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REPRESENTATIVES TO THE EU WILL FACE LIMITS TO THEIR NEGOTIATION POWERS

Cabinet on a leash

THE SLOVAK cabinet will have a free hand during negotiations with the European Union only after the national parliament approves the country's positions on EU matters.
Slovak deputies approved a constitutional bill on June 23 that regulates cooperation between the parliament and the cabinet over EU matters.
The advocates of the bill claim that the move has not stripped the executive body of its authority, while opponents say that the norm could create administrative and procedural obstacles and prevent a rational and effective dialogue on forming stances and their presentation in EU bodies.

THE SLOVAK cabinet will have a free hand during negotiations with the European Union only after the national parliament approves the country's positions on EU matters.

Slovak deputies approved a constitutional bill on June 23 that regulates cooperation between the parliament and the cabinet over EU matters.

The advocates of the bill claim that the move has not stripped the executive body of its authority, while opponents say that the norm could create administrative and procedural obstacles and prevent a rational and effective dialogue on forming stances and their presentation in EU bodies.

The bill, which, as an amendment to the constitution, required the support of three-fifths of all 150 deputies, was passed with the help of the Christian Democrats (KDH), Hungarian Coalition Party, and the New Citizens Alliance (ANO).

The ruling coalition's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) and Ján Drgonec, as the sole ANO deputy, abstained from voting.

According to the bill, the cabinet will have to submit all legally binding acts of the European Union to parliament and inform it about drafts and topics discussed by representatives of EU governments.

Parliament would then either approve or disapprove positions towards the EU drafts, and the approved positions would be binding for the government.

Parliament would not be required to deal with all presented cabinet positions, and in most cases the parliamentary European affairs committee would carry out the whole process.

If parliament does not give its stance on a cabinet position within two weeks of its presentation, or if parliament does not accept it without providing an alternative position, cabinet members will be bound by the cabinet position.

Cabinet members will have the right to diverge from an approved position only in justified cases and in cases when this is for the benefit of the country, with a subsequent mandatory requirement to inform parliament and a duty to explain and justify the action.

According to the bill, cabinet members may ask parliament to change its position.

"The Slovak Parliament is sufficiently politically and professionally prepared to deal with the agenda of European Union affairs," stated the leader of the KDH, Speaker of Parliament Pavol Hrušovský.

Hrušovský, a member of the team that shaped the norm, welcomed the approval of the bill but added that he was not very excited about the new duties and tasks it will institute.

According to Hrušovský, the operation of the new parliamentary European affairs committee should be launched no later than at the next parliamentary session in July.

As for sanctions against cabinet members who fail to respect the mandate given by parliament, Anna Záborská, a KDH member and newly elected Slovak member of the European Parliament told The Slovak Spectator that the penalties would be quite high.

"The cabinet member concerned will have to explain the defection from the mandate to the EU Affairs committee, with the highest possible penalty being a vote of no confidence in them, which could lead to the loss of their position," Záborská said.

The Slovak Foreign Affairs Ministry, led by SDKÚ nominee Eduard Kukan, said it would fully respect the constitutional law and would actively assist its practical implementation.

However, the ministry is disappointed that the deputies supported a bill that, in the future, may not always be effective, Ministry Spokesman Juraj Tomaga told The Slovak Spectator.

The ministry believes that another mechanism it proposed, one that did not include the possibility of parliament binding a member of cabinet to particular actions in negotiations in Brussels, would have been sufficient.

However, as Tomaga told The Slovak Spectator, the Foreign Affairs Ministry will be trying to be as accommodating towards the Slovak Parliament as possible and will provide it with as much information as possible regarding EU affairs.

"On the other hand, the ministry will strive to make the new constitutional bill flexible with regards to EU negotiations," added Tomaga.

The bill, once signed into law by the president, will become effective on August 1.

President Ivan Gašparovič has not yet decided whether to sign the bill.

He told the SITA news wire that the deputies' decision was qualified, as a constitutional majority approved the bill.

If adopted, Slovakia's mechanism will be softer than that in place in the Scandinavian EU member countries. Their ministers and prime minister have to adhere to the mandate of their deputies, and if they want to depart from it they must immediately consult and look for a compromise, usually in a tele-conference with deputies.

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