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What would OECD membership mean?

To many people - Slovaks and non-Slovaks alike - the benefits of membership in the European Union (EU) and NATO are becoming increasingly clear. But the meaning of membership in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is less well-known among the public.

To many people - Slovaks and non-Slovaks alike - the benefits of membership in the European Union (EU) and NATO are becoming increasingly clear. But the meaning of membership in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is less well-known among the public.

Policy-makers in Bratislava, Washington and Paris, where the organisation is based, say that admission to the OECD would mean that Slovakia could have a very real role in shaping international economic policy. An example of this is an agreement against bribery.

Because the world's richest states have committed themselves to such a standard, then this kind of agreement becomes a prestigious pact non-members can also sign.

With 29 members, the OECD is not quite as exclusive a club as the 15-member European Union, or NATO, which has 19 member countries, but it remains a relatively small club of industrialised economies.

The OECD was founded in 1961 to take over from the Organisation for European Economic Cooperation, which had been established to administer American and Canadian aid under the Marshall Plan for the recosntruction of Europe after World War II.

Since it was created with 20 western European and North American countries, the OECD has expanded to include Pacific Rim countries and, most recently three countries of the former communist eastern bloc: the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary.

The organization now seeks to build strong economies in its member countries, improve efficiency, hone market systems, expand free trade and contribute to development in industrialised as well as developing countries.

To be a member means that certain codes and standards must be upheld by member states. These countries agree to participate in an excercise unique among international organisations called "peer review," which asks for transparency, explanation and, when necessary, self-criticism.

Peter Mihók, chairman of the Slovak Chamber of Commerce and Industry, sees OECD membership as a gateway to the more significant goal of the EU.

"This would be a significant step not only from the viewpoint of strengthening the stability of the Slovak economy and its reputation, but in terms of raising the interest of foreign investors in our country," he said.

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