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EDITORIAL

The 'least-prepared' country may be the best prepared

PREPARATIONS for the country's entry into the EU have revealed an ingrained habit of many Slovaks - the reluctance to plan ahead. This has brought much criticism from outside the country, but it is a characteristic that may yet prove to have its advantages.
The controversy surrounding EU funding show that it was not only the referendum campaign that was badly planned. All evidence suggests that the government has no real plans for ensuring access to EU funds, neither before the country enters the union in May 2004 nor after.
The problem runs deeper than simple inefficiency on the part of the government, regions, and companies. The tendency of Slovaks to approach planning with caution is a natural result of the country's recent history.

PREPARATIONS for the country's entry into the EU have revealed an ingrained habit of many Slovaks - the reluctance to plan ahead. This has brought much criticism from outside the country, but it is a characteristic that may yet prove to have its advantages.

The controversy surrounding EU funding show that it was not only the referendum campaign that was badly planned. All evidence suggests that the government has no real plans for ensuring access to EU funds, neither before the country enters the union in May 2004 nor after.

The problem runs deeper than simple inefficiency on the part of the government, regions, and companies. The tendency of Slovaks to approach planning with caution is a natural result of the country's recent history.

Older generations learned to distrust planning during the communist era, when production planning led to great inefficiencies in the economic system. On the one hand, some products were assembled in one factory in the proscribed quantities only to be disassembled in another, because of a lack of real demand, and on the other hand, queues would form for the most basic items.

In the period following the overthrow of communism in 1989 there was no room for planning because nothing was certain. New measures governing business and society were being created on the go, only to be violated, abused, and later changed. National property worth billions of crowns ended up in the hands of a few, who in most cases had to do little planning or, for that matter, work to deserve their new possessions. Thousands of people lost jobs that they had had for years, and had planned to have for the rest of their lives.

Institutions, moral values, and the basic rules of society have been changing constantly since the fall of communism, and the creation of an independent Slovakia that followed in 1993.

Rapid change has taught many Slovaks that plans rarely go as expected, and that only things that can be done right away and bring immediate gain have value, because only those cannot be taken away.

Membership in the EU is being presented as a positive development that will bring stability to Slovakia. However, with a record number of new members joining next year - 10 including Slovakia - reforms of the bloc's institutions on the way, and a complete lack of certainty about the EU's future policies, this may not necessarily be the case.

From the perspective of Western countries with long traditions, the Slovaks' inability to plan makes this one of the worst-prepared countries for membership in today's EU. Yet their ability to live with uncertainty and adapt may make the country one of the fittest for survival in the EU of tomorrow.

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