Hard graft: Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico has drawn the ire of the European Commission.(Sean Gallup/Getty Images)


EC threatens Slovakia over dismantling of state anti-graft body


The European Commission said it regretted Slovakia dissolving its dedicated state graft-prosecution unit (USP), warning the bloc “will not hesitate” to act to safeguard its financial interests.

Prime Minister Robert Fico dismantled the USP on March 20, just ahead of presidential elections.

Slovakia’s outgoing President and Fico’s political rival, the Lberal Zuzana Caputova, warned the veteran politician was undermining democracy. Fico’s ally Peter Pellegrini is the frontrunner in Slovakia’s presidential election on March 23.

“The Commission regrets the dissolution of the Special Prosecutor’s Office without the introduction of safeguards to ensure investigations can continue effectively,” an EC spokesman said on March 21.

He said that “could undermine the effectiveness of investigations, not least on offences that affect the EU budget”.

The EC will assess the consequences, the spokesman added, and “not hesitate to take action to ensure respect of EU law and the protection of the EU’s financial interests, as necessary.”

The threats come as the EC has Hungary frozen out of some €20 billion of aid for allegedly damaging democratic checks and balances.

Sources in Brussels, though, said they expected no similar punishment against Slovakia soon, as Fico was toeing the line elsewhere.

“It would be premature to go ahead with any major punitive steps. Currently, we don’t see Slovakia as a major problem in foreign affairs, as regards handling Ukraine for example,” said one national EU diplomat, asking not to be named.

Fico and Orban share criticism of Ukraine and a less belligerent stance on Russia. But the former has kept such comments for his domestic audience, while the latter repeatedly stalled EU support packages to Kyiv and sanctions against Moscow.

An EU official described a careful “balancing act” to avoid alienating Fico, while also trying to fairly assess democratic health in Slovakia, a formerly Communist country of some 5.5 million people in the EU’s East.

There was no immediate comment from Slovakia’s EU mission on Thursday as EU leaders gathered in Brussels to discuss using billions in profits from frozen Russian assets to buy arms for Ukraine as it continues to fight the Russian invasion.