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Slovakia demands Hague Court re-issue 1997 Gabčíkovo verdict

Slovakia poured new oil on nationalist fires in its relations with Hungary on September 4, appealing to the International Court of Justice to re-evaluate the controversial Gabčíkovo dam project on the Slovak-Hungarian border. The Hungarian side accused the Slovak Cabinet of using the dispute to impress Slovak voters before the September 25-26 national elections .
The Slovak government asked the Hague-based court to issue a supplementary verdict to its decision of September 25, 1997, to force Hungary to finish its part of the Gabčíkovo-Nagymaros dam. The Hungarian side withdrew from the joint project in 1992. According to the court's 1997 verdict, Hungary had been supposed to start negotiations with Slovakia on finalizing the project.


Slovak-Hungarian tensions flared again over the controversial Gabčíkovo dam project.
Courtesy of Gabčíkovo Electricity Plant

Slovakia poured new oil on nationalist fires in its relations with Hungary on September 4, appealing to the International Court of Justice to re-evaluate the controversial Gabčíkovo dam project on the Slovak-Hungarian border. The Hungarian side accused the Slovak Cabinet of using the dispute to impress Slovak voters before the September 25-26 national elections .

The Slovak government asked the Hague-based court to issue a supplementary verdict to its decision of September 25, 1997, to force Hungary to finish its part of the Gabčíkovo-Nagymaros dam. The Hungarian side withdrew from the joint project in 1992. According to the court's 1997 verdict, Hungary had been supposed to start negotiations with Slovakia on finalizing the project.

"We are requesting the court state that Hungary has been responsible for thwarting negotiations until now, and that it set a precise schedule for further talks on the case," said Milan Tokár, the Slovak Foreign Ministry spokesman.

Peter Tomka, Slovakia's legal representative at the court, claimed that the court would invite him and his Hungarian counterpart for consultations, based on which it would render a decision. "We expect [the court] to set the time horizon for Hungary to start negotiations," Tomka said, adding that both sides could still find a way to settle the dispute out of court. "But Hungary's new cabinet would like to forget about the previous talks and start negotiations all over again, as if none had ever been held before," Tomka maintained.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán stated in the Hungarian Parliament on September 8 that the Cabinet would propose further negotiations on the Gabčíkovo-Nagymaros project to the new Slovak government after Slovakia's September elections. "We will wait for the results of Slovakia's [national] elections, and only after these will we start our new diplomatic initiative towards Slovakia," Orbán said. He added that if Hungary were to begin any diplomatic initiative now, it would become fodder for the election campaigns of Slovak political parties.

"I cannot accept the proposal... that we start negotiations immediately," said Orbán. "Slovakia is about to have elections, and at the moment the campaign is running. Any diplomatic initiative now unfortunately would be colored by the pre-election situation in Slovakia."

Slovak officials maintained, however, that their aim was not to have the court alter its 1997 ruling, only re-emphasise it. "The Hungarian side used many excuses which caused delays, so we had to take this action," Tokar said, adding that if negotiations failed again after the renewed verdict, Slovakia would ask the Court to rule on what financial compensation Slovakia was entitled to.

History of the project

The dam complex, comprising the Danube river sites of Gabčíkovo on the Slovak side and Nagymaros on Hungarian territory, was originally part of a plan to harness the energy potential of the Danube with a joint hydroelectric project.

But Hungary broke the terms of the contract, originally signed in 1977, and downed tools for good in 1992, citing the runaway costs and ecological damage of the project.

Czechoslovakia then set out alone to complete its part of the complex at Gabčíkovo. After Czechoslovakia split in 1993, Slovakia complained it had to keep its own $1 billion power plant at constant output without the Hungarian part of the dam complex, and was unable to boost electricity when demand was high.

The Court ruled in 1997 that Hungary had been in the wrong in breaking the 1977 treaty between the two countries, and ruled that the treaty was still valid. Between October 1997 and February 1998, the two countries negotiated the principles of a framework accord, under which Hungary would build a dam at either Nagymaros or Pilismarot, on the Hungarian side of the Danube. But Hungary never signed the accord, and after the country's July elections, the new Orbán cabinet cancelled the tender on Nagymaros construction that had been opened by its predecessor.

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