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10/12/2016

Robert Fico: Anti-refugee, pro-Russian headache for the Socialists

Justice & Home Affairs

Robert Fico: Anti-refugee, pro-Russian headache for the Socialists

Robert Fico and Martin Schulz in Bratislava.

[European Parliament]

Embarrassed by the Slovakian premier’s Islamophobic comments, the Party of European Socialists will consider suspending Robert Fico’s SMER party on Friday (9 October). EurActiv France reports.

Even as president of the Party of European Socialists (PES), Sergei Stanishev was the party’s black sheep of the party. But his flirtations with Bulgaria’s extreme right Attack party caused less of an upset than the latest storm to hit the PES.

The leadership of the pan-European party will meet on Friday (9 October) to decide how to deal with Robert Fico, the Slovak prime minister, a and the man currently causing the party a headache.

>>Read: Slovakia pushes ahead with legal action over EU refugee quotas

Suspension in suspense

The decision on whether to suspend Robert Fico’s party from the PES will be taken by representatives from all the affiliated national parties, including the French Socialist Party, and the British Labour Party.

At the heart of the problem is Slovakia’s refusal to accept refugees, and its decision to take the European Council to court over its distribution plan for the refugees currently stuck in Italy and Greece.

The PES threatened to exclude Robert Fico’s SMER party if the Slovakian leader did not withdraw his legal challenge to from the Court of Justice of the EU. But Robert Fico believes that the European Council’s vote on the refugee distribution plan should have been subject to an absolute majority, not a qualified majority.

>>Read: Refugee crisis reveals fundamental splits in European political parties

Incompatible statements

Certain statements made by the Slovakian leader have also led to questions over his socialist credentials and whether he belongs in the PES at all.

He initially agreed to accept a very small number of refugees as part of the EU’s joint effort to distribute 40,000 among the member states, but only if they were Christians, and only if they did not “endeavour to change the nature, culture, and values of the state”.

“I can hardly imagine Muslims integrating in Slovakia, without the members of their family, out of their environment. They would not have the opportunity to practice their religion. So let’s not close our eyes to reality,” Robert Fico said at a press conference on 9 September.

“Given that Slovakia is a country where the Catholic Church dominates, followed by the Lutheran Church, we cannot tolerate an influx of 300 to 400,000 Muslim immigrants who would start building mosques all over the place,” he added.

>>Read: Commission frowns on ‘Christian only’ solidarity with migrants

Built for Slovaks, not minorities”

Robert Fico further illustrated Slovakia’s lack of tolerance towards minorities in an interview with RTVS radio. He said he believed his country was “incapable of integrating the Roma. But still we pretend that we are able to integrate someone from Eritrea or someone from a completely different religion with different traditions”.

Gianni Pittella, the leader of the Socialists and Democrats group in the European Parliament, quoted Robert Fico as having said that Slovakia was “built for Slovaks, not for minorities”. The Slovakian leader this week strongly denied ever having made this statement.

But his position on the immigration issue is part of a calculated political agenda. With a general election taking place next March, the Slovak government hopes to win re-election by courting nationalist voters.

The Slovak prime minister accused the Party of European Socialists of undermining him and handing the advantage to the right-wing opposition.

To make the matter more sensitive, Slovakia is due to take the revolving presidency of the Council of the EU on 1 July 2016.

Russian influence

Equally worrying for the PES is Robert Fico’s relationship with Vladimir Putin. The premier has been a vocal critic of the EU’s stance on Russia, particularly its position on the Ukraine crisis, but now also on the war in Syria.

“How do you expect to solve this conflict if we continue to send weapons?” he asked Socialist MEPs this week. This question was clearly a swipe at France, which is still providing arms to help the Syrian rebels fight president Bashar al-Assad, even as Russia has entered the arena with a pro-Assad bombing campaign.

Despite his numerous transgressions in the eyes of the PES, the Slovakian prime minister will only be put “under observation”. “But if he goes ahead with his legal challenge at the Court of Justice of the EU, he will be cut loose,” an inside source told EurActiv.

Slovakia has eight weeks in which to start a legal procedure, from the date the decision was taken on 21 September.