EU Confidential #195: Sofagate — Central and Eastern Europe’s COVID struggles — Ivan Krastev

An EU storm over a seating snafu and a resurgence of coronavirus cases in Eastern and Central Europe take center stage in this episode — along with Bulgarian political scientist Ivan Krastev.

The big preoccupation for the Brussels bubble this week was a trip to Ankara by European Council President Charles Michel and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Michel took a chair next to Turkish Recep Tayyip Erdoğan while von der Leyen had to make do with a nearby sofa. POLITICO’s Andrew Gray and Lili Bayer break down why “Sofagate” became a symbol for hot-button issues, including women’s rights as well as tensions between EU institutions and their leaders.

Andrew and Lili, a former Budapest correspondent, are joined by Jan Cienski in Warsaw and Siegfried Mortkowitz in Prague to discuss why Central and Eastern Europe is struggling so badly with the coronavirus right now, despite having managed well in the first wave last year.

Our special guest is Ivan Krastev. The Bulgarian political scientist is a well-known thinker on European politics and spoke to Andrew from Sofia, where he is chair of the Centre for Liberal Strategies, about the coronavirus’ impact on the EU, Europe’s relationship with China and the rise of illiberalism — the subject of Krastev’s most recent book, The Light that Failed, co-authored with Stephen Holmes.

Finally, we hope you’ll take some time to listen to our special edition of EU Confidential, reflecting on the life and career of Stephen Brown, the POLITICO Europe editor in chief who died of a heart attack last month at the age of 57.

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