Deputy Prime Minister for the Economy Ivan Mikloš issued a stark reminder of the fate of crucial reforms January 14 when he said that the coalition had only a few weeks left to reach agreement on state administration reform or run the risk of no reform at all.
Speaking at the end of a week of growing tension between the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) and the Democratic Left Party (SDĽ) Mikloš warned: "The coalition has to take a political decision on public administration reform by the end of January, or it won't be possible to carry out the reform."
Echoing a growing concern among political analysts the deputy prime minister added that the reforms could be shelved completely if the date for their discussion was continually put back, adding that if the government wanted the reform discussed in the first quarter of this year, it must forge consensus before early February to ready proposals for debate among deputies.
"If by the end of February two laws agreed on by the government aren't in parliament, it will not be possible for elections into VÚCs [state administrative districts] to take place before the end of this year," he said.
Discussions on state administration reform, which would see Slovakia divided into 12 administrative regions, began more than 18 months ago and have repeatedly stalled on SMK demands that the matter of a separate 13th administrative district of Komárno in the south of the country is discussed.
The move could, according to Deputy Prime Minister for Integration Pavol Hamžík, have disastrous consequences for Slovak EU ambitions.
Speaking at a news conference January 15 Hamžík said there was not enough time left to revise the fundamentals of the draft of administration reform to create a Komárno county. "We've already missed several key dates, and this is the last possible date for us to make the whole [reform] process in time."
"If the reform does not get passed we will have no chance of joining the EU among the first wave of members [in 2004 - ed. note]," he said.
The SMK has singled out the SDĽ as the main opposition to the demands and said that its proposals have been left undiscussed within the coalition.
"It's a matter of principle. The SMK's suggestion to create Komárno county was never discussed among coalition party representatives. All other [suggestions] were taken into account. We have no objections to the public administration reform as a whole and we are prepared to go along with it, but first we insist that Komárno county is considered among our coalition partners," said László Gyurovszky, head of the SMK's council for inter-party relations.
Under the SMK's proposals Komárno county would be so drawn as to make Hungarians the ethnic majority in the newly-formed region.
Growing tension a threat
Political analysts have said that the simmering row between the two parties has wider repercussions beyond state administration reform. The tension is threatening progress on the other major reform project this year - amendment of the constitution.
They argue that further delays in the former reform will only push the latter back, possibly to the end of the year - the cut off point for any reforms. With parliamentary elections in 2002 and parties concentrating on winning votes rather than forcing through reforms, it will, they say, be the death-knell for reform if progress is not made now.
"Reform is endangered if no political coalition agreement is reached. The SMK's stance is absolutely justified in that it wants its suggestions to be discussed," said Grigorij Mesežnikov, head of the Bratislava-based think-tank IVO.
He added that agreement must be reached soon for the sake of political stability.
"It is realistic that the laws related to the reform of public administration could be passed without the support of the SMK, but that would be a very politically destabilising thing in today's coalition."
Any major amendments, such as that to the constitution or public administration reform, are dependent on gaining the support of 90 out of the 150 deputies in parliament, almost necessitating the support of the SMK.
However, it remains adamant that its demands on reforms must be at least considered before it will put its full weight behind the reform project.
"We insist that the priorities of last year's government declaration are fulfilled. The SMK supported 15 or 16 from the list of [the total 22] priorities. But interestingly enough none of those which were dear to the SMK were fulfilled," said Gyurovszky.
He added, though, that the SDĽ was not the only guilty culprit in refusing to address his party's demands.
"Other coalition partners are trying to say it's a matter of [a dispute between] the SDĽ and SMK, thus putting the whole responsibility on the two parties. Instead of expressing their oppinion on the problem our coalition colleagues are playing the role of a dead bug."
The IVO's Mesežnikov agreed. "The SDL has been a strong pillar of resistance to all SMK demands so far, but the fact that no coalition partners have ever declared their standpoints on the dispute doesn't help to solve the problem either," he said.
SDĽ representatives have dismissed suggestions that it is holding up reform, instead pointing to what it says are unacceptable ulterior motives behind SMK reform proposals.
Referring to SMK demands in education and constitutional reforms as well as the changes to public administration, SDĽ deputy Ľubomír Andrassy told The Slovak Spectator January 15: "There are more important things than the education of Hungarian teachers or the transfer of unidentified lands to municipalities, like the high rate of unemployment in southern districts. I wonder when the SMK will start to address these problems, rather than their own narrow national interest demands.
"Reform should be made so that individual municipalities get more power to govern themselves, and in the interest of all Slovak citizens, not just those with Hungarian nationality."
The situation between the two parties remains tense and agreement on the reform is not, according to Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda, likely to to be reached before the end of April.
"Political agreements must be reached at every stage. Currently we are looking for agreement for the basis [of the reform], to allow the creation of higher territorial districts, and the only thing we know about them so far is that there will be 12."
He promised, though, that "if reform becomes more [unnecessarily] complicated, I will openly name those who have prevented the realisation of this important reform."
22. Jan 2001 at 0:00 | Martina Pisárová