Slovakia and domestic discourse on energy security and Single European Market

The begin­ning of 2009 was affect­ed by a shut­down of gas sup­plies from the Russ­ian Fed­er­a­tion. The Russ­ian-Ukrain­ian row point­ed out Slovakia’s weak­ness in depen­den­cy on Russ­ian nat­ur­al gas and in its domes­tic man­age­ment of gas reserves. The gov­ern­ment insist­ed from the begin­ning of the cri­sis that it would sus­tain sup­plies to house­holds and there­fore indus­tries, espe­cial­ly car and steel pro­duc­tion, which were asked to lim­it their activ­i­ties. How­ev­er, with the con­tin­u­ing cri­sis Slo­va­kia would not have been able to draw suf­fi­cient gas reserves even to sat­is­fy all house­hold con­sump­tion. Thanks to close coop­er­a­tion with the Czech Repub­lic and France and Ger­many gas was sup­plied to Slo­va­kia from for­eign reserves and through a pipeline in the Czech Republic.

Nat­ur­al gas also con­sti­tutes impor­tant sup­ply for the elec­tric­i­ty net­work sup­port ser­vices after the sec­ond block of the “V1 Nuclear Pow­er Plant” in Jaslovské Bohu­nice was phased out on 31 Decem­ber 2008.[1] The clo­sure of the “V1 block” was part of our oblig­a­tions under EU acces­sion treaty. Prime Min­is­ter Fico, strong­ly crit­i­cised the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment of Mikuláš Dzurin­da for accept­ing this oblig­a­tion with­out hav­ing strong objec­tions. The min­istry of econ­o­my pro­posed already in Novem­ber 2008 that Slo­va­kia might not turn off the pow­er plant because of the effects of the glob­al finan­cial crises how­ev­er, the pro­pos­al was reject­ed. Prime Min­is­ter Fico and the Min­is­ter of Econ­o­my, Ľubomír Jah­nátek, announced the inten­tion to turn on the “V1 block” again on 9 Jan­u­ary 2009. The gov­ern­ment informed the Pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion José Manuel Bar­roso and mem­ber states gov­ern­ments about this eventuality.[2] An imme­di­ate neg­a­tive reac­tion came from Aus­tria, long-year oppo­nent of nuclear pow­er plants in Cen­tral Europe. Opin­ions in Slo­va­kia on turn­ing on “V1” were diverse; envi­ron­men­tal­ist warned that it would take months to turn the block on and again off but the min­istry and the state-owned com­pa­ny “Javys”[3] argued that it would take only sev­en days. The dan­ger of ener­gy black-out was enhanced by the elec­tric­i­ty fail­ure in ther­mal pow­er plant Nováky accord­ing to the Min­istry of Econ­o­my. The Prime Min­is­ter stat­ed his full respon­si­bil­i­ty should Slo­va­kia break the oblig­a­tions of the acces­sion treaty.[4] The solu­tion of sup­ply­ing some gas from Russ­ian Fed­er­a­tion through the Jamal pipeline was found thanks to close coop­er­a­tion with Czech Repub­lic and its com­pa­nies. The Prime Min­is­ter strong­ly appre­ci­at­ed the Russ­ian Fed­er­a­tion for these sup­plies and repeat­ed­ly accused Europe for not being help­ful to Slovakia.[5] The leader of the oppo­si­tion par­ty Slo­vak Demo­c­ra­t­ic and Chris­t­ian Union – Demo­c­ra­t­ic Party[6] and for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Mikuláš Dzurin­da, expressed that the cri­sis was not a suit­able time for polit­i­cal rows and oppo­si­tion even thought of sup­port­ing the turn­ing on of the “V1 block” of Jaslovské Bohunice.[7] The spe­cif­ic reac­tion to the gas cri­sis was an ener­gy law amend­ment that allowed more state con­trol over using gas reserves and cre­at­ed new oblig­a­tions for com­pa­nies in case of inter­rupt­ed gas sup­plies in the peri­od from 1 Novem­ber to 31 March. This should pro­vide for sup­plies of con­sumers at the aver­age dai­ly gas con­sump­tion at least for the peri­od of 30 days.[8] Gen­er­al direc­tor of Russ­ian “Gazprom”, Alexan­der Medvedev, also vis­it­ed Slo­va­kia and talked with Prime Min­is­ter Fico about a poten­tial com­mon gas company.

Slo­va­kia launched a legal dis­pute with the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion because of “Sloven­ská poš­ta, a.s.” (Slo­vak Post).[9] Accord­ing to the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion Slo­va­kia vio­lat­ed the com­pe­ti­tion pol­i­cy in the case of hybrid mail sector.[10] Law amend­ment from Feb­ru­ary 2008 that entered into force on 1 April 2008 revoked already exist­ing com­pe­ti­tion and estab­lished the monop­oly of the state com­pa­ny “Sloven­ská poš­ta”. Slo­va­kia did not sat­is­fac­to­ri­ly reply to the Commission’s com­plaints from June 2008 and after a deci­sion of the gov­ern­ment from Octo­ber 2008 to sup­port the domes­tic sta­tus quo in an action before the Euro­pean Court of Jus­tice. The Prime Min­is­ter and Min­istry of Trans­port, Post and Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions are sup­port­ing “Sloven­ská poš­ta” because it is a big employ­er and a source of sub­stan­tial state rev­enue as this lib­er­al­i­sa­tion is in favour of pri­vate sec­tor that is weak­en­ing the post’s earnings.[11] Along­side the gov­ern­ment “Sloven­ská poš­ta” is argu­ing that the EU lib­er­al­i­sa­tion is threat­en­ing small customers.[12] Mean­while the Com­mis­sion con­tin­ued the process by request­ing fur­ther actions.

The min­istry of Trans­port, Post and Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions got in a dis­pute with Brus­sels also in the issue of removal of Branislav Máčaj, for­mer direc­tor of the telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion office of the Slo­vak Repub­lic. The min­istry blamed Máčaj for a fail­ure of pub­lic ten­der on dig­i­tal tele­vi­sion oper­a­tor that was stopped by the court’s pro­vi­sion­al pro­ceed­ing. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion decid­ed to inves­ti­gate the case to find out if the inde­pen­dence of Slovakia’s telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions office has not been vio­lat­ed. For­mer direc­tor Máčaj argued that the min­istry did not ful­fill the legal require­ments for his removal and that the finan­cial group “J&T”, own­er of one pri­vate tele­vi­sion in Slo­va­kia, has tried to influ­ence the ten­der. He also blamed the Prime Min­is­ter for unwill­ing­ness to face new critiques[13] from future tele­vi­sions to be estab­lished in Slo­va­kia through dig­i­tal­iza­tion. The process of dig­i­tal­iza­tion of tele­vi­sion broad­cast­ing has already been post­poned for sev­er­al rea­sons and should be fin­ished in 2012.

Prob­lems with a pub­lic ten­der have been also at the Min­istry of con­struc­tion and region­al devel­op­ment of the SR under the man­age­ment of Mar­ián Janušek from Slo­vak Nation­al Party.[14] Ten­der on con­sul­ta­tive and legal ser­vices for invest­ing struc­tur­al funds for almost 120 mil­lion Euros was accom­pa­nied by sev­er­al doubts but the min­istry exclu­sive­ly con­tract­ed the cho­sen con­sor­tium of com­pa­nies friend­ly with the SNS leader Ján Slota.[15] There were sev­er­al prob­lems with this ten­der. First, the infor­ma­tion about the ten­der was avail­able only for a few days on the notice board of the min­istry build­ing. Sec­ond, a sub­lim­i­nal pro­cure­ment method was used for such large amount of mon­ey. Third, the min­istry aban­doned its com­pe­ten­cies for future pro­cure­ments and prices of some ser­vices were over­val­ued (espe­cial­ly adver­tis­ing spots, logos and lectures).[16] The pub­lic pro­cure­ment office and the supreme audit office have made inves­ti­ga­tions into the ten­der but results have been deliv­ered to the min­istry only late­ly. The pro­cure­ment office, lead by oppo­si­tion Par­ty of Hun­gar­i­an Coalition[17] nom­i­nee Béla Angyal, itself had prob­lems with the inves­ti­ga­tion process that incit­ed the Prime Minister’s dec­la­ra­tion that head of pro­cure­ment office should restore order at his office.[18] A head of one of the Pub­lic Pro­cure­ment Office’s depart­ments refused to sign the inves­ti­ga­tion pro­to­col because she believed that the short­com­ings found dur­ing inves­ti­ga­tions were negligible.[19] Lat­er she was recalled from her office. The ten­der caused strong cri­tique not only from oppo­si­tion that unsuc­cess­ful­ly tried to remove Min­is­ter Janušek from office but also Vladimír Mečiar, the head of a coali­tion par­ty, expressed his strong dis­sat­is­fac­tion. Prime Min­is­ter Fico decid­ed to wait for the offi­cial inves­ti­ga­tion results but his par­ty, the Social Democrats,[20] sup­port­ed Min­is­ter Janušek in Slovakia’s parliament.

The first days of the Euro in cir­cu­la­tion in Slo­va­kia (Slo­va­kia has been a mem­ber of the Euro­zone since 1 Jan­u­ary 2009) did not record any dra­mat­ic prob­lems with the avail­abil­i­ty of coins for house­holds that pre­vi­ous­ly raised some con­cerns by the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion and the pub­lic. Actu­al­ly, many small busi­ness­es got the need­ed pro­por­tion of coins and were will­ing to give them back to buy­ers but the Slo­vak bank charge for deposits of high num­ber of Euro coins was high. The main coali­tion par­ty SMER-SD reac­tion was a short-term legal arrange­ment pro­hibit­ing charges for coins deposits for six months. Euro­pean Com­mis­sion­er, Joaquín Almu­nia, was very pos­i­tive about Slovakia’s process of enter­ing the Eurozone.[21] With the entry to the Euro­zone, the Slo­vak Nation­al Bank gov­er­nor gained a per­ma­nent vote in the gov­ern­ing coun­cil of the Euro­pean Cen­tral Bank. The Aus­tri­an Nation­al Bank gov­er­nor pro­posed in August 2008 to post­pone the rotat­ing sys­tem of votes to be imple­ment­ed with the entry of the new, six­teenth mem­ber of the Eurozone.[22] The right to vote in the Euro­pean Cen­tral Bank was restrict­ed to 15 mem­ber states but the entry of Slo­va­kia would dis­crim­i­nate just one country.[23] There­fore in Decem­ber 2008, the gov­ern­ing coun­cil decid­ed to change the rules and apply the rotat­ing sys­tem pos­si­bly only when the Euro­zone reach­es 18 mem­ber states.[24]

 

 

 

[1] The Slo­vak Spec­ta­tor: “Ener­gy cri­sis looms as all gas imports cease”, 12 Jan­u­ary 2009.
[2] Aktuálne.sk: “Vlá­da oznámi­la Európskej únii zámer spustiť Bohu­nice”, 9 Jan­u­ary 2009.
[3] “Javys” is respon­si­ble for phas­ing out the nuclear devices and pro­cess­ing the burnt fuels.
[4] Aktuálne.sk: “Vlá­da oznámi­la Európskej únii zámer spustiť Bohu­nice”, 9 Jan­u­ary 2009.
[5] SME: “Fico: Nepo­mo­hol nám dobrý západ. Tečie k nám ruský plyn”, 18 Jan­u­ary 2009.
[6] Sloven­ská demokrat­ická a kresťan­ská únia – Demokrat­ická strana (SDKÚ-DS).
[7] SME: “Fico: Nepo­mo­hol nám dobrý západ. Tečie k nám ruský plyn”, 18 Jan­u­ary 2009.
[8] Aktuálne.sk: “Štát bude mať väčšiu kon­trolu nad zásob­ník­mi plynu”, 17 Feb­ru­ary 2009.
[9] SME: “Štát bude žalo­vať Európ­sku komi­siu pre rozhod­nu­tia o hybrid­nej pošte“, 26 Novem­ber 2008.
[10] Hybrid mail is a spe­cif­ic form of postal ser­vice where the con­tent is elec­tron­i­cal­ly trans­ferred from the sender to the postal ser­vice oper­a­tor who then prints, envelopes, and sorts and deliv­ers the postal items. Hybrid mail is an impor­tant fea­ture for such com­pa­nies as banks, insur­ances and telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions under­tak­ings who reg­u­lar­ly have to send large amounts of mail (for exam­ple invoic­es). Euro­pean Com­mis­sion: Antitrust: Com­mis­sion opens infringe­ment pro­ceed­ings against Slo­va­kia to ensure com­pli­ance with Com­mis­sion hybrid mail deci­sion, press release, IP/08/1997, 17 Decem­ber 2008.
[11] Aktuálne.sk: “Poš­ta vra­cia úder, monopol si chce nechať” , 11 Novem­ber 2008.
[12] Ibid.
[13] ČTK: “Máča­jo­vo odvolanie vyšetrí Európ­s­ka komisia”, 5 Decem­ber 2008.
[14] Sloven­ská národ­ná strana (SNS).
[15] The Slo­vak Spec­ta­tor: “Min­istry ten­der linked to SNS allies”, 8 Decem­ber 2008.
[16] Hospodárske noviny: “Janušek exk­luzívne pre HN: Výber firiem som pre­bral aj so Slo­tom”, inter­view, 30 Jan­u­ary 2009.
[17] Strana maďarskej koalí­cie – Mag­yar Koalí­ció Párt­ja (SMK-MKP).
[18] The Slo­vak Spec­ta­tor: “Min­is­ter Janušek’s fate remains unclear after coali­tion ses­sion”, 3 Feb­ru­ary 2009.
[19] „Ibid.
[20] SMER – sociál­na demokra­cia (SMER-SD).
[21] SME: “Almu­nia: Euro ste zvládli hlad­ko”, 8 Jan­u­ary 2009.
[22] eTrend: “Vst­up Sloven­sko zmení hlaso­vanie v Európskej cen­trál­nej banke“, 22 August 2008.
[23] The rotat­ing vote sys­tem meant a divi­sion of mem­ber states into two groups: the five strongest economies (Ger­many, France, Italy, Spain, and Nether­lands) with one vote for each and the rest of coun­tries should share 10 votes.
[24] The new ver­sion of the rotat­ing sys­tem also divides mem­ber states into two groups: the five strongest economies (Ger­many, France, Italy, Spain, and Nether­lands) shar­ing 4 votes and the rest of coun­tries share 11 votes.