April 9, 2021

Europe

EUROPE: CEE PULSE

BY Andrius Tursa

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( 5 mins)

Bulgaria started a government formation process, which will likely prove challenging and may result in an early general election. Romania’s three-party coalition government is experiencing its first crisis since coming to office in December 2020. On Wednesday, 21 April, Russian President Vladimir Putin will deliver his annual address to parliament, which will likely be followed by countrywide protests. Finally, the Czech Republic is considering taking additional measures against Moscow over the alleged involvement of Russia’s military intelligence in the 2014 explosions in the town of Vrbetice.

Bulgaria

On 20 April, President Rumen Radev appointed former foreign minister Daniel Mitov as Prime Minister-designate nominated by the center-right Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria (GERB). However, Mitov’s cabinet has little chance of winning the vote of confidence in parliament and could even return the mandate without trying to put together a new cabinet. In such an instance, the constitution requires the president to appoint a Prime Minister-designate from the second-largest parliamentary group, which is There Are Such People (ITN). ITN could attempt to form a coalition government with two other newcomers in parliament – Democratic Bulgaria (DB) and Stand Up! Thugs Out! (IS.BG) – but the three parties together hold only 92 mandates in the 240-seat parliament. As a result, an ITN-led government would require support from one of the so-called “systemic” parties – GERB, center-left Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) or the Movement of the Rights and Freedoms (MRF) – with which ITN refuses to cooperate. If ITN fails to form a government, the probability of a new general vote in the summer would rise significantly.

EUROPE: CEE PULSE 1

Czech Republic

On 21 April, Prague is expected to reveal additional sanctions on Moscow on top of the already announced expulsion of 18 Russian diplomats and the exclusion of Rosatom from the Dukovany nuclear power plant project. The Czech authorities are also calling on other EU and NATO members to follow suit. On the domestic front, Prime Minister Andrej Babis (Action of Dissatisfied Citizens, ANO) was forced to apologize for his earlier statements that Russia’s actions did not specifically target the Czech Republic but were aimed at arms dealers. Babis appears to be struggling to strike a balance between the pro-Russian and anti-Russian parts of the Czech electorate ahead of the parliamentary election scheduled for October. Meanwhile, opposition is discussing various options to remove Babis from office. Three center-right opposition parties united under the banner Together (SPOLU) are planning to initiate a vote of no confidence in the Babis cabinet. The motion holds greater chances of succeeding after the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia withdrew its support for the cabinet last week. Meanwhile, an electoral alliance of Pirates and Mayors is calling for the dissolution of parliament and early elections. However, the latter initiative has little chance of advancing as it is unlikely to receive the required support from at least 120 members of parliament in the 200-seat lower chamber.

Romania

A three-party coalition government led by Florin Citu (National Liberal Party, PNL) experienced its first major crisis since coming to office in December 2020. The crisis has been triggered by Citu’s dismissal of the Minister of Health Vlad Voiculescu on 14 April without consulting the coalition partner Save Romania Union-PLUS (USR-PLUS), which had delegated the minister. Vioculescu’s replacement was prompted by series of unfortunate incidents in hospitals – which led to several patients dying – as well as modification of local lockdown regulations without consulting the prime minister. The minister’s dismissal then escalated into a coalition crisis when USR-PLUS withdrew its support for Citu.

After several rounds of negotiations, the three governing parties have reached a compromise on 20 April and signed an addendum to the coalition agreement, which is expected to help coordinate government’s work. Citu is set to remain in office, while USR-PLUS is expected to propose a new Minister of Health on 21 April. However, internal struggles for leadership both within the PNL and USR-PLUS could emerge as another source of government instability in the coming months.

Russia

On 21 April, President Vladimir Putin will deliver his annual address to parliament, which is expected to focus primarily on post-pandemic recovery, which likely will entail some new support measures for affected economic sectors and vulnerable social groups. New social spending initiatives are not unusual ahead of major votes in Russia, and recent polls show that public approval of the ruling United Russia party has dropped to multi-year lows ahead of the September parliamentary election. In addition, Russian authorities may hope that generous economic support measures would lower turnout at protests to support Navalny’s release planned across Russia on Wednesday evening. Earlier this year, Navalny’s arrest – along with the long-standing public frustration over corruption, deteriorating living standards and multiple other grievances –triggered some of the largest protestssince 2011-2013.

Outside Russia, Putin’s speech will be closely watched for any indications of Moscow’s approach towards Ukraine and its Western allies. Moreover, any statements regarding Russia’s closer integration with Belarus should be watched too, as the disputed Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said some of the most important decisions of his presidency would be announced soon.

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