This Week in Central Europe: 14-20 December

Democratic Security Outlook

14 December 2020

Every Monday Visegrad Insight releases a weekly update on key developments in Central Europe from the point of view of democratic security. Our team monitors for important political, civil society, economy and foreign policy updates and where possible hints at risks and developing scenarios. Currently, we monitor the situation in the following 10 countries:

  • Belarus: The opposition parties have announced that there will be new “people’s embassies” around the world, created by the considerable Belarusian diaspora who largely support the opposition movement. 
  • Bulgaria: MPs have approved the initial reading of a bill that will make a unified, electronic judicial system. If finalised, it will make electronic cases possible and allow for defendants to be digitally present at a hearing, without the need of appearing in person.
  • Czechia: Municipalities negatively affected by the proposed new tax code will be able to get up to 80 per cent compensation for revenue loss when the percentage of taxable income is lowered. 
  • Estonia: New controversial restrictions will close schools and swimming pools, but surprisingly bars and even spas will remain open. Alternatively, the restrictions on flights imposed to restrict the communication of COVID-19 will be lifted in the new year. 
  • Hungary: Hungary will move towards approving a Chinese COVID-19 vaccine, which has not received approval from the EU regulator yet. A pre-emptive gerrymandering amendment has been proposed by Hungarian opposition party Párbeszéd; the opposition party has proposed a boundary change of 10 electoral constituencies in a pre-emptive move before governing party Fidesz would touch upon gerrymandering, opening the door for a potential electoral districts manipulation ahead of the general election in 2022. 
  • Latvia: MPs are postponing the implementation of a two-tier health insurance programme and expanded the list of those exempt. 
  • Lithuania: A nationwide lockdown is to be imposed on Wednesday which will limit interactions between households and last until at least next year. There have been increased cyber attacks on the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry aimed at harming relations with their neighbour to the west, Poland. Pushback and a ramping up of security from the government to be expected in the coming weeks. 
  • Poland: The United Poland party of Minister of Justice Zbigniew Ziobro, which is in coalition with PiS, decided in a vote (12 against 8) to stay in the government despite the rule of law mechanism having been approved at the European Council summit in the last week. His position in the government will likely be questioned publicly and the government will look for smoke screens to divert attention. In other news, government-controlled public company PKN Orlen SA is shopping further on the media market. Reportedly, PKN Orlen looking at the main conservative Rzeczpospolita and Parkiet dailies owned by Grzegorz Hajdarowicz (Gremi Media SA). After the purchase of a regional media network belonging to Polskapresse from Verlagsgruppe Passau holding and takeover of Ruch SA – one of the main distribution platforms of press titles in the country – the public company with a PiS government-appointed CEO will have unprecedented influence on the Polish media market.
  • The purchase of Polskapresse by state-owned Orlen leading to an undisputed hegemony of PiS in the media. Reporters, editors and journalists in general (whose employment has become tenuous) are worried this buyout could lead to local newspapers becoming government-run propaganda tools. (Read more here.)
  • Romania: Calls for President Klaus Iohannis to be suspended have increased with the support from the very new nationalist and conservative party AUR – which took a surprising fourth place in last week’s parliamentary elections – and even the president’s own party leader (PSD), Alfred Simonis has echoed the call. (Read more about the elections here.) The new cybersecurity headquarters for the EU will be located in Bucharest after the Romanian capital beat many regional contenders as well as Brussels. Meanwhile, the number of coronavirus cases per day are skyrocketing to around 7,500.
  • Slovakia: Similar to Lithuania, it is likely Slovakia will have to go into another national lockdown due to the increased number of COVID-19 cases. Since the public’s support for the government has dipped recently because the strategies have not led to a loosening of restrictions, people’s adherence to such a lockdown might not be as compliant as they have been over recent months. 

 

This report was written by Galan Dall and contributed by Zsuzsanna Szabó, Wojciech Przybyski, Radu Albu-Comanescu, Edit Zgut, Filip Konopczynski, Inês Consonni, Quincy Cloet, Spasimir Domaradzki, Albin Sybera, Asya Metodieva, and Aliaksei Kazharski.

 

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