Education minister quits to put Slovak coalition crisis to bed

Education minister quits to put Slovak coalition crisis to bed
The SNS had threatened to quit the government over the allegations against its minister.
By bne IntelliNews August 18, 2017

The Slovak minister of education resigned on August 17, a move that is likely part of a deal towards putting to bed the recent crisis in the governing coalition.

Peter Plavcan of the junior coalition Slovak National Party (SNS) was urged to quit by Prime Minister Robert Fico the previous day. A scandal surrounding EU funding distribution by the ministry had blown up recently, which critics claim was the real key to a sudden announcement from SNS on August 7 that it would leave the government.

Cobbled together by Fico in the wake of the March 2016 election in which his Smer party surprisingly lost its majority, the coalition has proved more stable than expected. However, there have been regular suggestions that the SNS in particular stands ready to split from Fico under the right conditions.

Talks to convince SNS leader Andrej Danko to agree a new coalition have been ongoing. Fico has appeared to hold the whip hand, and claimed on August 16 that a deal over a new coalition agreement is all but done. However, the PM – who needs both SNS and the ethnic Hungarian Most-Hid party for a majority in the 150-seat parliament – appeared to surprise Danko as he also called for Plavcan to go. The SNS leader has now accepted the condition, reports TASR.

"After careful consideration and much thought, I'm resigning from the post of the minister of education, science, research and sport because what was happening in recent days was absolutely over the line," Plavcan said, adding that he needs to protect his family and the party. It was confirmed on August 4 that the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) has launched a probe into the use of EU funds by the ministry.

A failure to agree a new coalition agreement would likely provoke snap elections. Polls published in late July showed the current coalition would fail to win enough seats between them to secure a majority. Smer would win 26.5% of the vote, SNS 10.3% and Most Hid 6.2%.

Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) polled at 14.2%. The neo-nazi People's Party Our Slovakia/ĽSNS would take 9.1%. Sme Rodina and the non-parliamentary Christian Democratic Movement-KDH also crossed the 5% threshold to enter parliament in the survey.