BRATISLAVA Slovakia wants greater control of strategic companies, starting with plans for an energy industry holding company to house all shares the state owns in key energy companies and possibly to buy new ones, Economy Minister Peter Ziga said on Thursday.
The plan would add Slovakia to the list of central European countries seeking to increase state control over the energy sector.
Hungary has bought back several previously privatized utility companies and Poland's ruling conservatives are seeking to "re-Polonise" the energy sector.
"We want to put all state-owned shares in energy companies under one roof and create a Slovak version of the Czech Republic's CEZ, Austria's OMV (OMVV.VI) or Hungary's MOL (MOLB.BU) -- a stronger and more respectable player that would have an active role in the Slovak energy sector," Ziga told Reuters in an interview.
"The holding company should be able to buy free assets in the energy market and raise money by issuing its own bonds without increasing the state debt," the minister, a close ally of leftist Prime Minister Robert Fico, said.
The state already owns a 34-percent share in the biggest electricity utility Slovenske Elektrarne, a 51-percent share in gas transit company Eustream, 100 percent of biggest gas supplier SPP, and 51 percent in three regional electricity and gas distribution companies.
In 2015 the previous government, also led by Fico, secured an option that may eventually boost the government's 34-percent stake in Slovenske Elektrarne to 51 percent. Italian utility Enel's (ENEI.MI) agreed gradually to sell its 66 percent stake in Slovenske to Czech group EPH.
The minister will also seek an automatic right of first refusal for the state to buy into companies deemed to be of national importance when private owners want to sell their interests.
A new law will define a company as "strategic" based on their industry, region where they are based or the number of employees.
"Some assets have a strategic importance for the state and can't be measured purely by their profitability," Ziga said.
"Private companies such as big car makers can also be deemed as strategic which would give the state the right of first refusal in case they considered leaving the country and selling their local subsidiaries to non-standard investors," he added.
Fico has been a strong critic of past privatizations.
Leaders of three coalition parties, including Fico's Smer, center-left Slovak National Party and center-right Most, have repeatedly called for better management and more transparent control of state-owned shares by placing them under one roof.
(Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)