ONLY a couple of days remain for Prime Minister Iveta Radičová to negotiate a compromise with her coalition partners in the Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party over their opposition to changes to the European bailout scheme – or to find some where else the votes she needs to get the changes approved. But the only alternative source of votes is the largest opposition party, Smer – and its leader Robert Fico says it will not support changes to the bailout mechanism on October 11, the date the ruling coalition has chosen to hold the crucial vote in parliament. Fico, however, stated on October 5 that he would be willing to vote in favour of the changes in a later vote, which he said could be held on October 17. The Smer boss has made clear he aims to extract a hefty price by the latter date: reconfiguration of the government or early elections.
However, developments on October 6 raised expectations among those who hope that the Radičová government will be able to both ratify the changes to the temporary European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) and continue to rule in its present form. The source of these hopes was an offer made by SaS. In return for its support for an enlarged EFSF it demanded an addendum to the ruling coalition agreement to create a special committee with the authority to decide on the use of money from the bailout fund, on which all parliamentary parties would have a nominee with the right of veto. The addendum would also oblige all the coalition partners to vote against the EFSF’s eventual permanent replacement, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM).
“The ruling coalition parties are against Slovakia’s participation in the ESM,” states the draft addendum published by the Sme daily. “In the event that it rejects it, Slovakia would not block other countries since 95 percent of the capital is enough for it to be approved.”
Slovakia’s representative to the EFSF scheme, Martin Bruncko, would be bound by the decision of the committee and Slovakia would thus be able to block loans to particular countries.
As part of the deal, ruling coalition parties would agree to abstain from individual party campaigns over the bailout issue.
The largest party in the ruling coalition, the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), was not particularly forthcoming with comments on the proposal, saying that Prime Minister Radičová was negotiating with SaS and that it would not comment before she did. Radičová, a member of the SDKÚ, did not attend the October 6 meeting of the Coalition Council, which was originally scheduled to discuss the revised state budget.
Béla Bugár of Most-Híd said that while his party may support the creation of a committee, its make-up might have to be discussed.
However, none of the ruling coalition parties rejected the SaS proposal out of hand.
Fico, by contrast, immediately denounced the proposal, calling it one of the greatest frauds committed on Slovak voters and promising that his party would never nominate anyone to such a committee, as reported by SITA.
“It is a decent proposal which protects the money of Slovak taxpayers, and at the same time does not block other countries of the eurozone and thus I hope it will be accepted,” said Speaker of Parliament and SaS leader Richard Sulík, who on October 6 also formally summoned the next session of parliament for October 11 and made the eurozone bailout vote the first item up for discussion.
Sulík’s October 6 comments came as something of a contrast to his words a day earlier, when he said he did not see any solution in sight that would be acceptable to his party.
“In [its current] form we will certainly not support the bailout because it would massively damage Slovak taxpayers,” Sulík said on October 5, as quoted by the SITA newswire. He added that the rest of the ruling coalition had delivered on its promise to ensure that Slovakia was the last eurozone country to vote on the bailout deal.
Regarding the October 11 vote, Sulík said that he had no reason to delay the vote now as “it would be unfair to other countries”.
The leaders of two other coalition parties – Jan Figeľ of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) and Bugár of Most-Híd – said there was still room to negotiate with Sulík, stressing on October 4 that it was in Slovakia’s interest to preserve the stability of the eurozone.
“Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish,” Figeľ said, as quoted by SITA, in support of his argument that Slovakia should be more concerned with the huge sums it receives from the European Union.
Nevertheless, both the KDH and Most-Híd have stated openly that if the ruling coalition fails to approve the bailout on its own, continuing to govern might then prove problematic and the government could hardly continue without significant changes.
“I’m sure that a solution is at hand,” Figeľ said, as quoted by the TASR newswire. “But if it becomes clear that this is not possible, an early election will be one of the possible solutions.”
Fico predicted on October 5 that SaS would end up voting in favour of the enlarged EFSF despite its vocal disagreement.
“If SaS finds an excuse and presents it as a compromise that has allowed it to back the EFSF, the party will violate all its promises,” Fico said, as reported by TASR. “We’ve got information that SaS is looking for an excuse.” Fico added that this might involve Sulík voting against EFSF, with the rest of the SaS caucus backing it.
Sulík was quick to respond that Fico had no such information. He said his party would try to demonstrate that it is not the only group in Europe which opposes the European bailout schemes. To this end, he invited a deputy from Germany’s ruling coalition Free Democratic Party (FDP), Frank Schaeffler, who in Sulík’s words has been organising resistance to the bailout in Germany, SITA reported.
Fico also said that he had discussed the EFSF issue with foreign partners and diplomats in Slovakia.
“They all unambiguously confirmed that Radičová lied to Slovakia when she claimed that she was negotiating a compromise for Slovakia,” Fico asserted, as quoted by SITA. “All, including Angela Merkel, told Radičová that no compromises exist.”
Fico did not name any of the diplomats he had spoken to and Radičová’s spokesman Rado Baťo told Sme that the Government Office would not respond to Fico’s claims.
Radičová spoke to Merkel in Warsaw on September 30 at a meeting of European leaders. She described the talks as “very open discussions. I informed them about my perspective on solutions which could be an acceptable compromise for my coalition partner, [and] which would mean that it [the partner] would not have to change its opinion and stance on this issue.” according to TASR.
Radičová restated on September 30 that she has an obligation, after the bailout system had been ratified by the other 16 eurozone countries, to ensure that Slovakia did not block the process and at the same time “the conditions set for fulfilling the bailout meant very responsible handling of our guarantees and our position within Europe and our possibilities for economic growth”.
10. Oct 2011 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová