Climate transition and the future of cohesion funding are high on the agenda for European Union leaders. Central Europe is set to demand for more financial guarantees and the possibility to keep nuclear energy as an option in the transition to a carbon neutral Union.
The International Press Institute (IPI) accused Slovakia’s ruling party SMER of attacking female journalists online, earlier this week. Beata Balogová, who is a board member of IPI and editor-in-chief of the daily newspaper SME, noted that there is an increase in abusive online messages targeting prominent female journalists coming from public officials linked to SMER. According to Balogová, this is linked to the upcoming elections in February 2020.
Among others, SME reported about the case of Ľuboš Blaha, the head of the foreign affairs committee in the Slovak Parliament, accusing Zuzana Hanzelová of taking anti-depressants before her TV performances. Blaha also spoke insultingly about investigative journalist Monika Tódová from the newspaper Denník N.
Ľuboš Blaha is a member of the Slovak Academy of Sciences, which distanced itself from the parliamentarian’s “unacceptable and dishonourable statements”. Nevertheless, the tone for the upcoming election campaign has been set. The continued harassment of female journalists does not only target their gender but also their investigative work. IPI emphasises that there is an attempt to draw readers away from traditional journalism towards social media, where aggressive campaigns and disinformation are widespread.
The rapidly expanding services of a private, open-access train operator in Central has reopened the debate about railway services as a viable alternative to other means of transportation. Czech carrier Leo Express announced earlier this week it would operate trains between Prague and Wrocław. In addition, the operate received the green light to start a regular service between Kraków and Medyka on the Ukrainian border and has requested a permit for a connection between Warsaw and Kraków.
Although it will cooperate with a regional operator in practice, Leo Express as an open-access train operate takes the greater commercial risk by relying on the railway infrastructure owned by a third party.
The duration of train rides between the capital cities of the Visegrad Group (V4) countries shows how much remains to be done, both in terms of regular offer and connection speed, to compete with short-haul flights and car transport.
For instance, travelling from Warsaw to Prague easily takes around 8 hours while a flight takes less than 2 hours for a comparable price. While travelling by train is more responsible than flying in terms of a carbon footprint, many people in the region still avoid the slower, but greener alternative.
The increased offer of railway services, aided by the expansion of private operators, could bring greater competition with existing services – similar to what happened after the lowcost carriers entered the airline business. However, a lot will depend on continued investment in high-speed lines, still largely absent from the region.
Climate neutrality meets resistance
Today’s meeting in Brussels between European Union leaders will see a search for a compromise on what European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced as the “European Green Deal”. Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic have shown reluctance to climate neutrality by 2050 without additional financial guarantees.
In a tweet, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš highlighted that achieving carbon neutrality in Czechia would cost 675 billion crowns (or about 26 billion euros). A Polish official remarked there is a small chance to reach an agreement.
A lot will hinge upon the size of the financial package in support of the transition to carbon neutrality. In a draft summit statement, there was mention of a 100 billion euros “Just Transition Mechanism” although much will depend on whether this consists of a new sources of financing or an increased leveraging of existing funds. What is clear, is that the package may fail to persuade the majority of the V4 countries.
The discussion on the “European Green Deal” should be seen from the perspective of the ongoing negotiations for the Multiannual Financial Framework, where Central Europe also expects to retain or increase its share in cohesion funding. An early setback for the new European Commission could have repercussions for future negotiations about the long-term EU budget.
In practice, today’s summit also will require greater clarity on the importance of nuclear in the future energy mix of European member states. The V4 countries, as well as France, are in favour of keeping nuclear energy as an option to meet climate targets, while other countries favour the phasing out of nuclear power plants in the next years.