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INSIDERS SAY A LIST OF VOLUNTARY COMMITMENTS TO THE ALLIANCE WAS WELL RECEIVED IN BRUSSELS

Slovakia takes another big step towards NATO

Slovak government leaders say that after years spent out of the NATO enlargement mainstream, their country is now emerging from a backwater created by former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar's authoritarian rule to become a favourite for inclusion in NATO's next round of expansion.
"Slovakia believes that NATO will start thinking about its next enlargement in the year 2002, and we want to be part of this expansion," said Slovak Deputy Foreign Minister Ján Figeľ to The Slovak Spectator on October 13.
Figeľ and Deputy Defence Minister Jozef Pivarči visited NATO headquarters in Brussels on October 11 to present 'Prename,' Slovakia's programme of preparation for NATO membership.

Slovak government leaders say that after years spent out of the NATO enlargement mainstream, their country is now emerging from a backwater created by former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar's authoritarian rule to become a favourite for inclusion in NATO's next round of expansion.

"Slovakia believes that NATO will start thinking about its next enlargement in the year 2002, and we want to be part of this expansion," said Slovak Deputy Foreign Minister Ján Figeľ to The Slovak Spectator on October 13.

Figeľ and Deputy Defence Minister Jozef Pivarči visited NATO headquarters in Brussels on October 11 to present 'Prename,' Slovakia's programme of preparation for NATO membership.

"The Prename paper is the list of voluntary commitments to the Alliance which the Slovak government wants to fulfill, such as restructuring the Slovak Army, improving communication and making Slovak structures compatibile with NATO structures," explained Miroslav Vlachowsky, the Foreign Ministry's Director of Analysis and Planning.

Rick Kirby, an official with NATO's Political Section, told The Slovak Spectator on October 18 that the alliance had not yet evaluated the plans that have been submitted, and thus could give no official response to the Slovak document. "It isn't a question of being satisfied [with Slovakia's Prename list]" he said. "Slovakia's plan is one of a number of others that we have received."

But according to Slovak Foreign Ministry insiders, the Slovak Prename document was received very positively in Brussels. "Let's just say that Polish diplomats at NATO were surprised by the quality of our programme, which they considered to be better than papers submitted by Romania and Slovenia," said one ministry official who did not want to be identified. Kirby refused to comment on the official's statement.

NATO will not officially evaluate the Slovak Prename document until November 15. Slovak diplomats are preparing to answer questions from the alliance not only on Slovakia's military readiness to join NATO, but also about the country's political stability and economic situation.

Perhaps the greatest barrier that Slovakia faces in its drive for NATO membership is the relatively low amount of money the country spends on the military. According to Slovak Defence Ministry official Jozef Žadžora, NATO requires that applicant countries spend at least 2% of GDP on their armies. "This year, the Slovak government provided the army with 13.5 billion crowns, which is 1.7% of GDP. But we believe that by the year 2002 we will gradually upgrade this support to the required 2%," Žadžora said at an October 12 press conference.

However, the Finance Ministry has recently proposed that the Ministry of Defence actually take a cut in its budget next year, bringing state spending on Slovakia's military down to just 1.37% of GDP in the year 2000. The programme declaration of the Dzurinda cabinet calls for a 0.1% hike in the Defence Ministry's budget per year.

Even if the funding question is solved, various other matters remain to be ironed out before Slovakia becomes a serious candidate for NATO acceptance. "We have to improve our communications capacities and our protection of classified information," said the Foreign Ministry source. "These issues were very problematic for the Czech Republic after its [March, 1999] entry to NATO, and we don't want to inherit their troubles."

The Prename programme was put together with the co-operation of 14 Slovak ministries and state institutions. The programme's total budget for two years is as much as 1.5 billion Slovak crowns.

The Foreign Ministry source said that the Prename project had at times been hampered by poor co-operation among government ministries. The Economy Ministry, for instance, "often sent officials to Prename meetings who were unfamiliar with NATO enlargement issues, while the Finance Ministry often complained about the total amount of money allotted to the Prename budget," the source said.

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