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Highway law arrives, but for how long?

SINCE the beginning of the year, the government has had a new tool to expropriate the land needed to complete the cross-country highway that Prime Minister Robert Fico promised to finish by 2010. Though Ivan Gašparovič pleased the government by signing the bill into law, the opposition is still determined to halt the controversial package of one-time special measures.

SINCE the beginning of the year, the government has had a new tool to expropriate the land needed to complete the cross-country highway that Prime Minister Robert Fico promised to finish by 2010. Though Ivan Gašparovič pleased the government by signing the bill into law, the opposition is still determined to halt the controversial package of one-time special measures.

Under the new law, which parliament passed on December 11, the state does not need to have all the ownership rights to the land settled in order to receive a construction license. It just needs to have these rights settled by the time the construction is finished and approved. The Transportation Ministry said that the legislation was needed so that “a billion” investments would not be stuck because of bargaining about the expropriation price.

But the measures included in the law have been described by critics as violating Slovaks’ constitutional right to property. Daniel Lipšic, former justice minister and deputy leader of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), told the Sme daily that by signing the law on December 30, the president – who has a law degree – proved that he is unqualified to practise law. Gašparovič rejected the criticism.

“I am a lawyer and I evaluate the laws,” he told the SITA newswire. “My profession is different from the professional background of other presidents.”

Deputy Prime Minister Dušan Čaplovič said he is confident that the law has been handled in a way that does not contradict the constitution. But political scientist Grigorij Mesežnikov said the Constitutional Court will most likely stop the law.

“I assume that the Constitutional Court will halt the legislation from coming into force, and it will hardly add to the president’s credibility among critical thinkers,” Mesežnikov told Sme.

Via Iuris of the Centre for Rights of Citizens has been critical of the law since its very inception. The centre’s Eva Kovačechová told The Slovak Spectator that the president’s signature has not changed the situation.

“The law is unconstitutional on its face, mainly in relation to ownership rights and the protection of these rights,” Kovačechová said. “In this aspect nothing has changed, and the president has signed it even though he himself had questioned its constitutionality.”

Kovačechová said that citizens who are faced with losing their property because of this legislation should turn to the court, which can halt the procedure if it rules the decision was made on the basis of an unconstitutional law.

The legislation was the third attempt to simplify and speed up the expropriation of the land that the highway is slated to cross. Transportation Minister Ľubomír Vážny said that some tougher measures had to be adopted in order to meet the deadline for wrapping up the highway between Bratislava and Košice by the end of this election term, the SITA newswire wrote.

The ministry also said that the legislation will only pertain to the owners of the land that is needed to complete specific highway sections: the D1 sections from Hričovské Podhradie to Ivachnová, Jánovce to Jablonov, and Fričovce to Svinia; the R1 from Nitra West to Hronský Beňadik; the I/18 from Žilina to the southeast bypass, and Strečno to Dubná Skala; and the I/68 from Prešov West to Prešov South.

The Slovak constitution allows expropriation and limiting ownership rights under specific conditions, including the provision of adequate compensation, Lipšic told The Slovak Spectator in an earlier interview. However, this compensation must be provided before the ownership right is limited and not after, when changes to the land cannot be reversed, he added.

“The legislation is the most serious intervention into ownership rights since 1989,” Lipšic said.

The only ruling coalition MP to abstain from the vote to pass the bill into law was Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) MP and former deputy prime minister for legislation Katarína Tóthová. She agreed that the legislation goes against the country’s constitution, and said the government should have loosened its deadlines instead.

“I do not like solutions that are on the brink of violating the constitution,” Tóthová told the public service Slovak Television on December 11.

The Conservative Institute, the Initiative for Just Expropriation, the Civil Conservative Party and the Institute of Economic and Social Analysis also object to the law.

The state has also decided to build 151 kilometres of highways and dual carriageways using the public-private partnership (PPP) system. The Transportation Ministry announced the PPP tender for the first package of highway sections on November 17, inviting companies and consortiums to submit their bids by January 8.

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