BUSINESS CENTRAL EUROPE

Talk of "overriding aim" of integration sounds hollow

Within weeks of taking office, Foreign Minister Pavol Hamžík made a courtesy visit to his German counterpart Klaus Kinkel to begin the process of re-building relations. Either Mr. Hamžík has given himself the mandate to talk up Slovakia to the EU or he is doing it at Mr. Mečiar's behest. More likely than not, though, he is a tool of his leader's machinations.

In the government's policy document delivered before parliament in January of last year, Mr. Mečiar proclaimed that integration with the EU and NATO would be an "overriding aim." With hindsight these have proven to be hollow words. Chancellor Kohl is an enthusiast for EU expansion eastwards but makes an exception of Slovakia. In diplomatic language Slovakia still has "a great deal to do" before it will be eligible for EU membership. In plain English, the country doesn't have a hope of being accepted as long as Mr. Mečiar remains in power.

His government continues to pass legislation that riles the EU. Witness the on-going spat over a bill on universities which gives the Minister of Education a say over academic appointments. Amendments to the penal code and legislation on freedom of expression and minority languages have also caused a stir in Brussels. In June, parliament approved an amendment postponing the privatization of the country's four biggest banks until March 1997, despite pressure from the EU to speed up the process of state sell-offs.

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