FORMER Defence Minister Ivan Šimko left the government and the ruling Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) late last year to launch the Free Forum (SF) party, currently in the opposition.
After a surprising turn of events, the SF's founding congress failed to elect him as party boss, choosing the less politically experienced Zuzana Martináková instead. Still, Šimko was chosen to lead the party's ballot in June's elections for the European Parliament (EP).
The Slovak Spectator spoke with Šimko on May 10 about European politics and his own political future.
The Slovak Spectator (TSS): How do you see your chances in these elections?
Ivan Šimko (IŠ): I offer my political expertise in the field of both domestic and foreign policy, which I have gained over the years. I was defence minister and I find security issues especially important. It's up to the citizens to decide.
TSS: Would you have run in the election even if you emerged victorious from the struggle for SF chairmanship?
IŠ: Yes. We discussed this question and thought about our election strategy long before the congress [where the SF elected its boss]. I was the one to say that European politics would be crucial for the future and we shouldn't look for celebrities without political experience. So I suggested, and we agreed, that the party leader [which was then expected to be Šimko] would also be the EP election leader. The fact that Zuzana Martináková was elected SF boss didn't change [my nomination].
TSS: Being an MEP takes a lot of time and effort. Won't you lose touch with domestic politics?
IŠ: It would be a great challenge. I would have the opportunity to co-decide about Slovak politics at a European level, which is very significant.
Besides, I have personal experience from being a member of the [Czech and Slovak] Federal Parliament. It can be done. It's possible to be involved both in federal and domestic politics. After all, Strasbourg or Brussels is an hour and a half away by plane, which is definitely less than when we used to take the bus to Prague.
TSS: What are the main issues that the SF wants to bring forward in these elections?
IŠ: Our election manifesto is derived from that of the [Christian Democratic] European People's Party. We believe that European politics, just like domestic politics, should first of all be based on deeper motivations and values. If there is anything that should unify Europe, it is mainly these values.
Naturally, as regards specific issues, security is a top priority. The Common Foreign and Defence Policy (CFDP), which is just being created, is something that reflects the threats of today's world. Individual states cannot fight these threats efficiently so a common approach is therefore required. The EU is a good opportunity for such a common approach.
In the field of economic and social policy, member states should retain freedom for individual decision-making. My actions, if I am elected, will be in line with that.
Moreover, I would like to act as an advocate for the rights and needs of Slovakia and its regions, because that's what being a parliamentarian is all about. That's the way it is with domestic politics, and that's the way it should be in European politics.
TSS: But as regards issues such as the CFDP, the role of the EP is very limited. How can you contribute?
IŠ: The CFDP is in its diapers; it's an idea. But every great thing starts with the birth of an idea. In case that idea matches the needs, which this one does, it has a chance to materialise. The EP is a good forum for turning this idea into reality.
TSS: Why is public interest in EP elections so low? Could it be because of the remoteness of the issues from everyday worries?
IŠ: One of the reasons for interest being low is that people who speak out in the media, including reporters, say it is low. If you keep repeating that interest is low, people will lose it. I don't think there is no interest.
I meet with people across the country and whenever I bring this question up, people are interested. We should mobilise this interest.
TSS: But the numbers speak clearly - under 50 percent of Slovaks are likely to vote. That's not something made up by journalists.
IŠ: But the media plays a significant role. If they say turnout will be low, it will be low. This has been the case for a long period of time. And to be fair, it's not only a problem for Slovakia; it's also a problem for [old] member countries.
TSS: Should Slovakia hold a referendum on the new EU constitutional treaty, if governments reach a consensus on its wording?
IŠ: A referendum on the constitution is a good thing, but it should be held under specific conditions, not under the same conditions as other referenda [which require an attendance of over 50 percent in order to be valid]. Any referendum under the current conditions is doomed to fail, regardless of any mobilisation campaigns.
There is one thing I would like to add to the treaty itself. The discussion about its preamble is an important one, because it is a discussion about something deeper, about the spirit of the document. The preamble should be specific in respect to the most important issues.
When [the treaty] talks about European spiritual traditions, it should name which specifically it has in mind, including the Judaeo-Christian tradition, but certainly also antiquity, enlightenment. There should also be a reference to divine authority.
TSS: How important is this demand for you?
IŠ: Very important.
TSS: If it is not taken into account and there is a referendum, will you ask your sympathisers not to vote in favour of the treaty?
IŠ: That's a hypothetical question.
TSS: Who should be the next president of the European Commission?
IŠ: The way EU institutions work should become more democratic. The composition of the European Commission should more closely reflect the political composition of the EP, which is elected by the people. Therefore the commission's president should be a representative of the political forces that hold a majority in the EP. That would be a standard, parliamentary way of selecting the head of the executive.
TSS: So the EP's role should be strengthened at the expense of national governments?
IŠ: It would most of all strengthen the position of citizens who decide in direct elections.
17. May 2004 at 0:00 | Lukáš Fila