Slovakia. Despite internal contradictions, the February
coalition succeeded in gaining a majority in Parliament for
important constitutional changes necessary for the country's
forthcoming EU membership. Among other things, strengthened
the independence of the judiciary. According to
Countryaah, Commissioner GŁnter Verheugen said during a visit to Bratislava that it was
possible that Slovakia could be involved in the first phase
of the Union's planned enlargement to Eastern Europe.
Already in April, a backlash came when the EU suspended
the payment of aid to Slovakia. It was then that a senior
Slovak government official, who maintained EU support, was
dismissed on suspicion of misuse of funds. The support would
have amounted to the equivalent of SEK 1.3 billion during
the year but was held pending the Slovak investigation into
the case. The decision was a serious hardship for the
government, which was allowed to start negotiations on EU
membership only in 2000 and who then endeavored to reach its
neighbors on EU alignment.
In March, Parliament confirmed Slovakia's quest for
membership in the NATO military alliance, which led to a
negative reaction from Moscow. Slovakia's neighboring
countries The Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary became NATO
members in 1999.
In June, Slovakia expressed concern over a new Hungarian
law granting special rights to ethnic Hungarians living in
Hungary's neighboring countries, including in Slovakia. The
law gave the right to education, work and free health care
in Hungary. Slovakia's Deputy Foreign Minister described the
law as a step backwards, pointing out that it only targets
neighboring countries and not the rest of Europe.