FARMERS protested proposed EU subsidy levels in Bratislava, as wrangling over the accession deal continued.
"The idea that country leaders would come [to the summit] just to open up the champagne seems to be an illusion," said EU Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen on December 2, 10 days before the landmark summit was due to begin.
Heads of governments of EU member and candidate countries are scheduled to meet in Copenhagen on December 12 and 13. The meeting, coming at the end of Denmark's EU presidency, marks an important milestone in the process of enlargement of the 15-member club.
Pre-entry negotiations between the EU and the 10 candidate countries - Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia - were to be concluded before the Copenhagen summit. It is now clear that negotiations will go right down to the wire, continuing into the summit itself. Diplomats say there is a lot at stake.
"That country [that fails to meet the Copenhagen deadline] won't become a member," said Onno Simons, counsellor with the Delegation of the European Commission in Slovakia.
As such, Slovak negotiators are working round the clock to get all the outstanding issues resolved.
"The Copenhagen summit is seen as a final date. If any questions were to remain open after the summit, the entire proposed schedule would be greatly threatened, so both the EU and Slovakia see it as a final date for discussions about the conditions of entry," said Vladimír Bilčík, analyst with the Slovak Foreign Policy Association.
"The [sticking points] include changes to budgetary rules on one hand and on the other hand, changes connected with the financing and functioning of the common agriculture policy within the enlarged union, especially quotas on the production of various agricultural commodities," Bilčík said.
Slovakia still has to close the agriculture and budget chapters of its 80,000-page entry agreement with the EU, having already completed negotiations on the other 28 chapters.
Direct payments to Slovak farmers are planned to reach only a fraction of amounts paid to farmers in current member countries. Slovakia would also like to gain higher quotas on the production of milk products and isoglucose, used for sweetening soft drinks. In Bratislava December 4, Slovak farmers protested outside the Delegation of the European Commission's building, voicing their concerns about the EU deal.
In Brussels December 3, the EU gave in to some Slovak demands, including increasing isoglucose production quotas and providing 47.5 million euro towards the guarding of Slovakia's eastern border with Ukraine.
While Slovakia had earlier wanted to be allowed to produce 50,000 tonnes of isoglucose annually, the EU at first proposed 3,500 tonnes. The agreed figure is now very close to the Slovak demand.
Assuming negotiations wind up in time, a number of steps will follow, leading to Slovakia's full membership of the EU in May 2004, a timeframe agreed upon by the member countries' foreign ministers on November 18 after the initial entry date of January 2004 was deemed too soon.
"In Copenhagen the entry negotiations have to be completed and that will lead to the conclusion of an agreement. Slovakia will then sign a treaty about becoming a member, which will have to be ratified by Slovakia and all member states and the European Parliament during the next year," said the EC's Simons.
The Accession Treaty is scheduled to be signed in April 2003, then a Slovak referendum will follow in June that year.
If all goes according to plan, new member states will have the opportunity to take part in the European Parliament elections in June 2004, enabling them to play a full part in the Inter-Governmental Conference at which a new EU Treaty is to be drafted.
Simons stressed that he was not expecting any other scenario than the clinching of a deal in Copenhagen.
"I think that it is very unlikely [that a deal won't be struck] for all candidate countries. But if somebody does not agree then maybe we will have fewer than 10 new member states," he said, adding that based on recent developments he sees the chances of Slovakia concluding the talks as "very good".
Analysts agree that a deal will be made and Slovakia will not jeopardise its future as an EU member.
"No one is forcing Slovakia to accept anything, but Slovakia wants to enter the EU along with other well-prepared countries, and any room for maneuver is getting smaller. There are still a lot of open questions, but far fewer than before," said Bilčík.