SLOVAKS not only accept EU membership. According to Ivo Samson, a policy expert with the Research Center of the Slovak Foreign Policy Association, they also maintain support for the union even though many citizens have felt the pinch of tough reforms.
In fact, the analyst says that most Slovaks are satisfied with expansion. In an interview with The Slovak Spectator, Samson describes a country that strives to push the EU frontier further eastward in order to surround itself with political and economic stability.
The Slovak Spectator (TSS): How do you think the Slovak public has handled the challenges of its first year of membership in the European Union?
Ivo Samson (IS): The success of the past year is due to the fact that the Slovak population has accepted European Union membership and public support has not dropped. At the time of Slovakia's entry, two thirds of the population supported membership.
Today, approximately 65 to 66 percent agree with the move and are happy to see Slovakia in the union. This support has been maintained despite the tough social reforms that the government has implemented.
TSS: What were the greatest compromises that Slovakia had to swallow as a new EU member?
IS: I do not want to plunge into the sphere of economy, as I do not monitor it that closely. However, in the sphere of joint foreign policies, one unambiguous compromise that Slovakia has accepted is the European Union Constitution, which in some sense makes EU foreign and security policies automatic. The EU Constitution undermines some official foreign-political documents, including those of the Foreign Affairs Ministry in which the United States is listed as a key strategic partner of the Slovak Republic.
Being an ally of the US is how the country defined its transatlantic relations in the Mid-term Strategy of the Slovak Republic at the end of last year. Despite having these transatlantic relationships on a pedestal, Slovakia schizophrenically agreed that the security and foreign policy of the EU would be automatic, which weakens its transatlantic relationship with the US. I think this is where the key compromise lies.
This compromise springs from the fact that economics and politics are intertwined. I think US investments to Slovakia make up roughly about 10 percent, while the majority of foreign investments are coming from EU countries, mostly Germany.
This means that Slovakia's dependence on investments from countries like Germany must necessarily take precedence. Slovakia has tried to balance this by stressing its strategic links with the US in its official documents.
TSS: Slovakia has been an advocate of EU expansion into the former Communist block. What is Slovakia's vision on the further enlargement of the European Union?
IS: Slovakia has the same syndrome that older member countries had during the eastern enlargement of the European Union. For example, although enlargement was economically counter-productive for Germany, it advocated the accession of newcomers because it wanted to change its periphery position. It did not want to be on the eastern fringe of the European Union. The security of a country that borders a zone of instability is always threatened. Slovakia strives to be surrounded by the highest possible number of EU countries, which is why it is a pioneer when it comes to pressing the EU to open its doors to new members. If Ukraine joins the EU, it will certainly stabilize sooner.
The second reason for Slovakia's advocacy is psychological. In the mid-90s, the country rejected the notion of a "fortress Europe", suggesting that it reflected the egotistical nature of the old EU members. If Slovakia suddenly started insisting on halting the enlargement process, it would contradict itself. It would mean radically changing the policies it advocated just a few years ago and enduring the accusations of other post-Communist countries of selfishness.
TSS: There were some critical remarks that the Slovak public has only limited knowledge of the European Union Constitution and that the country is lacking a substantial debate over the issue. Do you agree with this view?
IS: I would rather disagree. People's knowledge of the EU Constitution in other EU member countries, including Austria and Germany, is equivalent to the average Slovak citizen's knowledge. Information about the EU constitution is something that citizens need to obtain for themselves if they are interested.
I will say, however, that the public's minimal interest and knowledge about the EU Constitution is because it is a legal text. Even if it does not have overly complicated language, it is not very easily digestible to the majority of citizens.
26. Apr 2005 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová