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HomeBalkansDemocracy Digest: FICO Slovak PM Again; Still No Sign of Next Polish...

Democracy Digest: FICO Slovak PM Again; Still No Sign of Next Polish One

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The leader of Slovakia’s populist Smer party Robert Fico was this week appointed the country’s new prime minister, his fourth stint in the role. President Zuzana Caputova also appointed his cabinet on Wednesday afternoon. At the same time, the five-month rule of the caretaker government led by former banker Ludovit Odor ended. Fico stressed his government will pursue what he called “sovereign Slovak politics”. The day after his appointment he flew to Brussels to attend the two-day EU summit and to present Slovakia’s new, opposing position on any more military aid for Ukraine. On Thursday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he did not consider Slovakia’s new position as important. Fico had talked about attending the EU summit several days before his appointment, but he nearly missed his chance. The president dismissed one of his ministerial candidates, the ultranationalist and controversial hunter Rudolf Huliak, as she did not consider him a good fit for the post of environment minister and demanded a new candidate be presented. It is not yet known what the priorities of Fico’s new government will be, but he will have to deal with the high deficit and debt in a way that won’t scare off investors. One of his goals is also to restart the V4 prime ministerial summits with Slovakia’s neighbours, which have foundered recently over Hungary’s stance on the war in Ukraine.

Slovak MEP Milan Uhrik, chair of the far-right Republika movement, attended a reception in June in Brussels that was hosted by the Russian embassy, it was reported this week. The head of the embassy is Russia’s charge d’affaires to the EU, Kirill Logvinov. The Belgian newspaper De Tijd and the Jan Kuciak Investigative Journalism Centre discovered that Logvinov is an agent with connections to the SVR Russian foreign intelligence service. The Belgian secret services wanted to expel Logvinov for espionage, but this was blocked by the European External Action Service, the European institution in charge of EU foreign policy and diplomacy. Uhrik claims he did not meet Logvinov at the reception. 

Poland still without a PM; Tusk visits Brussels; cleaning up after PiS

Polish President Andrzej Duda failed to announce a candidate for PM even after meeting this week representatives of all five parties elected to parliament. In a statement on Thursday, Duda said he was in an unprecedented position, because the party winning the most votes is not able to form a government and so he faces a choice of two candidates – the PiS one, current PM Mateusz Morawiecki, and the opposition one, Donald Tusk. Negotiations would continue, he added. Duda didn’t say when he would choose a candidate to try forming a government, but that he intended to set November 13 as the date when the newly elected parliament should meet for the first time. Duda’s remarks suggest Poland is headed for the longer envisaged scenario of government formation, which could see the opposition only able to form a government as late as December or even January.

Despite Duda still not nominating a PM, opposition leader Donald Tusk visited Brussels on Wednesday to meet with EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Tusk, who was reaffirmed this week by all three parties in the coalition as the opposition choice for PM, had promised to make it a priority post-election to unfreeze the EU coronavirus recovery funds destined for Poland, some 36 billion euros. Speaking to the media after meeting von der Leyen, Tusk reported a positive attitude on the side of Brussels to releasing the funds, but that “the new government will have to demonstrate very quickly it is capable of restoring the rule of law in Poland, both through legislation and through everyday practice.” In order to release the funds, Poland still has to meet some milestones set down by Brussels. The key pending issues include having an independent court rule on disciplinary cases against judges and judges’ right to conduct a test on the independence of other judges in line with EU law. Tusk said that while legislative changes to the rule-of-law system were best, “declarations with practical implications, e.g., sending certain draft laws to parliament or concrete decisions about specific judges” might still pass muster, because Brussels is well aware legislative changes require the PiS-allied president not to block them with his veto. Among other topics discussed was support for Ukraine, including the issue of grain imports, about which Tusk said “our very firm position is that Ukrainian grain cannot be a threat to Polish farmers”, but also “we have to find a solution that will help Ukraine.” The two politicians also discussed immigration. “Poland could count on significant help in strengthening the protection of our eastern border, especially with Belarus” he said, though declared that he was opposed to the “relocation” of refugees around the bloc.

Beyond fixing the broken justice system, a new government formed by the opposition would also have to deal with other aspects of institutional capture by PiS. Speaking to a few influential opposition politicians, Gazeta Wyborcza identified some key areas where a new government would have to intervene. Among the opposition’s electoral promises was to bring several key politicians in front of the State Tribunal, including PM Morawiecki, for wasting state resources on organising an illegal postal ballot during the pandemic, which never took place. Sending politicians to the State Tribunal requires the kind of majority in parliament that the opposition doesn’t have, however. Other measures promised that may be more realistic to implement include: the setting up of parliamentary commissions, one of which will investigate the use of surveillance against opposition politicians; audits conducted in all ministries, state agencies and institutions to ensure funds were used properly; the closing of 17 institutes set up by PiS, including those dealing with history and memory which were used by PiS to channel state funds to political allies; restarting prosecutors’ investigations into big corruption affairs during the PiS government that were frozen, including a notorious deal to buy respirators during the pandemic; and audits at major state companies such as PKN Orlen or PGE. Michal Szczerba, a Civic Platform politician known for revealing many of these scandals, also promised the opposition would establish a public register where deals made by state institutions could be monitored by interested members of the public.

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