Vaccine Dispute Ousts Slovak Premier as EU Virus Woes Deepen

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Europe’s struggle to inoculate its population against Covid-19 is claiming a political victim in the form of Slovakia’s prime minister, who will resign on Tuesday, his replacement said.

In a bid to quell a crisis triggered by his decision to buy vaccines from Russia, Premier Igor Matovic will step down after his coalition partners complained that he agreed to buy 2 million of Russia’s Sputnik V shots behind their backs. The dispute triggered the departure of a third of his 16-member cabinet and calls for his dismissal.

Vaccine Dispute Ousts Slovak Premier as EU Virus Woes Deepen

While his resignation will torpedo the entire government, the four ruling parties agreed to form a new majority-backed cabinet in which Matovic will swap jobs with Finance Minister Eduard Heger, an ally from his party. Heger said he and Matovic will meet the president Tuesday, the latter will hand in his resignation and Heger will be asked to form a new government.

“This event will take place tomorrow,” he told reporters on Monday, adding that he will then unveil the new cabinet lineup.

The shakeup underscores the political stakes for leaders in the European Union, where a botched vaccination campaign has angered voters after significantly falling behind the U.S. and the U.K. In another setback, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union crashed to its worst results since World War II in this month’s regional elections as voters punished her party for the slow pace of immunizations.

Matovic, who unexpectedly won 2020 elections on an anti-corruption platform, had been under pressure to leave since early March after announcing that he would buy the Sputnik V shots. They vaccine hasn’t been approved for use by the EU.

He has repeatedly sought outside-the-box solutions to the pandemic, launching the EU’s only effort to test his country’s entire adult population last year. After the euro-area nation of 5.5 million was initially among the most successful globally in containing contagion, the testing plan came and went, and Slovakia has suffered from one of the deadliest outbreaks in Europe since the fall.

It has hammered Matovic’s popularity. Then the Sputnik deal drew a rebuke from President Zuzana Caputova. It also raised concerns among the premier’s partners that it could undermine the foreign-policy orientation of the EU and NATO nation.

The ruling alliance had been continually rocked by infighting and personal animosities since it took power, while still managing to enact a wide anti-corruption sweep of the police, judiciary and business circles.

Before Matovic’s announcement, Hungary was the first EU nation to skirt the bloc’s regulators to grant emergency approval to Sputnik V.

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