Slovakia's new election issue: Greece

GREECE has now become a leading issue in Slovakia’s election campaign: but some of the parties seem loath to discuss it. “Buffoonery” is how Prime Minister Robert Fico dismissed the efforts of opposition parties to hold a parliamentary debate on Slovakia’s participation in the multi-billion-euro EU financial rescue package for Greece. His Smer party led ruling coalition efforts to repeatedly block debate, several times preventing the session, called by opposition parties, from achieving a quorum. The opposition described the tactics as “arrogance”.

GREECE has now become a leading issue in Slovakia’s election campaign: but some of the parties seem loath to discuss it. “Buffoonery” is how Prime Minister Robert Fico dismissed the efforts of opposition parties to hold a parliamentary debate on Slovakia’s participation in the multi-billion-euro EU financial rescue package for Greece. His Smer party led ruling coalition efforts to repeatedly block debate, several times preventing the session, called by opposition parties, from achieving a quorum. The opposition described the tactics as “arrogance”.

Any joint EU help for the ailing Greek economy – or other potentially endangered eurozone economies – would involve Slovak taxpayers’ money, and they therefore deserve to witness a serious parliamentary debate over the issue, the opposition insisted. Meanwhile the country’s foreign affairs minister said he was disappointed by what he called “the vulgar politicisation” on the part of his countrymen of the joint European approach to assist Greece.

However, beyond Slovakia’s political discourse, the EU has made several significant decisions not only to prop up the Greek economy but also to assist other EU members who might be affected by the debt crisis.

Brussels will keep a closer and stricter eye on national budgets, along with providing remedies for countries which need to urgently cut their deficits.

On May 13, after four unsuccessful attempts to reach the quorum necessary to open a parliamentary debate, the speaker of parliament, Pavol Paška, terminated the inconclusive session to discuss Slovakia’s €800-million-plus share in the loan. A Smer nominee and a senior ally of Fico, Paška had previously condemned the proposed debate as “pointless”.

Deputies from Smer and Vladimír Mečiar’s Movement for a Democratic Slovakia effectively blocked the session by failing to show up in the chamber. Fico on several occasions described the debate as unnecessary and accused the largest opposition party, the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), of populism. Fico described himself as only a “second-tier populist” compared to the performance of the SDKÚ over the issue of Greek debt.

Yet the opposition parties – the SDKÚ, the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) and the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) – insisted that Fico should have sought a mandate from parliament to discuss the loan for Greece in Brussels on May 7.

The opposition wanted to debate Slovakia's role in the EU loan to Greece even though Finance Minister Ján Počiatek had already signed a framework inter-creditor agreement enabling eurozone states to extend loans to Greece, the SITA newswire wrote.

Fico insisted that the Slovak government has not submitted any proposal on aid for Greece and that any bilateral loan would have to be approved by parliament. He several times restated that the decision would only be made by the next parliament.

KDH vice-chair Daniel Lipšic described the attitude of the ruling coalition as “cowardice” and insisted that the loan would have to come from the pockets of all taxpayers and that they therefore had a right to see a debate taking place over the issue. He added that the KDH had been updated on the conditions of the rescue loan provided by the EU and the International Monetary Fund to Greece, and was now opposed to the package, despite having initially approved of it. Lipšic suggested that the measures that Greece has agreed to undertake are too mild.

“The amount that Slovakia is to chip in vis-a-vis the country's average salary is the highest in the entire eurozone,” Lipšic said, as quoted by the TASR newswire. “Robert Fico’s government has negotiated these scandalously disadvantageous conditions for Slovak citizens.”

The SDKÚ is calling on Fico to submit to parliament documents setting out Slovakia’s contractual obligations, to which it says he committed Slovakia without having a mandate, Ivan Štefanec of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) told The Slovak Spectator.



“On the one hand, Robert Fico talks about the need for solutions, but on the other hand he at the same time delays these solutions; he ignores parliament and he does not even bother to observe constitutional laws,” Štefanec said.

He insisted that Slovakia’s position is quite different from that of other eurozone countries.

“Our current prime minister has [given us the biggest obligation] among all the countries when compared to GDP,” Štefanec said, adding that the cabinet’s proceeding is a violation of constitutional law.

The SDKÚ claims that the loan will only deepen irresponsible economic management and endorses bad policies in Europe.

“The ability of Greece to pay off its debts is questionable,” Štefanec said. “Interest charges alone consume 7 percent of its GDP. Fico wants to provide a loan to Greece because he himself knows that he is leading the country on a Greek path and expects that Slovakia will soon need help.”



Meanwhile, Slovakia’s foreign affairs minister, Miroslav Lajčák, said on May 12 that he was
disappointed by what he called “the vulgar politicisation” of the joint European approach to help Greece.

“My colleagues from the EU have been informally asking me why it seems that Slovakia has no problem accepting billions of euros from EU funds, but does have a problem helping its EU and eurozone partners when there is a threat lurking,“ said Lajčák, as quoted by TASR.

Lajčák said that it is precisely in situations such as the present one that countries can demonstrate their respect for principles such as solidarity and cohesion while also protecting their own interests.

Meanwhile, the liberal Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party has created a red moneybox marked “€150” to mock the government’s approach. The piggy bank is addressed to Fico, who SaS says should use it to collect money from his voters for the Greek bailout, as part of his pre-election campaign.

SaS calculated that each citizen of Slovakia will have to contribute about €150 to help Greece after the cabinet approved a Slovak contribution of €816 million to the EU’s Greek financial rescue package.


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