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YEAR IN NEWS - REVIEW 2004

Slovakia integrates

THE YEAR 2004 marked the culmination of the many years of Slovakia's efforts to integrate. Having fulfilled the requirements for joining both the European Union and NATO, Slovakia formally became a member of both organizations in the first quarter of the year.
Slovak military, civil and political representatives started working in these institutions. As a fully-fledged EU-member, Slovakia had to integrate EU legislation into its own, but soon became one of the best prepared new members.

THE YEAR 2004 marked the culmination of the many years of Slovakia's efforts to integrate. Having fulfilled the requirements for joining both the European Union and NATO, Slovakia formally became a member of both organizations in the first quarter of the year.

Slovak military, civil and political representatives started working in these institutions. As a fully-fledged EU-member, Slovakia had to integrate EU legislation into its own, but soon became one of the best prepared new members.

Ján Figeľ, the former leader of Slovakia's EU entry negotiations team, was appointed a member of the European Commission in May. On June 13, integration reached its high point with the election of the first Slovak European Parliament members.

Since joining, Slovakia has grabbed the opportunity to use EU funds for national projects, hoping to close the gap between the more developed western Slovak regions and the rest of the country. At the same time the country is streamlining its public finances in preparation for adopting the common EU currency, the euro, in 2009.

Below are some key events in Slovakia's international integration in 2004.

February - About 20 EU-laws are still missing from Slovak legislation just two months before EU entry. Deputy PM for Integration, Pál Csáky, is worried the country will not manage to approve them all by the deadline.

March 11 - The European Parliament adopts the last in a series of monitoring reports on the EU candidate states.

According to the report, Slovakia has more work to do on the situation concerning its Roma minority, on battling corruption, and improving the system by which the state draws on EU funds.

Despite these shortcomings, the country is named as one of the best-prepared new members.

March 29 - Slovakia and six other post-communist states deposit their accession documents with the United States government, making them official members of NATO.

Along with Slovak Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda, the leaders of Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Slovenia are welcomed into the alliance by US President George Bush and top NATO officials. NATO now comprises 26 member states.

April 2 - Slovak officials take part in an official flag- raising ceremony in Brussels to welcome the seven new NATO members to the alliance.

April 9 - Maroš Šefčovič, a former senior Foreign Affairs Ministry official, takes over as ambassador at the Slovak permanent mission to the EU, replacing his predecessor, Miroslav Adamiš.

April 27 - Slovakia opens permanent representation to the EU in Brussels.

May 1 - Slovakia becomes an official member of the European Union. "Slovakia's entry into the EU is perhaps the greatest challenge we will go through in our lives," says Speaker of Parliament, Pavol Hrušovský. "It is certainly among the four key events of our most recent history, along with [the fall of the Communist regime in] November 1989, the creation of an independent Slovakia [in 1993], and NATO entry," he says.

May 5 - The European Parliament approves 10 new commissioners, including the Slovak representative, Ján Figeľ.

June 13 - The first elections to the EU parliament are held in Slovakia and 14 Slovak MEPs are elected. A mere 17 percent of voters take part in the elections.

The Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) emerges as the winner of the ballot, gaining 17.1 percent of the vote, followed five-hundredths of a percent behind by the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia party (HZDS). Another opposition party, Smer, ranks third, with 16.89 percent, followed by the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), which takes slightly more than 16 percent of the vote. All four parties will hold three seats each in the European assembly. The Hungarian Coalition Party is represented by two MEPs.

June 14 - The Slovak parliament votes to mention Christian values in Europe in the preamble to the EU's constitutional treaty.

June 23 - The Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) campaign for a referendum to be held on the EU Constitution.

August 22 - European Commissioner Figeľ will be responsible for the area of education and culture, announces José Manuel Barroso, the new chairman of the European Commission. He also announces the areas of responsibility for the remaining 23 commissioners.

December 10 - As many as 71 percent of Slovaks support the EU Constitution, according to a Eurobarometer survey. Slovaks are also among the happiest new EU members. Since the country's entry in May, people in general have become less pessimistic about their futures have a high-level of trust in European institutions, and 62 percent perceive EU membership as advantageous.

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