Slovakia is closer to joining the European Union after a recent summit in Belgium, Deputy Prime Minister for Integration Mária Kadlečíková has declared.
"We feel we are closer even though talks at Ghent were not focused on enlargement specifically. The fact that the EU response to terrorism dominated the talks does not mean enlargement was ignored," the minister told The Slovak Spectator October 24.
"In fact, we feel the attacks themselves have actually speeded up the process of enlargement," she added.
Heads of EU member states met in the Belgian town October 19-20 at a summit originally planned to discuss the future of the 15-member bloc. But following the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, European counter-terrorism proposals dominated talks.
However, while the issue of integration was only touched on at the summit, some member heads told the meeting integration had been driven forward by a new need to cement European security.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said that in the face of the terrorist threat the EU should increase the pace of integration.
"The diplomatic activities of the European Union and its member states must join together to form a conclusive foreign and security policy," he said.
The European Commissioner for Enlargement, Günter Verheugen, praised the solidarity shown by candidate countries, including Slovakia, to EU anti-terrorism plans.
The Union gave its full support to the US-led strikes on Afghanistan at the summit. Slovakia immediately backed the summit resolution.
"We are fully ready to offer any help we can," Kadlečíková said. "We also believe that while the summit discussed this issue, we are also a part of these discussions and feel closer to the Union through that."
The summit coincided with a flurry of pre-accession progress from Slovakia. The country approved five accession-related bills, including a Financial Control and Internal Audit law, on October 18.
Kadlečíková said the following day that six more chapters in the acquis communautaire - an 80,000-page pre-accession legal harmonisation document - were expected to be closed by the end of this year, meaning that the legal reforms required in those six fields would be considered complete.
Slovakia also won a three year transition period on the implementation of consumer tax rises on cigarettes. The EU is expecting candidate states to have cigarette prices in line with those across the Union when they join.
EU leaders had argued the need for a unified European market, including equivalence in tobacco prices. But Slovak negotiators said by imposing the price rise immediately there was a risk of contributing to tobacco smuggling across the continent.
As political and diplomatic leaders continue to ready Slovakia for entry by 2004, the date the country has set for itself, Slovak citizens seem to be supporting the idea of integration to western alliances in ever greater numbers.
The results of a poll carried out by the National Education Council, released October 23, showed 53.3% of respondents supporting Slovakia's Nato entry - up 5.5% from December last year. The same poll showed support for EU membership rose 6.2% to 78.6% over the same period.
"Support for both EU and Nato entry in the country is now very strong. People we talk to indicate to us that accession is speeding up," said the Deputy Prime Minister.
Slovakia's EU chapters
Free movement of goods,
Economic and currency union,
Small and medium sized businesses,
Science and research,
Culture and audio-vision,
Customer and health protection,
Common foreign and security policy,
Free rendering of services,
Free movement of capital,
Business company law,
Social policy and unemployment,
Telecom and info-technology,
Free movement of persons,
29. Oct 2001 at 0:00 | Deirdre Tynan