Speech by Minister of Foreign Affairs at the annual evaluation conference of the Slovak Institute of International Studies
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen,
Allow me, right at the beginning, to express my gratitude to the Slovak Institute of International Studies for the organisation of this, I am not afraid to say, already traditional evaluation conference of the Slovak Republic's foreign policy. And I must add that, traditionally, it has been prepared in co-operation with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. We thank you for this.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen,
Last year, at this place, we were mostly evaluating the year 2001, but the thoughts of most of us were already in 2002. So what was the past year like?
The past year, especially the end of it, really turned out to be a breakthrough one. It was the last year in office of the first government of Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda. It was a year characterised by intensive work to complete foreign policy tasks under the Government's Policy Statement. The results of the September 2002 parliamentary elections made it possible to set up the second government of Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda and confirmed the continuity of Slovakia's foreign policy orientation. In combination with legislative, economic and technical measures, this enabled Slovakia to get to the forefront of the integration processes.
The Slovak Republic's Euro-Atlantic integration efforts eventually culminated with the receipt of an invitation to join NATO at the November Summit in Prague and the completion of accession negotiations with the European Union at the EU's December Summit in Copenhagen. Therefore, at the beginning of my speech, I can state with satisfaction that the basic priorities of Slovak foreign policy for 2002 were successfully fulfilled.
Now, let's take a closer look at the priorities and critical moments of our foreign policy in 2002.
As regards European integration, this time I will begin, unusually, from the end. Our several years' integration efforts in the form of harmonisation of legislation and negotiations under individual chapters, which involved virtually all key central state administration bodies of the Slovak Republic and the Parliament, eventually culminated at the end of 2002 at the European Union's December Summit in Copenhagen. As we had promised ourselves, we successfully completed the negotiations on accession to the European Union at this Summit. The conclusion of these negotiations opened up the road to another important phase of integration activities, the signing of the Accession Treaty.
I consider the result achieved to be an acceptable compromise from Slovakia's standpoint, as well as from the standpoint of EU Member States. I am convinced that the resulting compromise is balanced, fair and acceptable for all participating parties. It will provide Slovakia with the opportunity to take part in the creation of the rules of life in the EU. At the same time, we will be able to make use of these rules, as well as mechanisms and opportunities that the integrated Europe will provide, for a more effective fulfilment of our own goals and interests.
2002 was also significant in that it was the year when the government of the Slovak Republic started to implement its external communication strategy with the aim of improving the availability of information on Slovakia as a future member of the Union.
Following the two initial meetings in 2001, the work of the National Convention on the European Future of Slovakia was fully started in 2002. Its aim is to stimulate nation-wide discussion and seek answers to the basic questions of the future of Europe and reforms of the EU's institutional and legal framework after enlargement. Through its governmental and parliamentary representatives, the Slovak Republic also started to actively participate in the discussion on the future of the European Union within the framework of the Future of Europe Convention, which has been holding regular sessions in Brussels since the end of February 2002. The final result of the European Convention's work should be the draft Constitutional Treaty of the European Union. From this point of view, the work of both conventions, the national as well as European, is very important for Slovakia because through them we can participate in the formation of the future shape and character of the EU.
As regards Euro-Atlantic structures, over the whole year the Slovak Republic made maximum effort to receive an invitation from the North-Atlantic Alliance at the November Summit in Prague and thus commence the talks on accession to this organisation. By receiving the invitation, we became one of the seven successful candidates for the largest and most ambitious enlargement in the history of NATO and opened the door for ourselves to the Trans-Atlantic security area. At the same time, along with membership of the European Union, the Slovak Republic has acquired another platform for the presentation of its stances and promotion of its interests in issues of global politics.
I want to use this opportunity to emphasise that the first as well as the second government of Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda did not and does not have the smallest doubt that, from the standpoint of efficiency and the nature of the guarantees provided, NATO is the most suitable organisation to ensure stability of the continent and security of our country. This clear and unambiguous stance eventually played a key role. It gave a direction to our practical steps so that they are effective and decisive and so that they definitively persuade our foreign partners of our credibility, loyalty and future contribution.
In the past period, a significant qualitative shift also occurred in the political dialogue between Slovakia and NATO. Evidence of this was the continuation and extension of contacts not only at the highest level, but especially the extension of co-operation at the lower, political and expert level.
Along with the intensification of bilateral relations between Slovakia and NATO and its Member States, we took an active part in joint activities in the V10 format. This co-operation was an opportunity for Slovakia to present its experience from the process of preparation for NATO membership and actions vis-a-vis the Alliance in the promotion of candidate countries' common interests.
From among areas where we achieved positive results, I would like to mention particularly the co-operation within the framework of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) and Partnership for Peace (PfP). We achieved them mainly thanks to our engagement in issues of security of the Euro-Atlantic area, as well as our ability to contribute to the activities of NATO and EAPC countries. The reinforcement of unity of the Euro-Atlantic community through joint activities and co-operation was the best answer to the challenges and risks of the new age. From the standpoint of importance of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in the process of NATO enlargement, I would like to underscore and express my appreciation of the reinforcement of co-operation between Slovakia and NATO PA at the parliamentary level.
At the close of last year, the first accession talks with NATO were held, which confirmed the political, legal, budgetary, military, and defence commitments of the Slovak Republic towards NATO. The day before yesterday we successfully completed the talks by signing the accession protocol, which has now been submitted to the parliaments of NATO Member States and our parliament for ratification.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to dedicate the remaining minutes of my speech to a brief overview of our multilateral and bilateral agenda, its central points and factors. I am aware that my summary will be far from complete or final.
A permanent priority in the multilateral area (besides integration) has been the Slovak Republic's work in the United Nations. Last year, our foreign policy's participation at this prestigious global forum again built upon the key political documents agreed at the UN Millennium Summit and follow-up conferences on financing for development in Monterrey and sustainable development in Johannesburg.
Being a diplomat with direct practical experience from work in the UN, today, from the position of a foreign affairs minister, I believe I can claim that the Slovak Republic participated at the UN and other international organisations actively and successfully last year-in accordance with the set priorities and objectives of the Slovak Republic's foreign policy.
Last year, the Slovak Republic was again one of the important contributors to UN peacekeeping forces, an area where we have already built a respectable tradition. Today, we are in a situation that we will even have to reassess our priorities with respect to our capacity at home.
The end of 2002 brought the crisis related to Iraq to the forefront at the UN. The Slovak Republic expressed its support for the unanimously approved Security Council Resolution No. 1441. Since the very beginning our opinion was that the Iraqi problem should be resolved peacefully, by political and diplomatic means. However, it was up to Iraq to utilise the many opportunities given to it by the UN and the international community. As we all know now, this did not happen and today the Iraqi regime must face the serious consequences of its decisions and actions.
Slovak diplomacy also contributed to the reinforcement of the Slovak Republic's representation at international organisations in 2002. Slovakia acquired several important posts and executive functions in bodies of international organisations. I will mention at least three of them: in February 2002 the UN Secretary General appointed Brigita Schmögnerová the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Europe. In October 2002, the UN General Assembly elected Slovak expert Peter Tomka one of the fifteen judges of the UN's central judicial body-the International Court of Justice. And, in November 2002, the Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) appointed Mária Kadlečíková the FAO representative for Central and Eastern Europe. In addition, we have the Secretary General of the OSCE Ján Kubiš.
Within Europe, the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) played a key role in Slovak multilateral diplomacy. Along with NATO and the EU, they complement the political and security framework of Europe.
The economic dimension of diplomacy played again an important role in 2002. Moreover, 2002 was the second year of Slovakia's membership in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The Slovak Republic successfully integrated itself into the work of this prestigious organisation and, over the two years, managed to prove that it is a fully-fledged partner to the most advanced countries of the world.
Allow me to mention the Visegrad co-operation in this summary. The V4, a non-institutionalised co-operation between the Slovak Republic, Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary, is one of the important building blocks of Slovak foreign policy. The past period again confirmed that it is needed, important and beneficial. It demonstrated that it is able to solve the existing open issues and bring the stances of central European countries closer together by means of dialogue. This strengthened the stability and security of the whole region. In this context, I must mention the fact that the work of the International Visegrad Fund, the secretariat of which is seated in Bratislava, helped to develop mutual co-operation between V4 member countries. As you know, a discussion on the future of the V4 in the context of the participating countries' future membership in the EU is being held. In view of the fact that co-operation between small and medium-sized countries in the promotion of their interests is a reality in the EU, there is motivation to continue the co-operation even after these countries' accession to the EU and our foreign policy will support this.
Bilateral relations in the period in question were mainly directed at attaining support from the relevant countries for our accession to the European Union and NATO. In addition, the bilateral dimension of Slovak diplomacy was led by the effort to actively develop our relations with neighbouring countries. The economic area was dominated by an effort to diversify and further deepen economic and trade contacts.
The relations with the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary had a special place in our relations with neighbouring countries last year. They progressed well and intensively. Yet, our relations with Hungary were marked by opening the issue of the so-called Beneš decrees, as well as the issue of the Act on Hungarians Living in Neighbouring Countries. Slovak diplomacy continued the effort to find a solution to this issue that would take our principal reservations about this regulation into account.
Our relations with the United States of America reached the highest standard and are very good. An important event was the visit by President Rudolf Schuster to the White House in June 2002.
Slovak foreign policy in 2002 was also marked by the activation of highest level contacts with the Russian Federation. This culminated by two visits of the President of the Slovak Republic to the Russian Federation and a visit by the foreign affairs minister to Moscow. These contacts were an important impulse for the further development of pragmatic relations, with emphasis on the economic dimension of our co-operation. The relations with other countries of Europe and other regions of the world were also developed successfully.
The most important task of Slovakia's foreign policy in the consular area, besides the practical protection of our citizens' interests abroad, was the harmonisation of Slovakia's visa regime with that of EU members. The career consular network was further expanded. In 2002, the General Consulate in Krakow was opened and the network of Slovak consular offices headed by honorary consular officers was extended.
The priorities of the Ministry's personnel policy were influenced by the foreign policy priorities in 2002-accession to the EU and NATO. We continued the process of application of the state and public service acts and the completion of personnel at diplomatic missions, which were reinforced by a further 9 diplomats, experts on the field of European integration and security policy. To give you full information-in 2002 Slovakia had 61 embassies, 8 permanent missions and missions, 7 general consulates and 8 Slovak institutes at diplomatic missions. These are numbers corresponding with the possibilities and capacity of our country.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen,
The year 2002 marked the end of an important phase in the modern history of our foreign policy. A phase that I would call preparatory. In 2003, the Slovak Republic enters into a second, transitional phase.
This phase will be completed by our factual membership of NATO and the EU, which we expect in the second half of 2004, when we will become a fully-fledged member of these Euro-Atlantic communities. This will start the third phase that will push our country and its foreign policy to a qualitatively new, higher level.
I would like to emphasise that the co-ordination of activities between the Government, Parliament and President of the Republic has played a significant role and contributed to the fulfilment of our foreign policy objectives. To conclude, I would like to say that I consider the year 2002 a clearly positive one in the area of the Slovak Republic's foreign policy and our diplomacy as capable of actively, responsibly and successfully answering to the challenges and tasks that arose last year. I am convinced this will continue to be the case this year.
Thank you for your attention.
(Bratislava, 28th of March 2003)