September 30, 2021

Europe

EUROPE: CEE PULSE

BY Andrius Tursa

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This week, Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal (TK) will continue examining whether the national law takes precedence over EU law. In Romania, Prime Minister Florin Citu will likely struggle to survive a no-confidence motion scheduled for 5 October. The US annual defense bill for 2022 adopted by the House of Representatives entails new sanctions on Russia. Diplomatic efforts to de-escalate renewed tensions between Serbia and Kosovo will continue in the coming weeks. Some cabinet changes are expected in Ukraine following a meeting of the country’s political leadership next weekend.

Poland

On Thursday, 30 September, TK will resume the consideration of a case initiated by Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki regarding the primacy of national over EU law. A TK ruling in favor of national law would effectively mean “legal Polexit” thereby deepening long-standing disagreements between Warsaw and Brussels and further delaying the approval by the European Commission (EC) of the country’s EUR 36bn national recovery and resilience plan, at least in the near term. Meanwhile, a ruling in favor of EU law or Morawiecki’s withdrawal of the case – as requested by the EC – would be perceived as a major political loss for Morawiecki and the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party in the eyes of their electorate; it could also prompt the hardline nationalist coalition partner United Poland, led by Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, to leave the governing coalition, potentially triggering an early general election. Faced with these highly consequential and challenging choices, TK is expected to postpone its ruling once again.

Romania

Yesterday, 28 September, the constitutional court ruled that the motion of no- confidence in Prime Minister Florin Citu’s (National Liberal Party, PNL) government – initiated by USR-PLUS and the Alliance for the Union of Romanians (AUR) – has been filed legally. As a result, the motion is set to go ahead, although its timing remains unclear for now. At the same time, the opposition center-left Social Democratic Party (PSD) filed a separate motion of no- confidence in Citu’s cabinet over surging prices and deteriorating living standards. The latter vote is scheduled for next Tuesday, 5 October. Unless any of the opposition parties changes their intention to vote against Citu, his government will be removed from office next week. In such a case, President Klaus Iohannis would have a constitutional right to appoint a prime minister-designate of his choice – most likely another member of the ruling PNL. The Citu’s departure as the head of the cabinet could pave the way for renewed cooperation between PNL, USR-PLUS and UDMR in the future government.

Serbia/Kosovo

Tensions between Serbia and Kosovo have surged in recent weeks following Pristina’s decision not to extend the recognition of Serbian vehicle license plates in Kosovo. The Albin Kurti’s government presented its move as a reciprocal measure, given that Serbia does not recognize vehicle license plates issued by Kosovo, and requires drivers to take out temporary plates upon entering Serbia. This seemingly minor issue has complicated cross-border travel between Serbia and Kosovo and triggered road blockages by ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo. In response, Belgrade has significantly increased its military presence in the border area, while Kosovo sent special police units to the area.

The presence of a significant NATO-led peacekeeping force in the area is an important safeguard that is expected to prevent significant clashes on the ground. However, smaller-scale provocations and skirmishes could continue as tensions remain high and diplomatic efforts in Washington and Brussels to defuse tensions have not been successful to date. Such efforts are likely to continue in the coming weeks, including during the EU-Western Balkans summit scheduled for 6 October in Slovenia. More generally, the latest standoff between Serbia and Kosovo suggests limited prospects for the normalization of bilateral relations in the near-term, which is an essential pre-requisite for their EU membership aspirations.

Ukraine

President Volodymyr Zelensky, government members, and deputies of the ruling Servant of the People (SN) faction in parliament will meet in the resort town of Truskavets in Western Ukraine on 1-3 October. The agenda includes a discussion of reforms and political priorities for the coming year as well as changes in the cabinet, which will be announced in the first part of October, according to the head of SN faction David Arakhamia. Specific changes in the cabinet are unclear, but Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal is expected to retain his post.

US/Russia

On 24 September, the House of Representatives approved its version of the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which includes amendments that would restrict US persons from trading Russian sovereign debt on the secondary market, sanction entities involved in the Nord Stream 2 project, as well as impose restrictions on 35 prominent Russian persons under the Global Magnitsky Act. The NDAA bill will need to be reconciled with the Senate version and then voted upon again, which usually takes place in December. Barring any new significant Russia-related issues in the coming months, the proposed sanctions – particularly those relating to sovereign debt trading – are expected to be watered down or even removed in the process, particularly as Moscow and Washington are engaged in delicate talks on strategic stability and counter- terrorism following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Moscow pledged to retaliate (without providing more details) if any of the proposed sanctions go ahead.

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