Politico: Grocery shopping in the Czech Republic has turned political due to PM Andrej Babiš

Buying food has become political in a country where the Prime Minister is connected to one of its largest agricultural firms, writes the news server


Written by ČTK Published on 15.09.2020 13:57:56 (updated on 15.09.2020) Reading time: 3 minutes

Brussels, Sept 15 (CTK) – Everyday grocery shopping has turned into a political affair in the Czech Republic due to PM Andrej Babiš (ANO), as many do not want to support the agriculture holding firm Agrofert connected to him by buying its products, the server Politico writes today.

Politico points out possible conflict with the European Commission (EC), which the Czech Republic could face if a proposal for a compulsory share of Czech-made foodstuffs in stores were approved.

In this respect, European Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton has warned Czech Agriculture Minister Miroslav Toman in a letter.

Babiš transferred the Agrofert concern to trust funds in February 2017 to meet the amended conflict of interest law, but he remains the funds’ main beneficiary. He is therefore suspected of a conflict of interest as Agrofert firms are also among the main recipients of EU subsidies in the country.

Politico writes about the mobile app “Bez Andreje,” which means “Without Andrej,” which allows its users to scan supermarket items to check if they are linked to Agrofert. This is a tool used by opponents of Babiš who are dissatisfied with the billionaire-turned-politician ruling the country. Many consider his position a conflict of interest.

Babiš insists that he has no links to Agrofert any more. But the EC is looking into this in an audit to assess whether the concern’s firms are receiving EU subsidies rightfully.

If Czech customers say they find it hard now to go to a grocery shop without purchasing goods produced by the Agrofert firms, their shopping may become even more difficult in the future, the server writes.

“Even more Agrofert products could soon end up on supermarket shelves via a proposed amendment to food legislation currently under consideration by Czech lawmakers, which seeks to boost the sales of domestic products. This new rule would require every major supermarket to sell a certain quota of Czech food,” Politico writes.

Though the bill to introduce first a 55 percent share of Czech food products gradually rising to 85 percent did not make it through the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Czech parliament, before the summer holiday, its committee is now debating proposed changes to it.

Babis has distanced himself from the bill, but it was drafted by his ANO MP Margita Balastikova along with anti-EU far-right Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) deputy Zdenek Podal. If the bill were passed, exactly Babis would profit from it via Agrofert, Politico writes.

Additionally, this would cause troubles to the Czech Republic because of the expected clash with the EC, which considers such a regulation a violation of the EU rules on the common market.

“The imposition of a mandatory share of domestic food in stores clearly creates favored trade conditions for these products and discriminates against similar imported products. It further restricts the freedom of retailers to decide on their range and layout of sales areas,” Politico cites Breton’s letter to Toman from July.

Breton also says the “quotas would trigger serious concerns about their compatibility with the free movement of goods.”

The fears of Brussels are substantiated as protectionism and preferring domestic products have appeared in other Central and Eastern European countries as well of late.

This year, the EC launched a legal procedure with Bulgaria for violating EU law with legislation ordering supermarkets to sell regional products. Slovakia, too, became a target of Brussels’ criticism after it demanded that Slovak products make up at least a half of foodstuffs promoted on retail chains’ leaflets.

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