Europe’s Blue-Red Culture War Comes to Czech Republic

Prague Czech Republic
View of Prague, Czech Republic from the Charles Bridge (Unsplash/Jay Dantinne)

Europe’s blue-red culture war has come to the Czech Republic, writes Jan Rovny at the London School of Economics’ EUROPP blog.

This weekend’s presidential election pitted the incumbent Miloš Zeman, “a self-styled representative of the common folk,” against the centrist, pro-European Jiří Drahoš.

The outcome — Zeman prevailed with 51 percent support — suggests that Czech politics have taken another step closer to Hungary and Poland.

This will revolve around a deepening, identity-infused contest between traditionalists touting their newfound patriotism and cosmopolitans seeking to maintain the country’s westward orientation.

Read more “Europe’s Blue-Red Culture War Comes to Czech Republic”

EU Threatens Sanctions Against Central European States

Budapest Hungary
Skyline of Budapest, Hungary (Unsplash/Tom Bixler)

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.

EU countries committed to distributing 160,000 asylum seekers across the bloc in 2015 to ease the burden on Southern European member states. The Central Europeans have refused to do their bit.

The Czech Republic was only expected to house 2,691 people, Hungary 1,294 and Poland 6,182 — at a time when countries like Germany and Sweden sheltered hundreds of thousands of immigrants.

Yet even those token amounts were apparently too much. Read more “EU Threatens Sanctions Against Central European States”

Trump’s European Admirers Are Deluding Themselves

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 have responded to Trump’s victory with glee. So have ultraconservatives in Central Europe.

They should think again. Trump may be a kindred spirit. His triumph is a setback for the liberal consensus that nationalists in Europe and North America are trying to tear down. But he is no friend of European nations. Read more “Trump’s European Admirers Are Deluding Themselves”

Ties with Germany Divide Central Europe

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 “Ties with Germany Divide Central Europe”

Central Europeans Urge EU to Get Back to Basics

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 “Central Europeans Urge EU to Get Back to Basics”

Eurozone Economy Could Be Chilled to the Core

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 “Eurozone Economy Could Be Chilled to the Core”

Czechs, Poles Huff and Puff as British Propose Benefits Reform

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 “Czechs, Poles Huff and Puff as British Propose Benefits Reform”

Czech Social Democrats, Centrists Announce Coalition

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. Read more “Czech Social Democrats, Centrists Announce Coalition”

Czech Businessman Kingmaker After Election

The Czech Republic’s second richest man, Andrej Babiš, emerged as the Central European country’s political kingmaker after an election on Friday that decimated the former conservative ruling parties.

Babiš, an agricultural tycoon who was born in what is now Slovakia, is politically close to former prime minister Petr Nečas’ Christian Democrats and drew many disgruntled rightwingers to his cause, winning almost 19 percent support and placing second in the election just after the Social Democrats. Read more “Czech Businessman Kingmaker After Election”

Czech Cabinet Loses Confidence Vote

The new Czech government formed by allies of leftist President Miloš Zeman lost a confidence vote on Wednesday, prompting parliament to schedule a session to dissolve itself next week to clear the way for new elections.

Zeman appointed former finance and industry minister Jiří Rusnok as prime minister in defiance of parliament’s conservative majority which had backed the previous government that was led by Petr Nečas. Nečas resigned in June after prosecutors had charged his chief of staff with bribery and illegally ordering military intelligence agents to conduct surveillance operations.

Rusnok won the backing of left-wing parties but was rejected by the right. Former foreign minister Karel Schwarzenberg’s libertarians did join the left in calling for early elections.

Nečas’ conservatives, who are trailing the opposition Social Democrats in the polls, would rather have avoided elections and formed a new government on their own but Zeman, who won the Central European country’s first direct presidential election in January, used his power to appoint the premier to try to sideline the former ruling party — angering conservatives as well as many commentators who believe he overreached. Read more “Czech Cabinet Loses Confidence Vote”