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Slovak PM attacks EU official in row over Greek bailout

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(BERLIN) - Slovakia's prime minister Wednesday strongly criticised EU Commissioner Olli Rehn, saying he had no business meddling in her country's decision to refuse to help pay for a joint EU-IMF bailout for Greece.

Iveta Radicova, speaking at a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said such questions "did not concern a European commissioner.

"That's the reason I felt he did not express himself correctly," she said.

Earlier, in an interview with German daily Die Welt, Radicova said she would call for an "official apology" from the EU for slamming the Slovak parliament's August decision.

"The way in which (EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner) Olli Rehn, a non-elected official from Brussels, spoke about the freely elected members of the Slovakian parliament was insulting," she told the newspaper.

Standing next to Merkel at the news conference, however, she did not repeat her demands for an apology from Brussels.

For her part, Merkel sought to downplay the dispute, saying she felt sure "both sides would certainly seek to mend their differences and seek dialogue."

But the German leader also expressed regret at the Slovak parliament's decision to opt out of a 110-billion-euro (140-billion-dollar) aid package for Greece, saying that "had there not been a change of government in Slovakia, the Greek question might have had a different outcome."

She also noted that she had warned of the danger to the whole eurozone posed by the Greek crisis, adding that "this point was hardly mentioned during the debate in Slovakia."

Merkel said she felt "certain that we shall cooperate in a close and trusting way in the future."

In Brussels, Rehn's spokesman insisted that the commission, as a political body, has "the right to disagree" and that it did not intend any disrespect for the Slovak parliament.

"Mr Rehn is a member of the European Commission, which is the guarantor of treaties and must defend the general European interest, so to me there is a rather solid legitimacy," said the spokesman, Amadeu Altafaj Tardio.

"There must be a misunderstanding because the commission has never expressed any comments that could be likened to a lack of respect for the Slovak parliament and its sovereign decisions," he added.

"What happened was that the commission took note of this vote but it expressed a regret for what it considered to be a breach of the commitment made by the Slovak government within the Eurogroup," he told reporters in Brussels.

Earlier this month, Radicova's centre-right coalition won a majority in parliament to overturn a decision by the previous administration to contribute 800 million euros (1.0 billion dollars) to the 110-billion-euro fund.

The decision prompted fury in Brussels, with Rehn describing it as a "breach of solidarity."

Despite refusing to contribute to the Greek bailout, Bratislava has approved a larger framework agreement on a 440-billion-euro package designed to shore up other EU member states that may need help.

Slovak reticence will not in practice prevent Greece from drawing down the loan since it has already been put in place alongside stiff austerity measures.

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