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Blame game begins

WITH SLOVAKIA's EU entry approved in the first-ever successful referendum in the history of the nation, Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration Pál Csáky said he saw no reason why he should resign from his post, although he admitted the cabinet's EU campaign did not work out quite as intended.
Csáky was reacting to calls from some political opponents, such as the parliamentary party Smer, who demanded he resign for what they saw as his failure to run an effective campaign ahead of the national vote on May 16-17.
Critics point out that it had been uncertain whether a sufficient number of voters would turn out to validate the crucial referendum until the last moment on the second day of voting.


Deputy prime minister rejects calls for his resignation over low turnout in the EU referendum
photo: TASR

WITH SLOVAKIA's EU entry approved in the first-ever successful referendum in the history of the nation, Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration Pál Csáky said he saw no reason why he should resign from his post, although he admitted the cabinet's EU campaign did not work out quite as intended.

Csáky was reacting to calls from some political opponents, such as the parliamentary party Smer, who demanded he resign for what they saw as his failure to run an effective campaign ahead of the national vote on May 16-17.

Critics point out that it had been uncertain whether a sufficient number of voters would turn out to validate the crucial referendum until the last moment on the second day of voting.

In Slovakia in order for a referendum to be valid, at least 50 percent of the electorate must go to the polls. At the EU referendum, 52.15 percent turned out.

Csáky, however, said he did not see why he should resign since the referendum was successful.

"I am aware that the discussion about the campaign will continue. But at this point the fact is that a massive majority of Slovaks approved the entry in [Slovakia's] first-ever successful referendum," he said.

Nearly 93 percent of those who came to the polls voted in favour of the country's EU entry.

The criticism of the referendum campaign run by Csáky was not limited to political opponents.

According to Michal Vašečka, analyst with the Institute for Public Affairs think tank, the campaign was "grey, bureaucratic, and directed at everyone, which in the end was unconvincing for many."

Speaking at a press conference May 19, Csáky said he did not feel he should be made to take full responsibility for the tight turnout and the effectiveness of the campaign.

"Statistics show that a number of people chose [not to go to the polls] because of the general political situation in the country and also because of some of the recent cabinet [reform] steps," Csáky said.

"But the result of 52 percent turnout is not and cannot be seen as a failure."

Csáky also said that since he took office after the September 2002 elections, he had done all that was possible to prepare the country for the crucial vote, including managing the cabinet's Sk50 million (Ř1.2 million) referendum campaign to the best of his abilities.

He said, however, that the previous cabinet had spent Sk40 million (Ř972,000) on various long-term EU campaign projects, and that police were now investigating where the money had actually gone.

The head of the cabinet office's anti-corruption unit, Ján Hrubala, confirmed that there had been suspicions that the money was given out on fake contracts that had never been kept, so money was paid for work that had never been done.

"We have received materials that show a suspicion that money disappeared into thin air. There are suspicions that contracts signed by the Government Office were not fulfilled," he said.

But while those suspicions are being investigated, Csáky must defend his seat under fire of criticism from various corners.

Smer's deputy chairman, Robert Kaliňák, said: "The [close] result of the referendum is a clear demonstration of Csáky's [limited] abilities. The question now is whether he is able to handle the remaining EU agenda."

Before Slovakia enters the EU, scheduled for May 2004, the country needs to catch up on several planned projects in order to be able to make use of the union's funds. A number of officials, including those from the EU, have warned that preparing the projects to a high enough standard to receive these funds remains one of the biggest challenges for this candidate country.

There were also critics among Csáky's coalition partners, such as the New Citizen's Alliance (ANO), whose representatives insisted that the cabinet needed to sit down and analyse the referendum campaign.

Following a meeting of coalition partners on May 20, ANO boss Pavol Rusko said that managerial abilities were indispensable for anyone in Csáky's position and noted that it was exactly those "managerial abilities that have been [lacking] during the EU campaign".

The ruling partners agreed that the cabinet would evaluate the campaign, and Csáky promised that he would present a report to the cabinet in several weeks' time.

Despite criticism at home, however, Csáky has received support from the EU itself. Commissioner for enlargement Günther Verheugen said in Brussels on May 19 that the results of the referendum represented a "big success" for the Slovak people.

Nevertheless, even the country's president, Rudolf Schuster, said he had expected a higher turnout, and that an analysis of what went wrong was necessary.

"The result is a good one but we all counted on a higher turnout. The time has come to analyse the situation - not in order to cut off heads [of officials] but to learn a lesson from it," he said.

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