Czech prime minister says Slovak government should be given a chance

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, photo: CTK

The outgoing Czech prime minister and Social Democrat leader Jiri Paroubek has shocked many European Social Democrats -including Czech MEPs - by openly supporting Slovakia's leftist Prime Minister Robert Fico despite the fact that he had formed a coalition with a far-right nationalist party. The Strasbourg-based assembly's Socialist caucus is demanding that Mr. Fico's Smer party be excluded from the Party of European Socialists, an umbrella organization for left wing parties in the 25-nation European Union. The Czech prime minister insists that this is premature, arguing that that the new Slovak government should be judged on the grounds of its future policy, not its set up. We spoke to political analyst Petr Just about the possible motives for Mr. Paroubek's position and the possible implications.

Prime minister Jiri Paroubek,  photo: CTK
"I think that Mr. Paroubek is playing a tactical, pragmatic and strategic game here. He is glad that the Social Democratic Party in Slovakia has won the elections and that there is quite a big possibility that in cooperation with his coalition partners - the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia and Slota's National Party - Mr. Fico will be in a position to implement his party's policy programme. Because although the Slovak National Party is right wing - extremely right wing - it is a party that rode on a wave of protest. It gained votes from people who were not happy with the economic situation in the country during the previous terms in office of right wing cabinets, people who have felt the bite of the Slovak reforms. So I think that the Slovak National Party and Fico's Smer will cooperate closely on social and economic issues."

But isn't Mr. Paroubek on thin ice here?

"Yes, it is quite risky. As far as I know he is the only Social Democrat leader in Europe who has openly supported Mr. Fico. And one cannot help recalling the year 1999 when Milos Zeman, then Social Democrat leader and prime minister - was one of the few east European leaders who joined the EU in its boycott against Austria when Mr. Schuessel took Jorg Heider's ultra right Freedom Party into the government. So Mr. Paroubek's position is quite surprising when seen in this light."

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico,  photo: CTK
Mr. Paroubek even failed to consult the matter with Czech MEPs. How do you view that?

"It definitely indicates that there is something wrong within the party. There should be some communication channels and they do not appear to be working too well. I understand Mr. Roucek and Mr. Falbr's disappointment over not being consulted about this because in the eyes of other European Social Democrats the Czech Social Democratic Party is now a party where communication is poor and where people do not coordinate their positions."

Could this cause a rift within the Social Democratic Party?

"It could. However we are seeing even now that some other top officials in the party are on Mr. Paroubek's side, for instance the deputy chairman, Mr. Skromach has taken the same position. But, yes there is a possibility that the Social Democrats will be divided on this matter and that could weaken the Social Democrats - both on home ground and in Europe."