OCTOBER 24 THE ABSOLUTE EU/NATO DEADLINE FOR NEW GOVERNMENT BEING IN PLACE

Schuster blows down race to form new cabinet

WHILE SLOVAKIA has been urged to have a new government in place quickly to meet European Union and Nato entry deadlines, it is entirely up to President Rudolf Schuster how long the process will take. And according to early signs, the president is in no hurry.
Both Nato and the EU have said they would like a government formed as quickly as possible out of September 20-21 elections to give them time to verify whether Slovakia now meets the 'political criteria' of democracy-friendly principles for entry to both bodies.
"Slovakia wants to be a member of both Nato and the EU, and both these organisations have their timetables," said Onno Simons, counsellor with the European Commission Delegation in Slovakia.

WHILE SLOVAKIA has been urged to have a new government in place quickly to meet European Union and Nato entry deadlines, it is entirely up to President Rudolf Schuster how long the process will take. And according to early signs, the president is in no hurry.

Both Nato and the EU have said they would like a government formed as quickly as possible out of September 20-21 elections to give them time to verify whether Slovakia now meets the 'political criteria' of democracy-friendly principles for entry to both bodies.

"Slovakia wants to be a member of both Nato and the EU, and both these organisations have their timetables," said Onno Simons, counsellor with the European Commission Delegation in Slovakia.

The Slovak president plays a major role in the formation of any new government. According to the Slovak constitution, "the prime minister shall be appointed and removed by the president of the Slovak Republic."

But while Schuster has said he is aware of the importance of his role - "We don't have the time to appoint someone else every two weeks. The Nato summit is just ahead" - he nevertheless has already rebuffed current PM Mikuláš Dzurinda, who appeared before the president on September 23 with a signed agreement on forming the next cabinet between the four right-wing parties that won a parliamentary majority in September 20-21 elections.

In not accepting the deal, Schuster said he wanted to give all seven parties which scored over the five per cent total required for parliamentary representation time until September 27 to discuss forming a cabinet.

The government has to present itself to parliament within 30 days of election results being declared, in other words October 24, and ask for a vote of confidence.

Schuster's 'time out' appeared to encourage Vladimír Mečiar, head of the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS).

"I will negotiate. I will negotiate with almost anyone," said Mečiar, despite declarations by the four potential cabinet parties that the authoritarian Mečiar would not be given a chance to return to power.

The rebuff to Dzurinda surprised the parties in cabinet talks.

"The president said that he would delegate anyone to form a government who brought a document confirming that he had a parliamentary majority. Dzurinda brought such a document, so the president's decision surprises me," said Béla Bugár, head of the SMK Hungarian ethnic right-wing party.

"I accept his decision, but it's a disappointment," Bugár added.

Political scientist Grigorij Mesežnikov said the president could have been trying to emphasize his powers over politicians such as Dzurinda, with whom he has had a stormy relationship over the last four years, a view that was supported by right-wing politicians.

"No convention of giving someone a mandate to form a government exists in this country," said Christian Democrats member Vladimír Palko.

Other potential cabinet parties closed ranks, stressing their deal would be as valid on Friday as it had been on Monday, but privately expressed incomprehension at the president's decision, which appeared to needlessly delay the announcement of the new cabinet to the world.

A diplomatic source from the US embassy stressed the need for having a government in place well before November, when the Nato enlargement summit in Prague is scheduled to take place. He admitted, however, that "there are no definite deadlines saying that by this and this day the government has to be formed."

The European Union is somewhat tougher on deadlines.

"We first have our regular report on the progress of Slovakia on its way to EU membership. That was originally scheduled for October 16, but it has been moved forward to October 9 at the request of some states who want to give their governments more time to look at it," said the EC's Simons.

"Then, on October 24 and 25, there is an extraordinary European Council meeting of the European heads of states and governments in Brussels. Part of the agenda is [deciding] which countries out of the 10 applicants for entry will be able to finish negotiations for membership this year, so that in Copenhagen in the middle of December final decisions can be taken.

"October 25 - that's when we really need to know what the situation looks like in Slovakia," said Simons.

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