News round-up

24 - 31 March 1997

Polish President says Yeltsin agreed to NATO expansion

Poland's President Aleksander Kwasniewski said Moscow had in fact agreed to NATO's expansion at the Helsinki summit. Poland, along with Hungary and the Czech Republic, expects to be among the first new countries to be asked to start NATO entry talks and to join in 1999. However, a leading opposition politician, Janusz Onyszkiewicz, said Polish diplomats should gain immediate clarification from NATO and Washington about the outcome of the talks.

Warsaw has been anxious that NATO should not agree on a watered-down membership for new entrants to overcome Russian objections to the pact's enlargement. In a joint statement issued following a meeting between Poland's and the Czech Republic's foreign ministers, the two nations also said the talks must not interfere with the schedule for admission of new members to NATO.

EU warns Slovakia over free trade pact with Russia

The European Union (EU) has warned Slovakia against making a free trade agreement with Russia, saying the deal could damage its chances of joining the EU. Sir Leon Brittan, External Trade Commissioner of the European Commission, told Slovak industrialists that the proposed free trade agreement with Russia would have disruptive effects on Slovakia's adoption of the EU's Common Commercial Policy "when, and if, it joins the Union". He also said that since the EU has no Foreign Trade Agreement (FTA) with Russia itself, Slovakia would have to renounce such an agreement if it joined the Union.

Polish shipyard jobs may be saved

The Receiver for Poland's failed Gdansk shipyard said a Government plan to keep part of the company alive could result in the saving of up to 2,000 jobs. Andrzej Wiercinski said he would study Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz's package for the yard, which provides for using the firm's assets to build five ships for Polish merchant shipping company PZM. He believes the Government's plans are realistic, though there will be difficulties implementing them by the end of April.

Despite the rescue scheme, however, Mr Wiercinski said 3,800 workers will still have to be dismissed at the shipyard which was declared bankrupt last August.

Hungarian and Romanian Premiers develop ties

Hungary's and Romania's Prime Ministers overcame years of strained relations to open a new era of co-operation between their two countries during a meeting last week. Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea, whose centre-right coalition took over from leftists in November, visited his Hungarian counterpart, Gyula Horn, in Budapest. The two Premiers' priorities at the discussions were the linkage of the two nations' bids to join NATO, and Hungarian investment in Romania's troubled economy.

Direct presidential elections rejected by Slovak Parliament

Slovakia's Parliament has rejected an opposition proposal for direct presidential elections, with Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar's party contending that such a constitutional change could open a 'Pandora's Box'.

The opposition parties wanted to change the constitution so that the people and not Parliament elect the President, but they were defeated last week by 62 votes to 46, with 37 abstentions. However, the opposition parties have now collected 500,000 signatures on a petition urging President Michal Kovac to call a referendum on direct presidential elections.

Zantovsky elected Chairman of Czech ODA Party

Michael Zantovsky, a former Czech Ambassador to the United States (US), has been elected Chairman of the Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA), one of the three Government coalition parties. He replaces Jan Kalvoda, who resigned last December.

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