Slovakia closes transport chapter, has five to go

SLOVAKIA has moved closer to becoming a European Union (EU) member by meeting legislative requirements in the transportation sector on April 22.
While only five 'chapters' remain to be closed in the 29-section acquis communautaire, the EU's legislative roadmap to entry, the path to EU membership is still an uphill battle for Slovakia. The remaining areas are some of the most difficult for Slovakia, and some state officials believe that passing the required legislation by the mid-summer parliamentary recess before upcoming elections will be next to impossible.

SLOVAKIA has moved closer to becoming a European Union (EU) member by meeting legislative requirements in the transportation sector on April 22.

While only five 'chapters' remain to be closed in the 29-section acquis communautaire, the EU's legislative roadmap to entry, the path to EU membership is still an uphill battle for Slovakia. The remaining areas are some of the most difficult for Slovakia, and some state officials believe that passing the required legislation by the mid-summer parliamentary recess before upcoming elections will be next to impossible.

But Jan Figeľ, Deputy Foreign Minister and chief EU negotiator for Slovakia, says on the strength of the country's acquis record since launching entry negotiations in 2000 that the work can be done.

The transportation chapter, he explains, after Slovakia's EU entry will help eliminate the current paperwork that Slovak transport companies have to go through to access the EU market.

"After EU entry, Slovak transport companies will be granted full and free accession to the European market - there will be no need for permission to access certain areas, which currently create administrative obstacles," Figeľ told The Slovak Spectator on April 24.

In transport negotiations the EU had requested a temporary postponement of full freedom for Slovak carriers to indulge in "cabotage", or the provision of domestic transport service in EU member states. This temporary restriction, known in EU jargon as a 'transition period', does not apply to international transport between EU countries.

The EU, particularly Germany and Austria, had earlier expressed concern that companies from new member states would flood their domestic markets and become a competitive threat because of their relatively low operating costs and cheap workforce.

The EU therefore requested that an initial two-year cabotage transition period following Slovakia's expected 2004 EU entry include the possibility of extension by an additional two years, and then a final one year.

Although Figeľ called the deal "a compromise" he added that Slovakia would try to avoid the extra delay by signing bilateral agreements on cabotage quotas with individual EU member countries.

Figeľ added that Slovakia had given up very little, as cabotage makes up only one percent of international transport within the EU.

But while he said he was satisfied with Slovakia's progress so far in negotiations with the EU, he cautioned that most of the real negotiating was yet to come.

"Twenty-four chapters since February 2000 is quite a good result in terms of numbers. But it's still a long way to the end."

By 'the end' Figeľ meant the 41 EU-related legislative bills which parliament still has to approve by its summer recess before fall elections.

Ľubomír Fogaš, Deputy PM for Legislation, said after a cabinet meeting on April 24 that the government had sent 38 laws on to parliament, and had failed to approve only three, which he considered "not essential" for EU entry.

The laws remaining to be approved include one on electronic signatures, one on environmental protection and one on education.

However, Deputy Prime Minister for Integration Mária Kadlečíková said the laws were indeed vital for EU entry, and that the government would script them in time. "The ball is well on its way from us to the parliament," she said. "Everything now depends on what MPs do."

The European Parliament's rapporteur for Slovakia, Jan Marinus Wiersma, said he trusted the laws would be passed following Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda's "assurance to me that the laws would go through, even if it meant extending parliament through the summer."

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