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EU Liberals dealt a new blow after Czechia's Andrej Babiš pulls out his seven MEPs

Andrej Babiš, the former prime minister of Czechia, has been a controversial figure among European liberals.
Andrej Babiš, the former prime minister of Czechia, has been a controversial figure among European liberals. Copyright Szilard Koszticsak/MTI - Media Service Support and Asset Management Fund
Copyright Szilard Koszticsak/MTI - Media Service Support and Asset Management Fund
By Jorge Liboreiro
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The sudden exit of the ANO party further weakens Renew Europe and its traditional role of kingmaker in the European Parliament.

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Renew Europe, the liberal group in the European Parliament that suffered painful losses in the June elections, has been dealt a fresh blow after Andrej Babiš, the controversial former prime minister of Czechia, announced the withdrawal of his seven MEPs.

This means Renew Europe will fall from 81 to 74 seats, further weakening its long-held position of kingmaker between conservatives and socialists.

Babiš has requested the exit of his ANO party with immediate effect.

His decision, he explained, stems from disagreements related to migration policy and the Green Deal, which Renew Europe, despite some resistance, has consistently backed.

"We went to the European elections saying that we would fight against illegal migration, that we wanted to repeal the ban on internal combustion engines and fundamentally change the Green Deal," Babiš said on Friday morning.

"Above all, we want the Czech Republic to remain a sovereign country. The negotiations so far have shown that this will not be possible in the Renew Europe faction," he went on.

The former premier added he would search for a new group in the Parliament "with whom we can promote our programme," although he did not suggest any specific name.

A billionaire, Babiš has been accused of engaging in conflicts of interest, intimidating political rivals and employing offshore structures to avoid paying taxes. Babiš was the focus of a long-running criminal case of fraud involving €2 million in EU funds, which triggered street protests. In February, he was acquitted for a second time.

The series of scandals caused tensions between Babiš and his liberal counterparts in Europe, raising questions on how long the precarious link could be maintained.

Reacting to the news, Renew Europe President Valérie Hayer said the divorce "was long overdue" due to ANO's "populist path," which proved "incompatible" with the group.

"Over the last month, their divergence from our values has increased exponentially and we witnessed this with great concern," Hayer said in a statement.

"ANO's unwillingness to continue their commitment to liberal values has led to today's outcome. They have turned their back to our firm pro-European convictions and values."

Hayer, who could face a leadership challenge as soon as next week, predicted that ANO's departure would solidify Renew Europe and make it "more united."

Still, the Czech exit comes at a particularly precarious time for Liberals, who, with each passing day, see their political influence in Brussels shrink to new lows.

On Thursday, Renew Europe announced the addition of one MEP from Les Engagés, a Belgian party. Hours later, it emerged that Volt Europa, the federalist movement that secured five seats in the election, would sit with the Greens, rather than Renew.

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Volt's move has not officially been confirmed but is believed to be based on Renew Europe's complicated relation with ANO and VVD, the Dutch party that recently signed a coalition agreement with Geert Wilders, one of Europe's most prominent far-right leaders.

Hayer initially vowed to hold a vote to expel VVD from the liberal family but, after the elections, backtracked on her plans, which would have deprived Renew of further seats. Instead of kicking VVD out, Renew will likely send an observer mission to the Netherlands to check whether the party is crossing any red line in terms of values and liberal principles, Euronews exclusively reported on Thursday.

The withdrawal of ANO's seven MEPs reinforces the hard-right European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group as the Parliament's third-largest formation, which was made official earlier this week when the ECR announced a raft of new members.

Babiš has already ruled out joining the ECR as this group already includes the party of the sitting prime minister, Petr Fiala, who defeated Babiš in 2021.

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