Poland defies EU once again: Emerging Europe this week

poland european union polexit
Central Europe

The European Union’s top court on Thursday ruled that Poland’s system for disciplining judges undercut the bloc’s laws, part of an escalating battle over democratic rules that Polish government critics warn could risk Warsaw’s exit from the union. The ruling came just a day after Poland’s Constitutional Court again defied the EU, ruling that any interim measures issued by the EU Court of Justice against Poland’s controversial judicial reforms were “not in line” with the Polish constitution. “We are in the process of a legal Polexit which is taking place step by step,” Poland’s independent human rights ombudsman Adam Bodnar told reporters after the ruling.

Czechia and Poland’s talks over the disputed Polish open-pit coal mine Turow are progressing, a Czech deputy environment minister said on Tuesday, with expert groups aiming to hammer out technical issues this week before higher level meetings next Thursday. The Czech government’s lawsuit against Poland, filed at the European Union’s Court of Justice in February, has opened a dragging dispute between the central European allies, hitting at the environmental costs of coal mining. The Czechs have said mining at Turow, which sits directly next to the border, is sucking up water supplies and damaging Czech communities nearby.

Czech lawmakers meanwhile on Wednesday approved a law setting up support for renewable energy sources, but solar industry representatives said the level of help for their sector was insufficient to attract investments needed to meet EU environment targets. The bill approved by the lower house of parliament sets the framework for supporting renewable energy sources in the years ahead, which investors need for commitments to new projects. Under the law, levels of support differ according to the kind of renewable technology employed. Aid would be available for solar projects generating a maximum rate of return of 6.3 per cent. In contrast, support would be available for biomethane initiatives bringing a return of up to 10.6 per cent. Many energy industry participants including the biggest utility CEZ believe solar has the highest potential in the landlocked country.

A new Bulgarian anti-establishment party led by popular singer Slavi Trifonov, which has claimed the right to form a government after inconclusive weekend polls, was snubbed Tuesday by two parties whose support he had sought. A nearly complete count of Sunday’s vote showed Trifonov’s There Is Such a People (ITN) party leading with 24.07 per cent. The conservative GERB party of former three-time premier Boyko Borissov was in second place at 23.52 per cent. ITN is projected to win only 65 seats in the 240-seat parliament. But Trifonov has claimed the right to form a government, announced a list of ministers and demanded support from other parties. Before the vote, the 54-year-old Trifonov said he would count on support from the small right-wing Democratic Bulgaria and left-leaning Stand Up! Mafia Out! parties. But both have snubbed Trifonov’s government proposal.

Slovenian voters on Sunday overwhelmingly rejected changes to the country’s water management law, a development seen as a blow to the country’s right-wing leader. About 86.5 per cent of people voted Sunday against the amendments approved by Prime Minister Janez Janša’s government in March that ecologists claimed threaten the environment and water quality, according to a near-complete count of ballots released by election authorities. Around 13.5 per cent of the votes were in favour of the government amendments. The turnout was over 45 per cent among Slovenia’s 1.7 million eligible voters — the highest in a referendum since 2007, the STA news agency said, showing high public interest in the topic.

A children’s books editor from Hungary who has received death threats and homophobic abuse over his work said on Monday he would leave the country following the introduction of a law banning LGBT+ content in schools. The law that came into force last week, which has been condemned by the European Union, bans material that “promotes or depicts gender change and homosexuality” to under-18s. Critics say the legislation could fuel discrimination against LGBT+ Hungarians. “I fear a little bit and that is why (myself and my partner) plan to leave the country,” book editor Boldizsar Nagy, who is gay, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Romanian football champion Cluj on Tuesday became the first team to benefit from the abolishment of the away-goals rule in UEFA competitions. Cluj advanced to the Champions League second qualifying round with an extra-time goal in a 2-1 loss at Borac Banja Luka that sealed a 4-3 win on aggregate. Under the old system scrapped by UEFA last month, the champion of Bosnia and Herzegovina would have gone through with the aggregate scored tied at 3-3 because of the goal it scored in the first leg in Romania. Instead, the game went to extra time and Cluj scored the decisive goal in the 118th minute.

Eastern Europe

Belarusian authorities carried out a day of massive, unprecedented raids and detentions against the Belarus human rights community on Wednesday, according to Human Rights Watch. Police in at least 10 cities searched homes and offices of the country’s major human rights organisations and their staff, seizing documents, computers, and other devices. The police detained at least 12 human rights defenders and journalists for interrogation, and at least nine remain in custody. At least three of those targeted told the media that law enforcement officers said the searches were part of a criminal investigation into public order violations linked to mass protests that followed a disputed presidential election last August.

Ukraine’s longest-serving minister unexpectedly quit without explanation in a move that could signal a wider government reshuffle. Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, who’s been in his post since 2014, submitted his resignation on Tuesday. President Volodymyr Zelensky nominated Denys Monastyrskyi, a member of his party, to replace him. Avakov, a former businessman, has batted away a litany of scandals since taking charge of Ukraine’s notoriously corrupt law-enforcement agencies. Modernisation demanded by voters was sidelined, police-brutality complaints were common and his son narrowly escaped criminal charges.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has described Russians and Ukrainians as “one people” and argued that Ukraine can only be stable and successful if it maintains friendly ties with Russia. He also charged in an article published on Monday that Ukraine has no intention of honouring a 2015 peace deal to end a conflict with Russia-backed separatists in the country’s east. “I am convinced that the true sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia,” the article posted on the Kremlin’s website states. “Our spiritual, human and civilisational ties have formed for centuries and have been rooted in the same sources, they have been hardened by common trials, achievements and victories.” In televised remarks on Tuesday night, Putin said he had pondered the article for several months, but now was the time to release it.

Four independent TV stations in Georgia this week suspended broadcasts for 24 hours as part of a wave of media protests against attacks on journalists by far-right mobs. More than 50 journalists were beaten last week, some with sticks, while covering a protest against a Tbilisi Pride parade, Ultraconservative politicians and priests urged on supporters who raided the offices of pro-LGBTQ groups. The violence ahead of the Pride event led organisers to cancel the parade. The attacks have focused attention on Georgia’s powerful ultraconservative forces, which have shown they are ready to use violence to support nativist, intolerant policies and are seen as a potential spoiler in Georgia’s plans to forge closer ties with the EU. Following the attacks, the prime minister, Irakli Garibashvili, indicated that the pride parade organisers were at fault for the violence, calling plans to hold the event “provocative and impermissible”.

An Armenian soldier was killed on Wednesday in an exchange of fire on the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Armenia’s defence ministry said. It said the soldier was killed when Azeri forces fired at Armenian servicemen who had tried to prevent Azerbaijan carrying out “fortification works” at the border. Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said Armenian forces had fired at Azeri positions on Wednesday, and one of its soldiers had been wounded. Relations are tense between Azerbaijan and Armenia following six weeks of fighting last year in which Azeri troops drove ethnic Armenian forces out of swathes of territory they had long controlled in and around the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave.

Moldova’s President Maia Sandu has said that her government has “all the tools” to implement her anti-corruption agenda and reforms, following her victory in Sunday’s parliamentary election. She secured 52.8 per cent of the vote and enough parliamentary seats that should enable her to implement the broad reformist agenda that won her the presidency last year. “This is about eliminating the corrupt judges and the corrupt prosecutors from the system, to clean up the other institutions and to make them independent of the influences of different corruption groups, which have been stealing public money for a very long time,” Sandu told Euronews. After Sunday’s election, Sandu said on Facebook that she hoped the result would mark “the end of the reign of thieves in Moldova”. November’s victory saw her defeat the pro-Russian incumbent Igor Dodon with a pro-European message that appealed to the many Moldovans who live abroad in EU countries.

North East Europe

Lithuania has voted in favour of strict new migration laws amid an influx of arrivals from Belarus. Politicians backed the controversial legislation on Tuesday, allowing the mass detention of migrants and limiting their right to appeal. It comes as hundreds of migrants have illegally crossed into Lithuania from Belarus in recent weeks. Lithuania accuses Belarus of flying in foreign migrants who then head to the border, a claim Belarus denies. More than 1,700 people have been detained at Lithuania’s border this year. The EU country has deployed troops and begun building a 550-kilometre razor wire fence along the border with Belarus, which is not a member of the bloc.

Russia expelled an Estonian diplomat on Wednesday after accusing him of spying and gave him 48 hours to leave the country, dealing a fresh setback to Moscow’s already strained relations with the European Union. Estonia on Tuesday accused Russia of briefly detaining Mart Latte, one of its St Petersburg-based consuls, after a “set-up” it said was designed to falsely make him look like a spy. Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Wednesday announcing Latte’s expulsion that it did not believe the denials and summoned an Estonian diplomat in Moscow to protest over activity it said was incompatible with diplomacy. Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) said a day earlier it had detained Latte after he was “caught red handed” receiving confidential information from a Russian citizen.

South East Europe

A Kosovar court on Monday sentenced to 10 years in prison a Serbian ex-policeman accused of raping an ethnic Albanian woman during the 1998-1999 war. The sentencing was believed to be the first for a rape conviction dating back to the Kosovo war. The Prishtina court said Zoran Vukotic raped the Albanian woman in May 22, 1999 when Serb military, police and paramilitary troops were deporting ethnic Albanians from the region of Vushtri, 40 kilometres northwest of the capital Prishtina. A court statement said Vukotic, a policeman at the time, took a young woman to the second floor of a home and raped her in front of other women. The victim was more than three months pregnant at the time and she lost her twins a few months later.

A former Albanian deputy interior minister has been arrested on corruption accusations, authorities said Tuesday. A statement from the Special Structure Against Corruption and Organized Crime said Rovena Voda, deputy interior minister from 2017 until 2020, was put under house arrest over allegations she was bribed to favour a person seeking a position as a public official. No more details were given. Newly formed judicial institutions established to address corruption in post-communist Albania, which is widely seen as hurting the country’s democratic, economic and social development, are this year filing suits or putting under arrest many former senior officials.

Bosnia’s intelligence chief has been arrested amid an investigation that includes money laundering and forgery. Osman Mehmedagic, the head of the Intelligence Security Agency (OSA), was detained on July 14 at the request of state prosecutors under suspicion of abuse of his position, falsifying personal identification documents, and money laundering, Sarajevo police spokesman Mirza Hadziabdic said. Authorities earlier this month searched OSA’s premises and confiscated Mehmedagic’s personal files. Last month, police arrested Denis Prcic, the head of the private American University in Sarajevo and Tuzla, for reportedly illegally issuing a diploma to Mehmedagic.

Two Serbian NGOs, the Coalition against Environmental Corruption and the Podrinje Anti-Corruption Team, PAKT, on Tuesday said they had filed charges against Rio Sava Exploration and China Communications and Construction, CCCC, and their subcontractors, for environmental pollution. Rio Sava Exploration is a Serbian subsidiary of the Rio Tinto Group, registered to perform geological and mining works. In Serbia, it is developing the Jadar project near Loznica, within which it intends to open an underground mine for the exploitation of jadarite, from which lithium is planned to be extracted, a mineral used for the production of batteries. Lithium is crucial for the transition to renewables, but mining it is environmentally costly, experts warn.

As many as 180,000 people attended the EXIT Festival in Serbia last weekend, marking Europe’s biggest event since the start of the coronavirus pandemic and the continent’s first major festival of the summer. Attendees from more than 70 countries were on-site over the course of four days and nights, with more than 50 per cent of the crowd coming from outside the country. “I knew this year’s event was more than just a festival, it was a movement of people, ready to do whatever it takes to keep human connections at the forefront of our existence,” said EXIT’s co-founder and CEO, Dušan Kovačević.

Central Asia

Turkmenistan last week became the first country in the world to legally require all residents over 18 to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. Only those with medical contraindications will be exempted. The country has procured vaccines from both Russia and China. According to the British Medical Journal (BMJ), Turkmenistan’s vaccine laws will be the strictest in the world, surpassing those of Saudi Arabia, which since March has operated a broad “no jab, no job” policy in both public and private sectors. Officially, Turkmenistan has reported not a single case of Covid-19 infection in the country.

Kyrgyzstan’s populist president has quietly signed a law that hinders the work of non-governmental organisations, mirroring Russia’s latest restrictions. Civil society leaders see the new controls as a response to media investigations into high-level corruption and fear they could be used to cripple the work of independent activists. News that Sadyr Japarov had signed the law broke on July 7, over a week after it had come into force. The law requires NGOs to file onerous financial reports and was introduced amid growing anti-Western sentiment among politicians and religious groups. Independent journalists, human rights activists, scholars and entire institutions have become targets of smear attacks accusing them of spreading “Western ideology” or “LGBT propaganda”.

Tajikistan said on Wednesday that almost 350 refugees from Afghanistan had crossed into the Central Asian country, fleeing sweeping gains by Taliban fighters as foreign forces withdraw. Border guards in the ex-Soviet country said those fleeing included 177 minors, and that two babies had died during the journey to the mountainous and impoverished country. The Talebin’s offensive has seen a stream of Afghans make their way across the border and earlier this month, more than 1,000 government troops fled to Tajikistan after the fighters seized a border crossing between the countries.

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