EU Commissioner for External Relations, Hans van den Broek, says he expects "substantial progress" by year's end.
"I...regret that democracy does not yet appear to be sufficiently deeply rooted in Slovakia," van den Broek said in a statement. "I am concerned about the institutional vacuum created through the absence of a president, the way some presidential powers are transferred to the government and have been used to bring about recent changes to the electoral law, and about provisions concerning the use of minority languages."
"I therefore call on the Slovak authorities to take steps to address these issues," van den Broek continued. "Together with free and fair elections, improvements in this area are instrumental to bringing Slovakia closer to the EU."
Although van den Broek did not mince his words, the Government's Office did not issue any statement in response to his criticism. No government official commented on his remarks as of press time.
However, Jozef Kalman, Deputy Prime Minister and Chairman of the Government's Council for Slovakia's integration into the EU, admitted at the June 22 conference on "Social Dimension of European Integration" that Slovakia indeed might be sliding back in its timetable to join the EU.
"While four years ago, a time horizon of 2000-2002 was widely deemed as realistic, the year 2005 seems to be more realistic now," Kalman said, noting that not only the government, but Slovak society was responsible for the country's accession to the EU.
The first part of van den Broek's criticism touched on the dragging constitutional crisis. Slovakia has been without a president since March 2 when Michal Kováč, a bitter enemy of Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar, stepped down at the end of his term of office, leaving no successor and handing most of the presidential powers over to Mečiar, who has used them in ways that have attracted strong criticism from the EU, the United States and human rights groups.
The most controversial move of Mečiar as an acting President was the issuing of an amnesty to all those involved in the August 1995 abduction of President Kováč's son. Kováč Jr. was tied up, thrown in the boot of a car and dumped in front of a police station in Hainburg, Austria. At that time, a warrant for Kováč Jr.'s arrest issued by German police due to Kováč Jr's alleged participation in an international fraud case involving the Slovak company Technopol was still valid, but according to international law, the Slovak government could not extradite him.
An Austrian court, ruling on whether Kováč Jr. should be extradited to Germany or returned to Slovakia, alleged that Slovak authorities could have been involved in the kidnapping. But the Slovak government denied any wrongdoing and argued that there was no proof that any kidnapping even took place.
Van den Broek also criticized a recently-passed amendment to the election law which will hinder the opposition in the run up to September's general elections. "We regret the recent amendment to the election law which is likely to restrict the freedom of the media and political parties and I call on all involved to work hard to ensure that the election is free and fair," he said.
Parliament recently passed a series of amendments to the country's election law. The most controversial concern the transfer of most of the power from the independent Central Election Commission and local commissions, to state administration bodies, transforming Slovakia into a single electoral constituency, and excluding private media from election campaigning.
The term "election campaigning" is not defined clearly and the opposition says its very vagueness creates room for legal abuse. The public broadcast media is generally pro-government while private radio and television stations are often highly critical of the government.
The final element of van den Broek's critique was aimed at the government's treatment of Slovakia's 500,000 strong ethnic Hungarian minority. Noting the government's sacking of two school principals who had issued graduation certificates in both Slovak and Hungarian, van den Broek assured that the European 'Big Brother' is watching the next steps of the Slovak government.
"Recent events relating to bilingual certificates give cause for concern, and we look forward to seeing a resolution to this problem," van den Broek said.
2. Jul 1998 at 0:00 | Robin Shepherd