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Gabčíkovo dam dispute drags on

"Even if the right to go back to the Hague exists, there is no reason to do so. It is absolutely unnecessary."
Arpád Prandler, Hungary's lead negotiatorSlovakia and Hungary have failed to sign a draft agreement on how the joint operation of the Danube dam project will proceed before March 25, a deadline both sides agreed upon before the Hague-based International Court of Justice last September. After this date, Slovakia may turn to the court again, as it is the Hungarian side that is hindering the negotiation process.
The Hungarian side claims it wants to examine further the fine print in the proposed solution before signing the document, citing mostly environmental concerns.
Hungarian Foreign Minister László Kovács told the Hungarian Press Agency (MTI) that Hungary still wanted to reach an agreement but had asked for more time "because in our opinion, further examination and calculations are needed for a reassuring decision".


"Even if the right to go back to the Hague exists, there is no reason to do so. It is absolutely unnecessary."

Arpád Prandler, Hungary's lead negotiator


Slovakia and Hungary have failed to sign a draft agreement on how the joint operation of the Danube dam project will proceed before March 25, a deadline both sides agreed upon before the Hague-based International Court of Justice last September. After this date, Slovakia may turn to the court again, as it is the Hungarian side that is hindering the negotiation process.

The Hungarian side claims it wants to examine further the fine print in the proposed solution before signing the document, citing mostly environmental concerns.

Hungarian Foreign Minister László Kovács told the Hungarian Press Agency (MTI) that Hungary still wanted to reach an agreement but had asked for more time "because in our opinion, further examination and calculations are needed for a reassuring decision".

At the end of February, both sides agreed that the Nagymaros dam would be built on the Hungarian side, spurring fierce protests by environmentalists.

Protest march

More than 1,000 environmental activists gathered on March 14 to form a 1.5-kilometer human chain along the Danube to protest against the plan to build a dam. "We have to achieve a government withdrawal from the agreement," said János Vargha, a member of the presidium of Duna Circle, the movement which organized the rally.

Two weeks before the Danube demonstration, and just one day after the Hungarian government delegation had agreed to build a new dam, over 10,000 environmentalists rallied in Budapest. The protesters, gathered under banners saying "the Danube in danger, the country in danger", vowed to fight a signed protocol agreement.

"The idea of the draft agreement was that both sides work out professional analyses to reach a final agreement together, without further disputes," said Peter Tomka, Slovakia's lawyer before the International Court of Justice.

The situation now seems to be deadlocked, and the dispute might appear before the court again. "Of course, according to article five of the special agreement, after the expiration of the six month period, Slovakia has the right to go back to the court," said György Szénási, Agent of Hungary before the International Court of Justice. "But since there is a very intensive process of negotiations between the two parties, I don't see any reason why Slovakia should do it."

Arpád Prandler, deputy chairman of the International Law Department at Hungary's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a lead negotiator for the Hungarian side, agreed with Szénási. "Even if the right to go back to the Hague exists, there is no reason to do so," he said. "It is absolutely unnecessary."

But Slovak Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar had a different opinion. Vowing on March 13 that his country would not accept Budapest's "pretexts", Mečiar told the official Slovak news agency TASR that enough calculations had been done and that Slovakia would ask the International Court to rule that Hungary should meet its obligations and pay compensation to Slovakia for the delay.

Tomka does not think such a hasty decision should be made. Although he did not want to state anything officially, he said he believed that both sides would solve the problem in a peaceful way.

Domestic posturing

The dispute is further complicated by the fact that both countries are holding general elections this year, Hungary in May and Slovakia in September. Both Prime Ministers, seeking reelection, seem determined not to give ground.

Hungarian prime minister Gyula Horn on March 19 officially requested the Hague Court to postpone the deadline, suggesting December 31, 1998. But Mečiar responded with a new appeal, which should be sent by mid-May. Its aim, Mečiar said, will be to have the original decision executed.

However, the 1977 agreement, which was a presidential agreement, is still in force. "[This means that] the new document must be again signed by presidents, not only prime ministers," said Tomka. Slovakia has been without a president since Michal Kováč left office March 2.

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