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CANDIDATE KOZLÍK CALLS FOR EUROPEAN UNION FUNDING REFORM

EP offers HZDS chance

THE MOVEMENT for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) chose Sergej Kozlík as its leader in the June
13 elections for the European Parliament.
Kozlík served as finance minister in the government of the controversial former PM Vladimír Mečiar and has
been a member of the Slovak parliament since Mečiar's defeat in the September 1998 general elections.
The Slovak Spectator talked to Kozlík about some key issues on the European agenda and the plans of his party,
whose reputation has so far barred it from forming international alliances.

THE MOVEMENT for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) chose Sergej Kozlík as its leader in the June 13 elections for the European Parliament.

Kozlík served as finance minister in the government of the controversial former PM Vladimír Mečiar and has been a member of the Slovak parliament since Mečiar’s defeat in the September 1998 general elections.

The Slovak Spectator talked to Kozlík about some key issues on the European agenda and the plans of his party, whose reputation has so far barred it from forming international alliances.

The Slovak Spectator (TSS): The HZDS certainly has an image problem within the EU. Will that be an obstacle in your work as a MEP?

Sergej Kozlík (SK): No. To give an example, before the EP’s recent vote on candidates for the European Court of Auditors I was able to rally 40 votes in favour of Slovakia’s candidate Július Molnár from the ranks of non-attached MEPs.

That shows that the EP works on different principles [than those in Slovakia]. By that, I’m not saying that our image is good or that we have gotten over that problem, but this is a big opportunity. Through our work and through our proper attitude in the EP, we can change these things, at least in the context of the EP.

TSS: Can work in the EP have a negative impact on your own political future in Slovakia?

SK: No, it will not. MEPs will not be spending the full five years in Brussels; we will be travelling back and forth. We will be spending a lot of time at home.

TSS: The HZDS is not affiliated with any of the EP’s political groups. Does it have an ambition to join the European People’s Party (EPP) or any other group?

SK: I was able to persuade our party not to join any of the established political groups, although we had offers from the Union for Europe of the Nations Group and the Group for a Europe of Democracies and Diversities.

We should wait, because elections will bring significant changes in the composition of the EP. As many as 40 percent of the current MEPs will change, with as many as 162 new MEPs coming in. There is even a real possibility that the EPP will break up. Another matter is that a new centrist formation headed by [current European Commission President] Romano Prodi is being created. They have already sent signals to the HZDS. But we wouldn’t want to rush into anything.

Also, a new faction could possibly be formed by representatives from new member countries. These options are open and the future will determine our place.

TSS: Is it also possible that you will remain unattached to any group?

SK: Yes, and that does have its advantages. For example, it enabled me to become a member of the Committee on Budgets. There was no room left on that committee for political groups. I had no problems getting in because I was not affiliated with a group.

I was even able to speak at the recent plenary session. My [Slovak] colleagues from coalition parties, who are in large groups, did not get a minute to speak.

TSS: What are the main priorities of the HZDS for the elections?

SK: Professionalism and independence are the cornerstones. We want experts in electable positions.

TSS: And as regards your agenda?

SK: Our first priority is the budget. We want to preserve the current level of member states’ contributions into EU funds. So far, [EU15 states] have flooded our market with products while closing their labour markets to us. They are now considering lowering their contributions [to the common budget].

The EU funds’ distribution mechanisms should also be revised. A significant portion of the structural funds is not drawn every year. It’s not only a problem stemming from a low number of submitted projects. It’s also caused by extensive bureaucracy, and the resources are not used in a way that supports economic growth. Secondly, we are the only [Slovak] party to have an agriculture expert high on the ballot. We will also focus on foreign and defence policy, social affairs, and healthcare.

TSS: How could EU funds be distributed in a more efficient manner?

SK: There is the problem of defining the purposes of the funds. Today, a lot of money is going into consultancy and management, and less is spent on infrastructure, which the European Commission (EC) itself acknowledges is the most efficient way of using the funds. We have yet to see a turn toward allocating more money for infrastructure. If this were done, it would be one way to improve efficiency.

TSS: As a financial expert, are you in favour of a fast introduction of the euro?

SK: It makes no sense to talk about dates. It is not up to the government, the will of the people, or even the will of EU institutions to decide when the euro is introduced. It depends on when we meet the required conditions. Those conditions will, in my opinion, be met no sooner than 2008.

We will have to ensure that the effort to meet those criteria does not cripple the economy.

TSS: Should there be a referendum on the European constitutional treaty in Slovakia?

SK: No. Considering the complicated referendum system we have in place in Slovakia, there is little chance that it would be successful. A failure would not send a good message. If the [statutory 50 percent] quorum is lowered or dropped altogether, I would have no problem with it.

TSS: Who do you see as the next head of the EC?

SK: I like Prodi. He was a person who did very much to open the EU to new members, after the somewhat more reluctant attitude of the previous commission. But he is obviously leaving and the question of his replacement remains open.

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