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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.