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Slovakia’s ill-conceived moment in the spotlight

EFSF | Slovakia’s ill-conceived moment in the spotlight Anthony Harrington

Give politicians a sniff of a chance at grandstanding and they are off and away like greyhounds after a hare. Everything else of importance fades before the glory of dancing in the spotlight that fate has fortuitously caused to shine upon them.

We saw it with the US Republicans and Democrats taking matters to the wire and beyond over the raising of the US debt ceiling. Then we saw it with tiny Slovakia, the second poorest member of the euro area after Estonia, when it found itself in the position of being the last of the 17 members not yet to have ratified the expansion of the European Financial Stability Fund (EFSF). With the fate of the Eurozone and possibly of the entire euro project in their hands, and with relatively unanimous agreement in the Slovakian Parliament that the EFSF extension was a good thing, the chance of embarrassing the existing government was too much for the opposition, which also thinks that the EFSF extension is necessary.

On October 11 they voted against the expansion, forcing a majority for a no vote, and the markets threw a wobbly, just as everyone said they would. On October 13 the issue went back before the Slovakian Parliament, as everyone once again knew it would, and this time round the aye’s had it, and the EFSF was saved, which was more than could be said for the country’s government headed by Iveta Radicova, Slovakia’s first female Prime Minister. It fell, with its fall being part of a package deal that brought the opposition round to a yes vote. However, Radicova’s party remains in power, by agreement, until elections can be held early in 2012.

Survivors in the fallout

Funnily enough, the one Slovak politician who comes well out of this is Richard Sulik, leader of the small SaS party which had been in coalition with Radicova until the EFSF question came along. Sulik, it seems, is convinced that the EU’s bailout projects, be they for banks or for countries, are nothing more or less than a “swindle on European taxpayers” (see, for example, this Wall Street Journal blog).

What the SaS wants is for Greece to be allowed to fail, in an orderly fashion, and for Europe’s commercial banks, which gorged themselves on high-yielding sovereign bonds, which they took to be implicitly backstopped by the European Central Bank and underpinned by German taxpayers, to square up to the pain of 90% haircuts on their “foolish” investments.

This makes Sulik a man after my own heart, but then I don’t live in Slovakia, and if there is one thing that Slovaks realize very clearly, it is that their fate is intimately bound up with the fate of Europe. So shooting Europe’s feet off and then seeing where that gets you is not exactly sensible, if you care about Slovakia. Therefore, Sulik’s views, and the leadership he gave to his party, seen from a Slovak-centric standpoint, were well off the mark. Maybe, upon reflection, Sulik doesn’t come that well out of it after all…

Long-term game plan?

Then there was the Opposition’s cynical tactic of putting their determination to force the government out of office ahead of their duty to the rest of Europe. This was itself about as wrong-headed as one can get, and may well cause senior European politicians to put the boot into Slovakia at some future date by way of payback. Whether it does or doesn’t do, the whole spectacle made Slovakian politicians look rather childish at a time when the Slovak public, one imagines, would much rather have had their politicians behave in a statesman-like fashion.

As a coda to this whole unseemly spectacle, it has been edifying to see how completely Slovakia has vanished from the headlines now that it has delivered a yes vote. The country’s moment of fame, which put it front and centre of Europe’s media has come and gone, with no great credit redounding to anyone in the process…

Further reading on European integration:

Tags: Democrats , EFSF , Estonia , European Central Bank , european debt crisis , European Financial Stability Fund , eurozone , Iveta Radicova , Richard Sulik , SaS party , Slovakia , Slovakian Parliament , US , US debt ceiling , US economy , US Republicans
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