ROME (Reuters) - Prime Minister Romano Prodi told Slovak President Michal Kováč on Thursday that Italy supported Slovakia in its bid to join the European Union and said he hoped to see further progress in meeting entry requirements. A statement from Prodi`s office after talks between the two men said he expressed "warm encouragement...hoping that further progress can be made". Kováč expressed Slovakia`s hopes to join the EU and NATO, and said Bratislava would work gradually towards meeting entry conditions for EU membership, the statement said. "(Prodi) reiterated Italy`s willingness to support Slovakia in such a process in the most opportune way," it added. The European Commission, the bloc`s executive, has proposed sending a first batch of invitations to Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Estonia, plus the divided island of Cyprus when talks on new members open next year. But EU partners are split on whether to go down this route or to open talks simultaneously with other interested newcomers - Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Bulgaria and Slovakia - with negotiations advancing faster with some than with others. Slovakia did not make the grade when candidates were chosen earlier this year for the next wave of NATO expansion. Its neighbours, the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary were selected to join the Western military alliance, probably in 1999.