BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Slovak President Michal Kováč said on Thursday that in five years of independence his country had failed to live up to the democratic standards expected by the West, and that the government was to blame. In his New Year address, Kováč told his people that political rather than economic reasons had prevented Slovakia being admitted to the next wave of applicants for NATO and European Union membership. "If during (1997) we didn't find ourselves in the first wave of candidate countries in such vitally important integration structures as NATO and the EU, than it shows that developed Europe does not yet consider us to be a trustworthy and democratically mature partner," Kováč said. "It is a failure of government policy and we should admit this honestly." Kováč has been a virulent critic of Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar, whose government has been accused by the United States and the EU of infringing press freedom and failing to guarantee the rights of a half-million strong ethnic Hungarian minority. Kováč, who did not mention Mečiar's name, told Slovaks that the solution to the country's problems was in their hands with a parliamentary election in the second half of the year. "It is a big chance for all of us to decide on changes for the better...The source of our optimism and the big hope for the future is mainly that our fate is in our hands." Parliament is due to elect a president in the early part of the year, and Kováč is not expected to stand again.