Slovak Rejection: Crash-Boom-Bang!?

Andre Zimmermann

 It was late at night on Tuesday this week when the Slovak parliament had to vote on the EFSF rescue package.

Sixteen of the seventeen Eurozone member states had approved the expansion of the rescue fund at that time. Thus, all eyes turned to the small country in the East of Europe which joined the EU in the context of the 2004 so called “Big Bang” enlargement. A German news channel partly televised the voting session; the voting’s outcome was largely perceived as a crucial signal for the whole Europe. So it was for the Slovak government itself as Prime Minister Iveta Radicova tied the vote with a no-confidence motion.

Now we got the result of the initial vote: the Slovak parliament rejected the motion proposed by Radicova and her government fell down. But the shock was only short-lived. Right after the parliament’s decision not to ratify the expanded rescue plan, Radicova declared to enter into negotiations with the now pro-EFSF Social Democratic party to form a new government which would make a second ballot possible at the end of this week (according to Slovak legislation, international treaties can be subject to a second voting). On Wednesday the new coalition parties agreed to hold a second voting and pass the bill through the parliament. Connecting the initial vote with a no-confidence motion, some might argue, was a sophisticated diplomatic stroke by Radicova to pave the way for a new coalition in support of the EFSF proposal. I’d rather called it a put-up job and a democratic farce.
The current events in Slovakia are emblematic of the crisis of democracy on our continent.

Now that a tiny little country proves to be a stumbling stone for the plans of the big Eurozone players, they don’t want to be particular about democracy. Instead of respecting the voting result, parliamentary sovereignty is once more undermined. German Chancellor Merkel expects, according to an interview from Wednesday, a quick “Yes” of Slovakia regarding the EFSF and demonstrated confidence assuring that by the 23rd of October “all the signatures of all the [Eurozone] member states” will be on the EFSF paper. Last Sunday “Mr Eurozone” and born optimist Jean-Claude Juncker eliminated any possibility of a potential Slovak “No” to the Eurozone plans in advance.  Asked by journalists what would happen if the Slovak parliament rejects the EFSF plan, he answered with his distinctive arrogance and in a rather smugly tone: “This is not going to happen. Slovakia will approve it.”

How could he know the result? Is Mr Juncker equipped with a crystal ball that allows him to tell the Europe’s fortune? Well, I guess it’s something else. It’s because he belongs to a caste of statesmen of those the European public is fed up for ages. It is this caste which epitomizes the autocratic and bureaucratic style of Brussels. Important decisions are naturally made over the heads of the public and the national parliaments. It is thus only consequent to assume that the EFSF expansion will come, whether the Slovak parliament approves it in the second run or not. It’s a fait accompli.

The issue has been decided long before the voting of the Slovak parliament.

Experts discussed ways to implement the EFSF regardless of the Slovak voting. This makes a second voting at the end of this week under a new Slovak government even more grotesque. Balloting until the result suits best. It’s a poor joke of the responsible politicians. A joke that Europeans know all too well if we remember the Irish referenda on the Lisbon Treaty. The financial crisis meanwhile developed into a “systemic risk”, as the outgoing European Central Bank president Jean-Claude Trichet has put it. It is therefore only logical to state that this systemic threat is not confined to the financial and economic sectors only. It is a threat to the political systems of the member states and the EU polity. And that is what makes me feel afraid.

The chairman of the Social Democrats in the European Parliament, German Martin Schulz, stated in a radio interview that it is unacceptable that a small country such as Slovakia decides about the future of the EU single currency. With hope in his voice he added that, if the government will have changed and his fellow Slovak Social Democrats will be in charge of power, the approval of the EFSF will not be a problem anymore. Nice understanding of democracy. Notwithstanding the fact that exactly these politicians have in the recent past decided to take decisions in this policy area unanimously. I really look forward to the next soccer world championships in Brazil. The final match will be repeated until the right team has won the cup. And if this is not going to happen, the teams are changed, of course.

Democracy is really uncomfortable at times.

But what we now witness can change the whole continent and the EU profoundly. Politicians across the EU never get tired to claim a more democratic EU. Much has been written about the so called “democratic deficit” of the Union. Many promises have been made by politicians to change the EU towards a more democratic Union in touch with the people. Only few of these promises have been kept. My prospect thus looks rather bleak. People talked much about a potential default of Greece last month. Likewise, in light of the recent developments, we should be aware of a potential democracy default. Leading European politicians are well on the way to declare the EU’s democratic bankruptcy. And I dare to predict that a failure of democracy will exceed any state’s default costs.