Bratislava, Slovakia – Despite his resignation as Prime Minister last year in the wake of Jan Kuciak’s murder and the mass protests it triggered throughout the country, Robert Fico remains at the forefront of Slovak politics and doesn’t seem to even contemplate the prospect of stepping aside any time soon.
Most observers consider that Fico keeps pulling the string of government affairs since close ally Peter Pellegrini replaced him as Prime Minister.
He was once rumored for eyeing the post of Foreign Minister, and seen as a possible replacement to current FM Miroslav Lajcak, who threatened to resign if Slovakia didn’t sign the U.N. migration deal – an empty threat, as it turned out. Now, Fico has set his eyes on a new position. And a pretty major one, too.
Robert Fico, 54, will run this month to become a Constitutional Court judge. The information was confirmed by Smer MP Martin Glvac, who argued that “he is the most qualified candidate based on his previous work”. Holding a law degree from Comenius University in Bratislava, Fico previously served as Slovakia’s legal council at the European Court of Human Rights from 1994 to 2000. The move is nevertheless seen as a gross violation of the separation and balance of powers in the small EU state.
“The Constitutional Court is one of the most important institutions in the country, and it will be unlucky for Slovakia if it becomes the extended hand of political parties”, Veronika Remisova from the OLaNO party said.
Although former lawmakers have previously been nominated and elected to serve on the Constitutional Court, former party leaders or prime ministers never did. This would be the first time.
The Constitutional Court, which comprises 13 judges in total serving for a 12-year term, is the highest judicial body in Slovakia, ruling whether legislation passed by parliament and lower courts judgments are in line with the country’s constitution, and is, as such, an institution playing a major role in Slovakia’s checks-and-balances system.
In a vote due later this month, the parliament, dominated by a short majority of the governing coalition (76 out of 150 seats) will select 18 candidates who wish to become constitutional judges: the nominees will first be interviewed by the parliament’s constitutional committee, with the final vote scheduled to take place on January 29, according to the Sme daily.
Nine of them will then be picked to replace judges whose term expires on February 16 by President Andrej Kiska. Unaffiliated to any party, the head of state often clashed with Fico in the past and expressed his support to protesters calling for his resignation last year. According to local media, the president said that he would probably use his right to send his own representatives to attend the hearing of the candidates in Parliament – a first in history.
Last October, an amendment to the Constitution that aimed to change the selection process of Constitutional Court judges failed to pass in Parliament. Introduced by Justice Minister Gabor Gal (Most-Hid), it aimed to add new requirements for potential candidates. They would have been obligated, for instance, to be recognized figures in law and to have displayed guaranteed moral integrity, impartiality and honesty in previous professional positions.
The failure of the bill, supported by a number of watchdog groups and NGO’s, was seen as a lost opportunity to step up the quality of selection process, shield it from any political meddling and facilitate the nomination of the most qualified candidates. For Kristina Babjakova of Via Iuris, quoted by the Slovak Spectator, the danger now is that the ruling majority will still be able to push through the nomination of nine loyal constitutional judges, effectively controlling Slovakia’s highest judicial body until 2031.
But the fact that the bill didn’t pass and the choice to preserve the status-quo might not have been that bad after all: the original draft proposal also included an amendment, introduced by a Smer lawmaker, that planned that if a constitutional court candidate gathered at least 90 votes in Parliament, he would automatically become a judge, without the need for the President’s approval.
Commentators pointed that, if this amendment had passed, and even though the ruling coalition currently doesn’t have 90 seats in Parliament, it could effectively have negotiated with the opposition and thus could have bypassed the President’s oversight.