A NEW EUROPE: Leaders of current and future EU member states gathered to make history in Copenhagen.
This development is being seen as the country's second significant victory in the field of international affairs this year, coming just weeks after Slovakia was invited to join Nato on November 21.
Slovakia, along with nine other countries - Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland and Slovenia - completed negotiations at a summit organised by the Danish EU presidency in Copenhagen December 12 and 13, which was hailed as a landmark event in the history of the region.
"The accession of 10 new member states will bring an end to the divisions in Europe. For the first time in history, Europe will become one, because unification is the free will of its people," said Chairman of the European Commission (EC) Romano Prodi.
Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda agreed: "The door of the EU is now wide open to Slovakia, and the Union will unite what was split by [events of] the 20th century," he said.
Talks with the candidate countries continued right up until the end of the summit, with several of them using the final hours to try to win better accession terms.
Unlike officials from neighbouring countries, Slovak negotiators chose not to do much bargaining, having accepted much of the EU proposal before leaving for the summit.
"I see this a sign of our professionalism," said Dzurinda. "We did not need to make any last-minute deals, because we achieved what we wanted over the course of the last three years, through patient and professional negotiations."
The conditions for Slovakia's accession are better than many observers had expected, particularly in the controversial area of farm subsidies.
In the first year after accession, farmers in all new member countries will receive 55 percent of the amount of direct subsidies currently received in EU-member countries. The level will increase to 60 percent in 2005 and 65 percent in 2006, although about two-fifths of the money will have to come from their own budgets.
Under the initial proposal farmers were to get only 25 per cent in the first year and reach an equal level over the course of a decade.
Slovakia also managed to achieve increased quotas for the production of iso-glucose, a matter that had been a sticking point in final negotiations.
The country's entry into the EU will be definite only at the end of the ratification process, during which all current members have to approve the candidates' future membership. Slovak citizens will also vote on membership in a referendum planned for late May or early June 2003.
However, the long-desired invitations to the elite clubs are definite, and the country is closer than ever to becoming an integral part of Western political and economic structures.
"Slovak citizens could not give themselves a better present for the upcoming 10th anniversary of independent Slovakia than invitations to join the EU and Nato," said PM Dzurinda.
23. Dec 2002 at 0:00 | Lukáš Fila