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THE LAST WORD

Dzurinda should put country over party

The most recent reports on the progress of candidate countries toward European Union membership, released by the European Commission on 13 November, is good news for the Slovak Republic.
The reports state that, together with seven other post-communist countries - the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Slovenia - Slovakia fulfils all political and economic criteria of membership.
Consequently, though in need of further political and economic reform, it can finish the accession talks by the end of 2002 and potentially join the EU in 2004.

The most recent reports on the progress of candidate countries toward European Union membership, released by the European Commission on 13 November, is good news for the Slovak Republic.

The reports state that, together with seven other post-communist countries - the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Slovenia - Slovakia fulfils all political and economic criteria of membership.

Consequently, though in need of further political and economic reform, it can finish the accession talks by the end of 2002 and potentially join the EU in 2004.

No guarantees are given, but the mere fact that Slovakia has worked itself back into the (now larger) group of 'frontrunners' is positive in itself. And no doubt the current government under the inspiring leadership of Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda is to be credited for this. After having gradually dropped to a kind of 'pariah state' under the former government of Vladimír Mečiar, the current government has made restoring its previous position in the first wave of EU accession its top priority. Though one can question some of the sacrifices that have been made in realising this goal, overall it seems to have worked out. But everything that has been gained could be lost as easily. However, not, as Dzurinda has recently argued in Brussels, simply by the possible return of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) to power after next year's elections.

Actually, there are good reasons why the HZDS will not be as authoritarian and 'anti-Western' as they have been before. First of all, they will have different coalition partners. With the Association of Slovak Workers (ZRS) gone, and the Slovak National Party (SNS) in disarray, and disassociated from the HZDS, an alliance with Smer or the Party of the Democratic Left (SDĽ) seems far more likely. Both parties might be relatively sceptical towards economic reforms, but they are far from anti-EU.

Second, and partly related to the question of coalition partners, the HZDS will no longer be able to dominate the government as much as before, as its partners will be bigger and less dependent on the HZDS (unlike the SNS, Smer and the SDĽ have other coalition options).

Third, and again related, Mečiar and his cronies will probably be far less central in the government, if they are to be involved at all. Consequently, the current 'scare campaign' by Dzurinda and others (including journalists and academics) might do more harm than good.

Granted, it would be preferable if after next elections a coalition without the HZDS (and SNS) could be formed. However, opinion polls show very little empirical basis for such optimism. It is therefore crucial that also in the case of a HZDS government the option of EU membership remains both open and attractive (both to the EU and to the new Slovak government).

Though sharpening the choice between a pro-European 'democratic' camp and an anti-European 'authoritarian' camp might have some (small) benefits in the short term, i.e. in the next parliamentary elections, it could have huge negative consequences in the longer term. If the EU and HZDS return to their confrontational positions, Dzurinda's warnings might come true.

Slovakia will not enter the EU in the first wave. Yet, this would be despite the real possibility that the new government (including the HZDS) are sincerely interested in EU membership. Therefore, Dzurinda would be wise to put country over party, as a true statesmen does.

* Dr. Cas Mudde is a lecturer at the Department of Politics at the
University of Edinburgh

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