The joint Slovak-EU Parliamentary Committee has confirmed 2004 as the preliminary date for the country's entry to the European Union. The announcement was made following a meeting of the committee in Brussels on Wednesday 11 October.
Slovakia's Deputy Foreign Minister and chief negotiator, Ján Fígel, welcomed the news, adding that negotiations on eight chapters of EU legislation should be opened before the end of the year, with all the necessary legislation being in position by 2002.
A note of caution was sounded in the committee's communique, which called on Slovakia to strengthen its constitutional stability, democracy and the rule of law, and to improve the position of the country's Roma minority.
Committee co-chairman Hans-Peter Martin warned that if early elections take place in Slovakia, the EU will suspend entry talks for at least six months, regardless of who wins the election. His intervention came just weeks before the Slovak electorate votes in a referendum on early elections on 11 November.
Several hundred people attended a rally at Šurany in southern Slovakia to protest against calls from the Party of the Hungarian Coalition (SMK) for regional autonomy. The rally, organised by the Slovak patriotic cultural organisation, Matica Slovenská, was held in an area where Hungarians form the majority of the population, and was addressed by speakers from the Slovak National Party (SNS) and Vladimír Mečiar's Movement For a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS).
SNS Chairwoman Anna Malíková was quoted as saying: "The time for the offered friendly hand is over, now the fist should be shown, and perhaps a weapon should be raised." The question of rights for Hungarians threatens to undermine the current Government coalition.
The problem centres on the long overdue reform of regional government. The SMK is unhappy with the current proposal, which would see southern Slovakia (home to most of Slovakia's ten per cent Hungarian minority) divided among several administrative units.
The Party has threatened to quit the coalition if its proposal for a unified administrative region, centred on the mainly-Hungarian town of Komárno, is not adopted. The matter has been put on the back burner until after the referendum on early elections in November, but it will undoubtedly come back to haunt Premier.
Tact and diplomacy were the order of the day on Tuesday 10 October, when leading politicians from Slovakia's two squabbling neighbours chose the same day to make official visits to Bratislava.
The Austrian Chancellor, Wolfgang Schuessel, drew attention to the easy relationship between his country and Slovakia, in comparison to the row which has broken out between Vienna and Prague over the opening of the Temelín nuclear power plant in the Czech Republic: "The situation with the Slovak government is quite different. We have always conducted a dialogue," Schuessel commented.
Meanwhile, in another part of town, the chairman of the Czech Chamber of Deputies, Václav Klaus, met with his counterpart, the chairman of the Slovak Parliament, Jozef Migaš. Klaus, who is seen as co-architect of the break-up of Czechoslovakia alongside Slovakia's Vladimir Mečiar, steered clear of controversial topics. He refused to comment on the forthcoming refendum on early elections in Slovakia.
Slovak Air Force
The British armaments firm, BAE Systems, is pushing hard to sell its Hawk fighter to the Slovak Air Force. A number of carrots have been dangled in front of the Slovak cabinet, including the creation of 20,000 jobs in Slovakia, in return for an order for 48 of the subsonic light multirole aircraft.
The Air Force needs to replace its stock of ageing Soviet-era aircraft. BAE has also announced collaborative projects with two Slovak companies, DMD Holding and Letecké Opravovne Trencín, for the re-spraying of aircraft and the future manufacture of aircraft components.
BAE's Director for Europe, John Barter, told the SME newspaper: "In the coming months we expect additional programmes to be launched. We realise that Slovakia needs to create new jobs and, at this stage of our co-operation with domestic firms, we will focus precisely on this requirement." A canny move with Slovakia's unemployment rate bumping along just below the 20 per cent level.
The BAE offer is also said to encompass other activities touching on education, transport, agriculture, tourism and health care. BAE's main rival for the tender is the Czech firm, Aero Vodochody, with its L-159 aircraft.
And in other news...
- President Rudolf Schuster returned home from a hospital in Austria. He had an operation to remove a colostomy at a hospital in Innsbruck on Tuesday 3 October. It is hoped that the procedure will be the last in a series of operations that began in June, when the President suffered a perforated colon.
- Ex-Premier Vladimír Mečíar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia has retained its customary position as the most popular party in Slovakia, according to a recent poll by the MVK agency. The party scored 29.6 per cent of voters' support, with Robert Fico's Smer (Direction) coming second at 14.9 per cent. Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) was just behind with 13.9 per cent. Three other parties would make it over the five per cent hurdle required for representation in Parliament: the Party of the Hungarian Coalition (SMK) with 10.2 per cent, the Slovak National Party (SNS) with nine per cent and the former communist Democratic Left Party (SDĽ) with 7.6 per cent.
- Slovakia's hard-pressed teachers are to receive a pay rise of seven per cent, Education Minister Milan Ftácnik announced this week. Teachers are among the lowest paid professionals in the country, with an average monthly salary of Sk 9000 (USD 175).
Robin Sheeran, 14 October 2000
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