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Slovak PM Fico agrees programme with potential coalition partners

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said on Tuesday his leftist Smer party and three others had signed an agreement on a programme as part of talks on forming a new government.

Slovakia's Prime Minister and leader of Smer party Robert Fico answers questions after a live broadcast of a debate after the country's parliamentary election, in Bratislava, Slovakia, March 6, 2016. REUTERS/David W Cerny

Slovakia will hold the European Union’s rotating presidency in the second half of 2016, giving it a stronger voice in setting the EU agenda on the migration crisis and the aftermath of a June 23 British referendum on whether to stay in the bloc.

The deal announced by Fico is another step towards forging a cabinet of both left and right-wing parties after an inconclusive March 5 election in which his party won the most votes but lost its parliamentary majority.

The programme priorities include a slight relaxation of budget consolidation and moves to make spending public money more transparent - a major concern for Slovak voters.

“(The programme) takes into account priorities regarding the fight against corruption, strengthening of business environment and maintaining elements of the welfare state that Smer insisted on,” Fico told reporters alongside leaders of the other parties.

He has been holding talks with the opposition centrist Siet (Net) and Most-Hid (Bridge) parties along with the right-wing conservative Slovak National Party since Monday.

The parties still need to agree on how many and which cabinet seats each will hold.

President Andrej Kiska had given Fico until Friday to report on his progress in forming a parliamentary majority.

The election saw eight parties win seats and analysts have said a Fico-led coalition stood a better chance than the alternative, a wide centre-right coalition of six parties.

The four-party grouping would command at most 85 votes in the 150-seat parliament, but four lawmakers from Siet and Most-Hid have announced they will leave in protest against teaming up with Fico rather then pursuing the right-wing alternative.

Fico, 51, has been a loud dissenter in the EU’s approach to tackling the migrant crisis in which over 1 million refugees fleeing conflict in Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere streamed into the EU last year.

He campaigned against admitting any significant number of migrants and has sued the EU over a decision to relocate hundreds of asylum-seekers to Slovakia.

Opposition parties also took a tough line on immigration but campaigned as well against corruption and shortcomings in health care and education that weakened Smer’s appeal among voters.

The new programme also calls for a reduction in the corporate tax to 21 percent from 22 percent and for reduced taxes for self-employed entrepreneurs, as well as a balanced budget in 2020, rather than in 2018 as previously targeted.

Reporting by Tatian Jancarikova; Writing by Jason Hovet; Editing by Mark Heinrich