The ruling Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), whose reputation has, in the course of the last year, been tarnished by a series of scandals, has again received unwanted media attention in the run-up to the elections for the European Parliament.
The SDKÚ has had to face a wave of criticism after EP Speaker Pat Cox, visiting Slovakia in an effort to raise public interest in the upcoming elections, was taken by PM and SDKÚ boss Mikuláš Dzurinda, to one of the party's political rallies.
Hockey legend Peter Šťastný is the SDKÚ's top candidate in the EP elections. The Slovak Spectator asked Šťastný about the SDKÚ's recent problems and his visions for Europe.
TSS: What's your reaction to allegations that the SDKÚ exploited Cox's visit for its own political campaign?
PŠ: Pat Cox was invited by Mikuláš Dzurinda to an event where we were explaining to people the importance of their attendance in the EP elections. It was an event aimed explicitly at mobilising voters ahead of these important elections. Cox's visit certainly wasn't exploited by anyone.
TSS: What do you think about the "group" affair, which started in August 2003 when PM Dzurinda voiced allegations about a conspiracy of top state officials, entrepreneurs, and journalists against the SDKÚ, the intelligence service, and Slovakia that led to a split in the SDKÚ?
PŠ: I'm convinced that the PM acted in the best interest of the Slovak voters and the Slovak citizens, as I've known him to act throughout the last six years from the position of the PM.
TSS: How did the SDKÚ's decision to make you its top candidate in the elections come about?
PŠ: The party on whose ballots I'm running in the EP elections shares the same values and principles in which I believe. These values are represented in the EP by the European People's Party (PPE), of which the SDKÚ is a member.
And I was attracted by Mikuláš Dzurinda - I know very well how he works, how honest he is, and how much he cares about Slovakia's future.
TSS: Is a lack of political experience your weakness?
PŠ: I've been involved in politics and public affairs for around 20 to 25 years. It was my hobby and even when I lived abroad I was involved in activities of a political nature. I have been a member of the World Congress of Slovaks since 1980 and a member of Slovak American Unity since 1991. I have never run for any office, but I supported various candidates. I supported and formed certain ideas, in which I believed and continue to believe. I took an active part in Slovak politics before the 1998 and 2002 general elections, when I backed a policy that ensured Slovakia's membership in NATO and the EU.
TSS: You have lived abroad for over two decades. Are you familiar with the situation in Slovakia?
PŠ: I know the situation in Slovakia very well. Even when I'm abroad, I keep a close eye on events at home through dailies and other media, which I read on the internet even before people in Slovakia see them. Slovakia's fate is of utmost importance to me, especially its future.
TSS: Are you in favour of a quick decision on the European constitution?
PŚ: I'm running for the EP, which doesn't have a decisive say in the adoption of the Euroconstitution. However, I would like to see this problem resolved as soon as possible. But it's up to the intergovernmental conference (IGC) to address this issue.
TSS: Should Slovak voters confirm any agreement made by the IGC in a plebiscite?
PŠ: Last year in May, Slovak citizens decided in a referendum that they wanted to join the EU. It's necessary to keep in mind that we don't have the best experiences with referenda in Slovakia. Such a vote [on the EU constitution] would, in my opinion, be just another in a line of referenda that failed due to low voter turnout.
TSS: What are the main points of the SDKÚ's election programme?
PŠ: Along with other SDKÚ candidates, we are offering an election programme built around 10 basic principles, summed up in our election manifesto for a new Europe.
Personally, I will try to lift bureaucratic barriers on the labour market. The EU offers Slovak regions a chance. If elected, I plan to use the contacts, information, and decision-making rights of the MEP position to the benefit of Slovakia's less-developed regions.
I plan to establish counselling centres in these regions, because individuals, organisations, and entrepreneurs need information, contacts, advice, and encouragement. They need inspiration from other countries, because they often struggle to find solutions that have already been discovered elsewhere.
A united Europe is a democratic project. Therefore, if elected, I'll try to make sure there is more democracy and less bureaucracy in the EU. I know what I'm talking about when I say that this is the only way Europe can match the prosperity of the US.
TSS: The SDKÚ demands a reform of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP). What should it look like?
PŠ: We will try to make it more effective. We favour a system that will be better for the consumer, for the taxpayer, and for the farmers themselves. We don't think that's what the CAP is like today.
TSS: What other countries do you see as future EU members? Is Turkey among them?
PŠ: In the SDKÚ we believe that EU enlargements cannot stop with the last one, which took place on May 1. We will support the membership of countries of eastern Europe and the Balkans, which share the same values and build democracies and free-market economies.
TSS: Who do you see as the next head of the European Commission?
PŠ:I would be pleased to see someone from the PPE take the seat.
7. Jun 2004 at 0:00 | Lukáš Fila