The Czech Premier Miloš Zeman presented his Slovak counterpart Mikuláš Dzurinda with a 14 kilogram gold brick as a symbol of the successful division of the Czecho-Slovak federal property. Four tonnes of gold is being handed-over to Slovakia as part of the agreement, which comes seven years after the two countries' so-called Velvet Divorce of 1993. Dzurinda paid an official two-day visit to the Czech Republic, which culminated in the signing of four intergovernmental treaties - on health care, classified information, culture, education and science, and economic cooperation. The governments issued a joint communiqué supporting their respective bids for EU membership. They agreed to press for the border of the Schengen area (in effect, the eastern border of the EU) to be set up along the Slovakia-Ukraine frontier, and not between Slovakia and the Czech Republic, in the case of the latter joining the EU before Slovakia.
Slovakia has concluded talks on six chapters of the acquis communitaire - the body of EU laws and policies which every applicant country has to adopt before it can become a member. Talks on eight of the 31 chapters of the acquis began on 28 March. The chapters relating to economic competition, culture and audio-visual policy are expected to be completed before the end of the year, once parliament has passed the relevant laws. František Sebej, the chairman of the Parliamentary Committee for European Integration, told the TASR news agency that the more difficult chapters would probably be opened next year. "It is in our interest to accelerate the closing of as many chapters as possible, and to catch up with the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland," he commented.
Premier Dzurinda proved the age of letter-writing is not yet dead. His 24 May letter to President Bill Clinton appears to have reversed US objections to Slovakia's entry into the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). (See last weeks Slovakia news review) Two days later, Douglas Hengel, the Charge d'Affaires at the US Embassy in Bratislava, announced that the US will back Slovakia's entry into the OECD at the organisation's meeting at the end of June. Hengel said he believed the invitation to join would be extended before the June meeting. Dzurinda's letter acknowledged US concerns about the reform process in Slovakia, and pledged that reform efforts would continue after Slovakia's admittance to the OECD. The Premier thanked Bill Clinton for his previous support for Slovakia's efforts to join Euro-Atlantic political and security structures. The Slovak government needs at all costs to avoid the kind of negative publicity that a blackballing from the OECD would entail, particularly in the light of its application to join the EU.
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The opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) remains the country's most popular party, according to a new poll by the Focus agency. The poll of just over 1,000 voters between 3 May and 11 May, suggests that the HZDS would receive 27.4 per cent of votes in a general election. Robert Fico's newly-established SMER party would come second with 20.3 per cent, and Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) would receive 11.8 per cent. The Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) at 11.5 per cent, Slovak National Party (SNS) at seven per cent, and the Party of the Democratic Left (SDĽ) at five per cent, would all be represented in parliament. However, the poll suggests that the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), Party of Civic Understanding (SOP), Slovak Communist Party (KSS), Democratic Party (DS), and the Democratic Union (DU), would fail to reach the five per cent cut-off point
Shareholders of the Košice-based steelmaker, VSŽ, voted at a special general meeting on 25 May to accept the company's deal with US Steel. The agreement, which sees the giant US company buying-out the core steelmaking business of VSŽ, was supported by 84 per cent of those present. US Steel has pledged to invest USD 700 million in the new company, which will probably be known as US Steel Košice. VSŽ will retain the parts of the business not directly involved in steelmaking. The massive VSŽ plant dominates the economy of Slovakia's second city. In the mid-1990s it accounted for 10 per cent of Slovak GDP, but was run into the sand by disastrous mismanagement, defaulting on a USD 35 million syndicated loan in 1998.
The HZDS deputy and former Interior Minister, Gustáv Krajči has been charged with accepting bribes. It is alleged that in 1996 Krajči agreed to lobby for the Goldfin Invest company to get a licence for trading in bonds issued by the National Property Fund. He is said to have accepted Sk 2 million for his trouble, with the promise of a further Sk 2.5 million after the licence was issued. In the event, the company did not receive the licence and the second payment was never made. Krajči's parliamentary immunity was lifted by vote of parliament on 19 May.
Michal Kováč Jr, son of the former President, has been appointed to a consular post with the Slovak Embassy in New Delhi. Kováč Jr's abduction in 1995, allegedly at the hands of the Slovak Intelligence Service, caused a storm which dominated Slovak politics in the late 1990s. News of the appointment was greeted with derision by the opposition HZDS. Former Foreign Minister Zdenka Kramplová described the appointment as "a gross insult to all people with moral integrity." A court in Munich recently halted legal proceedings against Kováč Jr. He had faced charges of fraud valued at USD 2.3 million.
Robin Sheeran, 27 May 2000
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TASR (Press Agency, Slovak Republic)
SITA (Slovak News Agency)
ČTK (Czech News Agency)