The Party of the Democratic Left (SDĽ) has given up its demand for an immediate cabinet reshuffle. The announcement was made by the SDĽ chairman and Speaker of the Slovak Parliament, Jozef Migaš, after a meeting of the party's national council. The SDĽ will, however, continue to campaign for improvements in the operation of the cabinet and of the coalition. Migaš voted against Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda in a recent parliamentary vote of confidence. When asked whether he would do the same again, Migaš replied, "The relations between the Speaker of Parliament and the Premier must be as good as possible for the political stability of the country." The SDĽ's coalition colleagues have consistently oposed its calls for a reshuffle, attributing them to the party's annoyance at the removal of a party nominee from the post of managing director with Slovakia's power utility, Slovenské Elektrane.
Slovakia's hopes of joining NATO took a knock after a damning report into the preparedness of the Slovak army by US defence experts. The report was presented to the Slovak Defence Ministry on 31 May by Joseph Garret, director of the US Defence Department's Section for NATO European Policy. According to the Czech news agency, ČTK, Garret's report described the Slovak army's current combat capability as almost zero, that its staffing levels stood at 70 per cent of its requirements, and its reserve forces had not received training for three years. The report also criticised the lack of a united command structure, with the armed forces coming under three different government ministries, and viewed the spending envisaged for modernisation as over optimistic.
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The Party of Civic Understanding (SOP) has proposed a reduction on the level of VAT charged on basic foodstuffs. The Privatisation Minister, and vice-chairwoman of the SOP, Mária Machová, says the proposal could lead to basic foods being made VAT-free. Apart from easing the burden of high food prices for the average Slovak family, the proposal is also aimed at stemming the recent outbreak of consumer tourism which has seen large numbers of Slovaks travel to the Czech Republic to do their food shopping. Canny consumers have discovered they can reclaim VAT on purchases over CZK 1000. The result has been a distrous collapse in sales for food retailers in western Slovakia, with many contemplating bankruptcy in the near future. The Slovak government is said to be considering a similar VAT payback scheme for tourists, but the proposal will do little to help hard-pressed retailers along the Moravian-Slovak border.
The German carmaking giant, Volkswagen, is expanding its activities in Slovakia with the opening of a new factory in the central Slovak town of Martin. The plant will employ 450 people in the manufacture of gearboxes, axles, and steering columns. VW Slovakia plans to invest DM 40 million in new equipment for the 20,000 sq.m factory. Company director Peter Wilhelm says the Martin plant will collaborate closely with VW plants at Kassel and Braunschweig in Germany. VW Slovakia is one of the major successes in the Slovak manufacturing sector, with 125,000 cars produced in 1999 at its main plant at Devínska Nová Ves, in the Bratislava suburbs. The company employs a total of 6,600 people in its Slovak operations, and contributes 16 per cent of the country's total exports.
Robin Sheeran, 3 June 2000
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TASR (Press Agency, Slovak Republic)
SITA (Slovak News Agency)
ČTK (Czech News Agency)