Enlargement favoured but not at any price

Vladimír Bilčík
Historically, Slovakia has been a strong supporter of enlargement, though in recent years the country’s position has become more nuanced. Most consistently, Slovakia’s politicians have supported Croatia’s bid to enter the European Union. Shortly after Slovakia’s accession to the EU, the country was unhappy with the initial Council’s decision to postpone the opening of accession talks with Croatia beyond March 2004. The then Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda was a vocal advocate and one of the driving forces of Croatia’s swift incorporation into the Union. Slovakia’s diplomacy thus continued to push for a re-examination of the Council’s decision and was happy to welcome the compromise solution whereby both Croatia and Turkey officially began their respective accession talks on 3 October (or the early hours of 4 October) 2005. In the aftermath of the launch of official talks with the two countries, Prime Minister Dzurinda stated during his press conference that Slovakia would offer Croatia cooperation in negotiations on the various chapters of the acquis. At the same time, the Prime Minister said that Slovakia would try to see both Ukraine and Serbia and Montenegro enter the same path of European integration.[1]
Today, Slovakia is still in favour of enlargement, but not at any price and not to all flanks of Europe. Turkey has always been a specific case, as Slovakia’s former Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan highlighted by saying that the negotiations with Ankara “will be demanding and very, very long.”[2] But even apart from Turkey, support for enlargement has somewhat waned. On an official visit to Germany on 3 November 2005, the then Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda stated rather surprisingly that the absorption capacity of the European Union had its limits and that the EU needed a “pause” in its further enlargement.[3] The government of Prime Minister Robert Fico (2006-2010) continued to support Croatia’s accession process as well as the ambitions to join the EU articulated by other Western Balkan countries. It also had a more open attitude to Turkey’s difficult accession process and endorsed the application of Iceland. Realistically, Slovakia’s politicians expect Croatia to join the EU in the near future. They also hope for advancements in the accession process of other countries in the Western Balkans, especially Serbia and Montenegro, and are keen on stable developments in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Macedonia. Slovakia has the least intensive bilateral relations with Albania and, moreover, it is among the EU member states that do not recognise the independent state of Kosovo.
At the same time, Slovakia’s politicians have been less enthusiastic about Ukraine’s EU aspirations. Today, nobody in Slovakia openly ponders Ukraine’s chances to join the EU. Although, to an important extent, this has more to do with the wasted domestic political opportunity offered by the Orange Revolution to Ukraine, Slovak-Ukrainian relations have also suffered from bilateral conflicts during the gas crisis of 2009 and over the state of the border regime along the Schengen border between Slovakia and Ukraine. Thus, Slovakia is a good case of a more nuanced attitude during the launching of the Eastern Partnership Initiative by Poland and Sweden in June 2008 and the subsequent elaboration of the Eastern Partnership by the European Commission in December 2008. The experience with the gas crisis when Russia stopped its deliveries of natural gas due to a conflict with Ukraine has made Slovakia’s diplomacy more lukewarm to Ukraine’s ambitions to ultimately achieve both EU and NATO membership. Most Slovak governing politicians and the Slovak public blamed Ukraine for the crisis in deliveries of natural gas.[4] In a public radio discussion, the political director general of the Foreign Ministry, Igor Slobodník, questioned whether “the strategic culture of this country [Ukraine] has reached the state when it could be a reliable and responsible ally in this moment in 2009 and the answer is unclear.”[5] While Slovakia’s official position vis-à-vis Ukraine has not changed and Slovakia actively supports Kiev’s ambitions to work more closely with the EU and NATO (for example, Slovakia’s embassy in Kiev serves as the contact point for NATO),[6] Slobodník underlined that Slovakia would be more critical in its evaluation of Ukraine’s ability to digest Slovakia’s technical assistance. In short, Slovakia is likely to be more demanding in relation to Ukraine since Ukraine’s credibility has suffered as a consequence of the recent gas crisis.
Within the framework of the Eastern Partnership, Slovakia’s diplomacy recently showed its keen interest in engaging with Moldova’s pro-reform government. Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajčák visited Chişinău on 7 May 2010 and underlined Slovakia’s support for domestic changes in Moldova by announcing Slovakia’s contribution to the modernisation of Moldova’s TV station Tele Radio Moldova and by underlining broader opportunities for Slovakia’s bilateral engagement through new projects of official development assistance.[7] Slovakia does not have any vocal or specific preferences with respect to the Union for the Mediterranean.

[1] Slovenská Tlačová Agentura (SITA): Ano Turecku a Chorvatsku posilni bezpecnost v Europe, 4 October 2005.

[2] Tlačová agentúra Slovenskej republiky (TASR): SR presadzuje rokovania s Chorvatskom este dnes, turecka delegacia na ceste, 3 October 2005.

[3] SITA: Dzurinda: EU porebuje pri rozsirovani pauzu, 3 November 2005.

[4] SITA: Slováci dávajú krízu za vinu Ukrajine, 8 February 2009.

[5] See Slovak Radio: Sobotné dialógy, 7 March 2009, available at: (last access: 30 June 2010).

[6] NATO: Allied Contact Points (01.01.2009-31.12.2010), 2 April 2010, available at: (last access: 30 June 2010).

[7] Webnoviny.sk: Zo Slovak Aid stotisíc eur na moldavskú televíziu, 7 May 2010, available at: (last access: 29 June 2010).