Herbert Bosch led a delegation of MEPs, some of whom did not like what they heard in Bratislava.
"If the situation here does not change, I'm afraid Slovakia will not be allowed into the first group" of new EU member countries, Doehe Eisma, a European Parliamentarian from the Netherlands, said on October 30, after three days of EU-Slovak committee meetings and negotiations. "It is all up to the Slovak government."
While Slovakia has economically overtaken its post-communist neighbors, statements such as Eisma's make it clear that in many Western countries' view, Slovakia has fallen behind in its democratic development. This is backed up by recent statements from the US State Department and speeches in Slovakia by US Ambassador Ralph Johnson and EU Ambassador Georgios Zavvos, all of which illuminated increased concern with the country's commitment to democracy.
EU, NATO make the rules
During the first day of the joint session, Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar reiterated what he said has been his government's top foreign policy priority since he took office in December 1994: joining the EU and NATO. "Integration into the EU is our hope," Mečiar said in his speech to the joint committee. "That's why we will do everything to make it become a reality."
But it is the EU and NATO members alone who decide whether to allow Slovakia in. While they say they support Slovakia's desire to enter these structures, Western officials have been emphasizing that the political opposition cannot be marginalized, ethnic minorities have to be satisfied, and human rights must be respected.
Western diplomats in Bratislava say the Slovak government has not been following those rules, and the situation has barely improved, despite three formal diplomatic warnings and EU and NATO representatives personally communicating their concerns to the government.
"We have sent messages. Sending messages is all we can do here. If someone chooses not to receive them, we can't help it," Eisma said, adding that the EU hopes to decide who will be in the first group of new members by June 1997.
When Mečiar addressed the parliamentarians, he placed blame for Slovakia's tarnished image squarely on the opposition and President Michal Kováč. The opposition, Mečiar diagnosed, carries its emotional scars abroad as "an exported trauma from having lost the elections three times.''
"Do the Czech parliamentarians go and complain in Europe?" Mečiar asked rhetorically. "Do they go abroad and cry 'Oh, God, how unfairly we are treated?'"
The speech did not have the effect Mečiar intended. EU Deputy David Hallam asked aloud why Mečiar chose to attack rather than talk about positive things. "I don't like seeing hatred in these circles," the British MP said. "Airing your dirty laundry in public does not help."
Mečiar did not stop at domestic influences. "EU deputies play on one side or the other, according to whom - in their opinion - seems more democratic, not who is more democratic," the Premier said.
That did not wash over well, either. Asked to give his impression of the situation after this latest encounter on Slovak soil, one EU Parliamentarian said, "One step forward, three steps back."
6. Nov 1996 at 0:00 | Jana Dorotková