Slovakia May 17 closed a further four 'chapters' of the European Union's acquis communautaire - a document laying out legislative changes prospective members must make in 29 areas - prompting Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda to declare the country on an accession par with its regional neighbours, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic.
Although not having opened as many chapters as its three neighbours, by finishing negotiations on telecom and IT, social policy and employment, commercial law and free provision of services, Slovakia now stands ahead of the Czechs (15) and Poles (15), but behind Hungary (18) with 16 of 29 EU chapters closed. Slovakia has begun negotiations in another eight, but has not touched five.
Slovakia's chief negotiator for EU accession Ján Figeľ said he was confident the remaining chapters could be opened by June, but warned Bratislava could not take relax its EU entry efforts.
"We shouldn't overestimate this achievement. On the contrary, we must continue to pass quality legislation," said Figeľ.
The latest closures confirm that Slovakia has caught up with its neighbours in the race to join the 15-member bloc, said EU representatives.
Slovakia was relegated to the EU membership sidelines after the EU's 1997 Luxembourg Summit, at which six countries, including Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, were invited to enter negotiations on accession. Slovakia was left out because of concerns over the autocratic leadership of then-Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar.
But after the Milukáš Dzurinda government took over in 1998, Slovakia received an invitation to begin entry talks at the Helsinki Summit in December 1999, and since starting negotiations in February 2000 has made rapid progress in catching up with its three neighbours.