Concern over new Hungarian law
The Slovak Foreign Ministry has expressed concerns about the law on Hugarians living abroad passed by the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest on Tuesday 19 June. The law grants special rights to education, employment, travel, and social and medical care to persons of Hungarian nationality who are citizens of Slovakia, Romania, Ukraine, Croatia and Yugoslavia.
The Deputy Foreign Minister, Ján Figeľ, described the new law as a step backwards. He said Slovakia's problem with the law was that it applied only to neighbouring countries and not to Hungarians living in other countries. The Foreign Ministry had already expressed its concerns to the Hungarian government when the law was at the proposal stage.
On Tuesday the ministry said it hoped the law would be applied in line with normal realtions between sovereign states and within the current framework of bilateral agreements. Around 500,000 people, or ten per cent of the population of Slovakia, claims Hungarian nationality. Slovakia was part of Hungarian territory for a thousand years until the establishment of Czechoslovakia in 1918.
Draft bill on public administration approved
The Government has approved four draft bills on the reform of public administration. As reported on numerous occasions in CER, the vexed question of how to rearrange regional government in Slovakia has split the coalition parties, and may pose a threat to Slovakia's attempts to join the European Union.
On Tuesday 19 June the head of the European Commission's Directorate-General for Regional Development, Guy Crauser, warned that Slovakia could waste its opportunity to join the EU in the first wave of new members if the delay in completing this reform continues.
Crauser said the EC was concerned about the effectiveness of territorial divisions rather than the numbers of regional units. Deputy Premier for Human and Minority Rights and Regional Development Pál Csáky said the EC saw public administration reform as the key element of decentralising power and democratising Slovakia.
The day after Crauser's explicit warning on the need for public administration reform, Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda said it was not a prerequisite for entry into the EU.
Dzurinda satisfied with Gothenburg summit
Meanwhile, Dzurinda has declared himself satisfied with the outcome of the European Union summit in Gothenburg. He said that for the first time, although indirectly, the EU has indicated that 2004 will be the year for enlargement. EU leaders agreed at the summit that negotiations with the first successful candidates should be concluded by the end of 2002. They also agreed that these countries should set themselves the target of participation in the 2004 European Parliament elections as fully-fledged members.
Speaking prior to the summit, Dzurinda said the rejection of the Treaty of Nice by voters in the Irish referendum should not dramatically affect the accession process.
Parliament ratifies European Charter
Parliament ratified the European Charter on Regional and Minority Languages on Tuesday 19 June. Nine languages spoken in Slovakia will be affected by the terms of the charter. Ratification was opposed by the Slovak National Party (SNS) which believes the Slovak language needs protection from the encroachment of Hungarian in the south of the country. Special provisions will apply in areas where 20 per cent, or more, of the population speaks a minority language.
Ratification was regarded as particularly important by the Party of the Hungarian Coalition (SMK) which made its support for the recent revision of the Constitution conditional on the acceptance of the language charter. Slovakia joins Hungary and Slovenia as the only countries out of the 12 EU candidates to have ratified the charter.
And in other news...
- The government has appointed a new commissioner for Roma affairs. Klára Orgovanová takes over the post from 1 July. She replaces Vincent Danihels who was sacked in May. Orgovanová says she wants to concentrate on eduation and infrstructure issues. She will open a new branch office in eastern Slovakia, and has called on the Government to declare that it will make solving Roma problems a priority.
- Fears that Slovakia could be the next European country to succumb to the cattle disease BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) proved unfounded when tests on a suspected cow turned out to be negative. The animal, belonging to the Zemberovce Farmers Co-operative, had been imported from a farm in the Netherlands in 1996. A six-year-old cow at the Dutch farm later developed BSE, and all cows originating from the farm within a year before or after the birth of the infected cow have been slaughtered. None of them has been proved to have the disease. Eight thousand cattle imported from "high-risk" countries between 1993 and 1996 are being examined for signs of BSE.
- Eight people were injured in a road accident involving a Škoda Felicia and two of the cars from President Rudolf Schuster's official entourage near Bratislava on Friday 15 June. A spokesman said the President's car had avoided the collision only thanks to quick-thinking on the part of the driver. Schuster continued his journey in order to lay a wreath at the memorial to ľudovít Štur, the Slovak patriot and codifier of the Slovak language. He later visited members of his staff in hospital. Two members of the President's team suffered broken arms. The driver of the Škoda suffered severe injuries.
Robin Sheeran, 22 June 2001
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TASR (Slovak Press Agency)
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