Slovakia's Readiness to Join the Euro-Atlantic Zone
His Excellency Mikulás Dzurinda
Prime Minister of Slovakia
A long with the people of Slovakia, I affirm the Slovak Republic's desire to become a full member of the European Union and NATO as soon as possible. This desire emanates from the experiences our people have had throughout our turbulent history.
After almost 40 years shackled by the oppressive communist dictatorship, our nation was able to taste the fruits of the Velvet Revolution for just a short time before it found itself once more in a regime that steadily acquired the characteristics of an autocracy. However, the correct choice was made in the last parliamentary elections in 1998. These elections gave the green light to reform processes that strengthened democratic conditions in Slovakia and revitalized the trust not only of our closest neighbors but also of those countries with which we wish to build a free, stable, secure, and prosperous Europe. Slovakia shares common values with these countries, and our interest in accession to the European Union and NATO stems from this fact.
REGIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION
The integration process goes hand in hand with the development of international cooperation. Without cooperation, integration is impossible, and vice versa. Cooperation between countries reinforces trust and friendship and prevents conflict, thereby contributing to the stability, security, and prosperity of the region. The cooperation of the Visegrad Four--Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia--which are the most developed countries from the former Soviet bloc, has produced such a region. In addition to having experienced a similar historical evolution and a similar level of political and economic development and transformation, these countries continue to have similar problems and common foreign policy priorities.
Since Slovakia underwent great political change in 1998, cooperation among the four countries has been significantly revitalized. In May 1999, a meeting of the Prime Ministers of the Visegrad Four took place, and gave the countries new impetus to cooperate. The meeting resulted in an agreement concerning specific cooperative projects at the regional level. The agreement, among other things, dealt with the creation of the International Visegrad Fund, which is the Visegrad Four's only institutional expression. The Fund provides monies for the realization of joint activities in the areas of culture, education, science, youth, and cross-border cooperation.
Through the aegis of the Visegrad Four, our countries are fulfilling one of the concepts of European integration: the strengthening of regional cooperation, and therefore the elimination of antagonism between individual countries. By its participation in this group, Slovakia is affirming that it is an integral part of this relatively stable and homogenous region.
One of the specific dimensions of the cooperation between our countries is group-wide support of Slovakia's integration efforts. The acceptance of Slovakia into the OECD--the exclusive club whose members are the most economically developed countries of the world--was made possible not only by the work of the United States and partners in Western Europe, but by our neighbors in the Visegrad Four. These neighbors also support the Slovak Republic's accession to NATO, for which I am sincerely grateful. This support is apparent, not only as political declarations, but as very specific assistance in acquiring valuable knowledge for reforming the defense sector and preparing for NATO membership.
THE IMPORTANCE OF ENLARGEMENT
When I speak about our ambition to become a NATO member in the near future, I speak in the belief that, as a member, Slovakia will contribute not only to the reinforcement of security and stability in our region but to Europe as a whole. That conclusion was also reached at the May 2001 conference in Bratislava, entitled "Europe's New Democracies: Leadership and Responsibility," at which I had the honor of offering my auspices and acting as organizer. The main message of this conference was that a free and united Europe could not be realized without NATO enlargement.
Even after the fall of the Iron Curtain, NATO continues to justify its raison d'être through its character and its wide-ranging nature. Since the disintegration of the bipolar world and the disappearance of Cold War threats of instability and disruption of security, new threats have constantly arisen, such as ethnic tension, political instability, human rights violations, the illegal spread of weapons, organized crime, drug smuggling, and illegal immigration. These are threats that NATO must continue resisting in cooperation with the European Union. But these new dangers require new methods for resolving them.
ESDP AS A COMPLEMENT TO NATO
One major method for resolving dangers is the cooperation of political, economic, and security organizations. In addition to NATO, the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) is becoming a fundamental pillar of European security. The Slovak Republic regards ESDP as an important factor in European integration, and a significant contributor to strengthening security in Europe.
However, ESDP should not be considered a competitor to NATO in any way, but rather a partner that complements the process of building a common European system of security. Slovakia, thanks to its geographical position, is situated in the center of this building process, and our active involvement in the common fight against the aforementioned threats helps to prevent their further spread into the Euro-Atlantic region.
INTEGRATION WITH THE EU
One common priority of the Visegrad Four countries continues to be integration with the European Union. This priority materialized as the Pszczyna Declaration, which was accepted by the Presidents of the Visegrad Four countries at their recent meeting. Because of the actions of its previous government, Slovakia excluded itself from integration processes for some period, and our goal now is to make up for lost time so that we can enter the European Union together with our Visegrad Four partners. By doing so, Slovakia will contribute to the creation of a cohesive, cooperative, and stable region.
The Visegrad Four countries are not only concerned with themselves. We do not oppose the opening of our activities and cooperation to other countries, many of whom, including European Union member-states, have affirmed their willingness to cooperate with our group and to realize a number of projects of mutual interest. The Visegrad group expects that it will continue to play a very significant role in the future, and our accession to the European Union should not affect this. Our four countries, through our regional proximity, history, cultural values, and economic interconnection, are destined for close cooperation with the countries of the European Union and NATO.
Just as other candidate countries do, Slovakia regards the Euro-Atlantic area as a zone of freedom and prosperity, one in which human rights are respected, the rule of law is enjoyed, and security and peace prevail. We welcome the affirmation of NATO and European Union openness, and these organizations' readiness to accept new members into their ranks. Our strategic goal and foreign policy priority is accession into these organizations. Our desire to become an integral part of the Euro-Atlantic area compels us to strengthen democracy and the rule of law, construct a civil society, protect minorities, improve our economic performance, and quickly and successfully complete the complex transformation process.