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Central Europe: The most important news from 26 July to 1 August

By UME

Hungary

  • In an article published on July 24 in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the former deputy chairman of the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), Peter Gauweiler, writes that the democratic legitimacy of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is superior to that of all EU commissioners.
  • According to a poll conducted at the end of June by the Publicus Institute and published on Monday, July 26, by the Hungarian socialist daily Népszava, “between 45% and 47% of [Hungarians] consider it natural to meet a homosexual couple,” with supporters of the government being significantly less tolerant of homosexuality (from 13% to 15%) than the opposition (from 68% to 70%). According to the same poll, “more than half of pro-government voters simply describe homosexuality as repulsive and unnatural” and believe that gaypride-style events should be banned.
  • A statement issued by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 23 July said that “no funds will be made available to Hungary for the implementation of programmes in the current period, and Hungary will lose access to the approximately NOK 2.3 billion allocated to Hungary [for Hungarian NGOs] under the EEA [European Economic Area] and the Norwegian grant programme. Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide said: “I can confirm that after a long and thorough process, we have not been able to reach an agreement. In our opinion, the funds from the EEA-Norway grant programme could have been very useful, in particular in supporting civil society in Hungary, in promoting innovation in the fields of economy, energy and climate, and in promoting minority rights. Hungarian Prime Minister Gergely Gulyás’ spokesman replied that Norway owes Hungary the money “because Norway, without being a member of the European Union, participates in the common market and enjoys its advantages,” with these funding and grant programs being in return. However, the dispute between Oslo and Budapest is not new. As early as 2014, Viktor Orbán’s government accused the Norwegian authorities of “interfering in Hungarian politics” through these subsidies, which they did not deny, but on the contrary claimed to counteract the “deeply disturbing authoritarian tendency” of the Hungarian government. Poland is also facing similar problems with Norway.
  • On Monday, July 26, the Hungarian government filed a complaint against hackers who had hacked into the national consultation website. One of them posted a video on YouTube showing how a software program randomly fills out the questionnaire provided by the authorities.
  • The National Director of the Hungarian Health Service (ÁNTSZ), Cecília Müller, announced on Tuesday, July 27, the introduction of a third dose of vaccination for certain particularly vulnerable groups: “We recommend the third dose of vaccination especially to elderly and chronically ill people as well as patients with weakened immune systems,” she explained. According to S&D Euro MP István Újhelyi, this third dose of vaccine could help people vaccinated with Russian or Chinese vaccines obtain the European health passport – meaning that this third vaccine would be given with a vaccine approved in the EU.
  • A survey by the Ipsos Institute published on July 29 shows that three-quarters of Hungarians want health restrictions to be greatly relaxed or lifted altogether as soon as possible.
  • The Secretary General of the Hungarian Employers’ Confederation (Vállalkozók és Munkáltatók Országos Szövetsége, VOSZ), László Perlusz, told the magazine Világgazdaság that “substantial talks have begun between the government and employers on the terms of an agreement on the minimum wage and the guaranteed minimum wage for the coming years” after Viktor Orbán in June announced a “significant increase in the legal minimum wage” The Commission has announced that the minimum wage for skilled workers and a “significant reduction in the burden on employers” has been announced. The minimum wage and the guaranteed minimum wage could rise from 167,400 forints (470 euros) to 200,000 forints (560 euros) and from 219,000 forints (611 euros) to 260,000 forints (725 euros) by 1 January 2022.
  • The Mercedes-Benz plant in Kecskemét announced on Monday, July 26, that it had been forced to close its doors for three weeks due to a problem with the delivery of certain semiconductor components.
  • Ringier Axel Springer Media AG announced on Wednesday, July 28, that the German Axel Springer SE will sell its shares in the Hungarian, Serbian, Slovak, Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian markets to its Swiss partner Ringier Holding AG, while the joint venture will continue its activities in Poland. In Hungary, the newspapers Blikk, Kiskegyed, the magazine Glamour and the Hungarian edition of Auto Bild, a car magazine, are affected by this essentially financial restructuring, which still has to be approved by the antitrust authorities of the countries concerned.
  • On Tuesday, July 27, Hungarian police announced the launch of a mobile phone application (OBBPoint) that will monitor the speed of vehicles from August. While short-term speeding will not be punished, motorists who use the application will be able to earn points by complying with the speed limit, which entitles them to discounts or gifts at certain stores.
  • While the migration crisis on the Lithuanian-Belarusian border is making headlines, the migratory pressure on Hungary’s southern border is not subsiding, quite the opposite. On Tuesday, July 27, four Hungarian border guards were injured in Ásotthalom (Csongrád county, 30 km west of Szeged) by about fifteen illegal migrants from Serbia whose forcible entry into Hungarian territory they had prevented. According to the Hungarian police, between 1,500 and 2,000 migrants try to cross the Hungarian border illegally every week.
  • In an interview published on Wednesday, July 28, by the magazine Mandiner, the leader of the Fidesz group, Máté Kocsis, returned to the issue of the protection of minors: Gaypride “has nothing to do with the defense of sexual freedom or the possible acceptance of deviations, but is a crude provocation. The LGBTQ movement does not protect the minority, but attacks the majority. […] The original goal [of the Youth Protection Act] was to keep children away from age-inappropriate content and LGBTQ propaganda that has long targeted them worldwide [… This law] strengthens the prerogatives of parents with regard to the education of their children [… In Hungary, everyone lives their private life the way they want […] There is still much to be done in the area of child protection […] the debate on the chemical neutralisation of paedophiles is still ongoing,” he said.

Poland

  • French Senator Claude Malhuret (LR) chose the wrong words during a debate in the French Senate on vaccinations and current health restrictions. He compared the anti-vaccinationists to the “Poles who fought against Soviet tanks with their chests and bare hands in 1940,” thus taking up an old myth that had been abused by Nazi and Soviet propaganda at the time. The Polish press was not very impressed by such historical references.
  • In an interview with the German Press Agency (dpa), quoted by the Polish magazine WPolityce on Monday, July 26, Saxony’s Prime Minister Manfred Kretschmer (CDU) said European leaders should abandon “educational attempts” against Poland and Hungary and recall that the European Union is “a union of sovereign states and nations.”
  • Polish MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski (PiS) warned of the harmful consequences for the Polish economy of the Fit for 55 directives, which aim to “reduce the EU’s CO2 emissions by 55% by 2030 and achieve climate neutrality by 2050”. For Sariusz-Wolski, Poland is thus “in the clutches of a vice”: “Coal cannot be used because it is too emitted, nor is gas […] because of emissions, and nuclear power is out of the question, because Germany is against it. Therefore, Poland remains only wind energy… […] Energy prices will generally skyrocket. The poorest societies will not be able to cope with this […] We [are] confronted with a social revolt […] This plan makes no sense, because Europe is responsible for only 9% of CO2 emissions, while 600 coal mines are being built in Asia and other regions. It is an ideological policy.
  • In an interview published in the Polish press on 30th July MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski (PiS) recalled that “the primacy of EU law is not enshrined in the EU Treaty”.

Czech Republic

  • The Supreme Administrative Court of the Czech Republic ruled on Tuesday, July 27, that government measures that require the wearing of FFP2 masks indoors are not justified. The court gave the Ministry of Health three days to justify the measures.
  • During a visit to the Hradec Králové region in northeastern Bohemia on Thursday, July 22, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš said that the flu shot will not be mandatory as long as he is in office.
  • After the lotteries held in some countries, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš is now focusing on innovation by promoting vaccination against Covid-19, although the vaccination rate in the Czech Republic is slightly below the European average. The Czech prime minister announced on Wednesday, July 28, that he would propose granting two extra days of leave to civil servants (including teachers and police officers) who are vaccinated. According to Czech economist Lukaš Kovanda, this incentive would cost a whopping 800 million euros.
  • While Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has pledged his support to his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orbán on the issue of the Youth Protection Act, the Czech Post (Česka pošta) clearly supports the LGBT lobby. For example, on the occasion of the LGBT festival Prague Pride in August this year, rainbow packages (for parcels and postcards) will be available in 400 post offices across the country. “The fact that the package is in rainbow colours shows the support for Prague Pride. […] Czech Post is proud to be a strategic partner of the Prague Pride Festival,” explains Matyáš Vitík, a spokesperson for Czech Post, quoted by Echo24. An initiative that, if you read some of the reactions on the Facebook page of Česka pošta, is not exactly unanimous on the banks of the Vltava River.

Slovakia

  • As new demonstrations against compulsory vaccination and the health passport took place in several cities across the country on Friday and Saturday of last week, the centre-right governing coalition proposed a change to reduce restrictions on unvaccinated people. This means that non-vaccinaters can enter certain public and public service facilities (such as grocery stores, pharmacies, clinics, drugstores and opticians) without a test. The opposition, in particular former Socialist Prime Minister Robert Fico, intends to take this change to the Constitutional Court in order to achieve the abolition of vaccine separation.

Austria

  • Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer and Defense Minister Klaudia Tanner (both ÖVP) announced at a press conference on July 24 that 400 Federal Army soldiers will be sent to the Hungarian, Slovak and Slovenian borders as the number of illegal migrants has increased. “We see that the number of arrests at the border […] is growing again,” said Nehammer (15,768 since the beginning of 2021, up from 21,700 in all of 2020). “The European asylum system has failed. We have to make sure that the welfare state does not collapse,” he added, while Tanner stressed that these troops could even be increased to 2,000 men if necessary: “It’s about controlling migration movements. Fierce criticism of the government comes from the FPÖ, which describes Nehammer’s migration policy as a “total failure”.

Slovenia

  • 1.8 In a joint letter, Prime Minister Janez Janša and Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda called on EU leaders to continue their activities in support of the Lithuanian authorities, who are in a difficult situation due to the increase in illegal migration from Belarus. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has repeatedly publicly threatened to allow a large number of migrants from Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq into Europe in response to the sanctions imposed by the EU on the Minsk regime. When he made good on this threat a few weeks ago, Lithuania, which has a 680-kilometer border with Belarus, was particularly affected. In fact, the number of illegal border crossings between Belarus and Lithuania has increased significantly. More than 3,000 have already been counted this year, and more than 2,000 in July alone. These figures undoubtedly demonstrate a drastic trend whose end is not in sight, Janša and Nauseda warned in a letter to EU leaders and the President of the European Commission. As they noted in a text posted by Janša on Twitter, this is a hybrid attack in which the Belarusian authorities use illegal migration as a weapon. They use it to take revenge on the EU for the measures it has taken and for its support of the democratic opposition in Belarus.
  • 31.7. “Slovenia is a democratic country where everyone is the smith of their own happiness, and I believe that we Slovenes are the same.” This is what Janez Poklukar, doctor and minister of health, said yesterday during a visit to Prekmurje (Übermur region). The epidemic is complex, we are all involved in it, and so we are all lucky charms together. But there is a need for solidarity and social responsibility, he said. No one wants to see a repeat of last autumn, with the prisons, the victims, the restrictions and, of course, the economic price we always pay when we are imprisoned, as Prime Minister Janez Janša stressed a week ago in his address to the assembly in Bovec. Slovenia is achieving good business results, we have economic growth and low unemployment, and we are one of the best performing countries in the European Union. We are already close to a comparable level to the same period in 2019, and the outlook for the rest of the year and next year is even more encouraging. Nobody wants new shocks, and the economy and citizens would no longer be able to cope with them. And that is no longer necessary. We have enough vaccines in Slovenia, we can even choose among them, which is not the case for millions of people around the world. So far, the government has passed eight anti-vaccination legislative packages to help both the population and the economy mitigate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, for which more than seven billion euros have been earmarked.
  • 30.7. The Statistical Office of the Republic of Slovenia presented the results of a survey on the number of Slovenian citizens in the first quarter of this year. According to the statistics, the number of Slovenian citizens fell by more than 2 200 in the first quarter, while the number of foreign citizens increased by 400. The proportion of foreign citizens was eight percent. As in the last quarter of last year, the number of deaths in the first quarter of this year was significantly higher than the number of births. Slovenia’s population fell by 1,851 people in the first quarter of 2021. The number of Slovenian citizens decreased by more than 2,200, while the number of foreign nationals increased by 400. The proportion of foreign nationals in the population was 8.0% on 1 April 2021, the same as three months earlier. On April 1, 2021, the population of Slovenia consisted of 1,058,571 men and 1,048,555 women. The proportion of women among Slovenian citizens was 51.1 percent (although this proportion has been declining very slowly for several years) and among foreign citizens 34.6 percent (after more than two years of decline, this proportion will increase again from April 1, 2020).
  • 27.7. According to NIJZ Director Milan Kreko, the fourth wave of the Covida-19 epidemic is imminent and he called on all citizens to get vaccinated to protect themselves and others. According to the latest figures, more than 900 000 people have already been vaccinated, i.e. 43% of the total population and more than 50% of the adult population. Nevertheless, we are still a long way from a sufficient vaccination coverage rate (60% of the total population), as only 38% of the total population has been vaccinated with two doses so far.
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