ent Michal Kováč and Bulgaria's Petar Stoyanov conceded their countries would not be among the first to be invited for talks on European Union membership at the EU summit in Luxembourg later this month. But they said they were confident they would be invited to join once they had fulfilled all criteria for membership. "I am sure the summit will not exclude any associate members from the chance of joining," Kovac told a news conference at the end of a meeting with Stoyanov in Bratislava. "But we must be realistic and see that individual contenders are at various stages of preparedness and fulfilment of criteria," Kováč added. Stoyanov who is on a two-day visit to Slovakia said an invitation to all associate members to start talks at once would encourage democratic and economic reform. "The talks would be an incentive for all to start the dialogue and strive to fulfil the union's criteria for democratic and economic development in the individual countries," Stoyanov said. "I think starting the talks with all contenders would be a bonus for those still lagging behind." Both presidents said their ambitions to join western structures would in no way close the door to cooperation with Russia and Ukraine. "We have no intention of ignoring the possibilities of broader collaboration with Russia and the Ukraine," Stoyanov said. Slovakia and Bulgaria are considered generally unready for the start of talks on EU membership. Sofia, only this year saw the establishment of a non-socialist regime. Slovakia, once considered among the leading contenders, has often been criticised in the West for lagging behind in the development of democracy, even though its macroeconomic progress has been generally praised.