Though steelmaker U.S. Steel Corporation intends to sell its steelworks in Košice, Slovakia’s second city, the final decision has not yet been made, Prime Minister Robert Fico said after meeting the president of U.S. Steel Košice, David J. Rintoul. Fico asserted that the main reason for the firm’s decision was what he called the “bad privatisation” of the firm, the TASR newswire reported.
“I asked the representatives of U.S. Steel to keep the Slovak government as informed as possible,” Fico said, as quoted by TASR, adding that as it is a private company its decisions are completely up to its owners.
The prime minister also pointed to the importance of the steelworks for Slovakia, in particular for the east of the country. He insisted that the current proposed sale may be the result of what he called the “bad privatisation” of the steelworks by the first government of Mikuláš Dzurinda. The Dzurinda government was heavily involved in the company’s sale, about which negotiations began in 1998. The sale was formally completed in 2000.
“Because the government at that time ... was giving unbelievably beneficial conditions to companies that were coming here ... now that these conditions have elapsed, these companies are leaving for a better environment,” Fico added.
According to Fico, if the owners of U.S. Steel decided to stay in Slovakia and do business here, the government would be ready to negotiate further co-operation between the state and the steelworks. However, Fico and Rintoul did not discuss possible state aid or other potential assistance in detail.
Dzurinda, who currently serves as an MP for the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), said that making a connection between the recently-announced possible sale of U.S. Steel Košice and its privatisation back in 1998 is sad and misguided. He claims that in 1998 he managed to persuade Alexander Rezeš, a former transport minister and MP from the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), who at the time controlled the steelworks, which were then called Východoslovenské Železiarne (VsŽ) and were facing bankruptcy, to allow an investor to save the company, TASR wrote.
“Everything I was doing in 1998 after I became premier I was doing to save the steelworks, to find a solvent investor who could keep the factory afloat,” Dzurinda told TASR. He warned Fico that he did not win the general election in March this year so that he could blame current events in decisions made 14 years ago, but because he promised “certainties” to his voters – a reference to a slogan used by Fico’s party, Smer, in this year’s election campaign.
More than 10,000 people are currently employed at the steel plant. Maintaining employment levels was part and parcel of the deal provided to the company by the first Dzurinda government, TASR wrote.
“I worry about the 13,000 people who work [at the steelworks and associated businesses] in Košice and I worry about how the new owner will behave,” said Fico, as quoted by TASR, refusing to comment on potential buyers.
He added that the possible reasons for the departure of the firm might be EU legislation and the steelworks’ ability to compete with companies further east in Europe.
“It has to be said that various standards of environmental protection and requirements put in place by Brussels on steelworks are so stringent that these companies are losing their competitiveness compared to steelworks, let’s say, in Ukraine or China,” Fico said.
Compiled by Radka Minarechová from press reports
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