Slovak bailout rejections and Czech opt-outs – a view from Brussels

Photo: European Commission

Central European politicking took centre stage in EU news on Tuesday, as the Slovak Parliament voted against expanding the EU bailout fund and took their government down with it. Meanwhile, the EU approved the ratification of the Czech opt-out to its Charter of Fundamental Rights, which was demanded by President Václav Klaus in 2009 as he steadfastly postponed his signing of the Lisbon Treaty. To many of Wednesday’s political pundits it seems the Czechs and Slovaks are making an art out of hijacking major EU votes to drive through their domestic agendas. Our reporter Christian Falvey asked Czech Social Democrat and Vice President of the European Parliament Libor Rouček what kind of impression these events have left in Brussels.

Slovak Prime Minister Iveta Radičová,  photo: CTK
“I don’t think we can connect the two issues. The Czech opt-out is separate from what’s going on in Slovakia and with the rescue package for the Eurozone.”

But is there not a sense of exasperation in Brussels that both these countries have taken advantage of major votes concerning the EU in order to gain political capital?

“Nobody is linking those issues at the moment, because today everyone is focusing on Slovakia – that’s the major issue. In the case of Slovakia, I think people understand, because when we have to ratify something in 17 countries, as in this case, there will always be one or two countries where there is a problem. So this time, it happened to be Slovakia. But yesterday people still did not understand the procedure with Slovakia – now they understand and they’re saying ‘ok, the Slovak government collapsed, there was a no vote on the rescue package linked to the future of the government so the government collapsed, but then there will be a second vote on the rescue package, and the Slovak Social Democrats will have a majority.”

Photo: European Commission
Despite the fact that the vote was linked to no confidence in the Slovak government, there does seem to be an indication of a loss of faith in the Eurozone in Slovakia. Will that have any broader effect on confidence in the Eurozone elsewhere?

“I hope not. It is clear that this is not only the case of Slovakia; we see similar moods in the Netherlands, in Finland, and in other countries, because the public doesn’t know what’s actually going on, all they know is that more and more money is flowing into the rescue package, but they don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. So there needs to be more explanation of what is going on.”

Regarding the opt-out from the Charter of Fundamental Rights, do you feel there is any anxiety in the halls of Parliament when it comes to the Czech Republic having to vote on important EU matters, such as the European constitution?

Libor Rouček
“There is no anxiety, and I don’t expect there to be much anxiety. The accession treaty for Croatia and the Czech opt-out are two different documents. Both documents might be voted on on the same day, but the votes will be separate, so nobody – no major political force – in the Czech Parliament is questioning the accession of Croatia and everyone will say yes to it. But when it comes to the Czech opt-out, the Czech Senate has the power to block the entire thing. My colleagues here in the European Parliament and, I think, the European public at large will leave it up to the Czechs whether they want an opt-out. If they want the opt-out then there will be an opt-out; if not, if Parliament votes against it, it will kill the idea.”