The Brief – Going to the polls after COVID-19

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter. [EPA-EFE/ANTONIO BAT]

What is it with Eastern Europe and the rush to the polling stations as soon as the lockdown  measures were relaxed?

Serbia, the biggest EU candidate country, broke the ice on 21 June with a controversial parliamentary election boycotted by the opposition.

Poland, the biggest eastern EU member, held the first round of a presidential ballot, a crucial part of the ruling PiS party’s efforts to stay in power, on 28 June.

Croatia, the youngest EU country and the current EU presidency holder (until midnight Tuesday) then took the baton and is gearing up for a parliamentary election on Sunday (5 July).

The common thread in all three, other than public health concerns, is that the EU, with its massive €750 billion recovery package and efforts to go green and digital, did not feature at all in either.

In Serbia, which the US-based Freedom House recently declared no longer a democracy but a “hybrid regime”, President Aleksandar Vucic’s Serbian Progressive Party (EPP) won massively and effortlessly, as most of the opposition stayed away, decrying the election as unfair and illegitimate.

There was some talk of digitalisation, migration, and economic growth, but all that was sketchy and overshadowed by the boycott.

In Poland, apart from a controversy about postal voting, talk focused largely on LGBTI rights.

Incumbent Andrzej Duda, who is close to Pis, had campaigned on a promise to ban classes about gay rights in schools, saying LGBT was an “ideology” that was worse than communist doctrine.

And in Croatia, whose maiden EU presidency went largely unnoticed at home, two red herrings swept everything else away.

The main campaign issues – brace yourselves – were:

Should raped women be allowed to have an abortion? (Yes – centre-left. No – centre-right) and Should Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic self-isolate after visiting an ill-starred tennis tournament on the Adriatic coast, where a number of participants tested positive?

“There was no talk whatsoever about what projects we could put forward to attract the €10 billion earmarked for Croatia from the EU’s recovery fund,” says EURACTIV Croatia editor-in-chief, Zeljko Trkanjec.

“The ruling HDZ believes they’ve already demonstrated their EU competence by drawing considerable cohesion funds. All the other parties just don’t understand it at all”.

Small wonder, then, that the true gem of the campaign turned out to be a mocking video clip presenting veteran ethnic Serb representative Milorad Pupovac, who has been a regular target of nationalist invective from the right-wing camp.

Brimming with self-irony and wit, it turns those cliches on their head.

“This ethno-businessman [a reference to his 30-year career as a Serb deputy] is in daily telephone contact with businessman Bill Gates,” reads a serious male baritone as the video shows Pupovac walking around Zagreb with his mobile phone.

“The notorious Milorad Pupovac sold him the idea for 5G and chips that will be implanted with the so-called ‘corona vaccine'”.

“And right now, by sending Croats to Serbia to listen to Serbian folk music, and sending infected Serbs to Croatia [a slight jab at Novak Djokovic, one of the tennis players who tested positive] Pupovac is organising a second wave of coronavirus in Croatia”.

The clip ends on a serious note, with a slogan ‘Be what you are, respect what you’re not’.

Pupovac is almost guaranteed one Serb seat in the new parliament but everything else up for grabs and analysts predict a hung parliament where the main parties, the HDZ and the Social Democrats, will struggle to build a working majority.

In the meantime, as the number of infections is lightly but steadily rising in Croatia and a few other countries, it remains to be seen whether rushing those ballots was really a smart move.

The Roundup

The centrist Renew Europe political faction has added another EU leader to their roster after Ireland formed a new government over the weekend, with Fianna Fáil leader Mícheál Martin at the helm, tasked with overseeing the country’s economic recovery after the pandemic.

Solidarity and sovereignty will be the name of the game for the German EU presidency, according to Foreign Minister Heiko Maas who emphasised the need for greater EU independence from the current geopolitical power struggle between the US and China.

Helena Dalli is the first European Commissioner for Equality, an issue to which she dedicated a big part of her life. In an interview with EURACTIV, she said that racism is “alive” in Europe, and called for “thinking ‘out of the box’” to address the structural biases inside the Commission.

European Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan said he would not seek to become the next director-general of the World Trade Organisation, despite having previously stated he was looking into the possibility.

For the first time since 2015, asylum applications in the EU started to rise again in 2019. However, Italy is no longer among the main host countries while Germany retains its top spot.

Poland’s nationalist incumbent Andrzej Duda won the first round of a presidential election but will have to face the centrist mayor of Warsaw in a run-off on July 12, in a race that could transform the nation’s ties with the European Union.

Farmers need access to the latest tools and technologies to enable them to reach EU-wide fertiliser targets and get a clear picture of what is happening on the ground, stakeholders stressed during a recent EURACTIV conference.

An increased reliance on digitalization could help to preserve minority languages despite the English language dominating online, a leading MEP has said.

Look out for…

  • EU-Korea leaders meeting
  • Brussels Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria
  • Presentation of the 2020-2024 EDPS Strategy

Views are the author’s

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