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EDITORIAL

NATO and the EU: Making Slovakia a different place

Since the new government came to power more than two years ago nearly every law, every step in legislation the new powers have taken has been geared towards membership of two groups - NATO and the EU.
A new media law is to go for debate in, and likely passage through, parliament very soon. It will give journalists and other media professionals the legal backbone to do the work of bringing information to the people.
This is something which their counterparts in the West have been able to do free of the threat of legal charges for as long as there has been media.

Since the new government came to power more than two years ago nearly every law, every step in legislation the new powers have taken has been geared towards membership of two groups - NATO and the EU.

A new media law is to go for debate in, and likely passage through, parliament very soon. It will give journalists and other media professionals the legal backbone to do the work of bringing information to the people.

This is something which their counterparts in the West have been able to do free of the threat of legal charges for as long as there has been media.

What do its proposers say it will do? "Bring legislation in line with the EU."

Revisions to the Commercial Code are being worked on which will give stronger rights to minority shareholders and make company tunnelling as difficult in Slovakia as it is in, say, Germany. How will this be achieved? "By bringing legislation in line with the EU."

Two of the most important reforms in Slovakia's short history - constitution and state administration - are dragging, and the warning bells have been sounded by Deputy Prime Minister for Integration Pavol Hamžík.

"If we don't pass these reforms soon then there will be no chance to pass them at all. If we don't pass them then there is no chance of getting into the EU before 2010. That will shake Slovakia."

And then there's NATO.

Only a short while ago a Slovak firm was named as possibly being involved in illegal arms sales to Angola. The international scandal involving the son of former French President Francois Mitterand made the headlines in the West, but Slovakia's potential involvement in the affair was largely overlooked, both here and abroad.

The firm named, OSOS, has denied that it has ever had anything to do with arms trading, either legal or illegal, and the Foreign Ministry has said similar of its knowledge of shady weapons shipping across its territory.

Those in the know say that the real crooks in this illegal arms trading case are from further east. The problem is region-wide, but countries, including Slovakia, are getting to grips with it. OSOS is unlikely to be involved purely because there are better controls now than there were even three years ago. And why? Because the country wants to get into NATO and the EU.

Any government wanting to get into NATO, or the EU for that matter, is hardly likely to tolerate or risk a knowledge of any dubious weapons trading. But those that do not want to get into either may not take such a hard line.

It would be naive to say that no one from Slovakia has been, or could even now still be, involved in any way in activities which may have undermined the country's reputation as a player involved in creating a stable world.

In fact, Ivan Lexa, the former head of the intelligence service (SIS), who gave all the authorities in Slovakia the slip and went off to the South Seas, or South Africa, or the South Pole or wherever he's residing now, escaped under suspicion of having done just that. Among other charges he faces, Lexa is believed to have masterminded an SIS operation to keep Slovakia and other former Eastern bloc countries out of the western defence alliance.

There are more than suspicions of former governments in Slovakia bending their ears a bit more than was normal to the voices of lobby groups in the arms industry while effecting a posture of western-leaning commitment to the control of arms sales, and that they were not as rigid in enforcing that policy as they sometimes should have been.

Those at the top now are, to all intents and purposes bent on getting into NATO, and the EU. For any Slovak company to be found involved in the illegal trade of arms would be a terrible blow to the government's attempts to get into NATO.

For that reason the enforcement of controls, if not the controls themselves, are much stricter now than they may have been years ago.

Even now, though, the control regulations are not up to EU standards and will have to be, when and if Slovakia joins.

Both groups, one military, one political, have their critics. But for Slovakia, and the other former Communist countries that want to become members, the progress of reform, the standard of legislation, and the laws which have and are to be brought in would be much different, and almost certainly for the worse, if it were not for both of Brussels' largest organisations.

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