After a first 2011 semester ‘internationally’ focused on Hungary, its EU Council Presidency and its ruling Government’s intense legislative agenda, in this second half of the year international attention is shifting toward an EU eastern neighbourhood partner undergoing a period of political controversy, Ukraine. Meanwhile, in this same period, the CEE region is also expected to undergo a new series of crucial elections with new national Parliaments being sworn in as government mandates expire (Poland, Croatia and Russia) or, as it is the case of Bulgaria, with a changing of the guard as regards the Head of State, with Presidential elections scheduled for October 23rd.
More specifically, as for Ukraine, contradiction relies in the fact that the important reform momentum boosted so far by Yanukovych’s Administration (e.g.: approval of IMF – led reforms such as a new tax code and pension reform) could be easily overshadowed by the increasingly lower levels of democratic safeguards the country is recording, both in terms of press and media freedom and of impartiality and independence of the State’s main authorities. Noteworthy is indeed the campaign launched by the Government and officially named ‘anti-corruption drive’, but which is effectively targeting leading opposition figures such as former PM Tymoshenko (lastly accused of abuse of office for signing a controversial gas deal with Gazprom in 2009). Her recent detention and judicial process is causing growing international concern (because of the alleged use by Ukrainian authorities of the legal system to get rid of their opponents) and risks to negatively impact on Ukraine’s EU integration path.
As for this autumn’s CEE election calendar, on December the 4th Croatia will be called to elect a new Parliament in a competition that will almost certainly result in the victory of the current opposition party, guided by the Social Democrats. Poland’s October political elections should instead confirm the current ruling Prime Minister Tusk’s Civic Platform (CP) party. Indeed, aside from the recognition it has been given for maintaining the positive economic growth trend during the economic crisis that raged in 2009, the current Government is generally accused of lacking ambition and energy in implementing important structural reforms. Therefore, its current popularity is more of a reflection of the public’s aversion to the turbulent style of Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s Law and Justice Party than an advantage built by achieved results. It therefore remains to be seen if a second Tusk Government would prove to be more courageous or whether, thanks to its strong public support, it will disappoint the expectations of those hoping for a broad-ranging reformist line.
Although less important than the upcoming 2012 Presidential elections, Russian Duma’s December elections are injecting some lifeblood into Russian party politics, inducing some parties to revamp themselves in order to guarantee their political survival. This is the case of United Russia of PM Putin - which will run these elections under the new vest of the ‘Popular Front’ (created in May 2011 with the purpose of attracting new faces thereby increasing its chances of getting a good result in the Duma), and of the pro – Cremlin Right Cause which is now led by a new leader, billionaire Prokhorov, who is not connected to the bureaucracy in power and could thus win the votes of the pro-business and liberal electorate. On the other hand, the Communist Party should attract its usual 10-15% of votes, whereas Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party might not reach the 7% threshold.
Therefore, after a spring/summer session dedicated to finding crisis management solutions to the difficult financial situation the West is going through, hopes are still high about a strong renewed international and European attention to the difficult political situation Ukraine is experiencing. Nonetheless, other important events will continue filling the CEE political agenda such as the expected signature of the Croatian – EU accession Treaty and further progress in Serbia’s EU integration path.