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Published Work

The Spectator – Orbán and Salvini’s plan to ‘make Europe great again’

14 April 2021

The Spectator – Discussions are underway between Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Polish leader Mateusz Morawiecki and Italian Lega leader Matteo Salvini regarding the formation of a new conservative European Parliamentary group intended to “make Europe great again”. The move highlights the struggle between conservatism and liberalism within the bloc, as well as contradictory perceptions of shared traditional European culture and unique national identities.

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Monthly Digest

March 2021

Poland

Cases of Covid-19 surged in the second half of the month to among the highest in Europe. The government instituted tougher lockdown rules to combat the spread of the virus. At the end of the month, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki promised that all Poles who want a vaccine will have received one by August.

The government provoked controversy with a vote to send a bill effectively withdrawing Poland from the Istanbul convention on violence against women to examination by parliamentary committees. The bill is entitled “Yes to Family, No to Gender”. Proponents want the Polish government to set its own laws on domestic violence.

Hungary

Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party withdrew from the European People’s Party European Parliament group, in yet another indication of the strained relationship between Fidesz and Brussels. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán held talks with Polish PM Morawiecki and Italian Lega party Matteo Salvini about the formation of a new right-wing European parliamentary group intended to “make Europe great again”.

Hungary approved the CanSino and CoviShield jabs from China and India, respectively, to bolster its rapidly accelerating vaccination programme. The country became the EU’s runaway vaccine leader thanks to its use of eastern jabs.

Nevertheless, Covid-19 cases rocketed in the latter half of the month to among the highest in Europe.

Slovakia

At the beginning of the month, Prime Minister Igor Matovič welcomed the nation’s first batch of Sputnik V vaccines at Košice Airport. The Sputnik deal had been reached without the approval of coalition partners and with the support of Hungary’s Fidesz government, leading to outrage across the political spectrum. Weeks of political chaos ensued, with Matovič making his resignation conditional on the resignation of rivals within the ruling coalition. At the end of the month, the Prime Minister finally swapped roles with Eduard Heger, the Minister of Finance.

The Slovak constitution dictates that a Prime Minister’s resignation entails the resignation of the entire government, so President Zuzana Čaputová formally invited Eduard Heger to form a new cabinet following Matovič’s resignation.

Meanwhile, the spread of Covid-19 infection fell throughout March, following the winter peak.

Czech Republic

Petr Kellner, the Czech Republic’s richest man and one of its most influential (though secretive) figures, died in a heliskiing accident in Alaska. Kellner was the owner of PPF, a financial and investment group with interests across Central and Eastern Europe, and around the world. PPF was the first entirely foreign-owned entity to be granted a licence to provide consumer loans in China in 2010, and Kellner was for long one of the Czech Republic’s strongest pro-China influences.

Czech Covid-19 cases and deaths peaked at the start of March and remained high throughout the month. The nation’s vaccine rollout continued at a sluggish pace; Prime Minister Andrej Babiš became embroiled in a dispute with the rest of the EU about the distribution of 10 million extra Pfizer doses, which he felt unfairly neglected the Czech Republic.

During a visit to Israel with Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orbán, Babiš opened a new Czech Embassy branch in Jerusalem, becoming only the second EU member state to do so after Hungary.

Polls continued to show the Pirates+STAN coalition ahead of the ruling ANO party going into elections this October. Anti-Babiš campaigning organisation Million Moments for Democracy painted 24,000 white crosses on Prague’s Old Town Square to commemorate the victims of Covid-19 in the Czech Republic.

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Published Work

The Spectator – Russia’s Sputnik vaccine is causing political chaos in Central Europe

8 April 2021

The Spectator – The sacking of Czech Health Minister Jan Blatný suggested the victory of forces in the country advocating the use of Sputnik V. As such, developments in neighbouring Slovakia casting doubt on the Russian jab could not have come at a worse time for the Czech government.

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Published Work

The Spectator – How the Sputnik vaccine brought down Slovakia’s Prime Minister

30 March 2021

The Spectator – Igor Matovič’s resignation as Prime Minister brought a month of political wrangling in Slovakia to an end, following his acquisition of the Sputnik V vaccine without the approval of his coalition partners.

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Published Work

Independent – The EU country that is not angry with Brussels for vaccine rollout

26 March 2021

Independent – Given the Czech Republic’s dire virus situation, it might be assumed that public frustration about the EU’s slow vaccine rollout would be particularly high. But the slow pace of vaccination is instead being widely perceived as the latest chapter in a litany of failures by Andrej Babiš’s government.

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Published Work

The Spectator – The growing alliance between Central Europe and Israel

19 March 2021

The Spectator – Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš opened a new Czech diplomatic office in Jerusalem, making the Czech Republic only the second EU country with an official embassy branch in the Holy City after Hungary. The move underlines strong relations between these Central European nations and Israel, highlighting a sense of common purpose between Israeli, Czech and Hungarian leaders.

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Published Work

CapX – Orbán and the EU’s Delicate Dance

10 March 2021

CapX – Tensions are escalating between Orbán’s Fidesz party and Brussels, following Fidesz’s withdrawal from the European People’s Party. But Hungary’s vaccine programme promises to put Orbán in a strong domestic position ahead of next year’s elections – and mutual interest continues to lock him in a delicate dance with the EU.

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Published Work

The Spectator – Vaccines are testing Central Europe’s loyalties to the EU

10 March 2021

The Spectator – With Slovakia receiving its first delivery of Sputnik V vaccines and the Czech Republic looking likely to follow suit, the idea of “going it alone” for vaccines is raising tensions between pro- and anti-EU groups in the region.

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Monthly Digest

February 2021

Czech Republic

The nation’s Covid-19 situation deteriorated severely, leading to a growing crisis in hospitals – patients from the Pardubice region had to be transported elsewhere in the country to be treated towards the end of the month. The announcement of tightened restrictions led to unprecedented divisions about the nation’s handling of the crisis.

The vaccine programme continued at a very slow pace. There was much speculation about the possible procurement of Russian and Chinese vaccines, but following visits to Hungary and Serbia the data was deemed insufficient to justify purchases without approval from the European Medicines Agency.

The Czech Republic filed a lawsuit against Poland at the European Court of Justice relating to the planned expansion of the Turów mine near the Czech border.

Polls put the Czech Pirate party, in coalition with STAN, ahead of ANO in the polls for the first time. President Zeman stated that the single party with the most votes should be given first priority to form a new governing coalition after October’s elections, not the largest coalition.

Hungary

Vaccination with the Chinese Sinopharm and Russian Sputnik V jabs began with the Covid situation worsening and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán claiming the country was heading into the most difficult phase of the pandemic to date.

At a meeting to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the Visegrád Four, Orbán urged fellow V4 leaders to approve and use eastern vaccines. Towards the end of the month, Hungary’s vaccination rate began to exceed that of many other EU states.

Hungary and Poland signed a bilateral military cooperation agreement to strengthen national ties. February also saw a major diplomatic visit from the Turkish foreign minister. Prime Minister Orbán continued to stress Hungary’s sovereignty within the EU in the context of the Rule of Law dispute at the end of 2020.

Poland

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced Poland’s National Recovery Plan – a five-pillared economic blueprint for restoring the nation’s financial situation following the pandemic.

The Polish and Ukrainian foreign ministers jointly contributed an article to Politico calling on the USA to help prevent the completion of Nord Stream 2, which both nations strongly oppose. They argued that Nord Stream 2 would allow Russia to completely cut off Ukraine from the rest of Europe and create a dangerous dependency on Russia for energy across the rest of the continent.

Coronavirus cases rose steadily and Poland began to look to China for potential vaccine supplies. The nation’s hostile relations with Russia made procurement of Sputnik V appear unlikely.

The “Agreement” party, a member of the ruling United Right coalition, expelled eight of its members due to internal conflicts, weakening the United Right’s slim parliamentary lead.

Slovakia

The Covid situation worsened significantly, leading to requests to other EU countries to help look after sick patients. Having taken a relatively relaxed approach to international travellers, Slovakia made quarantine mandatory for all arrivals from mid-February.

Prime Minister Igor Matovič became a firm advocate of the approval of the Sputnik V vaccine, with its acquisition becoming certain at the end of the month. At the Visegrád Four conference, Matovič openly supported Viktor Orbán’s position in favour of any vaccines that work, regardless of origin.

Speculation grew about the future of Minister of Health Marek Krajčí, with President Čaputová going as far as to suggest the Health Minister needed to make a “gesture” given the current pandemic situation. The President also spoke out against the acquisition of Sputnik V without EMA approval, claiming only vaccines authorised by international agencies should be used.

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Published Work

The Spectator – Covid is tearing the Czech Republic apart

2 March 2021

The Spectator – The worsening Covid situation in the Czech Republic is giving rise to unprecedented divisions in the nation’s response.