The Enlargement Watch Profile - Juraj Migas

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"At the beginning it was very difficult for Slovakia", admits Juraj Migas, since 1999 the ambassador who heads the Brussels Mission of the Slovak Republic to the EU. Looking back at the period just over two years ago, when Slovakia was starting negotiations its EU accession negotiations, he recalls the "huge amount of time" he spent discussing the preparations for negotiations with colleagues. And Slovakia's image in those days was not very positive either, he admits.

Now, from a very different viewpoint, with the completion of accession negotiations a prospect within weeks, and on the eve of last weekend's general elections in Slovakia, Ambassador Migas reviewed with ENLARGEMENT WATCH some of the changes he's seen during his time in Brussels, and looked ahead at what the next couple of years may hold.

He has built up a staff of 25 diplomats in the Mission's new office in the heart of Brussels' European quarter, just up the road from the Council of Ministers and almost neighbouring the Austrian and Luxembourg Permanent Representations. "We got some useful lessons from other candidate countries which had already started negotiations", he recalls.

And he rapidly set up an intensive programme of consultations with everyone that matters in Brussels - formal exchanges with EU officials, of course, at technical and political level, but also a wide range of informal contacts, and an extensive programme of awareness building about Slovakia in Brussels, and about the European Union in Slovakia. "On the basis of the chapters to be negotiated, we made a plan for our senior officials to visit the directorate generals here in the Commission" - in environment, transport, justice and home affairs and all the other line DGs, as well as the enlargement directorate general.

He spends much of his time in personal contact with the EU institutions - with the Parliament, for instance, "not just when there are meetings of the joint parliamentary committee with Slovakia, but when groups or individual MEPs are interested in specific issues relating to Slovakia" - from energy to treatment of minorities. With successive EU Presidencies he has had "very good contact always", and has found "the people dealing with enlargement in all the Presidencies have been very good experts - we could see they are interested in getting a positive result". And in addition to the regular formal Presidency briefings to candidates' ambassadors, he advises each Presidency in advance of Slovak priorities and the envisaged timetable - then follows up after a couple of months with discussions on what might be done before the end of the Presidency. And he is frequently in Bratislava to receive or accompany visiting EU dignitaries - and stays in close touch with his opposite number there, the head of the European Commission Delegation.

Migas is also a frequent participant in seminars, conferences and think-tank meetings in Brussels: "It is vital for us to give information about Slovakia", he insists. "It was particularly important at the beginning because Slovakia was known largely for Meciar , and we wanted to show Slovakia as different, with its many other aspects". So the Slovak Mission has hosted or organised countless meetings, exhibitions, cultural events and exchanges, covering everything from the Slovak Academy of Science to innovative painters. And quite deliberately it has often done so with neighbouring countries or regions, Migas stresses.

"Many people from the administration here now know my country", he boasts. In the past responsible officials had rarely visited it, but over the last couple of years he has encouraged all of them to spend a few days there. …