News Briefs

Slovaks officially to open eight EU chapters
Former secret service leaders suspected of treason
Dzurinda: Civil service archaic and needs reform
Almost 13% of Slovaks use Internet - poll

Slovaks officially to open eight EU chapters

Slovakia will start its European Union (EU) entry talks on eight areas of EU legislation, according to a decision announced March 15 in Brussels involving representatives of 15 EU-member countries.
Manuel Meneses, a spokesman for the current Portuguese Presidency of the EU in Brussels, said that the European Commission (EC) had proposed to open eight chapters of the acquis communautaire - an 80,000 page document containing EU membership requirements - with the top four countries in the 'second wave' of EU membership applicants (Slovakia, Malta, Latvia and Lithuania). The decision was approved on March 15 without any serious disagreement, although some member countries, particularly Italy, tried to push for Malta to open not eight but nine chapters.
Slovakia's 'chapters' include five that are being opened with all six EU-candidate countries invited for entry talks at the EU Helsinki Summit in December: mutual foreign and security policy, external relations, small and medium-sized companies, school system and education, science and research, plus three chapters on culture and audio-visual policy, tendering, and statistics. Of the two less successful countries, Bulgaria will open six chapters of EU legislation and Romania five.
Via these decisions, EU-member countries wound down several months of speculation on the number and names of the chapters on which EU-candidate countries would open their entry talks. The EU will officially inform representatives of the candidate countries of the decisions at the first working sessions in Brussels on March 28, where the applicants will also be asked to submit documentation on individual chapters.

Former secret service leaders suspected of treason

The police have gained possession of crucial documents that could advance the investigation of the former leadership of the Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS), Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner revealed at a press conference on March 9. Pittner told journalists that the documents indicated that former top officials of the intelligence service might face charges of treason. Pittner said that the investigation of SIS activities and the abduction case of Michal Kováč Jr. would be concluded in March.
Pittner also confirmed that investigators were about to submit to the supervising prosecutor a file on the murder of former SPP (state-run gas distributor) director and prominent HZDS opposition party figure Ján Ducký. According to the police, the murderer is Oleg T., a Ukrainian-born underworld figure.
The investigation of Karol Martinka is also coming to an end, Pittner reported, although Austrian authorities have not yet extradited him to Slovakia. Martinka, the former director of Devín Banka, is charged with fraud in connection with the privatization of the famous Piešťany Spa. The minister underscored that investigations of privatization cases such as steelmaker VSŽ and gas storage firm Nafta Gbely were being hampered by the fact that important witnesses and suspects had fled the country, while funds stripped from the companies had been channelled through complicated systems of subsidiaries.
Pittner highlighted that in 1999 the economic crime unit solved 153% more white-collar crimes than in the previous year, and police are still dealing with big cases like that of the former director of Slovak Rail and the heads of several banks. The United States, Pittner said, has helped Slovakia to train special agents.

Dzurinda: Civil service archaic and needs reform

Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda said on March 14 that the country's public administration (civil service) is outdated, ineffective, lacks transparency and needs to be reformed without delay. Time allotted to an expert assessment of the reform project has now expired, he said, and the ruling coalition board should agree on a final reform draft by March 21. The main pillar of the project as it now stands is decentralising power from the state to newly-created regional governments.
Dzurinda applauded the work of Viktor Nižňanský, the government appointee for public administration reform. Nižňanský believes the reform will be approved in its presented form, making it possible for regional self-government elections to be held in June of next year.

Almost 13% of Slovaks use Internet - poll

More than four of five Slovak citizens are aware of the existence of the Internet, while more than one in ten (12.7%) is already using it, according to a public opinion poll investigating the attitude of Slovak citizens towards the Internet conducted by Taylor Nelson Sofres Factum in December.
The poll was answered by 1,048 people over 18 years, and shows that a typical user of the Internet is a university student or a young man or woman with university education. The largest number of active Internet users is in the group of people up to 29 years of age.
The income of these users is above-standard, while they tend to live in urban centres such as Bratislava and Košice. Of those who have access to the Internet, two-thirds have it at work. Those with access to the Internet at school account for nearly 28%.
While more than 90% of respondents consider it an effective source of information, nearly two-thirds thought connection fees were too high.

Compiled by Tom Nicholson from SITA and TASR

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