The Czech governing political parties ANO and the Social Democrats have backed an amendment to the food bill proposed by the far-right Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) that would require stores larger than 400 sqm to sell 55% of local food from 2022, followed by gradual growth to 73% in 2028.
While the claimed objective is to gain self-sufficiency in foodstuff production and to support Czech farmers, according to some critics the real aim is to preserve the market position of large Czech agribusinesses, including Agrofert Holding of Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, which are not able to compete against higher quality and lower costs of foreign producers. Food quality has also become an emotive issue in Central Europe, with allegations that foreign-owned supermarkets are selling inferior versions of Western European products.
Expert on EU law Pavel Svoboda told the daily Pravo that the quota is a desecration of the foundations of the EU, whose single market rules allow for the free movement of goods and services across member states, because this is discrimintation against other EU companies.
“If other EU countries started to do the same, it would dramatically harm Czech exports,” said deputy head of the Confederation of Industry Radek Spicar to AFP.
“Free movement of goods and services in the internal market is our strongest asset in ensuring supplies across the EU, and is also our best tool to ensure recovery for all,” an EC spokesperson told website Euractiv, stressing that “local restrictions of whatever type are counterproductive”.
The Commission will analyse the Czech legislation once it is finally adopted. “We cannot speculate at this stage,” the spokesperson added.
According to the daily Hospodarske noviny, eight EU countries, including Germany and France, have already expressed objections to the bill.
Svoboda expects that if the bill is passed in the Senate, the European Commission will launch an infringement procedure. Czech President Milos Zeman is nonetheless expected to sign it.