Categories
Monthly Digest

May 2021

Czech Republic

Covid cases and deaths declined sharply in the country throughout May, down to only a few hundred cases per day at the end of the month. The vaccine rollout expanded rapidly, with the number of doses delivered reaching 100,000 per day and registration opening up to lower age groups. At the end of the month, registration opened to people over the age of 30.

Following April’s revelations of Russian involvement in the Vrbětice explosion of 2014, the Czech acquisition of Sputnik V fell by the wayside. The Czech Republic was subsequently named by Russia as one of two “enemy states”, the other being the USA.

Czech prime minister Andrej Babiš came under intensified EU scrutiny over conflicts of interest relating to EU funds given to his Agrofert business. MEPs called on Brussels to take action following an audit which found Babiš to be in violation of EU conflict-of-interest rules.

On the final day of the month, a court-enforced relaxation of a majority of Covid restrictions took place, against the wishes of the government, which had planned its next stage of restriction loosening for two weeks later.

Slovakia

Following months of wrangling, Sputnik V was finally approved for use in Slovakia, with doses to start being administered from early June. Nevertheless, Health Minister Vladimír Lengvarský said that he would not choose the vaccine himself, and would not recommend it to his friends or acquaintances.

Approval for Sputnik followed bitter arguments with Russia over the doses delivered to Slovakia in early March, which the Slovak drug regulator (SUKL) had claimed did not match those evaluated by the Lancet medical journal as 91.6% effective in February 2021. Sputnik doses were taken back to Russia, and across the border to Hungary, for further tests. A Hungarian EU-certified lab finally gave the jabs the green light, leading to demands for a public apology from SUKL from the producers of the vaccine.

A 600,000-signature petition for a snap election, following the collapse of Igor Matovič’s premiership over the Sputnik V procurement, was sent from President Zuzana Čaputová’s office to the country’s Constitutional Court for adjudication.

Hungary

Hungary frustrated EU attempts to reach a unanimous position on the escalating Israeli-Palestine conflict, refusing to back a joint statement calling for a ceasefire. Only days earlier, Hungary had vetoed a joint statement from the bloc condemning China’s new Security Law in Hong Kong. The moves were seen as attempts by Viktor Orbán’s government to protect Hungary’s international allies, following an intensification of Chinese investments in the country and reflecting a long-standing alliance with Israel.

German industrial giant Rheinmetall intensified its partnership with the Hungary. A much-publicised meeting between Viktor Orbán and Rheinmetall president Armin Papperger covered the expansion of Rheinmetall’s investments in the country, which have taken on a leading role in Hungarian industrial developments over the last year.

At the end of the month, the Hungarian government announced plans to produce China’s Sinopharm vaccine locally, in a new EUR 157 million vaccine plant in the east of the country. The announcement followed the bestowing of a medal of honour on Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi to thank China for the Sinopharm vaccines delivered to Hungary.

Poland

Poland became embroiled in an international storm when Roman Protasevich, a dissident Belarusian journalist, was detained in Minsk following the forced diversion of a Ryanair flight travelling between Greece and Lithuania. Protasevich had moved to Poland in 2019, and his parents also moved to the country in 2020. Poland was the base for Nexta, Protasevich’s anti-Lukashenko online news portal.

Poland defied the EU court of justice by refusing to shut down Turow coal mine, arguing to do so would cause major disruption to the country’s energy supply, as well as thousands of job losses. The mine generates 7% of Poland’s energy supply. The court order followed complaints about the mine’s operations from the Czech Republic. Poland meanwhile stood against the EU’s rules for CO2 emissions cuts at a European Council meeting, demanding that a greater share of emissions cuts should be undertaken by the bloc’s rich members to avoid making “the rich richer, and the poor poorer”.

The government unveiled a spending splurge to boost the nation’s economy as it emerges from the pandemic. The new “Polish Deal” includes significant expenditures on health care, housing and state investments, and expensive policies on taxes and pensions.