EU suspends pre-accession tenders
The European Union has suspended all tenders for its pre-accession programmes in Slovakia after a scandal emerged involving the alleged embezzlement of EU funds by a Slovak government official. It is claimed that the former Director of the Slovak Cabinet Office's Foreign Aid department, Roland Tóth, owns companies which competed for EU tenders.
Both the Slovak Government and the EU moved quickly to deny any major scandal. Tóth's boss, the Deputy Premier for European Integration, Pavol Hamzík, who sacked him on 15 March, denied responsibility and rejected calls for his resignation.
The European Commission's chief negotiator for Slovakia, Dirk Meganck, said the halting of tenders should not be over-dramatised. Speaking on Thursday 26 April, Meganck confirmed that the EC had ordered its officials in Bratislava to stop all ongoing and new tenders and all EU-assisted project contracting until the alleged misuse of funds had been cleared up. Financial aid for economic reconstruction via the EU's Phare and ISPA programmes will not be affected.
Slovakia's chief EU negotiator, Ján Figeľ, said the affair should not impact on the country's accession talks. However, he expressed concern at the possible effect it could have on the country's preparedness for entry if the freezing of aid dragged on too long. Figeľ said it was important for the affair to be investigated and resolved as quickly as possible.
Problems for Dzurinda
The independent MP and leader of the Smer Party, Róbert Fico, called for the resignation of Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda. He said the embezzlement scandal proved that the country was corrupt from top to toe. Fico said he would be meeting with opposition leaders to call for an extraordinary meeting of Parliament and a vote of confidence in the Premier.
President Rudolf Schuster has complained that his relations with Dzurinda have hit rock bottom. Schuster says Dzurinda and his ministers are ignoring him, that he does not receive important documents, and is not shown the respect his position deserves.
It appears that the President feels Dzurinda has snubbed him on several occasions by failing to take part in specially-arranged meetings. Schuster claims his relations with Dzurinda can be compared to those between former President Michal Kováč and former Premier Vladimír Mečiar during the 1990s. A debilitating battle which raged between Kováč and Mečiar for several years dominated Slovak politics and caused lasting damage to Slovakia's image abroad.
The former boss of Slovakia's most popular independent TV station has officially launched his new political party. Pavol Rusko, former chairman of Markíza TV, heads the preparatory committee of the New Citizens' Alliance (ANO, which is Slovak for "yes"). The party attracted criticism from the media even before its launch for relying heavily on former Markíza TV personalities to boost its appeal to voters.
Speaking on Sunday 22 April, Rusko said ANO would be centrist with a liberal orientation. He added that the party would be prepared to enter into coalition with former Premier Vladimir Mečiar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) only if it proved impossible to come to an agreement with the parties of the current coalition.
The party would not rule out co-operation with populist MP Róbert Fico's Smer party. Rusko said his ideal government would not include the Party of the Hungarian coalition (SMK). ANO's preliminary congress will be held in Poprad on 26 May.
Lowering the unemployment rate
The Government is considering the implications of a National Labour Office report which claims that about 100,000 of those registered unemployed in Slovakia are not actively seeking work. The latest figures show there were 545,000 unemployed in March, or just over 20 per cent of the workforce.
The report claims that many of the 100,000 not seeking work are mothers looking after children, or the wives of well-paid husbands. The writers of the report, who include the Deputy Premier and Minister for the Economy, Ivan Mikloš, say people prefer to stay registered in order to claim benefits.
A number of suggestions are made for lowering the unemployment rate including speeding-up the introduction of measures to encourage foreign investment, encouraging more young people into third-level education, and removing those not actively seeking work from the unemployment register.
Archbishop opposes diocese for Hungarian minority
The Catholic Archbishop of Bratislava and Trnava has written to the Vatican opposing Government calls for the Hungarian minority in Slovakia to have its own diocese. Ján Sokol's letter described the request by the Deputy Premier for Minority Rights Pál Csáky as politically-based and groundless. He said 90 per cent of Hungarian priests in Slovakia are happy with the current situation, the remainder being influenced by Hungarian political parties.
Archbishop Sokol said he enjoyed saying mass in Hungarian and had two assistant bishops who are fluent in the language. He said he could not condone priests who invited bishops from Hungary to their parish without informing him.
Robin Sheeran, 27 April 2001
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TASR (Slovak Press Agency)
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