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Bureaucrat caretaker to watch over foreign policy

Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar appointed Zdenka Kramplová as the new Foreign Minister on June 4, stressing that foreign policy goals have not changed.
The parliamentary opposition and diplomatic community, however, met the decision with surprise and a sense of foreboding. Kramplová replaces Pavol Hamžík, who resigned following last month's thwarted national referendum on NATO and direct presidential election.
At her first press conference, Kramplová, formerly the chief of the Foreign Ministry's staff, made clear that her appointment heralds no change in Slovakia's foreign policy goals. "There are no reasons for that [change]," Kramplová told TASR, the state-run press agency. "Membership in NATO and the European Union, and good relations with neighboring countries remain our priorities."


First woman foreign minister Zdenka Kramplová with Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar.
Alan Hyža

Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar appointed Zdenka Kramplová as the new Foreign Minister on June 4, stressing that foreign policy goals have not changed. The parliamentary opposition and diplomatic community, however, met the decision with surprise and a sense of foreboding.

Kramplová replaces Pavol Hamžík, who resigned following last month's thwarted national referendum on NATO and direct presidential election.

At her first press conference, Kramplová, formerly the chief of the Foreign Ministry's staff, made clear that her appointment heralds no change in Slovakia's foreign policy goals. "There are no reasons for that [change]," Kramplová told TASR, the state-run press agency. "Membership in NATO and the European Union, and good relations with neighboring countries remain our priorities."

Observers welcomed Kramplová's vow to fulfill these priorities, but doubted her ability to achieve them as long as the government's domestic policies continue to undermine the country's stated foreign policy goals. Some feared her self-effacing comments signal a willingness to bow unquestioningly to Mečiar's foreign policy line.

"If [Mečiar] really wanted to sell a strong image of Slovakia abroad, he would have chosen someone else," said Eduard Kukan, a former foreign minister and currently the chairman of the opposition Democratic Union. "I think it would be naive to hope that with [Kramplová's] amateur [qualifications] she could accomplish anything good for Slovakia. We don't want to underestimate her, but 'on-the-job training' [for her position] is not good for Slovakia now."

"Mečiar has never needed an independent, strong foreign minister," said Ján Figeľ, an MP and vice-chairman for the opposition Christian Democratic Movement (KDH).

"She was not the first choice," Figeľ added, saying he knew of "two or three" runners up who had refused Mečiar's nomination for the post. "Valuable career diplomats would not accept the nomination. No one who values independence would accept."

Asked what considerations he thought had formed the basis for Kramplová's appointment, Kukan said the answer is loyalty and subservience. "The first factor is loyalty to the person of the prime minister.... Secondly, because he intends to take control of foreign policy himself, [Mečiar] doesn't need a strong personality to replace Mr. Hamžík."

"She is a fragile woman, but I based my decision on a rule that where a devil cannot go, a woman helps," Mečiar said of his decision to a crowd of supporters at the monthly HZDS rally in Bratislava the day after the nomination.

Meanwhile, Mečiar apparently made the choice without consulting his coalition partners in the government. "We consider it abnormal that we should seek such important personnel information through the media," the Slovak National Party's (SNS) vice-chairman, Anna Malíková, told the press two days after Kramplová was appointed. Asked if Kramplová is competent to convey the country's foreign policy, a former Foreign Ministry official under Mečiar's administration said, "That's what I'm not sure about. She's a good [administrative] officer, but she has no experience in the diplomatic arena."

The source said he had heard rumors that Irena Belohorská, a vice-chairwoman of parliament's foreign affairs committee, would be nominated, and was surprised when he heard it was Kramplová. "I never would have guessed this," the source said. "Maybe this solution [was based on] a very quick decision, when you don't have the time to use all the options available."

"If Mečiar had taken more time, he would have found someone better. But he was under heavy time constraints," the source continued, referring to President Michal Kováč's threat to appoint someone himself if Mečiar did not do so quickly.

For its part, the foreign diplomatic community is staying patient. "I think the whole diplomatic community is very sorry to see Mr. Hamžík go," a prominent Western diplomat in Bratislava said. "We are all going to give Ms. Kramplová the chance she deserves, so I won't make any judgments. We know very little about her background, but we hope and expect that she will continue the same [foreign] policy line embedded in the government's program since 1994: acceptance into NATO and the EU as the country's top foreign policy priorities."

The diplomat said Kramplová's commitment to not alter those priorities "sends an encouraging signal" abroad, but added, "I think it will be interesting to see how she translates those priorities into action."


Zdenka Kramplová

Date of birth: August 7, 1957
Place of birth: Krupina, Slovak Republic
1976-1981: studied at the University of Agriculture in Plovdiv, Bulgaria
1981-1991: Worked as an editor with the Príroda publishing house; during this period Kramplová translated number of articles and books.
1987:Obtained a literary award given by Slovenský literárny fond (Slovak Literary Fund) for translating a book.
1991-1992: Kramplová was the editor in chief at Príroda.
1992-1994: Worked at the Government's Office as the Prime Minister's parliament, political parties and NGO's advisor.
1994-1997: Appointed head of the Government's Office.
January 1997: Appointed head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' office.

Kramplová speaks English, Russian and Bulgarian.
She is married with two children
Source: Government's Office

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