Dear reader,

 

In this newsletter: Riga hosts the summit of the Three Seas Initiative, Czechia approves its own Magnitsky Law, Polish and Chinese officials meet amid crisis in relations and Slovak governing party pays for ads in blocked disinformation media.

The development of the Three Seas Initiative (3SI) finds itself at a crossroads. Latvia’s capital Riga hosted the seventh summit of 3SI, a region-wide project gathering the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, mostly focused on boosting connectivity. As such, the birth of 3SI was partly also a response to the Chinese development offer in the region a decade ago, which has ultimately left most of the countries disappointed.

 

A key result of the Riga summit was the granting of participating member status to Ukraine, as full membership is reserved only to EU member states. Indeed, it is the war in Ukraine that might give the project new urgency as the CEE countries grapple with the fallout of the conflict, not at least in the energy sector.

 

Yet, even though 3SI offers many opportunities for regional cooperation in key areas, it still faces many hurdles. One of them is that Poland continues to set most of the agenda within the format, leading some other states to question their commitment to the project.

 

On the other hand, Czechia and Slovakia have so far not been significantly invested in the development of the project. The Czech stance towards the initiative has been somewhat lukewarm and marred by the fact that the Czech flagship project under the initiative was the controversial Danube–Oder-Elbe Canal, favored by the Czech President Miloš Zeman. However, cooperation under 3SI has been highlighted by the new government and Czechia is also supposed to finally offer its contribution to the initiative’s investment fund. As for Hungary, while it has enthusiastically supported 3SI and even called for its formalization, its position has been complicated by its disputes with the EU and, more recently, its refusal to abandon Russia-friendly policies. More broadly, the limited funding available has so far restricted the ability of 3SI to deliver on high-visibility cooperation results or specific infrastructure projects.

 

Nevertheless, 3SI could use the current opportunity to offer a regional response to the war in Ukraine, especially in terms of assisting in post-war reconstruction of the country. It also offers the opportunity for CEE countries to make their voices heard in Brussels, especially as many CEE states have been in the forefront of supporting Ukraine and shaping the EU’s policy.

 

  • The Czech government has approved a Czech version of the Magnitsky Act. The proposal, put forward by Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský, would enable the Czech government to impose national sanctions on individuals and entities committing illegal acts in the international area. After clearing the government approval, the proposal now needs to be endorsed by the Chamber of Deputies. Speeded up by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the new law is supposed to serve as a basis for inclusion of individuals and entities (currently targeting especially those from Russia and Belarus) to a national sanction list even if they failed to be included in the EU sanctions list. At the same time, it is expected to streamline the submission of additions to the EU sanctions list by the Czech Republic. The law allows imposing national sanctions based on human rights violations, terrorism or cyberattacks. For instance, the Czech Republic will be able to prevent the listed individuals and entities from entering or staying in its territory or from cooperating with banks. The Magnitsky Act was first implemented by the US in 2012 following the death of the Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky in police custody. The Czech Republic will be the first Central European country to have such a legal basis for national sanctions. Introduction of the Czech Magnitsky Act was listed among the priorities of the Czech Government’s program declaration in the context of the promised return to a “values-based” foreign policy. 

  • Polish and Chinese officials meet amid crisis in relations. Foreign Ministers of China and Poland, Wang Yi and Zbigniew Rau, held a third plenary session of the China-Poland Intergovernmental Cooperation Committee in early June. The Chinese readout of this virtual meeting mentions the war in Ukraine very briefly, nevertheless, it obviously represents a key issue where the two sides struggle to find a common ground. This stands in contrast with the development of bilateral ties last year, marked by a series of Sino-Polish high-level diplomatic exchanges. Just before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Polish President Andrzej Duda was a sole EU leader at the Beijing Winter Olympics. As our analyst Alicja Bachulska writes in her article for CHOICE, the Polish motivation for strengthening cooperation with China might have stemmed from disappointment and distrust towards Western partners. Yet, after the Russian invasion, Poland’s views on China also took a hit and the desire to play the “China card” disappeared. Underlining the tensions in the relationship, during her recent visit to the region, China’s envoy for relations with CEE Huo Yuzhen did not even secure a meeting at the Polish Foreign Ministry. Still, for China, Poland is a key partner in the region, as manifested by the diplomatic attention. Thus, Beijing will want to maintain stability in bilateral ties, especially as Poland’s position may be a bellwether for other CEE countries, who are now reconsidering the future of their ties with China.

  • Slovak ruling Sme Rodina party paid for ads in banned alternative media. According to annual report of the populist SME Rodina party led by the Speaker of the Slovak National Council, Boris Kollár, the party paid almost €85,000 for advertisements in Hlavné správy and Hlavný denník web platforms. Both the outlets, which have long been criticized for spreading disinformation and pro-Kremlin views, have been blocked by the government after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Hlavné správy also recently got engulfed in a spying scandal, as one of its contributors was accused of cooperating with Russian intelligence services. Defending the placement of ads in the outlets, Kollár has argued he does not discriminate against different media, equaling the alternative outlets to the well-established mainstream media. Moreover, Kollár claims that he would use the alternative media for advertising once again, should the government bloc be lifted. Paradoxically, Kollár voted for the ban on the media outlets as well as for its recent extension, which he now explains by the requirements of coalition politics. The case reveals troubling connections between ruling elites and the alternative media ecosystem and is another hit to the legitimacy of the media, which has been dangerously decreasing in Slovakia.

  • “The Czech Republic has not been very active within this initiative. It has failed to take advantage of the opportunities that could this year finally materialize and open up new investments and financial opportunities during the upcoming summit in Riga,” our analyst of Russia Pavel Havlíček writes in his article on the Three Seas Initiative for Visegrad Insight.

  • “During its EU Presidency, Czechia is set up to offer new impulses on the bloc’s China policy, especially within the larger framework of the Indo-Pacific,” our analyst on China Filip Šebok writes in his article published by CHOICE.

  • MapInfluenCE analysts Ivana Karásková and Filip Šebok have contributed a chapter on the Czech Republic to a policy paper on China’s influence in Europe recently published by Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom.

  • “China can be described as an opportunist. On one hand, Beijing supports Putin’s regime as it is in its interests that the Russian regime remains as it is, and not only ideologically. On the other hand, Chinese leaders are very cautious about supporting Russia as circumventing sanctions could be interpreted as violation of the sanctions regime and Chinese banks could become the target of secondary sanctions,” our project leader Ivana Karásková explains for Radio Free Europe.

After a hectic year, the MapInfluenCE team is going on a well-deserved vacation. And a busy year it was - our analysts presented their work at more than 100 different events and authored, co-authored or were quoted in more than 430 articles.


Thank you very much for following our work. Stay tuned for our return after the summer break with new projects and outputs, delivered directly into your inbox!

Best regards


Filip Šebok
Project Manager of MapInfluenCE


www.mapinfluence.eu
www.amo.cz

Newsletter editor: Filip Šebok

Contributions from: Filip Šebok, Veronika Blablová

@MapInfluenCE and #MapInfluenCE

 

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