Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Coalition tries EP election amendment again

Slovak Spectator - 15 March 2004

By Martina Pisárová

AFTER the recent failure of the Slovak parliament to approve a constitutional amendment that would regulate the first elections to the European Parliament (EP), Justice Minister Daniel Lipšic is preparing two new legislative proposals to secure the legality of the June 13 vote.

On March 3 only 81 of the required 90 MPs supported the constitutional amendment, also proposed by Lipšic, throwing the elections for the 14 future Slovak members of the EP into legal uncertainty.

The parliamentary opposition refused to support the amendment, arguing that their demand for the creation of an investigation committee in parliament had not been met. In the vote on the committees, which preceded the vote on the constitutional amendment regarding EP elections, 85 of the needed 90 supported the creation of the committees.

The investigation committees would secure inquiries into special contemporary cases of public interest. The opposition demanded the investigation committee, aware that the coalition did not have enough votes to approve a constitutional change.

At a meeting after the failed vote, the cabinet prompted Lipšic to come up with a new proposal for the EP election law. The ministers also agreed that the new legislation should be approved in a shortened legislative procedure that would speed up the lawmaking process and ensure that MPs vote on the new draft during the May parliamentary session.

Richard Fides, Lipšic's spokesman, confirmed that the ministry was working on two proposals. The first is a small constitutional amendment that would ban dual mandate, so that Slovak MPs elected to be MEPs could not keep their MP jobs at home. The amendment would also entitle the Supreme Court to investigate the legality of EP elections in case of doubts.

Minister Lipšic left out the originally proposed part of the amendment that would have obliged Slovak MEPs to vote in line with their national parliament's recommendations, which has caused mixed feelings even inside the ruling coalition.

In case the constitutional amendment again fails in the chamber, Lipšic is also preparing an amendment to the law on EP elections which, being a regular rather than constitutional law, would only require 76 votes to be passed. It would, however, only cement the Supreme Court as the body that would inspect the legality of the elections and leave the issue of dual mandate open, relying on Slovak MPs elected to the EP to voluntarily give up their mandates in the national parliament.

Even the future colleagues of the new Slovak MEPs have commented on the situation.

"Although I fully respect that this matter is an internal Slovak affair, it does seem a pity that the opposition could not support the government-proposed constitutional amendment," British MEP Charles Tannock said to The Slovak Spectator on March 9.

"I sincerely hope the Slovak opposition will not just play a political game by demanding an unrelated concession over the setting up of a Slovak parliamentary investigation committee, thereby linking this to the politically neutral requirement for a lasting legal basis for free and fair elections for the European Parliament, to which I hope the Slovak people will turn out in large numbers to vote and give their newly elected MEPs a strong mandate," he said.

According to media reports, the opposition parties Smer and the Communist Party of Slovakia were prepared to support the new constitutional amendment.

But Ján Kovarčík, deputy chairman of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), told the Slovak daily Hospodárske noviny on March 9 that his party insisted on the creation of the investigation committees before it would support the new constitutional amendment.

Provided that the Communist Party and Smer vote for the new constitutional amendment, however, passage should be secured even without the 26 votes of the HZDS.