Not impressed. EU parliamentarians like Gijs de Vries (left) from the Netherlands, and Willy de Clercq from Belgium, have called on Slovakia to continue democratic reforms.
At the Slovak Parliament's November session, Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar's ruling coalition adopted certain democratization measures, hoping to sneak through the EU back door. But EU members were not impressed, reiterating their pleas for respect of democratic principles in applicant countries. At the summit, the EU should decide which applicants from Central and Eastern Europe will be let in when it opens accession talks at the beginning of 1998. According to sources from Brussels, there are three probable models of enlargement.
The European Commission (EC), the EU's executive body, recommended earlier this year that membership negotiations with Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Hungary, Estonia and Cyprus should start next April, with perspective members joining the club five years later if all goes well.
But this model - known in Brussels' diplomatic jargon as 5+1 - soon found a strong competitor, when the European Parliament (EP) came up with a model known as 10+1-1, which means all European Union applicants plus Cyprus, minus Slovakia. Yet there are some member states which support the model of "single start line," which means not excluding anyone.
"There is no generally-accepted compromise on how many countries we should start talks with," said Lousewies van der Laan, EC spokeswoman, for the Pravda daily. "Ten member states support the EC's stance that the talks should be opened with the five [European] countries plus Cyprus. Another five members maintain that we should start talks with all [applicants]. And the EP would like to start talks with all applicants except Slovakia."
The EP's Foreign Committee on November 17 passed a resolution suggesting that Slovakia should be eliminated from the first round of accession talks because it is dragging its feet on democratic reform.
"The EP believes that all applicant countries have the right to begin talks on accession to the EU," the resolution reads. "These talks should begin at the same time with all applicant countries with the exception of Slovakia, which at the moment is not fulfilling criteria for stable democratic development, respecting human rights and ethnic minority protection, set up [at the EU summit] in Copenhagen."
Sneaking through EU back door
In order to improve the country's democratic image abroad, the ruling coalition at Parliament's November session allowed for some changes in composition of special parliamentary committees for supervising the Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS), suspected by the opposition to have taken part in August 1995 kidnapping of president Michal Kováč's son, along with the Military Intelligence Service.
Milan Kňažko of the Democratic Union (DU) and František Javorský of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) were elected into the body to control military intelligence, and Roman Vavrík, another DU deputy, was elected to the body supervising the SIS. However, the coalition didn't allow Ján Langoš, a former federal Czechoslovak interior minister, to enter the same committee. Nevertheless, the opposition called confirming the three nominees a move in the right direction.
Another move by the coalition to improve Slovakia's democratic image was described by the opposition as merely quasi-democratic. On November 18, an independent deputy Anton Hrnko who left the DU club earlier this year, proposed that Rudolf Filkus, another independent deputy who quit the same club shortly after Hrnko, become the fourth vice-chairman of the parliament.
The post of the fourth vice-chairman has been vacant since the night of November 3, 1994, when Mečiar's administration reassumed power after elections. According to the parliament's statutes, at least one of four vice-chairmans must be from opposition. Filkus took the post after a tight vote when 76 out of 150 deputies, Filkus included, voted in his favor. But the opposition said it doesn't consider Filkus to be an opposition's voice among the parliament's top officials, as over the past year, Filkus has been voting together with coalition deputies.
Austria is one of the five EU member states, van der Laan referred to as supporting the single start line for opening negotiations with all applicants. Speaking after a meeting with his Slovak counterpart Zdenka Kramplová two weeks ago, Schüssel said Austria was very keen all 11 applicants participate in an early 1998 EU conference on eastward expansion.
Last week, Austrian Chancellor Viktor Klima reiterated his country's opinion during his official visit to the country. "Slovakia is not isolated and will not be isolated," said Mečiar after meeting with Klima in Piešťany. "All worries relating to this are unfounded."
Klima came to Slovakia to assure state officials that Austria wishes its post-communist neighbor become an EU member, and hopes it will meet all the necessary conditions concerning development of democracy.
In the meantime, Slovak entrepreneurs are growing anxious over possibly of losing benefits of EU membership. At a recent conference on Slovakia's economic transformation and investment, Vladimír Soták, General Director of Železiarne Podbrezová (ranked 34th among largest Slovak companies according to 1996 revenues) complained about the government's mellow approach to EU membership.
"I would like to make an appeal to the government to not lower expectations for us to enter the European Union," Soták said. "We shouldn't aspire to be 10th or 50th but first. Otherwise we will not be successful in our bid. We have a clear interest in working with the EU."
Too little, too late
Unfortunately, at the moment it seems that because of a deficit of democracy, Slovak businessmen will have to face stricter rules in the trade game. "Based on our analyzes we believe that in spite of achieved results, good economic prospects and clearly formulated commitment to join the European family, there are worries concerning stability of your institutions," van der Laan said to Pravda.
In an interview for the same daily last month, U.S. ambassador Ralph Johnson said the same policies that excluded Slovakia from NATO were also endangering its chances to be a frontline candidate for European Union membership.
But Slovak government officials don't seem to take friendly advice at their face value. Interior Minister Gustáv Krajči rejected Johnson's statements in an open letter to Johnson.
"I am sorry to note your fears that Slovakia has missed the possibility to move toward democracy and integration in western structures," Krajči wrote. "I think you failed to properly identify some of the problems of our young Slovak democracy... which doesn't heal the wounds but only irritates them more."
4. Dec 1997 at 0:00 | Daniel Borský