August 19, 2021

Europe

EUROPE: CEE PULSE

BY Andrius Tursa

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( 5 mins)

In Bulgaria, the president and political leaders are holding talks to avoid the third general election since April. The rising anti-vaccination, anti-migrant and anti-LGBT sentiment in Latvia and Lithuania is bringing changes to their political landscapes. In Romania, an investment program proposed by Prime Minister Florin Citu has sparked disagreements in the three-party governing coalition. Meanwhile, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky faces a packed agenda in the coming two weeks.

Bulgaria

This week President Rumen Radev is holding talks with parties represented in parliament ahead of the final two attempts to form a government after the winner of the 11 July election There is Such People (ITN) party failed to propose a cabinet. As per constitution, Radev must now give the mandate to the second largest parliamentary group – former prime minister Boyko Borisov’s Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria (GERB). However, GERB’s chances of forming a government are minimal due to its weakened position in parliament (it has 63 out of 240 mandates) and the lack of potential coalition partners. If GERB is unsuccessful, the constitution obliges Radev to give the final attempt to form a government to a smaller party of his choice (most likely the center-left Bulgarian Socialist Party, BSP). BSP intends to propose a technocratic government with a specific mandate, but the continued rivalries among the largest parties limit the prospects of success. As a result, another snap general election – the third in 2021 – appears as the most likely scenario (65% probability) at this point.

The protracted political instability is holding up the finalization of the country’s National Recovery and Resilience Plan, which is yet to be submitted to the European Commission. The current Stefan Yanev’s caretaker cabinet might have to deal with the fourth wave of the Covid-19 pandemic as infections are rising and Bulgaria has the lowest vaccination rate in the entire EU (less than 16% of population is fully vaccinated). Finally, Sofia will likely maintain its opposition to North Macedonia’s EU accession talks at least until the new cabinet is formed.

Lithuania/Latvia

An increasingly vocal public opposition to Covid-19 vaccination, illegal migration and LGBT-related policies is reshaping the political landscapes in both Lithuania and Latvia. In Vilnius, a relatively small-scale protest on 10 August against the government’s decision to restrict unvaccinated residents’ access to various services and venues unexpectedly turned into a riot, leaving dozens injured and arrested. A similar demonstration is planned for 10 September, the start of the autumn parliamentary session. The handling of the pandemic – along with the perceived government’s failure to deal with the migrant crisis and a junior coalition party’s attempt to (unsuccessfully) advance the same-sex partnership bill earlier this year – is hurting the government approval ratings. Having won the 2020 October general election, the largest governing party center-right Homeland Union-Lithuanian Christian Democrats (TS-LKD) has now dropped to the third place in opinion polls. The calls for cabinet changes are strengthening, even within the TS-LKD ranks.

In Latvia, an anti-vaccination protest organized by a populist Law and Order (LuK) party is being held in Riga today, 18 August. While such demonstrations are unlikely to prompt government instability, the strengthening identity politics is giving rise to multiple populist parties ahead of the 2022 autumn parliamentary election. Besides the recently established LuK, an influential local businessman and politician Ainars Slesers launched a populist Latvia First party on 14 August. A former Minister of Interior (2019-2021) Sandis Girgens has similar plans. This will further increase the fragmentation of the country’s political system and make the outcome of the 2022 general vote increasingly difficult to predict.

Romania

A five-year RON 50bn (USD 11.9bn) investment program into local infrastructure proposed by the Florin Citu (National Liberal Party, PNL) cabinet last week sparked disagreements within the three-party governing coalition. The proposed investment plan – named after a famous Romanian engineer and minister Anghel Saligny – would be financed entirely from the national budget and focus on improvements in the regional water and sewage systems as well as natural gas and road infrastructure. However, the second-largest coalition party USRPLUS has positioned itself strongly against the new program due to the allegedly arbitrary allocation procedure of the funds and limited oversight of their spending. The USRPLUS-delegated Minister of Investments and European Projects Cristian Ghinea views the investment program as a Citu’s attempt to garner greater support within his party ahead of the PNL leader election on 25 September. Given the limited support for the investment program in parliament, Citu could advance it via the government’s emergency ordinance. However, such a move would only heighten tensions and could even destabilize the governing coalition.

Ukraine

President Volodymyr Zelensky’s agenda is packed with important meetings and events in the coming two weeks. On 22 August, Zelensky will host Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel in Kyiv, who is set to arrive to Ukraine following a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on 20 August. The Zelensky- Merkel meeting is expected to focus on the conflict in eastern Ukraine as well as on energy issues in the context of approaching completion of the contentious Nord Stream 2 pipeline. On 23 August – the eve of Ukraine’s 30th anniversary of independence – Ukraine will host 40 foreign delegations in the first high-level meeting under the Crimean Platform, a multi-level diplomatic initiative of Zelensky aimed at the ultimate Russian de-occupation of the peninsula. Finally, Zelensky will head on a multi-day visit to the US, where he is scheduled to meet his US counterpart Joe Biden on 30 August. While the meeting agenda has not been published, bilateral talks are expected to focus on security, economic and energy issues.

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