian Democrats (KDU-CSL).

Machacek is one of the few collaborators of ANO who actively present their positions on international affairs. He has been promoting the federalisation of Europe, the single currency and the firm anchorage of the Czech Republic in NATO for a long time, Respekt writes.

Machacek refuses to comment on his role in ANO, but his influence on Babis, who likes to label European institutions a club of bureaucrats, is disputable as well, Respekt writes.

The sharp discrepancy between the public statements of Babis and the views of his foreign policy experts leads to the question whether Babis uses these people only as mascots of his seemingly responsible attitude to the Czech position in the world, Respekt writes.

Vit Dostal, from the Prague-based Association of International Affairs (AMO), said ANO does not have any foreign political strategy after three years in the government.

Benjamin Tallis, also from AMO, said ANO’s foreign policy is just a summary of stances that Babis adopted after he considered the expenses and the profit, Respekt writes.

The key point of reference of the expenses is the public opinion, which Babis has always closely followed. In early 2013 he was open to the adoption of the euro in the Czech Republic, but later he took a more reserved stance on it, as Czechs seem to be critical of the euro adoption now. His more and more aggressive statements against refugees also follow the shift in the public opinion, Respekt writes.

This can be seen in his position on Angela Merkel who became highly unpopular among Czechs after she welcomed Syrian refugees to Germany. Before Christmas, Babis said Merkel and her migration policy are to blame for a recent terrorist attack in Berlin. However, the man from Tunis who drove a truck into the Berlin crowd, came to Europe in 2011, four years before the refugee crisis.

Telicka claims that he explained to Babis that Merkel is one of the real leaders in world politics and an ally and that she needs to be treated accordingly. But Babis knows that Merkel is even less popular than Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Czech Republic at the moment, Respekt writes.

“At home, Babis will play the anti-Merkel card. However, in Europe he will not oppose the Chancellor because he feels that he could lose due to it,” Respekt quotes Dostal as saying.

When Babis was negotiating in Brussels, he made a rather realistic impression and he was able to communicate with other finance ministers in several languages. According to diplomats, the German support for Babis’s European initiative for fighting VAT frauds is a result of the negotiations between the German and Czech finance ministers, Respekt writes.

On the other hand, Babis criticises the EU behind the scenes in Brussels and claims that he will declare a referendum on the Czech membership of the EU once he becomes prime minister.

Babis officially rules this out, but his critics say he always did what was profitable for him and his firms, Respekt writes.

Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the Liberal group in the European Parliament (ALDE), of which ANO is a member, says Babis will find out that the world is more complicated than his simple slogans after he becomes prime minister, Respekt writes.

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