Lisbon Treaty vote in limbo

THE LISBON Treaty has come up against a major hurdle during its course through the Slovak parliament.

THE LISBON Treaty has come up against a major hurdle during its course through the Slovak parliament.

The country's opposition has said it will not vote for the treaty's ratification until the ruling coalition withdraws its controversial revision to the Press Code, which has already been criticised by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

The treaty, which is a substitute for the rejected EU constitution, requires the support of 90 deputies for passage. But the ruling coalition has only 85 votes, which means it will have to negotiate with the opposition.

The Christian Democrats (KDH) is the only opposition party that has publicly criticised the treaty, but the others, the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) and the ethnic Hungarian party (SMK), are withholding their support out of disdain for the revision to the Press Code.

The coalition has called the opposition blackmailers and political analysts have said that internal affairs should not be used to obstruct European Union matters. However, some analysts also blame the Fico government for refusing to withdraw the revision.

When Speaker of Parliament Pavol Paška opened a vote on the treaty on January 30, the opposition left in protest, which forced the vote to be postponed to the next day. But on January 31, the Smer-led ruling coalition again postponed the vote to February 7.

"It is clear cut political blackmail, like gangsters, because one thing is completely unrelated to the other," Dušan Jarjabek (Smer), deputy chairman of the parliamentary media committee, told the Plus Jeden Deň daily.

Prime Minister Robert Fico said that the opposition's refusal is harming Slovakia's national interests.

"The opposition's attitude and its disinterest in ratifying the treaty is causing such anxiety in the European Union and such harm to the Slovak Republic that we have been bombarded with questions and phone calls since this morning," Fico told the media on January 30.

President Ivan Gašparovič met the heads of all the parties on January 30 to try to salvage the vote on the treaty. The president also confirmed having received "many phone calls and meeting requests from embassies to explain what is happening in Slovakia." He called on the political parties to seek a consensus.

Meanwhile, the opposition continues to point out that they are ready to vote on the treaty once the Press Code is killed.

"It is democracy in Slovakia, not the Lisbon Treaty, that is under threat," SDKÚ chairman Mikuláš Dzurinda said. "The problem lies in the ruling coalition's bullying and arrogance."

Pavol Hrušovský, chairman of the KDH, said he is disappointed that political dialogue in Slovakia has given way to name-calling.

In comments to the TA3 news station, Hrušovský also said his party "does not consider (the Lisbon Treaty) beneficial to Slovakia".

Political scientists have offered differing opinions on the opposition's methods.

Miroslav Kusý said that the opposition is wrong to link internal affairs with European Union issues.

"It's unfair because those are two different systems," Kusý told The Slovak Spectator.

According to Kusý, the opposition's actions could have grave consequences.

"Other countries might follow Slovakia's example," Kusý said. "There are opposition parties everywhere and they have their problems as well. If they just say: it paid off for the Slovaks to condition the treaty's adoption on something, so let's do the same. If such a tug-of-war starts across Europe, it would be a problem."

However, political scientist László Öllős said that the ruling coalition pushed the opposition into a corner by refusing to debate the Press Code. However, he agrees that European issues should be kept separate for internal disputes.

"But in this case, there was a deeper issue than just a simple internal affair," Öllős told The Slovak Spectator. "The constitutional foundations of the state are in question: the issue of free speech and freedom of the press."

Öllős warned that parliament cannot both ratify the Lisbon Treaty and pass the Press Code in its current form.

"The parliament would be voting for a treaty that includes freedom of the press and approving a press code that violates it," Öllős told the Spectator.

Both Öllős and Kusý said that the KDH's dislike for the treaty complicates the situation because it goes against the idea that the opposition could hold up its end of the bargain.

However, Grigorij Mesežnikov, president of the Institute for Public Affairs, is convinced that the parliament will eventually ratify the treaty, which has already been passed in Hungary, Slovenia and Malta after being approved by the leaders of the 27 EU member states during a summit in Lisbon.

Mesežnikov also said that the Opposition's methods of forcing the coalition's hands reflects how much Slovakia's political scene has deteriorated.

"The situation is a result of abnormal conditions," Mesežnikov told The Slovak Spectator. "I do not know any EU member country in which a parliamentary democracy is dictated to by the majority."

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