EU Shouldn’t Act Arrogantly, Push Fast U.K. Exit, Babis Says

  • EU lacks leaders for reform, must heed small members, he says
  • Babis says Czechs won’t adopt euro while he’s finance minister

European Union leaders shouldn’t pressure the U.K. to leave the bloc quickly following its Brexit vote and should rein in their “arrogant reaction” to the referendum, billionaire Czech Finance Minister Andrej Babis said.

Babis, who said he was “sad” about the looming departure of an ally to non-euro area countries, appealed for more decency in dealing with the U.K. during an interview in the Prague suburb of Pruhonice on Wednesday.

“It’s like when a marriage is falling apart, and some just slam the door,” said Babis, who sipped a weight-loss concoction at his favorite local restaurant. “We should still act decently, not with emotion and not to tell them to get out quickly.”

The billionaire, whose ANO party became parliament’s second-largest faction after its first election in 2013, brushed off the calls for closer EU integration that emerged after the Brexit vote, saying they come from people living in a “Brussels bubble.” Instead, he said EU leaders need to concentrate on basics such as solving the immigrant crisis, preventing the collapse of the Schengen passport-free travel area and reforming the bloc so it can deal with Brexit fallout.

“Europe lacks strong leaders -- the current leaders don’t seem to be able to reform the EU,” said Babis, 61. “They have to listen also to voices from smaller countries. We can’t be the fifth wheel. They can’t decide everything instead of us.”

No Euro

Babis, who is the most popular politician in the country of 10.5 million, also rejected calls for faster expansion of the euro area into countries like the Czech Republic, which, despite being obliged to join as part of EU membership, has no date set for ditching its koruna and remains skeptical about the project.

“As long as I am the finance minister, we will never enter the euro zone because the euro zone is an economic project and it has unfortunately changed to a political one, as we have seen in the Greek solution,” said Babis, the Czech Republic’s second-richest person with assets including chemical, agriculture and media businesses.
“If we ever were to enter the euro zone, I wouldn’t want to guarantee the Greek loans that will never be paid back,” he said. “The new euro-zone members should have the possibility to negotiate an exemption.“

Following the Brexit vote, a handful of Czech politicians, including State Secretary for European Affairs Tomas Prouza, have said the country should change its stance on the euro as it “can’t afford to remain somewhere on the periphery” of the bloc.

“If we consciously decide not to participate, it will be at the price of endangering our economy and hampering our chances to influence decisions that are vitally important to us,” Prouza, a member of Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka Social Democrats, said in a phone interview on Thursday.

Fueling Extremist

The yield on Czech 10-year government debt fell one basis point at 2 p.m. on Friday in Prague to 0.44 percent. The Czech koruna, which the central bank has shackled in a gain-limiting regime to ward off deflation, was 0.1 percent weaker at 27.092 against the euro.

The three-party ruling coalition has said that setting a date for euro adoption can only be done once a widespread public campaign takes place. Echoing fears among other countries such as Poland, who have balked at giving up their independent monetary policies, Babis warned against the idea of creating a two-speed Europe based around those in the euro and those who aren’t. It would fuel extremist groups like those in France and the Netherlands who have called for copycat referendums in the wake of Brexit, he said.

“A potential split into the euro area and the rest would mean a definite breakup and will only strengthen groups such as Marine Le Pen and Wilders,” he said.

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