EU Threatens Sanctions Against Central European States

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán enters the European Parliament in Brussels for a debate, April 26
Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán enters the European Parliament in Brussels for a debate, April 26 (European Parliament)

The European Union is clamping down on its recalcitrant Central European member states.

The European Commission has opened what is called an infringement procedure against the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland for failing to take in their share of refugees.

This comes on the heels of several probes into Hungary’s and Poland’s right-wing governments. Read more

Trump’s European Admirers Are Deluding Themselves

United Kingdom Independence Party leader Nigel Farage speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 26, 2015
United Kingdom Independence Party leader Nigel Farage speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 26, 2015 (Gage Skidmore)

Donald Trump’s unexpected presidential election in the United States has delighted his ideological counterparts in Europe. Brexiteers in the United Kingdom think he will give them a better deal than Hillary Clinton. Populists in France and the Netherlands responded to Trump’s victory with glee. So did ultraconservatives in Central Europe.

They should think again. Trump may be a kindred spirit and his triumph is a setback for the liberal consensus that nationalists across Europe and North America agitate against. But he is no friend of European nations. Read more

Ties with Germany Divide Central Europe

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán arrives for a meeting with other European People's Party leaders, December 13, 2012
Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán arrives for a meeting with other European People’s Party leaders, December 13, 2012 (EPP)

Benjamin Cunningham reports for Politico that Europe’s Visegrad Four are an “illusionary union”. The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia are often lumped together in a Euroskeptic club hostile to closer integration, he writes — “wary of domination by big Western European countries like Germany and wary of accepting migrants, especially Muslims” — but they are actually riven by tensions.

In particular, the Czechs and Slovaks are keener than their fellow Central Europeans on building strong relations with Germany, their key economic and political ally.

The two also worry about being left on the sidelines if the European Union consolidates itself in reaction to the threat posed by Britain’s exit, according to Cunningham.

A confluence of politics and geopolitics helps explain this division. Read more

Central Europeans Urge EU to Get Back to Basics

Bohuslav Sobotka, Robert Fico, Beata Szydło and Viktor Orbán, the prime ministers of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary, meet in Prague, June 8
Bohuslav Sobotka, Robert Fico, Beata Szydło and Viktor Orbán, the prime ministers of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary, meet in Prague, June 8 (PiS)

Central European countries have endorsed the call for a more modest European Union in the wake of Britain’s referendum vote to leave the bloc on Thursday.

“The work of the union should get back to basics,” argue the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia in a statement that was released on Tuesday: “upholding the fundamental principles upon which the European projects has been founded, using the full and genuine potential of the four freedoms, achieving the still incomplete single market.”

They also emphasize the need to listen to European citizens and the national parliaments. Read more

Eurozone Economy Could Be Chilled to the Core

Map of Germany
Map of Germany (Pixabay)

Since 2001, when Greece adopted the euro as its currency, seven countries have joined the eurozone. Slovenia began using the euro in 2007, Cyprus and Malta in 2008, Slovakia in 2009, Estonia in 2011, Latvia in 2014 and Lithuania in 2015. These countries are small. Together they are home to around 14.5 million people, just 4 percent of the eurozone’s total population.

This is not suprising: from 2001 to 2008, European countries were more focused on expanding the European Union and NATO than expanding the eurozone while, since 2008, the economic slowdown in Europe has limited the ambition of European institutions to expand in a meaningful way. Key economies in the region, like Britain, Poland, Sweden, Norway and Switzerland, not to mention Russia or Turkey, do not appear likely to join the eurozone any time soon, if ever. Read more

Czechs, Poles Huff and Puff as British Propose Benefits Reform

British prime minister David Cameron welcomes his Irish counterpart, Enda Kenny, to 10 Downing Street in London, England, November 9
British prime minister David Cameron welcomes his Irish counterpart, Enda Kenny, to 10 Downing Street in London, England, November 9 (The Prime Minister’s Office/Georgina Coupe)

Central European governments responded angrily on Wednesday to British prime minister David Cameron’s proposal to restrict their nationals’ access to welfare benefits in the West.

“If Cameron wants to divide people according to their nationality then that is against the free movement of labor and the treaty,” Witold Waszczykowski, the new Polish foreign minister, told The Daily Telegraph.

His Lithuanian counterpart, Linas Linkevičius, similarly cautioned against “discrimination or restrictions.” In Prague, Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka said, “Any interference in free movement poses a serious problem for the Czech Republic.” Read more

Czech Social Democrats, Centrists Announce Coalition

Czech political party leaders Andrej Babiš, Bohuslav Sobotka and Pavel Bělobrádek announce a coalition agreement in Prague, January 6
Czech political party leaders Andrej Babiš, Bohuslav Sobotka and Pavel Bělobrádek announce a coalition agreement in Prague, January 6 (CSSD)

The Czech Republic’s Social Democrats announced a coalition agreement with two centrist parties on Monday that should pave the way for a majority government to take office six months after former prime minister Petr Nečas resigned.

Bohuslav Sobotka, who was finance minister in the last government led by the Social Democrats, is set to become prime minister, returning his party to power after nearly eight years of conservative rule.

The coalition includes a party that is led by the Central European country’s richest man, Andrej Babiš, who would be finance minister.

Babiš, an agricultural tycoon, came in second in October’s election with almost 19 percent support, having drawn many rightwingers who were disappointed in Nečas to his cause.

Nečas resigned in June after prosecutors had charged his chief of staff with bribery and illegally ordering military intelligence agents to conduct surveillance operations.

The third coalition partners are the Christian Democrats, giving the proposed government an eleven-seat majority. They were wiped out in the 2010 election but also benefited from Nečas’ downfall last year.

The proposed coalition aims to keep the budget deficit below 3 percent of gross domestic product to comply with European fiscal rules but will not pursue deeper spending cuts.

In opposition, the Social Democrats had criticized public-sector spending cuts while conservative voters were appalled by tax increases.

The Czech economy emerged from recession only late last year. More austerity measures seem inevitable if the country is to respect the European Union’s budget rules and eventually enter the eurozone, something Babiš and many rightwingers are wary of but Sobotka’s Social Democrats favor.

Cabinet appointments are pending approval from President Miloš Zeman, himself a former Social Democrat leader, who has expressed reservations about Sobotka’s choice for defense minister.