Dzurinda visits the US
Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda met the President of the United States, George W Bush, in Washington on Thursday 7 March. The Premier used the opportunity to press the case for Slovakia's membership of NATO. After the meeting Dzurinda said he expected Bush to have more to say on the subject during his forthcoming first visit to Europe.
The two leaders also discussed recent developments across Central Europe, the Balkans, Russia and Ukraine. During the presidential election campaign Bush was shown to have an at best "sketchy" understanding of European geography, on one occasion famously mixing Slovakia and Slovenia. It is to be hoped that Thursday's meeting will have put an end to any such confusion.
On Friday, Dzurinda presided at the opening ceremony for the new Slovak embassy building in Washington. He also met US Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Nice Treaty rejected by Ireland
The Slovak Foreign Ministry has expressed its disappointment at the rejection of the EU Nice Treaty by Ireland. The result of the Irish referendum could mean that the Treaty will have to be renegotiated, resulting in a substantial delay to EU plans for eastward enlargement.
"The Foreign Ministry considers the result of the Irish referendum as not good news for Europe," it said in a statement. "We reject claims that the Nice Treaty would diminish the position of smaller states in the decision-making processes of the Union," the statement continued. It called on the EU and the Irish Government to find a way to overcome the problem posed by the result. Triumphant "No" campaigners in the Irish referendum objected to plans for a "two-tier Europe," and said plans for an increased defence role for the EU threatened Ireland's traditional neutrality.
Gazprom interested in SPP
The giant Russian gas utility, Gazprom, has expressed an interest in buying a stake in the Slovak Gas Company (SPP) when it is privatised later this year. The Russian country currently pumps 90 million cubic metres of gas per year through pipelines across Slovakia to its Western customers. It is SPP's biggest business partner.
Spanish, German, French and Italian gas companies have also indicated an interest in SPP, 49 per cent of which is due to be sold off, probably to a single investor.
Coalition disputes continue
The dispute within the governing coalition over proposals for the reform of regional government is not yet at an end. The reforms deemed vital by the European Union recently passed their first reading in parliament, despite the Government's failure to agree on how to divide the country into regions.
The dispute centres on the Party of the Hungarian Coalition's (SMK) demands for a region centred on the southern part of Slovakia where most of the Hungarian minority lives. Fears that the dispute could boil over once again were raised by the SMK's announcement on Wednesday 6 June that it would seek the formation of a southern region to be called Podunajsko.
The party is adamant that the bill should not have advanced to its second reading before the coalition reached an agreement on territorial divisions. SMK leader Béla Bugár has also objected to proposals from the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) for two-round elections for regional chairmen. He said the proposal was designed to prevent ethnic Hungarians from being elected.
And in other news...
- The opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) has opened an mission in the United States. The party said its new Washington office would campaign for Slovak membership of NATO. A letter from party leader Vladimír Mečiar has been sent to all members of the US Congress underlining HZDS support for Slovakia's integration into NATO and the EU, and assuring them of continued political stability in the country following next year's election. Slovakia's relations with the superpower hit rock bottom during the last Mečiar-led administration when the United States issued a diplomatic "demarche" criticising the government's abuse of human rights.
- Slovak and Hungarian government delegations have begun talks aimed at implementing the International Court of Justice judgement on the disputed Gabčíkovo/Nagymaros dam project. The joint project for a hydroelectric scheme on the River Danube was begun in 1977. Hungary abandoned the scheme in 1992 under pressure from environmentalists, while work continued on the Slovak part of the project. In September 1997, the International Court of Justice in the Hague found both countries to be in violation of their legal obligations. At this week's talks it was agreed to set up groups of experts to come up with practical suggestions for a resolution to the dispute.
- Slovakia has closed its borders to the import or transit of all beef and beef products from the Czech Republic. It follows the discovery of BSE in cattle in the Czech Republic. Movements of milk and dairy products will still be allowed, subject to more thorough checks by veterinary officials at the border.
Robin Sheeran, 8 June 2001
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