Receive free Slovakia updates

This article is an on-site version of our Europe Express newsletter. Sign up here to get the newsletter sent straight to your inbox every weekday and Saturday morning

Good morning. Inflation data for the eurozone will be released today after German inflation hit a two-year low yesterday — a milestone that has boosted hopes that the European Central Bank will call an end to its rate-rising cycle.

Today, our central Europe correspondent previews Slovakia’s election this weekend and our environment correspondent analyses European Commission data suggesting breaches of green rules are all the rage.

Have a great weekend.

Remember me?

The comeback of former Slovak prime minister Robert Fico to the forefront of politics is like “the phoenix rising from the ashes”, Peter Bárdy, chief editor of online publication Aktuality and author of a new book about Fico, tells Raphael Minder.

Context: Fico and his Smer party are hoping to return to office after Saturday’s election, in which they are jostling for top spot with the liberal Progressive Slovakia party led by Michal Šimečka, a former journalist and member of the European parliament.

In 2018, Fico was forced to resign as prime minister amid mass street protests that followed the murders of a journalist — who was investigating corruption across business and state institutions — and his fiancée.

Fico has since remained entangled in several court investigations, alongside some other politicians from his Smer party. The most serious charges relate to alleged ties between Smer and organised crime. Prosecutors accuse the party of blackmailing officials and threatening opponents, also by misusing classified documents against them.

But last year Fico survived an attempt in parliament to lift his immunity as a lawmaker. The vote took place just as Slovakia’s coalition government was imploding amid internal feuds between its leading politicians. Their parties are now expected to be punished by voters on Saturday, also for failing to carry out the institutional clean-up they had pledged after Fico’s removal.

Fico and Šimečka differ on policy, notably over Ukraine. Fico claims that further support for Kyiv’s defence against Russia’s invasion runs counter to Slovak interests, while Šimečka is calling for more western unity and warning that Fico would add an anti-Ukraine vote within the EU to that of Viktor Orbán, the prime minister of Hungary.

But where Fico and Šimečka find commonality is in benefiting from being sidelined during the chaotic spell in Slovak politics that led to Saturday’s snap election. Šimečka’s party had failed to get enough votes to enter parliament at the last ballot.

For Fico, the infighting between the previous incumbent parties has been even more precious. Without it, “Fico could have ended up in prison by now” rather than running to regain the premiership, said Wojciech Przybylski, the editor-in-chief of the journal Visegrad Insight.

Chart du jour: Lost homeland

Nagorno Karabakh map showing the Lachin corridor between Goris and Stepanakert

The self-proclaimed republic of Nagorno-Karabakh has ceased to exist after Azerbaijan took control of the mountainous region by force, driving tens of thousands of people to flee. Polina Ivanova witnessed the exodus of a people left homeless.

Standards, slipped

There is a febrile atmosphere around green regulation in the EU right now with politicians across the bloc sensing the electoral benefit of watering down environmental rules. 

But the European Commission is still trying to make sure member states toe the line when it comes to environmental standards, writes Alice Hancock.

Context: The commission can launch infringement proceedings against any member state that is not upholding EU law as part of its role as “guardian of the Treaties”. “Priority is given to tackling breaches with the biggest impact on the interests of citizens and businesses,” the commission said.

Of 23 key decisions in infringement proceedings made during September, almost a third were related to green issues such as industrial pollution and water management — by far the most of any category.

That’s more than the average for the year, which comes in at 18 per cent, suggesting that either the commission is stepping up action on this front or member states are failing to adhere to standards. Or that there are many more environmental rules to comply with.

The publication of the commission’s infringement report comes just days after Brussels sent round its agenda for the rest of the year, which was missing the month of December and several key planks of environmental legislation that are due to be proposed.

This has raised speculation among diplomats at least that a revision of the EU’s REACH chemicals legislation and rules on microplastics have been dropped or delayed. That comes on top of confirmation from EU officials to the FT that new rules to improve the sustainability of the food industry and animal welfare could be shelved.

REACH is already months overdue but is a particular focus for sentiment against green regulations as it could have far-reaching impacts for industry.

What to watch today

  1. Estonia prime minister Kaja Kallas visits her Finnish counterpart Petteri Orpo.

  2. Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg visits Denmark and meets prime minister Mette Frederiksen.

Now read these

Recommended newsletters for you

Free lunch — Your guide to the global economic policy debate. Sign up here

Trade Secrets — A must-read on the changing face of international trade and globalisation. Sign up here

Are you enjoying Europe Express? Sign up here to have it delivered straight to your inbox every workday at 7am CET and on Saturdays at noon CET. Do tell us what you think, we love to hear from you: Keep up with the latest European stories @FT Europe

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.