EU reform treaty advances as Slovakia signs on

April 11th, 2008 - 2:46 am ICT by admin  

Bratislava, April 11 (DPA) Slovakia Thursday became the ninth European Union (EU) nation to ratify the EU’s reform treaty, as lawmakers of the ethnic Hungarian minority broke ranks with the rest of the opposition and backed the pact. Prime Minister Robert Fico’s conservative opponents had sought to block the Lisbon Treaty to press the government into changing a restrictive new press law.

Fico’s coalition needed at least five opposition votes to pass the December 2007 pact, which overhauls institutions for the enlarged 27-member EU. The treaty passed by 103-5 votes, 13 more than required.

Fico said he was surprised by that Hungarian lawmakers had switched sides.

“I expected more blackmailing,” he said.

Publishers and human rights groups see the media law, passed this week, as a threat to press freedom because it introduces expansive rights to reply to published articles.

Fico has often clashed with the media, accusing them of siding with the opposition since his centre-left government came to power in 2006.

But Hungarian minority party leader Pal Csaky said continuing the Lisbon Treaty boycott was pointless because Fico had made it clear that he would not change the press law.

“This is a one-time decision. It pertains only to the Lisbon Treaty. It pertains to preserving Slovakia’s reputation,” Csaky told reporters.

If all EU members ratify the treaty before the year’s end, its reforms are likely to be introduced during 2009. Parliaments in Austria, Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovenia, Malta, Romania and France have cleared the pact. Ireland is the only country planning a referendum.

In Slovakia, the opposition alleged that the Hungarian party swapped its support for government assurances that a draft education law, set to go before parliament in May, would avoid unwelcome changes for the Hungarian community.

Csaky and Fico dismissed any dealmaking.

An estimated 500,000 Hungarians live in the central European country of some 5.4 million, whose governing coalition also includes hard-line Slovak nationalists.

Former Slovak prime minister Mikulas Dzurinda, now in opposition, was furious.

“The Party of Hungarian Coalition … failed in a key political battle of this term,” he told reporters.

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