Slovakia June 27 became only the second of 12 European Union candidate countries to close pre-accession legislative 'chapters' on free movement of capital and labour after negotiations in Stockholm with Sweden, the outgoing EU president country.
The talks brought to 19 the number of chapters Slovakia has closed in the EU's acquis communautaire (a document laying out the legislative changes new members have to make in 29 areas), while all 10 remaining chapters have now been opened. Chief EU negotiator for Slovakia Ján Figeľ said that the country was now firmly among the leading candidates for entry into the Union.
"This confirms that we have reached a level where we can be compared with other [candidate] countries," he said.
Slovakia has now closed as many chapters as the neighbouring Czech Republic and the Baltic state Estonia, both of which began talks on entry 14 months before Slovakia, and is ahead of Poland, which has closed only 16. Only Hungary has closed more chapters (22).
"The closure of these chapters was very important. We are now on the same level as the Czech Republic, and it has given us great impetus to close other chapters," Mária Kadlečíková, Deputy Prime Minister for Integration, told The Slovak Spectator June 29.
The chapter on free movement of labour had drawn media attention in Brussels and in all applicant countries earlier this year after some EU states had called for a seven year block on free movement of citizens from central and eastern European states across the Union's borders. Both Austria and Germany had expressed particular concern over a potential flood of workers attracted by higher wages from neighbouring eastern states.
In closing the chapter, Bratislava accepted the seven year condition, but also struck a deal under which the country could impose a reciprocal measure closing their borders to workers from other new members states, such as Poland, if workers cannot find work in Germany or Austria.
However some EU states, such as the Netherlands and Denmark, have said that they will not enforce any such condition, and that their labour markets would be open to workers from all new member countries.
The closure of the legislative documents leaves Bratislava confident of closing all 29 chapters before the end of 2002 - the date the EU has set for extending membership invitations to prepared new members - but still aware it has its most difficult chapters ahead.
"We believe that we can close the remaining chapters by this date, but there will be problems with some," said Kadlečíková. "In July 2002 [EU Commissioner for Agriculture] Franz Fischler is planning to change the EU's agricultural policy. We are worried about what that will mean for us. We may have closed the agriculture chapter by then, and we're not sure how that would affect us.
"The environment will be a problem as well," she continued. "It's not just a question of agreeing on laws, but also of implementing them. We have problems with fulfilling agreements on EU directives for water [supply and treatment infrastructure]. Municipalities need more money to meet them, and it's hard for them to get the funding."
6. Jul 2001 at 0:00 | Ed Holt