Poland’s Łódź region has announced that the European Union’s most polluting coal plant, Bełchatów, will close by 2036 and its mines by 2038. The news is contained within the region’s Territorial Just Transition Plan (TJTP) which must be submitted to the European Commission in order to access the EU’s 17.5 billion euros Just Transition Fund. Bełchatów has pumped more than one billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere since 1982, but under the draft plan, lignite-burning at the plant would be reduced by 80 per cent by 2030 and stopped outright by 2036. Environmental campaigners say it is not soon enough.
Poland is one of four countries that will take part in a study of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine for children aged under 12. The study will enroll up to 4,500 children at more than 90 clinical sites in Poland, the United States, Finland, and Spain, the company said on Tuesday. Based on safety, tolerability and the immune response generated by 144 children in a phase I study of the two-dose shot, Pfizer said it will test a dose of 10 micrograms in children between 5 and 11 years of age, and three micrograms for the age group of six months to five.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán meanwhile has said that Hungary would be winding down its mass inoculation campaign, switching instead to what he called “stand-by” vaccination. “Hungary will switch from mass vaccination to a slower, individual programme: some vaccination sites will be maintained, and those who want vaccination will receive it there,” the PM said in his weekly interview with public radio station MR1. “It is not reasonable to maintain the current vaccination system, which is extremely burdensome for doctors and hospitals alike,” he said, adding: “so far it has been the responsibility of the state to make the vaccination programme work well, but from now on it is an individual responsibility.” Hungary remains the only country in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia to have inoculated at least half of its population against Covid-19 with at least one dose of a vaccine.
Hungary’s prime minister also this week flagged a hike in the minimum wage and reaffirmed plans for a big tax refund to families in 2022, launching his campaign for next year’s election that is shaping up as a competitive race for the first time in a decade. Orbán has scored three successive landslides since 2010, but opposition parties have united against his Fidesz party for the first time and recently caught up with it in opinion polls.
Two investor advisory firms have recommended MONETA Money Bank shareholders vote against a plan to buy investment group PPF’s Czech and Slovak lending assets, saying the price may be too high. It was not clear what impact the recommendations from Glass Lewis and Institutional Shareholder Services could have on the June 22 shareholder vote on the two-part deal. The tie up is the groups’ second attempt in two years to create a Czech banking giant to compete with larger rivals. If approved, the deal would give PPF majority control in MONETA, the country’s sixth largest bank. MONETA agreed last month to buy PPF’s lender Air Bank, Czech and Slovak units of global consumer lender Home Credit and peer-to-peer lender Benxy for 25.90 billion crowns (1.02 billion euros).
Romania moved ever so slightly closer to Schengen membership on June 8 when the European Commission published a broadly positive report looking at the country’s efforts to reform its justice system and fight corruption. The latest report takes stock of the progress under the CVM since October 2019 and assesses progress on 12 recommendations made in January 2017, and eight additional recommendations of November 2018. Since the last CVM report in 2019, the Commission says that the situation within the parameters of the CVM’s four benchmarks (judicial independence and reform; integrity framework; tackling high-level corruption; tackling corruption at all levels) has shown a positive trend.
Croatian oil and gas company INA and its biggest shareholder, Hungary’s MOL, have reached an agreement to buy the Slovenian operations of Austria’s OMV (OMVV.VI), INA said on Tuesday. INA and MOL will acquire OMV’s 92.25 per cent stake in OMV Slovenija. The deal means INA will increase its stake in OMV Slovenija to 33 per cent from the current 7.75 per cent. “The transaction includes 120 service stations across Slovenia and the wholesale business,” INA said in a statement, without disclosing financial details. OMV Slovenija is the country’s second largest petrol retailer behind local firm Petrol.
A Soviet-built MiG-29 fighter jet from Bulgaria’s air force crashed into the Black Sea during a military exercise and the pilot is missing, the Bulgarian Defence Ministry said on Wednesday. The ministry said the fighter jet disappeared from radar at 00:45 local time over the country’s territorial waters. It said a search and rescue operation was launched immediately and is continuing, but the pilot’s status remains unknown. The reasons for the crash are unclear, but military officials suspended the Shabla 2021 drill. Two other MiG-29 jets belonging to Bulgaria crashed in 1994 and in 2012. Since joining NATO in 2004, Bulgaria has sought to replace its air fleet of Soviet-made Mig-29 jets, but financial problems have caused repeated delays.
Ukraine must modify its team shirt for the European Championship after UEFA on Thursday upheld part of a Russian complaint about slogans and a map that included Crimea. The yellow-and-blue shirt design unveiled on Sunday angered Russian officials by including an outline of Ukraine’s land territory with the Crimea region which Russia annexed in 2014. The fresh UEFA ruling allows the map to stay on the shirt, in line with international law which recognises the Russian annexation as illegal. However, one of the two slogans woven into the inside of the shirt collar — “Glory to the heroes” — must be removed. “Glory to Ukraine” can remain visible on the back of the shirt’s neck.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Tuesday signed into law prison sentences for people taking part in protests or insulting state officials, part of an unprecedented crackdown by the veteran leader since a disputed election last year. In a series of amendments to the criminal code, Lukashenko also for the first time introduced a four-year prison sentence for people found guilty of spreading false information that discredits the state. The Russian-backed president also introduced tougher penalties for resisting the police and using protest symbols. Opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya responded by saying that Belarus had become “Europe’s North Korea”, and called for further sanctions against the Lukashenko regime.
Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a harsh warning this week over prospects for Ukraine joining NATO, saying those in the country opposing membership were anxious not to be caught in a middle of a conflict. “At least 50 per cent of Ukrainian residents don’t want entry into NATO and these are smart people,” Putin said in an interview late Wednesday to Russian state TV. “They understand, they don’t want to wind up on the firing line, they don’t want to be bargaining chips or cannon fodder.” Putin didn’t indicate where he got his information on Ukrainian public opinion. A poll conducted in March found 57 per cent of Ukrainians support joining NATO, while 36% oppose. Putin issued his veiled threat as Joe Biden prepares to attend his first NATO summit as US president in Brussels next week.
Azerbaijan says its military has detained an Armenian soldier who it claims is a member of an Armenian Army sabotage unit, an accusation that Armenia rejected, saying one of its soldiers wandered by mistake into Azerbaijani-controlled territory because of fog. In a June 8 statement, Azerbaijan’s Defence Ministry said an Armenian soldier, identified as Artur Kartanian, was detained in the Lacin district while he and other alleged members of a group of Armenian military were trying to plant mines on Azerbaijani territory near the border with Armenia. The statement said the other members of the group managed to flee.
The Armenian Defence Ministry rejected the Azerbaijani statement, saying the soldier “lost his way due to the fog and ended up in the territory controlled by the Azerbaijani armed forces”.
The number of attacks on journalists and media representatives in Moldova increased significantly in 2020, according to a media report on such attacks in the post-Soviet space by Justice for Journalists, an NGO based in London. The study identified 68 attacks or threats against professional and civilian media workers and editorial offices of print and online publications in Moldova in 2020. About 49 of the 68 attacks were non-physical, however, some in cyberspace, including campaigns to discredit or illegally obstruct journalists and deny access to information, or other forms of harassment, intimidation and pressure on social networks. Non-physical attacks included defamation and libel cases against the media or media personnel.
North East Europe
Estonian Finance Minister Keit Pentus-Rosimannus has come out against proposals for a global corporate income tax, calling it “harmful for enterprise, international competition and job creation.” G7 leaders agreed on Sunday to a global 15 per cent corporate income tax for companies regardless of where they are based. The aim of the long-anticipated reform is to end competition using low tax rates in the hope of attracting corporate giants. Initial reactions to the new tax rate were positive, including from digital giants like Google and Facebook. However, Estonia did not show the same enthusiasm despite estimates pointing to the proposal bringing 10 million euros in additional tax revenue to the country. “Healthy tax competition usually supports growth and innovation,” said Pentus-Rosimannus, “but now the G7 proposal is moving in the opposite direction.”
Lithuania’s central bank has revoked the licence of a local fintech implicated in the Wirecard scandal because of major breaches of anti-money-laundering and counter-terrorist financing rules. Prosecutors in Munich suspect that UAB Finolita Unio, a fintech registered in Lithuania’s capital Vilnius, was used to steal more than 100 million euros from Wirecard just before the German payments company collapsed. The Bank of Lithuania said Finolita had treated anti-money-laundering and counter-terrorist financing rules “irresponsibly”, failing to assess the risks of its customers as well as negligently checking their identities and beneficial owners. The Finolita case has given rise to scrutiny of Lithuania which, following the UK’s departure from the EU, has the highest number of fintechs in the bloc.
South East Europe
Ratko Mladić, the so-called Butcher of the Balkans, will spend the rest of his life in prison following a failed appeal. The appeals chamber of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (RMCT), presided by Judge Prisca Matimba Nyambe, on Tuesday upheld a guilty verdict and life sentence against the former chief of the Bosnian Serb army. Mladić was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 2017 on counts of genocide in the area of Srebrenica in 1995, persecution, extermination, murder, deportation, inhumane acts (forcible transfer), terror, unlawful attacks on civilians and the taking of hostages.
Albania’s parliament on Wednesday impeached President Ilir Meta during an extraordinary session, removing him from his post. Meta is accused of violating the constitution for taking sides against the governing Socialist party during parliamentary elections in April. The parliament voted 104-7 to impeach Meta, well exceeding the 93 votes required to remove him from office. Lawmakers in favour of impeachment say Meta’s actions triggered political instability in Albania and that he failed to fulfil his constitutional obligation of maintaining national unity. The impeachment proceedings will now be deliberated by Albania’s Constitutional Court. The court will give a final decision on the impeachment within three months.
Leaders of Serbia and Kosovo will meet on June 15 for a new round of talks on normalisation of ties, an EU official announced on Wednesday. “The new round of dialogue between Belgrade and Prishtina will be held in Brussels next Tuesday,” EU Commission spokesperson Peter Stano said at a news conference. Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vučić, Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti, and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell will take part in the talks, which will be the first since Kurti became premier in March. The focus will be on “how to proceed in the future,” Stano said, adding that hopes are high that efforts ongoing since 2011 will result in a comprehensive normalisation agreement.
Montenegro’s new national airline, Air Montenegro, this week maid its maiden flight, from the country’s capital Podgorica to Belgrade in Serbia. Air Montenegro, formally registered as ToMontenegro, is the successor airline to Montenegro Airlines, which the Montenegrin government shut down in December over excessive debts that financially overwhelmed the airline. The airline will initially operate five routes, to destinations in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia and Germany.
The head of one of Uzbekistan’s leading political parties has suggested depriving gays, lesbians and transgender people of citizenship and deporting them as a way of ending the national conversation on LGBT issues. Alisher Kadyrov, who heads Milliy Tiklanish, or National Revival, which bills itself as a champion of tradition and family values, said in an interview published on June 7 on the Alter Ego YouTube channel that withdrawing citizenship from LGBT people would force other countries to provide them with refuge. “When I put forward this proposal on social networks, up to 100 LGBT people got in touch with me and agreed with what I had said. They said that they cannot get visas from those countries that condemn Uzbekistan for its attitude towards LGBT people,” Kadyrov said.
Russia might be embroiled in an ever-souring battle of wills with the West, but Kazakhstan wants no part of it. In a statement on June 5, the Foreign Ministry in Nur-Sultan said it would refrain from getting involved in any negotiations among members of a Moscow-led trading bloc on a possible coordinated response to Western sanctions against Russia or Belarus. The goal of the Eurasian Economic Union – which is comprised of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia – is to ensure the free movement of goods and labor, and it should not be politicized, the ministry said. “Kazakhstan takes the position that integration processes within the EAEU are of a purely economic nature,” the statement noted.
Kyrgyz authorities should investigate the disappearance of Orhan İnandı, the founder of a network of education institutions in Kyrgyzstan, amid concern that he may be forcibly deported to Turkey, Human Rights Watch said this week. İnandı disappeared on June 1, and protests demanding an effective investigation into his disappearance have been ongoing in the capital Bishkek ever since. İnandı’s wife has claimed that she has been told her husband is being held at Turkey’s embassy in the city, where he is being coerced into renouncing his Kyrgyz citizenship, which would facilitate his extradition to Turkey. The Turkish government in 2019 accused İnandı of links with the Gülen movement, which the Turkish government deems a terrorist organisation responsible for a failed coup in 2016.
The track cycling world championships have been pulled out of Turkmenistan because of the coronavirus pandemic, the International Cycling Union said. The UCI said in a statement last week that the championships “have been canceled in their initial format, at the request of their organizers, as the health constraints and restrictions linked to the Covid-19 pandemic make it impossible to stage the event in the country.” The championships had been set for October 13-17, more than two months after the track cycling competitions at the Tokyo Olympics. The UCI said it was in talks with “several” potential hosts to replace the Central Asian nation.
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