Bratislava was the site of a meeting between representatives of current NATO countries and potential future members from April 28-30. The group discussed the issue of future NATO enlargement, focusing on whether candidate countries were still on track for Euro-Atlantic integration.
The three-day conference was deemed by the participants as significant for Slovakia because similar meetings had taken place in the capital cities of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic before those countries were admitted in March 1999.
Speakers at the conference included Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, several foreign ministers (such as Czech Foreign Minister Ján Kavan, Slovenian Dimitrij Rupel and Slovak Eduard Kukan), country ambassadors to NATO, US Congress members, NGO representatives and various scholars.
"This is the first time that such important people from Europe and America have come to Slovakia to discuss issues of key importance for us [Slovakia], such as the future of Euro-Atlantic integration," said Martin Bútora, the Slovak ambassador to the US.
Since the latest NATO enlargement, pressure for further integration has mainly come from new members Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. But during the conference all representatives, whether from overseas or Europe, voiced their support for Slovakia's entry intentions.
Grigorij Mesežnikov, president of the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO), a Bratislava think tank that co-organised the event, said the conference participants agreed that the Slovak Republic was the most realistic NATO candidate among countries currently lobbying for entry. "Delegates positively evaluated the will of the Slovak government to gain NATO membership. They also praised the increase of national support for entrance into the pact," Mesežnikov said.
Many delegates, Mesežnikov continued, were in Slovakia for the first time and said that they saw Slovakia as a country which is similar in democratic principles to the other Visegrad 4 countries.
Hesitations concerning future NATO enlargement, delegates said, stemmed from the fact that NATO "has not yet digested" the first wave of enlargement in March 1999.
"Concerning the issue of future NATO enlargement, European countries are more sceptical than the US. This has something to do with the political situation in these countries," Mesežnikov said, adding that the alliance has been evaluating the results of the last wave of NATO enlargement.
The conference was organised by the American NGO New Atlantic Initiative, which was founded by the Washington-based NGO American Enterprise Institute. A few months before the conference two Slovak NGOs - IVO and the Slovak Atlantic Commission - also became co-organisers of this event.