STRASBOURG — Europe’s Socialists are under mounting pressure to boot out Robert Fico, who is poised to return to power in Slovakia after his Smer party won last weekend’s election on an anti-Ukraine ticket.
Fico, who is in poll position to form a coalition government, was booted out of government amid an 8/mar/15/slovakias-prime-minister-robert-fico-resigns-journalist-murder" target="_blank" rel="noopener">anti-corruption uprising in 2018 but has now surged to victory by proposing to end military support to its neighbor Ukraine and criticizing the EU’s sanctions on Russia, setting off alarm bells in Kyiv and Brussels.
European People’s Party leader Manfred Weber plunged the knife in at a press conference at the European Parliament on Tuesday, comparing the Slovak politician to Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, who took his MEPs out of Weber’s center-right group in 2021 as the EPP mulled expelling him.
“Whenever we listen to Fico it sounds like Orbán,” Weber said, referring to the Slovak’s stance on Russia and “toward minorities” in his country. “What I am asking is a clarification process on the Socialists’ side, what are they doing now with their own family member?”
Before the election, Stefan Lövfen, the president of the PES, threatened Fico with expulsion during an interview with Swedish media.
Fico himself took to Facebook on Monday to say that rather than being congratulated on his victory by the Party of European Socialists he had received “blackmail” instead.
“That’s really beautiful, democratic. Either we say what the USA wants, or they’ll expel us. The PES chairman scrupulously adheres to the philosophy that who is for peace is a warmonger, and who is in favor of war and killing is a peace activist … It’s not right to blackmail sovereign politician,” Fico said in the video.
Top Socialist MEP Pedro Marques drew a distinction between the tenor of Smer’s campaign — which was marked by homophobic rhetoric, for example — and the policies that could be enacted if it forms a government. “If this continues, if this goes from rhetoric to action in a new government, a sanctions process might be started, and expulsion process might be one of the actions,” the Portuguese lawmaker said.
“We do not undermine the importance of what was said during the campaign,” Marques insisted. “That’s why we already addressed it at the party level months ago, and there was a proper discussion with Smer.”
Marques said that the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) in the European Parliament would act in unison with the broader EU umbrella Party of European Socialists (PES), which includes Fico’s Smer. However, Marques would not be drawn on whether the S&D would expel its two Smer MEPs.
One of them, Monika Beňová, wrote to POLITICO that Smer is an “uneqivocally pro-European.” Smer “has pledged in its manifesto to continue to send humanitarian support and fulfil its financial obligations towards Ukraine,” she wrote. “I do not perceive the campaign as homophobic,” she added.
In a letter than Beňová and her colleague Katarína Roth Neved’alová addressed to the S&D’s leader Iratxe García and all S&D MEPs on Monday — seen by POLITICO — the Slovaks stated: “We have never defended the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine.” The two lawmakers told their colleagues: “We will continue with out humanitarian and financial support towards Ukraine,” adding that they are pro-NATO, pro-EU and asked for “your patience and calm for the next couple of weeks so we can bring forward a reliable social democratic government.”
“From our side there will be no contemplation, there will be no hesitation,” Marques continued. “And as I said we’ll not take 10 years to decide,” he added, taking a dig at how long the EPP discussed kicking out Orbán.
It wouldn’t be the first time the Socialists have taken punitive measures against Fico: In 2006, Smer was temporarily suspended after forming a government with the far right.
EPP and Renew lawmakers on Tuesday also hammered Fico’s ally in Brussels, Maroš Šefčovič — the experienced EU commissioner nominated to oversee the Green Deal — with questions on his personal ties to Fico and support for Ukraine. Šefčovič committed to decoupling Europe from Russian gas and talked up a personal garland he received from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. “You know me, you know my work,” he said, attempting to distance himself from Fico.
Renew’s leader Stéphane Séjourné, whose pro-Ukrainian allies Progressive Slovakia came second in the election, would not comment on whether the Socialists should exclude Smer. “It’s a question for the Socialist group,” he said.
Tom Nicholson contributed reporting.