Slovakia and Hungary are trying to settle their dispute over the Gabčíkovo-Nagymaros dam project out of court.
After meeting with Slovak Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar in the west Slovak spa town of Piešťany, Hungarian Premier Gyula Horn confirmed on November 5 that Bratislava and Budapest are talking again.
"The Slovak attitude has changed," Horn told Reuters. "There is now an attitude that we should try to reach an agreement . This is a very constructive standpoint." The Hungarian premier said that a special joint committee could be formed to spearhead efforts at finding an accord.
While both Slovak and Hungarian officials were reluctant to divulge specifics on the talks' objective, one Hungarian official involved in the negotiations hinted that the goal may be finding common ground rather than a full-fledged accord.
"The goal of negotiations is exactly to explore if there is or not the possibility of settling the matter without The Hague," said Gábor Gebeyes, a former advisor to Horn and now with the Hungarian Ministry of Finance. "There can be many forms for this, or there can be nothing."
The dispute over the Gabčíkovo-Nagymaros hydroelectric project goes back to 1989, when Hungary pulled out of the project. Originally a joint Czechoslovak-Hungarian undertaking, the Czechoslovak federal government later decided to go ahead with its plan to build the hydro-electric power station, diverting a section of the Danube River into an artificially constructed water course leading to the dam at Gabčíkovo.
Hungary claimed this was causing environmental damage on its side of the border and filed a formal complaint with the International Court of Justice on October 23, 1992. The two countries agreed the following year to have the International Court take jurisdiction over the case.
The next step
While the announcement that Bratislava and Budapest were pushing for an out-of-court settlement surprised at least one official at the International Court of Justice, it does not affect the Court's deliberations, at least for now. "Unless we're notified that they're not going forward with the case, then we'll continue forward," said Eric Ward, a legal officer at the Court. "We are always happy when a case is settled amicably, whether it's in court or out of court."
Both countries filed submissions with the Court in June, 1995; they are now waiting for the Court to set a date when oral arguments would begin, but that is expected to happen early next year, with expected ruling later the same year.
4. Dec 1996 at 0:00 | Richard Lewis