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Slovakia: Verheugen Says EU Candidacy May Be At Risk

Bratislava, 2 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The EU's enlargement commissioner, Guenter Verheugen (left with Slovak President Rudolf Schuster), said today that Slovakia's EU candidacy could be at risk if September's elections produce a government the EU does not trust. Verheugen made no direct reference to former strongman Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar, but he said there is what he called "a clear risk."

Slovakia was excluded from an early round of negotiations in 1998 after EU states accused Meciar of abuse of minority rights, crony capitalism, and suppressing media and political opposition.

Meciar is expected to win most of the votes in the fall, but it is not clear whether his party will be able to form a majority government.

Earlier today, at the opening of a Romany conference, Verheugen praised Slovak leaders for working to improve the situation of the Romany minority, but he also urged the country to do more to improve the situation.

"Discrimination against this minority (Roma) obviously exists. Apart from the housing situation, access to education and closely linked to that, access to employment are the most immediate areas of concern. Violence at the hands of skinheads and degrading treatment by the local police is also worrying."

President Schuster said he regrets the lack of united political representation for Slovakia's Roma, in contrast to Hungary, where Roma politicians hold four seats in parliament.

Half a million Roma live in Slovakia, out of a total population of 5.4 million.

Verheugen is scheduled to visit a Romany settlement tomorrow with Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda.