DESPITE growing disharmony within the coalition, the passage of key legislation before parliamentary elections will not be affected, senior government party leaders have said.
Prime Minister and leader of the SDKÚ party, Mikuláš Dzurinda, and leader of the Party of Civic Understanding (SOP), Pavol Hamžík, have said they believe 41 pieces of legislation tied to EU accession will be passed before campaigning for September elections begins and a coalition agreement on cross-party co-operation comes to an end.
"The SOP is part of this coalition and its priority is support these laws and the fulfilment of the government's programme to the largest possible extent," Hamžík told The Slovak Spectator.
Speaking to the European Parliament March 19 Dzurinda said that the legislation would be passed before the elections and, if needed, a special session of parliament would be called.
The statements came after renewed concern in Brussels over the fate of the legislation.
Slovakia is one of 10 states which could be included in EU enlargement in 2004. Invitations to new members are expected to be extended at the end of this year, by which time the governments of the applicant states should have brought a number of laws into line with EU norms.
However, Jan Wiersma, the European Parliament's rapporteur for Slovakia, said he was worried the laws were stalling in parliament.
"I am a concerned about delays in parliament's work because there are still 35-40 laws that need to be passed before the September elections. It is very important to ensure that parliament completes all its tasks and that there are no delays just because the country's election campaign is just about to start," he said.
Wiersma's comments came only two days after the coalition agreement - a deal reached between the member parties of the ruling coalition at the start of the government's term in 1998 guaranteeing cross-party co-operation - was apparently broken in the March election of the country's first ombudsman.
Opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) candidate Pavel Kandráč was elected in a secret ballot, despite an agreement between the five parties of the ruling coalition to back lawyer Ján Hrubala for the post.
It is believed that some MPs from the former communist party, the SDĽ, went against the agreement and backed Kandráč in the secret ballot.
Some political observers have suggested since the vote that the coalition agreement has been left in tatters. "The SDĽ broke the agreement and they will do so again. They have broken it time and time again," said Miroslav Kusý, a political scientist.
Leader of the ethnic Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) Béla Bugár said the coalition council, a senior decision making body, had proven "ineffective".
But the country's chief negotiator with the EU, Jan Figeľ, has claimed that despite differences within the coalition, all governing parties would back legislation related to Slovakia's accession into the Union.
"There have always been problems in the coalition, because it is the broadest in Slovakia's history. The pre-election temperature is rising, but right from the start of the coalition there has always been a consensus on EU issues, and I am actively and optimistically cautious that the legislation can be passed.
"The EU has never been a source of dispute within the coalition," said Figel.
Hamžík said that only one of the 41 legislative drafts is currently in parliament. The government has one month in which to prepare the remaining 40 for submission to MPs.
Parliamentary Speaker Jozef Migaš on March 26 visited President Rudolf Schuster to discuss the backlog. Migaš promised parliament would deal with nine laws in its April session, and five in May, and called on cabinet to submit the rest of the laws by April 27. He said MPs were prepared to work nights and weekends to get the laws through.
Schuster appealed to the cabinet and parliament to stop passing the buck and get to work, saying that as no party in the country was against EU entry, there should be no barriers to getting the laws through.
"When will be have a better opportunity to agree if not now?" he asked.
"It will be tough but I believe it can be done," said Figeľ.