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Slovakia off EU entry roster until 2000

At the December 11-12 summit of the Council of Europe in Vienna, the premiers of the 15 member countries decided to keep Slovakia out of the vanguard of countries negotiating European Union accession. Slovakia, they said, would have to wait until the country was reassessed by the European Commission in December 1999.
"We have been asleep for four years," said Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda at a press conference after the Vienna summit, referring to the term in office of the former cabinet of Vladimír Mečiar. Mečiar was harshly criticised by the EU for backsliding on democracy, and during his reign, Slovakia was dropped from a group of front-runners for EU integration.

At the December 11-12 summit of the Council of Europe in Vienna, the premiers of the 15 member countries decided to keep Slovakia out of the vanguard of countries negotiating European Union accession. Slovakia, they said, would have to wait until the country was reassessed by the European Commission in December 1999.

"We have been asleep for four years," said Premier Mikuláš Dzurinda at a press conference after the Vienna summit, referring to the term in office of the former cabinet of Vladimír Mečiar. Mečiar was harshly criticised by the EU for backsliding on democracy, and during his reign, Slovakia was dropped from a group of front-runners for EU integration.

Dzurinda said that after such a long period of stagnation in Slovak-EU relations, it would be encouraging for the country to know exactly when the first group of countries might expect to enter the EU.

Dzurinda also said that his cabinet was not satisfied with the postponement of the country's re-evaluation. The Council of Europe decision, he said, had been based on a November 4 report on Slovakia prepared by the European Commission. The report had focused on the integration efforts of the Mečiar government, and for time reasons could not reflect changes enacted by the Dzurinda cabinet, which came to power October 29. "After what we experienced during the last four years, we could not expect more from [the report]," Dzurinda said, but vowed to have the Commission revise its report in the spring of 1999.

In the end, however, Dzurinda stressed that despite the delay proposed by the Council, Slovakia's foreign policy would remain oriented towards membership in western alliances.

During the first official visit of the Slovak cabinet to Brussels on November 5-6, EU High Commissioner Hans van den Broek proposed to Dzurinda that the EU form a joint high-level working group with Slovakia to speed up the country's EU membership process.

In Vienna, Dzurinda told the daily paper Sme that at its December 10 session, cabinet had discussed over 25 proposals of the working group, proposals which it wants to meet before requesting a new report from the European Commission in the spring. "This speaks of our strong resolve to do whatever has to be done, and if we are getting on well, in February or March we will resolutely knock on the European Union's door and ask it to reassess its statement on Slovakia," Dzurinda said.

Ján Figeľ, state secretary at the Foreign Ministry and Slovakia's main EU negotiator, said that the cabinet would send concrete information on how the criteria outlined by the working group had been addressed, "and then it's up to the European Commission to decide what to take into consideration."

European Commission officials, for their part, were approving of the recent political changes in Slovakia, but claimed it was still too early to come to conclusions when the greater part of the qualification criteria for accession remained unfulfilled.

"Everyone who reads the special report on your country carefully can see an appreciation of the political changes in Slovakia, along with concern, however, that these changes were only made recently," said van den Broek for the Slovak daily paper Pravda. "But we will gladly cooperate with the new government to achieve further progress."

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