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Slovakia's Parliament Complicates Bailout Plans


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Guy Raz. Today, the fate of a months-long effort to expand a European bailout fund hinged on one country, Slovakia. Sixteen of the Eurozone's 17 member nations have already OK'd the deal, but today, Slovakia's parliament complicated matters.

SIEGEL: The country's prime minister had made the issue one of confidence in her government, and internal divisions over the bailout brought down her ruling coalition. As NPR's Eric Westervelt reports from the capital, Bratislava, parliament will now revisit the contentious plan, this time, on its own merits.

ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: For 10 hours today well into the evening, Slovak politicians wrangled over the bailout bill at the hilltop parliament building overlooking the Danube River. A member of the ruling coalition, the liberal SaS or Freedom and Solidarity Party, opposed the bill and abstained from the confidence vote. That led to the government's collapse.

SaS leader Richard Sulik afterwards said his party was standing on principle in opposing a bailout he said would reward bankers.

RICHARD SULIK: (Foreign language spoken)

WESTERVELT: The expansion of the rescue fund is mainly about saving banks and their bottom lines, Sulik said, but we have no mandate to do that. Our mandate is to protect the Slovak taxpayers' money, he said.

The Eurozone bailout measure is expected to eventually pass the Slovak Parliament with help of the opposition Social Democratic Smer Party. But the price will have been the ruling coalition.

Saying no to more bailouts plays well the public here. Sandra Muchkova shelters from the rain under a narrow roof to smoke a cigarette outside a shopping center along the Danube. Muchkova, who's in her 20s, makes her living working on a tourist boat on the famed river which winds through this former communist bloc city. In the off season, she says, she travels to the U.S. for jobs to make ends meet.

Slovaks work hard and play by the rules, she says, and now Europe wants us to help bailout richer neighbors?

SANDRA MUCHKOVA: (Through Translator) The Greek people enjoy higher salaries than us. Many Slovaks have to travel abroad for work. Why should we pay for them from our small pot of money? If we had a problem, the Greeks would certainly say no to us.

WESTERVELT: But what about solidarity and shared sacrifice, I ask? It is, after all, not the Slovak zone. It's the Eurozone. Aren't you all in this together? Muchkova shakes her head and says simply joining the single currency bloc was the wrong move.

MUCHKOVA: It was a mistake. Everyone thinking like this.

WESTERVELT: That's a common refrain here.


WESTERVELT: An old tram chugs its way up a central street in Bratislava between tall, dirt grey, Soviet era housing blocks. After going through the trauma of the transition from communism to capitalism, it seems voters here are not ready to embrace a giant, seemingly endless bailout scheme.

Slovakia's share of the European fund is only about one percent or under eight billion euro. But many here say it's unfair to make the Eurozone's second poorest country help bail out Greece and European banks.

Jan Kovach, economics editor at the daily paper Hospodarske Noviny, says for months the argument here against expanding the bailout fund has been a straightforward populist one.

JAN KOVACH: When we joined the European Union, we didn't promise to help countries like Greece in this way. We think that the Europe shouldn't ask us for more money because some country breaks the rules.

WESTERVELT: But Kovach notes the nation has benefited enormously from membership in the European Union and the Eurozone, politically and economically. It's meant new foreign investment for Slovakia, including automobile factories which have helped make the country a leading car exporter in Europe. And then there are the billions in E.U. aid for infrastructure, agriculture and other projects. He says few of his fellow Slovaks are thinking about the wider impact of continued opposition to bailouts that it might hurt the country's image and economy in the long run.

KOVACH: I don't think that they understand the possible consequences because their opinion is based mostly on their emotions, I believe. And their emotions are based on their wallet and their knowledge about the Greek wallet.

WESTERVELT: Or at least their perception of the Greek wallet. There's a view here, often in opposition to fact, that the Greeks are financially much better off than the Slovaks. In reality, per capita monthly income is only slightly higher in Greece. As one politician with the ruling coalition put it tonight in urging a yes vote on the bill, quote, "We would never be where we are without E.U. help, support and money. Everything has a price."

Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Bratislava. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Westervelt is a San Francisco-based correspondent for NPR's National Desk. He has reported on major events for the network from wars and revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa to historic wildfires and terrorist attacks in the U.S.