Harsh words for ruling coalition
President Rudolf Schuster had harsh words for the ruling coalition and Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda in his "state of the nation" speech to Parliament on Friday 25 May. He said the coalition was preoccupied with the mistakes of the previous government, led by Vladimír Mečiar, and used those mistakes to disguise its own failure to work for the less well-off in society.
He accused Dzurinda of ignoring him, and said the coalition parties were guilty of populism and selfishness. The speech was greeted with consternation by government leaders, although public opinion seems to have favoured Schuster's view. Whether this kind of criticism does anything to help dispel the squabbling within the coalition which has led it close to collapse in recent weeks is a moot point.
Schuster indulged in a spot of Maoist-style self-criticism in an interview on Tuesday 29 May. The President said he was not happy with his own performance during his two years in office. He said the political reconciliation he had spoken of at the time of his election has yet to materialise.
Reform of public administration proceeding
The bill for the reform of public administration passed its first reading in Parliament on Thursday 31 May. The long-delayed changes to regional government are seen as vital to Slovakia's preparations for membership of the European Union. Senior European officials have gone out of their way to emphasise the need for the reforms to be completed urgently.
On Wednesday 30 May, the head of the European Commission's directorate for Enlargement, Eneko Landabaru, again underlined the need to speed up reforms. He told Deputy Premier for Minority and Human Rights Pál Csáky that Slovakia could come in for serious criticism if the public administration issue has not been sorted out by September.
Fears have been expressed in some quarters that the recent crisis in the ruling coalition could slow the pace of pre-accession reform in Slovakia.
Jaroslav Ivor dismissed
One of the first acts of the newly-installed Interior Minister, Ivan Šimko, was to sack the ministry's Chief Investigator, Jaroslav Ivor. The main reason behind Ladislav Pittner's shock resignation from the post of Interior Minister was his failure to bring successful prosecutions against those believed guilty of corruption and crimes against human rights under the previous government of Vladimír Mečiar. As the man directly responsible for those investigations Ivor must have suspected his days were numbered.
The sacking has been criticised by Vladimír Palko, the unsuccessful Christian democrat (KDH) nominee for the Interior Ministry. Ivor has been replaced by Pavol Zajac, former Internal Affairs boss with the Slovak Police. The head of the Slovak Police, Ján Pipta, also fell victim to the new minister. Šimko blamed low public confidence in the police force for his sacking of Pipta.
Bratislava played host to a conference of parliamentary chairmen from the EU candidate countries and representatives of the European Parliament. The vice-chairman of the European Parliament, Guido Podesta congratulated Slovakia on its progress in catching up with the first wave countries in the accession process, but warned that it did not mean the country would automatically be in the first group to join the EU.
Podesta said one proposal being considered was allowing ten countries to join at the same time. In this case the preparations required in Romania and Bulgaria would cause a substantial delay. The Slovak parliamentary chairman, Jozef Migaš, used the opportunity afforded by the conference to call on the EC to set a date for the first round of enlargement.
Meanwhile, the newly-appointed deputy premier for European Integration, Mária Kadlečíková, met the Belgian foreign minister, Louis Michel, in Brussels on Thursday 31 May. Belgium takes over the presidency of the EU in July, and Michel expressed strong support for Slovakia's aim of joining in the first wave. However, he said Belgium did not agree with setting a firm date for accession. Kadlečíková said the failure to set a date would be "demotivating" for the candidate countries.
And in other news...
- The latest opinion poll on attitudes to western institutions suggests support for membership of NATO has grown by four per cent since June. The poll by the MVK agency shows backing for membership of the military alliance standing at 48.4 per cent. The Government has pledged itself to gain majority public support for NATO which it hopes to be invited to join next year. The same poll suggests that support for joining the EU now stands at 70.7 per cent.
- The Social Democratic Party of Slovakia (SDSS) has a new leader. Lubomir Šlahor replaced Jaroslav Wolf following a party meeting on Saturday 26 May. The party is not expected to reach the five per cent threshold required for represenatation in Parliament after the next election and has begun talks with the Party of the Democratic Left (SDĽ ). Šlahor says he has ruled out any merger with the former Communist party in the near future.
- Sales of beer are booming in Slovakia. The figure for the first three months of 2001 was 75 per cent up on the equivalent period last year at 871,000 hectolitres. The market is dominted by the Dutch breweries giant, Heineken, with 45 per cent of sales. Its activities are centred on the Zlatý Bažant brewery in Hurbanovo, southern Slovakia.
Robin Sheeran, 26 May 2001
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TASR (Slovak Press Agency)
SITA (Slovak News Agency)
ČTK (Czech News Agency)