Slovakia is set to vote for proposals to ban gay marriage and same-sex couple adoption on Saturday, but the country’s gay and lesbian activists – who face institutionalised homophobia should it pass – are not trying to drum up supporters to vote against the measures.

Instead, they are hoping the country’s famed apathy will save the day. In conservative Slovakia, where more than 400,000 people have already signed a petition calling for the vote, the referendum might be expected to pass comfortably.

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By Tim Gosling of bne in Prague

Slovak gas pipeline operator Eustream has pledged that it will have a route feeding EU gas to Ukraine running at full capacity ahead of the winter heating season, meaning that “Ukraine stands a chance of lasting through the winter”.

Once work has finished on reversing the flow through the Vojany pipeline, it is booked to ship upto 10bn cubic meters of gas per year (cm/y) from Slovakia to Ukraine until 2019. The route is part of an EU-backed plan to alleviate Russian pressure on cash-strapped Kiev by supplying cheaper gas from other EU states.

Moscow cut supplies to Ukraine over its unpaid bills in June. That leaves the EU exposed, with Ukrainian pipes carrying around 40 per cent of Russian gas to the region. If Kiev finds itself short of gas used for heating in the winter, it may be tempted to siphon some off the Russian supply to the EU, as it did in the previous “gas wars” in 2006 and 2009. Read more

Kiska (left) and Fico: victory of the underdog?

By Tom Nicholson of bne in Bratislava

It’s been over a decade since Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico has been an underdog in any election. But his assertive campaign to capture the country’s highest office – the presidency – in the March 29 crucial run-off ballot suddenly looks vulnerable to the challenge of a rank political outsider. Read more

Poland has the EU’s best growth record in the last five years, but there is a growing awareness that keeping growth high is going to be increasingly difficult in the future – which is why two recent reports on corruption and educational achievements make such good news. Read more

Maybe it’s time to start preparing for a return wave of CEE migrants from western Europe, as Thursday’s flash GDP third quarter numbers show that most of the region’s economies are experiencing a sharp recovery – in contrast to stagnation in the eurozone. Read more

If the normally bearish Capital Economics is starting to sing the economic praises of central Europe it might be time to admit that the downturn is well and truly done and that an economic rebound is underway.

Capital Economics was bearish about the future of the euro, and gloomy about the prospects of CEE countries closely tied to the eurozone. Now that the period of greatest danger for the common currency seems to have passed, the London-based analysis outfit is turning strikingly optimistic on central EuropeRead more

Ivica Todoric, the bullish owner of Agrokor, Croatia’s largest company, has, after many years of wooing, secured a majority stake in Mercator, Slovenia’s biggest retailer and largest employer.

Agrokor has announced that it has agreed with Mercator shareholders to take a 53.1 per cent stake in the company for €240m. The deal values Mercator at €120 per share, substantially below the €221 Agrokor reportedly offered last year. Read more

Central Europe’s recent floods looked dreadful on television. And they will have scarred the memories of the people who were hit the hardest. But the economic effects will be limited thanks to the solid defences put in place since the last flood a decade ago.

So says Erste Bank, which argues that while the floods were similar in scale to those of 2002, the costs for Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, will be a small fraction of 2002′s €6bn. Read more

A note from Capital Economics on Friday suggests the economies of central and eastern Europe may finally be emerging into the light.

Or at least its title does (Emerging Europe: Slump in regional growth may be bottoming out). Its message, though, is that while recent GDP figures may have given grounds for that kind of hope, growth is extremely weak and any recovery is likely to be sluggish and uneven. Read more

Bad GDP figures from the eurozone on Wednesday but there’s a pleasant surprise from an unexpected quarter: Hungary’s economy contracted by only 0.9 percent in annual terms in the first three months.

Doesn’t sound like good news. But investors had been expecting a drop of as much as 1.4 per cent. With hopes of further improvement in the rest of 2013 buoying the Budapest market, the forint gained 1 per cent against the euro. Read more

The global battle between Austerians and Spendanigans has opened a front in central Europe and the Spendanigans appear to be gaining ground.

In an interview with the FT, Robert Fico, the centre-left prime minister of Slovakia, came down firmly on the side of encouraging growth and concentrating less on belt-tightening. Read more

Poland’s long scramble to catch up to western Europe has hit a new milestone – for the first time a Polish region has a higher per capita GDP than the EU average.

Mazowsze, the central Polish region which, crucially, contains Warsaw, the country’s largest and wealthiest city, hit 102 per cent of EU per capita GDP in 2010, reports Eurostat, the EU data service. Read more

The numbers are in and they’re not pretty.

Growth in central Europe is only at a sluggish 0.8 per cent – lower than any time since the depths of the economic crisis in 2009. Read more

Germany’s Eon and France’s GDF Suez have struck a deal to sell their joint venture in a Slovak natural gas company to the Czech Republic’s Energeticky a Prumyslovy Holding (EPH) for about €2.6bn ($3.5bn), the companies announced on Tuesday.

The transaction, which has been approved by the Slovak government, will see EPH take a 49 per cent stake and operational control of Slovensky Plynarensky Priemysel (SPP), the local gas utility. The remaining 51 per cent share in SPP is held by the Slovak government. Read more

The eurozone recession is biting hard in central Europe. According to flash data published on Thursday, third-quarter GDP fell in Hungary, Romania and the Czech Republic compared with the previous three months, and rose marginally in Bulgaria.

The only country of the five reporting figures to do reasonably well is – ironically – eurozone member Slovakia, which posted quarter-on-quarter growth of 2.2 per cent. With Poland, which publishes its numbers on a different cycle, also slowing, the next few months look difficult for the region. Read more

Western Europe tends not to look to eastern Europe for lessons in economic management, but in these straitened times it makes sense to consider the big differences in the impact of the global crisis on four countries that are often lumped together – Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. Read more

The production line at Opel’s factory in Gliwice in southern Poland is humming, with a steady stream of new Astra models rolling out of the factory – but a chat with factory executives reveals a much grimmer picture.

Output hit 174,000 units last year, its best since the pre-crisis year of 2007. But this year is likely to see a fall below 140,000 cars, says Jacek Zarnowiecki, personnel director for GM Poland.  “2012 will be a down year as we face a second wave of the crisis. Our portfolio seems to be quite good, but we have to improve our marketing and the company image.” Read more

The economic gloom seeping out of western Europe is creating increasing difficulties for the small and open economies of central Europe – with both Hungary and the Czech Republic now in recession.

However, Slovakia, the smallest and most open of the three countries, is powering ahead, notching up 2.7 per cent annual GDP growth in the second quarter, thanks largely to the European motor industry. Read more

The European Union’s new member states in eastern Europe are mostly out of the eurozone. But they aren’t free of its economic troubles.

Hungary has joined the Czech Republic in recession, according to the latest quarterly gross domestic products numbers. And with Romania and Bulgaria struggling to achieve growth, only Slovakia of the five countries in the region reporting second quarter GDP data on Tuesday posted a decent increase – 2.7 per cent year-on-year.

Domestic consumption was weak almost everywhere. As in western Europe, austerity is biting hard. Read more

By Otilia Simkova of Eurasia Group

The first 100 days in power for Slovakia’s Direction–Social Democracy (SMER-SD) government saw a sharp turn to the left that foreshadows an uncomfortable future for investors during Prime Minister Robert Fico’s second four-year term in power.

So what does the vision Fico sold to voters – a strong state imposing order onto unruly private markets and companies – mean in reality? Read more