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Critical report on Slovakia riles up country's politicians, media

An dependent study on Slovakia's likelihood of accession to European Union (EU) membership has riled up representatives of opposing political camps in the Slovak media. While the report, released by the German publisher Bertelsmann in time for the EU's summit meeting in Dublin, Ireland in December, is not an official EU document, it has had, in the words of one of the report's authors, "unintended consequences" within the country. Slovak Television's weekly debate program "Kroky" ("Steps") kicked off the ruckus on December 8, when Slovak Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Dušan Slobodník condemned the book's 1995 edition, only to learn from two of his debating partners that a new edition of the report - which covers all east European countries with EU associate member status - had just appeared.

An dependent study on Slovakia's likelihood of accession to European Union (EU) membership has riled up representatives of opposing political camps in the Slovak media. While the report, released by the German publisher Bertelsmann in time for the EU's summit meeting in Dublin, Ireland in December, is not an official EU document, it has had, in the words of one of the report's authors, "unintended consequences" within the country.

Slovak Television's weekly debate program "Kroky" ("Steps") kicked off the ruckus on December 8, when Slovak Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Dušan Slobodník condemned the book's 1995 edition, only to learn from two of his debating partners that a new edition of the report - which covers all east European countries with EU associate member status - had just appeared.

"It was a special situation," joked Juraj Alner, a columnist for the daily Národná Obroda. "Slobodník was very angry, but he was talking about the 1995 document, not the latest" edition, which is titled "Central & Eastern Europe on the Way into the European Union" and is harshly critical of the Slovak government. Soňa Szomolányi, an analyst at the Slovak Academy of Science who co-authored the report's section on Slovakia and was watching the program, said that Slobodník momentarily "was at a loss for words."

But the televised debate made the report "become much better known in Slovakia," Szomolányi said. "Similar reports have not generated such a reaction because they are read by academics."

Národná Obroda, devoted a column to the "Kroky" debate. The Bertelsmann study also got ink in Sme, the state news agency TASR, and was on Radio Twist's weekly discussion program "Radio Žurnál."

Critical view

The report's pivotal criticism? "Very simple," Szomolányi said. "The governing coalition is responsible for Slovakia's poor image abroad. Its observance of the principle of the division of powers, civilian control of the security branch, and even such things as basic behavior by democratic rules would send a positive message abroad."

"There is the potential for normal, European-style government in Slovakia," Szomolányi continued. "Despite all the problems Slovakia has, it should not be excluded from the first accession round of EU membership, because to do so would only create a vicious circle. I think the most effective approach the EU could take towards Slovakia is that of 'honey and the whip;' that is, a whip to the government, and honey for the people."

Report's significance questioned

Gajus Scheltema, the chargé d'affaires at the Netherlands Embassy in Bratislava, dismissed the report's significance. "A foundation is independent," the Dutch diplomat said. "Whether the EU does anything about it or not is another matter. I would be very surprised if [the report] had any impact at all."

"Which countries will be in the first round has simply not been discussed, and in the end it is the members of the EU who must decide, not an independent study group," Scheltema added.

"I don't think the report was considered in Brussels," said Branislav Slyško, a spokesman for the EU mission to the Slovak Republic. "In the bulletin that we received here which the EU publishes, there was no mention of [the report] at all"

But Alner, who participated with Szomolányi in the Bertelsmann Foundation-sponsored workshop held to prepare the report last summer, took a different view. "In Brussels they have a lot of such information, but [the Bertelsmann Report] is a very important document which the EU has received every year since the beginning of the association agreement. Bertelsmann is a well-known institution. The report is a document written expressly for the EU, so I think it's important for Brussels. It's a form of cooperation between the EU and Bertelsmann."

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