The European Commission will look into the purchase of 12 United States helicopters for the Czech army. The Czech Ministry of Defense is currently completing the preparation of materials requested by the Commission, although it insists that the government-to-government purchase of Venom and Viper choppers was legitimate. “We received a request to send the tender documents from the European Commission at the end of October. We are preparing an answer, which we will send at the beginning of January. We stand behind the fact that our procedure in this contract was procedurally correct,“ said Jan Pejšek, a spokesman for the Ministry of Defense.
The European Commission has not yet announced whether it is looking into the contract for the purchase of eight multi-purpose Venom helicopters and four Viper combat machines for approximately 17 billion korunas (€649.5 million) based on its own initiative or at the initiative of someone else. However, the result of the competition was previously unsuccessfully challenged several times at the Office for the Protection of Competition (ÚOHS) by the second participant in the competition, the Italian manufacturer Leonardo. A year ago, the company announced that if it did not succeed with complaints to the Czech office, it was ready to turn to the European Commission. The Italian manufacturer offered Agusta AW-139M helicopters to the Czech army. The offer was about half as much cheaper than the one for American machines, but according to the Defense Ministry, it did not meet several requirements. One of the main ones was testing the helicopters in actual combat operations. The ministry thus preferred the helicopters of the American manufacturer Bell and concluded a contract at the government-to-government level. The army is to receive the first machines in 2023. At the beginning of this year, the ministry sent the manufacturer a first advance of 900 million korunas (€34.3 million). The investigation may take months According to the rules, the European Commission will collect all relevant information for some time.
Within 12 months of the registration of the complaint by the General Secretariat, it will then decide whether to initiate formal infringement proceedings or whether to close the matter. The Czech Ministry of Defense does not assume that a complaint to the European Commission should jeopardize the contract in any manner. “We are convinced that the purchase is in order, and we have complied with all laws and regulations,” said Pejšek. However, the Czech MEP and former Minister of Defense Alexandr Vondra admitted that in a contract of such a scope, any other action that is not necessary means, of course, a delay. “It is difficult to anticipate the European Commission’s decision, but I do not think that the whole process could be jeopardized to the point where the contract would be canceled. We need an actionable army with adequate equipment. In this respect, the Czech Ministry of Defense did a good job in preparing the contract and its parameters,“ said Vondra. If a procedure arises, the EU member state will receive a formal notice and then will then have two months to reply in a manner that is satisfactory to the Commission. The European Commission then carefully examines the member state’s formal response. If not satisfied, the Commission would send a second notification to the member state, and it will again have two months to rectify everything. If this does not happen, the member state does not heed the Commission’s summons, the European Commission can refer the case to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.