February 11, 2021

Europe

EUROPE: CEE PULSE

BY Andrius Tursa

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( 4 mins)

Belarus plans to hold a referendum on a new constitution in early 2022. In Poland, a split in the junior coalition party, Agreement, threatens a parliamentary majority of the United Right government, which is under pressure to drop the proposed advertising tax. Romania’s government is expected to present a draft budget for 2021 which will introduce notable cuts to public spending. Finally, a vote of no confidence in Slovenia’s government will be held by 17 February.

Belarus

On 11-12 February, the capital Minsk hosts an All-Belarusian People’s Assembly – an informal government-organized forum to discuss the country’s development strategy for 2021-2025. The event is expected to result in preliminary guidelines for a constitutional reform, promised by President Alexander Lukashenko following mass protests after the presidential election in August 2020. According to Lukashenko, the new constitution will be developed during 2021 and submitted for approval in a referendum in early 2022, although delays are likely. In the meantime, a new meeting between Lukashenko and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin is in the works for late February. It is expected to entail discussions on a new USD 3bn Russian loan to Belarus, which would exacerbate its reliance on Moscow. In the meantime, public protests have diminished significantly in recent months but could pick up again in the spring.

Poland

Internal quarrels within the ruling United Right coalition government are continuing. This time cracks have (re)emerged in the junior coalition member Agreement, which saw some senior party members being suspended for refusing to recognize Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Gowin as the head of the party. The split in Agreement – which holds 17 deputies in the lower chamber of parliament (Sejm) – threatens a slim four-seat majority in Sejm held by United Right. Moreover, swirling rumors that the head of Law and Justice (PiS), Jaroslaw Kaczynski, stands behind the Gowin’s challenges further complicates Agreement’s position within United Right. Meanwhile, the opposition is seeking to take advantage of the situation and has invited Gowin to join consultations on blocking the proposed introduction of an advertising tax, which has been subject to widespread criticism at home and abroad, and is seen as another attempt by the right-wing government to increase its leverage over the media in the country.

Romania

The three-party coalition government led by Prime Minister Florin Citu (National Liberty Party, PNL) is finalizing the 2021 budget, which should be presented for public debate in the coming days. Ahead of the budget’s publication, the cabinet has presented some austerity measures in an effort to maintain the deficit at around 7% of GDP (or 8.2% of GDP under the EU methodology) in 2021. The government is considering an emergency ordinance postponing pension increases – originally planned for September 2021 – to September 2023. This comes on top of a previously announced freeze of public sector wages, suspension of benefits, as well as subsidy cuts for state-owned companies. In addition, all ministries will be required to trim their staff. This could lead to social tensions and lower public support for the recently elected government. In the meantime, slow progress in the approval of deputy ministers and the reconfiguration of ministries according to the new cabinet’s composition indicate rivalries among the coalition parties.

Slovenia

On 10 February, five center-left opposition parties filed a motion of no confidence in the coalition government led by Janez Jansa (Slovenian Democratic Party, SDS) for undermining constitutional principles and mishandling the Covid-19 pandemic. The parliament has until 17 February to debate and vote on the motion. While it is likely that Jansa will survive the censure, surprises are possible, especially as the ballot will be secret and a simple majority is sufficient to oust the government. If the Jansa government is removed from office, the leader of the Democratic Party of Pensioners of Slovenia (DeSUS), Karl Erjavec, would become prime minister-designate and have 15 days to present a new cabinet for approval in parliament. Should his proposed cabinet fail to receive parliament’s approval, snap elections would be called.

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