Czech vote winner Babis wants active EU role, not favoring government with extremists

By Robert Muller
The leader of ANO party Andrej Babis speaks during a news conference at the party's election headquarters after the country’s parliamentary elections in Prague, Czech Republic October 21, 2017. REUTERS/David W Cerny

By Robert Muller

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech Republic must seek partners beyond the central European Visegrad Group to find common ground on issues including migration and food quality, Czech parliamentary election winner Andrej Babis told Reuters.

He said the country needs to seek an active role in the European Union and look for allies for a common goal of halting illegal migration.

The billionaire businessman, who won 29.6 percent of the vote in this weekend's election, is against deeper EU integration and adoption of the euro, and has raised concerns he may join Poland or Hungary on a collision course with the EU.

But he insisted on Saturday that the ANO party which he leads was pro-European and ready to take on an active role in the EU.

"We have to prepare topics, propose to the European Council (of EU leaders) what we want to change. Double food quality, solution to migration, the fight against migration and other issues," Babis told Reuters in a brief interview at ANO headquarters after the election results were counted.

"We certainly have an ally in Austria, Mr Kurz, who has the same view as we do on migration," he said, referring to Austrian conservative election victor Sebastian Kurz.

"The Visegrad group must find other allies, we need Austria and other countries, in the Balkans, or Slovenia, Croatia and perhaps others," Babis added.

ANO won 78 seats in the 200-seat lower house and will need partners to form a majority. Several parties have however rejected joining an ANO-led government because they say Babis poses a threat to democracy due to his accumulation of business and political power.

Some said they could not join a cabinet led by Babis personally because he faces fraud charges over a 2-million-euro subsidy a decade ago. He denies wrongdoing.

This has led to the possibility that, failing other options, Babis may form a government which would depend on parliamentary support from the Communist Party or the far-right, anti-EU Freedom and Direct Democracy party.

Babis said this was something he did not want to do.

"I do not want to cooperate with them," he told Reuters.

"We have invited everyone for talks. We want to hear all arguments at a table; the arguments they have (mainstream parties against joining a coalition) ... they don't need to worry when they come with us."

(Writing by Jan Lopatka; Editing by James Dalgleish)