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Last Updated: Monday, 23 August, 2004, 17:31 GMT 18:31 UK
Political poker in Central Europe
By Jan Repa
BBC Europe analyst

Former Hungarian Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy
Hungarian PM Medgyessy was ousted last week
Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland - all new members of the European Union - seem to be experiencing a bout of government instability.

Last week the Hungarian Prime Minister, Peter Medgyessy, resigned after a row with his Socialist party's liberal coalition partner.

On Tuesday, a restructured Czech government faces a parliamentary confidence vote under its new Prime Minister, Stanislav Gross.

Poland, too, has a new prime minister - Marek Belka - following Leszek Miller's resignation in May.

All three countries face parliamentary elections some time within the next two years.

Wealth gap

Psychologically, joining the EU on 1 May represented an important milestone for the Central Europeans in putting the Communist past behind them. But the occasion also served to highlight just how far these countries still have to go, to reach West European levels of wealth and stability.

Polish PM Marek Belka
Poland's Marek Belka narrowly won a confidence vote in June

While each country is different, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland are all currently run by centre-left governments - all of which did badly in June's elections to the European Parliament.

The Czech Prime Minister, Vladimir Spidla, quickly resigned - to become an EU commissioner.

Poland's Leszek Miller had already thrown in the towel on 2 May - weighed down by disastrous opinion polls and long-running corruption scandals.

Last week, Hungary's ruling Socialists dumped Prime Minister Medgyessy after a botched government reshuffle.

Tough challenges

All three countries face a similar set of economic and social policy dilemmas.

All have high budget deficits - which they need to reduce sharply in order to qualify for membership of the euro.

The coming years are likely to see the emergence of a 'post-post-communist' generation of politicians, for whom the old struggles really are history

But all need to sustain high levels of economic growth, if they are to stand a chance of attaining West European living standards within the lifetime of today's voters.

All have an entrenched bureaucracy imbued with a culture of inhibiting initiative, along with endemic corruption - from a time, under communism, when extra-legal networking was often the only way to get things done.

And all are competing with each other for foreign investment.

The strain on incumbent governments has been enormous - with policy differences exacerbated by personal animosities and ambitions. Such situations call for genuine leadership qualities - a commodity that, for many years, was not required of anyone wanting to get on in what were, after all, Soviet satellites.

Non-party technocrats like Mr Medgyessy, or party-machine politicians like Mr Miller and Mr Spidla have all been found wanting.

Positive signs

However, things are not all bad.

A recent report on Poland by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), for instance, found plenty to criticise, but also talked of "15 years of profound change and accomplishment".

All the Central European countries have their share of opposition populists and demagogues, pitching their message at those segments of society that have yet to benefit from recent changes.

But there are also strongly supported opposition parties calling for a faster pace of reform as well.

Most of Central Europe's leading politicians are people in their 40s and early 50s, who began to make a name for themselves during the post-communist transition period of the 1990s. Many began their careers in the old Communist Party - or on its fringes.

The coming years are likely to see the emergence of a "post-post-communist" generation of politicians, for whom the old struggles really are history. Take the new 34-year old Czech Prime Minister Stanislav Gross - who was 19 years old at the time of the 1989 "Velvet Revolution".

Hungarian prime minister resigns
19 Aug 04  |  Europe
Gross nominated as new Czech PM
26 Jul 04  |  Europe
Polish PM wins confidence vote
24 Jun 04  |  Europe
Poll bruising forces EU rethink
14 Jun 04  |  Europe
Country profile: Czech Republic
04 Aug 04  |  Country profiles
Country profile: Poland
28 Jun 04  |  Country profiles
Country profile: Hungary
07 Jul 04  |  Country profiles


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