The cabinet at its regular meeting September 5 approved a bill assigning powers to be passed from central state ministries to Slovakia's eight newly created self-governing regions. In doing so, it took an important step towards meeting the conditions under which the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) is prepared to remain in government.
The SMK threatened last month to leave the ruling coalition by September 30 if parliament had not by then approved the regional powers bill to the satisfaction of the Hungarians.
"I think this [regional powers] bill is very similar to the plan for reform of state administration that the government approved [in April 2000]," said the SMK leader, Béla Bugár. "We came to an agreement within the realm of the possible that was acceptable to all political parties. But it's still too early to say whether or not we'll leave the coalition - we'll have to wait and see how parliament votes on the bill."
The Hungarians had been furious when many of their ruling coalition colleagues voted with the political opposition in parliament July 4 to create 8, rather than a cabinet-approved 12, new self-governing regions in Slovakia. The SMK believed the July 4 law prevented Hungarians from representing a significant minority in any of the new regions, and that a regional elections law passed the same day made it almost impossible for Hungarian candidates to be elected to the heads of regional parliaments.
A regional powers bill that devolved significant central state authority to the regions had been seen as a compromise measure to satisfy both the SMK and the European Union that Slovakia was serious about decentralising state power.
Among the powers to be wielded by the regions are administration of nursery, elementary and secondary schools, health care facilities, social service facilities for retired people and children, construction permits, sewage and drinking water.
"Cabinet will pass the draft on to parliament by Friday [September 7] at the latest," vowed PM Mikuláš Dzurinda, adding he was confident MPs would approve the bill.
9. Oct 2001 at 0:00 | Tom Nicholson