Representatives of the EU-Slovakia Joint Committee in session.
Ľuboš Kubín, a political scientist with the Slovak Academy of Sciences, said that "this result shows that the EU is taking a real interest in Slovakia, and showed that Slovakia is not an isolated country - it has been offered an embrace." Kubin warned however, that the road ahead would not be easy. "The EU conditions that were given to the former government [of Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar] were the easiest possible," he said. "From now on, the EU will assess Slovakia more strictly."
But cabinet officials were all smiles coming out of the Bratislava meeting. "I learned that the Slovak government enjoys the confidence and support of its partners," said Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda, praising the attitude of the European Parliament, which passed a resolution demanding the European Commission take a more flexible approach towards Slovakia. "This resolution is a signal that entry talks are not a matter of the very distant future," he added, mentioning the December summit in Helsinki as a reasonable goal for the beginning of accession talks.
The main agenda of the January Committee meeting was to discuss the issues that Slovakia will have to solve in the future to get an EU admission ticket. Besides that, the EU parliamentarians wanted to assess the work of Slovakia's new government and its efforts to gain EU membership.
Herbert Bösch, co-chairman of the Committee and a member of the European Parliament, issued specific praise for the issuing of bilingual school report cards, the opposition's presence on parliamentary committees, and the closure of the case of onetime deputy František Gaulieder, to whom the new parliament apologised for illegally stripping him off his deputy's seat in December 1997.
Bösch further praised the results of the September 1998 elections and highlighted its high turnout, which, he said, attested to the highly developed nature of democracy in Slovakia. He also tackled the question of the package of economic restrictions that the Slovak government passed on January 28. "These economic measures are very bold, and I can only congratulate the cabinet," he said.
The economic package was also an issue included in the 23 recommendations that the Committee adopted on the last day of its session. "The Slovak government will have to redouble its efforts to prevent the economy from an excessive slowdown due to the economic package," reads the recommendation report.
Roy Perry, deputy chair of the Committee, identified several other problems that Slovakia has been wrestling with, including the Roma issue. "If Slovakia finds a solution [to its Romany dilemma] it could also help other countries, he said.
Miroslav Kusý, a political scientist with Comenius University in Bratislava, supported Perry's views, but said the government's actions were only one side of the coin. "The real question is to what extent the minorities themselves will agree with the cabinet's solutions," he added.
Perry, in his assessment, also touched on the unresolved issues of the Gabčíkovo waterworks, nuclear power stations and the election of a head of state.
The Committee talks also gave space for the views of members of the political opposition. Peter Baco, a deputy with Mečiar's HZDS party and a former Agriculture Minister, complained that all dialogue between the coalition and the opposition has ceased. "We have a totalitarian dictatorship of the parliamentary majority here," he said. Bösch, however, would not be drawn. "The Committee is not a forum for solving inter-party conflicts," he retorted.
"The reservations of the opposition are irrelevant," agreed Kusý, "because when they ruled this country, they didn't do anything to get to the EU."
The Joint Parliamentary Committee was formed in 1995 based on the Association Agreement between the Slovak Republic and the European Union. The committee was charged with helping Slovakia create the necessary legislative, political and economic conditions for integration into the EU.