|Vol.7, No.35, 27.9.01, p6
SLOVAKIA will be able to finalise most of its negotiations on joining the EU by next summer, its premier predicted this week.
Mikulas Dzurinda said he hoped to have talks regarding the ten legislative chapters which Bratislava is still discussing with the EU institutions wrapped up about two months before the general election, scheduled for September 2002.
"Slovakia started the negotiations with the European Union two years later than Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary," he told European Voice. "Now look at the number of chapters we've provisionally closed  - the same number as the Czech Republic and more than Poland."
His government's rapid progress has been helped by a flexible approach.
Unlike Prague, Bratislava has been willing to accept that there should be a transition period of up to seven years between entering the EU and guaranteeing the free movement of Slovak workers within the Union's borders.
"I don't expect that after Slovakia joins [the EU], a lot of Slovaks will be ready to leave the country and work in Austria or in Germany so this final compromise is fully acceptable," he said. Of the hurdles due to be overcome in the next few months, he singled out adapting to the full rigours of EU competition law and the hike in cigarette prices that would result from Slovakia having to harmonise its excise duties with the Union as being the most problematic.
Meanwhile, his ministers are this week putting the final touches to a deal enabling the closure of the two ageing reactors at the Jaslovske Bohunice nuclear plant.
Anti-nuclear Austria has been emphatic in demanding the plant's decommissioning as part of the enlargement process.
The persecution of Roma gypsies in his country was brought into sharp focus in July when a racially-motivated murder claimed the life of one Rom in central Slovakia.
Dzurinda nevertheless contends that some positive developments have occurred since Enlargement Commissioner Günter Verheugen visited Slovak Roma centres in March, citing the construction of a new school - with over €1 million in state help - in the eastern city of Kosice.
Brussels-Bratislava relations soured briefly earlier this year due to the revelation that Roland Toth, the then-director of the Slovak foreign aid department, had allegedly been involved in large-scale embezzlement of the EU's €140 million-a-year Slovakian pre-accession funding.
The affair is still being probed, with Deputy Prime Minister Maria Kadlecikova due to visit Brussels to discuss the case's implications later this week.
"The investigation is a top priority for us," Dzurinda explained. "This case was the exception. This is not the rule in Slovakia and we are doing our best to investigate it and to make public the results of this investigation."
Slovakia will be able to finalise most of its negotiations on joining the EU by the summer of 2002, its premier has predicted.
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