DESPITE a recent European Parliament resolution stressing that Slovakia must work particularly hard to fight corruption and defend minority rights, the country's Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration, Mária Kadlečíková, remains confident that Slovakia's entry into the European Union is irreversible.
The Deputy PM was speaking on June 14 at a press conference following the delivery of the European Parliament's regular country report on Slovakia's EU integration progress. The report will be the basis for the EU's key evaluation of Slovakia's readiness for entry, which is expected to be released in October this year.
"Slovakia has done so much that integration is basically irreversible," Kadlečíková said.
Noting that Slovakia had recently closed its 26th out of 30 'chapters' in the acquis communautaire - a set of legislative requirements that candidate country's must absorb into domestic law before entering the EU - the European Commission's ambassador to Slovakia, Eric van der Linden, also said he was optimistic about Slovakia's progress.
However, corruption concerns remain a top priority for the Union, the diplomat said.
The report "calls on all political parties to assist in creating an atmosphere which would permit Slovakia to be in the first wave of enlargement," but notes that "on the negative side, corruption and independence of the judiciary remain highly problematic.
"On the plus side, decentralisation and devolution to regional government in order to prepare for the absorption of structural funds is taking place at a good rate," the report continued.
Van der Linden said that Slovakia also had to help improve the situation of the Roma, the country's largest ethnic minority.
The EP resolution, approved June 13, said the European Parliament "supports the government in continuing the implentation of its Roma strategy in closer consultation and participation with the population concerned, especially increasing the efforts to improve the situation in housing and education".
Slovakia's estimated 400,000 to 500,000-strong Roma population suffers from considerably higher unemployment and is reported to have lower average education that the rest of the country's inhabitants. Although several Roma housing projects have been initiated by the state, and some completed, many Roma still live in ghetto-like settlements mainly in eastern Slovakia.
"Effort on the part of Slovaks as well as Roma themselves is necessary so that Roma become a part of society. It's a task for all inhabitants," said van der Linden.
The progress report pointed out that Slovakia had managed to complete 88 per cent of EU-related legislative changes since starting entry negotiations in 2000, two years after its regional neighbours Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic. Slovakia is now temporarily ahead of all three in the number of 'chapters' completed.
The speed of the country's return to the vanguard of EU candidates, after being dropped in 1997 because of the autocratic policies of then-PM Vladimír Mečiar, left Kadlečíková optimistic about Slovakia's chances of being invited to join the EU at the end of this year.
"We have a very real chance, but we will have to work very hard to convince the EU particularly of the transparency of our institutions. We also have a lot of work to do in solving the corruption problem," said Kadlečíková.
In Brussels meanwhile, apparently trying to quiet recent rumours that planned EU enlargement in 2004 might be postponed, the EP voted 396 to 16, with 29 abstentions, in favour of a motion "not to erect any new obstacles to enlargement."
For Slovakia, however, it will be particularly important that "the outcome of these [upcoming September parliamentary] elections will allow for the quick formation of a new government that will be able to work with the EU in the same positive way as the present one," stated the EP resolution.
Western diplomats and Nato representatives have repeatedly said that the return of Mečiar to power after the fall election might endanger Slovakia's Alliance bid.
While Kadlečíková said her EU partners had never "officially told [me] that this would be a problem," she said that "the question mark remains".
"The two processes [of Nato and EU enlargement] are closely related," Kadlečíková said to The Slovak Spectator June 17.
"I believe that if Nato decides to invite us, the EU is very likely to confirm its invitation for Slovakia, provided we fulfill all the requirements from the acquis. It's now very important for us to dedicate all our efforts to the common goal of joining these organisations."
24. Jun 2002 at 0:00 | Martina Pisárová