A "politically incorrect" billionaire businessman opposed to further EU integration is on track to become the next prime minister of the Czech Republic.
Andrej Babis, a Slovak-born former finance minister who has been sharply critical of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's open-door migration policy, is leading the polls ahead of general elections, set for October 20.
Babis, one of the country's wealthiest people, presents himself as a non-ideological results-oriented reformer. He has pledged to run the Czech Republic like a business after years of what he calls corrupt and inept management. He is demanding a return of sovereignty from the European Union and rejects the euro; he argues that it would "be another issue that Brussels would be meddling with." He has also said he plans to cut government spending, stop people from "being parasites" in the social welfare system, and fight for Czech interests abroad. Babis is often referred to as "the Czech Donald Trump."
Babis's anti-establishment party ANO (which stands for "Action of Dissatisfied Citizens" and is also the Czech word for "yes") is centrist, technocratic and pro-business. ANO, which rejects political labels, has attracted voters from both left and right, pulling support away from the established parties. Babis has said that ANO aims to replace left and right with "common sense."
A recent poll shows that support for ANO has grown to 30.9%, while the support for the Czech Social Democrats has dropped to 13.1%. The pro-Russian Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia has 11.1%; the nationalist Civic Democratic Party 9.1%. TOP 09, the only openly pro-EU party, will not pass the 5% barrier of entry into Parliament; it is supported by only 4.4% of Czech voters.
Babis's approach to the EU is pragmatic: "They give us money, so our membership is advantageous for us." He does not want the Czech Republic to leave the EU, but he is opposed to the country joining the eurozone:
"No euro. I don't want the euro. We don't want the euro here. Everybody knows it's bankrupt. It's about our sovereignty. I want the Czech koruna, and an independent central bank. I don't want another issue that Brussels would be meddling with."
Andrej Babis (left), then Finance Minister of the Czech Republic, meets with Austria's Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz (right) on February 13, 2015. (Image source: Austrian Foreign Ministry)
Babis has expressed opposition to mass migration: "I have stopped believing in successful integration and multiculturalism." He has called on Merkel "to give up her political correctness and to begin to act" on securing European borders:
"In return for billions of euros, she should make sure that Greece and Turkey completely stop the arrival of refugees in Europe. Otherwise, it will be her fault what happens to the European population. Unfortunately, Mrs. Merkel refuses to see how serious the situation is in Germany and in other EU nations. Her attitude is really tragic."
Babis blamed Merkel for the December 2016 jihadist attack on a Berlin Christmas market:
"Unfortunately, the migration policy is responsible for this dreadful act. It was she who let migrants enter Germany and the whole of Europe in uncontrolled waves, without papers, therefore without knowing who they really are. Germany is paying a high price for this policy. The solution is peace in Syria and the return of migrants to their homes. There is no place for them in Europe."
Babis has rejected pressure from the European Commission, which has launched infringement procedures against the Czechs, Hungarians and Poles for refusing to comply with an EU plan to redistribute migrants. In August 2016, he tweeted:
"I will not accept refugee quotas for the Czech Republic. The situation has changed. We see how migrants react in Europe. There is a dictator in Turkey. We must react to the needs and fears of the citizens of our country. We must guarantee the security of Czech citizens. Even if we are punished by sanctions."
In June 2017, Babis reiterated that the Czech Republic would not be taking orders from unelected bureaucrats in Brussels:
"We have to fight for what our ancestors built here. If there will be more Muslims than Belgians in Brussels, that's their problem. I don't want that here. They won't be telling us who should live here."
Babis has called on the EU to establish a system to sort economic migrants from legitimate asylum seekers: "The EU must say: You cannot come to us to be unemployed and immediately take social benefits."
In an interview with the Czech daily Pravo, Babis said:
"We are not dutybound to accept anyone and we are not even now able to do so. Our primary responsibility is to make sure that our own citizens are safe. The Czech Republic has enough of its own problems, people living on the breadline, single mothers. The West European politicians keep repeating that it is our duty to comply with what the immigrants want because of their human rights. But what about the human rights of the Germans or the Hungarians? Why should the British accept that the wealth which has been created by many generations of their ancestors, should be consumed by people without any relationship to that country and its culture? People who are a security risk and whose desire it is not to integrate but to destroy European culture?
"The public service media in some countries have been brainwashing people. They have been avoiding problems with the immigrants. Politicians have also been lying to their citizens. This has only increased tension between the indigenous population and the immigrants. It is not acceptable that Europeans should have fewer rights than immigrants.
"It is unthinkable that the indigenous European population should adapt themselves to the refugees. We must do away with such nonsensical political correctness. The refugees should behave like guests, that is they should be polite, and they certainly do not have the right to choose what they want to eat. Europe and Germany in particular are undergoing an identity crisis. There is a deep chasm between what people think and what the media tell them....
"Many of the Middle Eastern refugees are unusable in industry. Many of them are also basically illiterate and they only know two German politicians: Merkel and Hitler."
Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute.