The session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly that opens today in Bratislava will be a celebration marking the accession of Slovakia and six other countries to Alliance membership. However, it will also be a forum at which legislators from member and partner countries debate sometimes controversial issues in the transatlantic relationship, from operations in Afghanistan to NATO-EU relations.
The decision to encourage, assist, and admit former communist nations from Central and Eastern Europe into NATO is one of the great successes of Alliance policy since the end of the Cold War. It is also a success in which the NATO Parliamentary Assembly has played an important role. In the pivotal year of 1989, our Assembly reached out and invited Members from the still communist parliaments of Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia to observe the workings of the Assembly and meet with their Western counterparts.
As communism crumbled, the Assembly remained at the forefront of outreach to the parliaments of Central Europe, and we have repeatedly declared and demonstrated our support for NATO enlargement. We recognize that throughout its history, NATO has succeeded not only in keeping its members free and secure, but also in extending that freedom to new lands whose citizens had long yearned for freedom’s blessings.
Our 2004 Spring Session is the first meeting of the newly enlarged NATO Parliamentary Assembly with 26 member parliaments and 248 members, and it is indeed appropriate that it is taking place here in Bratislava. This beautiful city overlooking the Danube, for centuries the seat of parliaments and the site of coronations, reminds us how artificial and temporary was the painful postwar division of Europe. The Iron Curtain descended rather close to the boundaries of this city, separating lands that for centuries had been part of a whole, united Europe. I remember Bratislava as it existed then from my first visit in 1984. Today, the Iron Curtain lies on the scrap heap of history, the result not only of NATO’s enlargement, but that of the European Union.
The dividing lines drawn 60 years ago at Yalta were permanently erased this month, when the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia joined the EU, along with Cyprus and Malta. A Europe whole and free – a dream articulated by Robert Schuman, an aspiration defined for Americans by former President George H.W. Bush – now lies within our grasp. But much remains to be done, both by those European countries still outside of the Euro-Atlantic institutions and by our own nations.
The European Union will not truly be “Europe” until all aspirant nations on this continent have joined. That requires not only openness on the part of the EU; it requires an unwavering commitment to political and economic reform in those countries that are on the path to EU membership. Similarly, NATO’s door must remain open to all European countries that wish to join the Alliance and meet the criteria for membership.
NATO’s first task must be to support the remaining candidates for Alliance membership. The admission of seven new members this spring was a great accomplishment for NATO, but the enlargement process must continue. Therefore, our national leaders at the Istanbul Summit should schedule the next enlargement summit no later than 2007 in order to consider the candidacies of Albania, Croatia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
Two months ago, Slovakia and six other nations joined the most successful alliance in history and thereby secured the freedom and security that they had fought so hard to gain. As our newest allies, they now have a voice in determining the future of that Alliance. We welcome the full contributions of our newest parliamentarians to this debate.
Finally, thank you for hosting the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Slovakia.
NATO Parliamentary Assembly