Friday

26th Apr 2019

Focus

Ambivalent Slovakia prepares to take EU helm

  • Rober Fico says post-communist states are "more capable of reacting to crises and we tackle them with more common sense" that their Western counterparts (Photo: Consillium)

Slovakia is preparing to take its first presidency of the EU Council with a promise to its partners to act as an honest broker, but at the same time assuring its domestic audience it will not back down on its hard-line stance.

It will formally succeed the Netherlands on 1 July, but a visit by the Slovak government to the college of EU commissioners on Wednesday (1 June) is the first event of the country's EU presidency.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Bratislava. Public agreement on overall benefits of EU membership in Slovakia is still solid. (Photo: Kurt Bauschardt)

“We want to lead a normal dialogue,” prime minister Robert Fico told the Slovak TASR press agency on 25 May. But he added that Slovakia could "not keep silent".

"This may be a newly emerging essence of [EU] politics," he said. "It is not about unemployment rates or public debt levels but whether a nation state can present its sovereign opinion."

He said Europe was in a unique situation where post-communist countries are more dynamic.

"We are – no offence to our Western colleagues – more capable of reacting to crises and we tackle them with more common sense. Our aim in Slovakia is to put these different approaches together," he said.

Fico, a social-democrat, also told TASR that Islam had “no place in Slovakia” and that Slovakia should prevent “tens of thousands of Muslims from coming and gradually changing the character of our country”.

The interview “left many of us speechless” political commentator Marian Lesko told EUobserver.

Lesko explained that when Fico's coalition government was formed in March, "there were some promising passages in the government's programme suggesting it would tone down its rhetoric on refugees".

Leading EU critic

But “this is a comeback to the pre-election language, mainly addressing the national audience”, he said.

Since last summer, Bratislava has been one of the leading critics of the EU's management of the migration crisis, with its Visegrad Group partners (V4), Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

Last December, Fico's previous government - then composed only of ministers from his Social-Democrat Party (SMER) - filed a case at the European Court of Justice against the EU's decision to set up mandatory quotas to share asylum seekers between member states.

After a general election in March, Fico however formed a coalition government with the Slovak National Party (SNS) and two centre-right parties - Most-Hid, which advocates minority rights, and the new pro-business Siet (The Net). Many thought he would change his rhetoric.

“It seems now that the prime minister wants to compete with other EU critics at home and show he can be just as sharp,” Lesko said.

Mixed feelings

Fico's ambivalence reflects Slovakia's mixed feelings about the EU.

In the first decade of its EU membership, the country of 5.4 million people displayed strong pro-European attitudes, shared by most political parties and a majority of the population. But the financial crisis and last year’s dispute over refugees somehow struck that national consensus.

“Public agreement on overall benefits of EU membership in Slovakia is still pretty solid,” argues Vladimir Bilcik, head of the EU programme at the Slovak Foreign Policy Association (SFPA), a think-thank in Bratislava.

“Local anti-EU voices are weaker in Bratislava than in Budapest or Warsaw,” he added, stressing that the ruling coalition has an interest in a successful and professional performance in Brussels.

Slovaks' support for the EU boils down to financial benefits linked with EU funds for poorer regions. About 80 percent of public investment in the country is co-financed with EU money.

“All Slovakia is asking what the EU Council presidency will bring to Slovakia but all Europe is asking what will the Slovaks contribute to Europe,” Europe minister Ivan Korcok said during a radio show.

'No bag full of money'

Korcok, a former Slovak ambassador to the EU, stressed that it was “unrealistic to expect a bag full of money after the presidency".

"If each new member state chairing the EU every six months took up the job with a view of bringing something back home, we could simply dissolve the club altogether," he said.

The Slovak government says it wants to prove that even as a small member state is capable of a highly professional performance and efficient crisis management.

The first test will be the aftermath of the British EU referendum, especially if voters choose to leave the EU. “What a circus that would be,” Fico told TASR.

Another crucial challenge will be when Slovakia chairs debates on the latest EU proposals on migration, like the European Commission’s blueprint on asylum, which includes financial sanctions for countries that refuse to receive asylum seekers.

“With all the diplomatic tools and without shouting aloud about it, we will be effectively taking part in a fight against migrant quotas," said Lubos Blaha, the SMER chairman of the EU affairs committee in the Slovak parliament.

The Slovak government, however, will need results, and "political communication will be more crucial than technical discussions on specific numbers about the refugee reallocation scheme", SFPA's Bilcik said.

Quiet coalition

Despite Fico's statements on refugees and Muslims, the coalition is considered to be broadly pro-EU. His centre-right coalition partners remain rather silent on controversial issues and this is not likely to change, according to Marian Lesko.

“Siet and Most-Hid will be too cautious to criticise the PM and get into conflict with him, due to their weak prospects in case of early elections,” he said.

Meanwhile opposition parties have urged Fico to be tougher on quotas, and have made it clear they will criticise any signal of a climbdown during the EU presidency.

“With or without the EU presidency, some views of Slovak politicians are not going to change. Things remains as they were,” Lesko observed.

Slovakia to fight EU 'fragmentation'

When they take the presidency of the EU ministers council, Slovak authorities say they will try to avoid divisions on migration, manage the aftermath of the UK referendum and strengthen the single market.

New Slovak government in convalescence

An unprecedented left-right coalition should be sworn in this week, but the prime minister's hospitalisation for a heart surgery casts uncertainty on the country's politics.

Smiles and frowns in Slovak EU logo

The Slovak EU presidency logo contains a smily emoji. But its 23 year-old designer made other faces in case things go wrong.

News in Brief

  1. EU: Russian citizenship plan 'attacks' Ukraine sovereignty
  2. Deutsche Bank hands over Trump loan documents
  3. UN: Europe is badly prepared for new refugee crisis
  4. Macron to set out 'Yellow vest' counter measures
  5. Italy requests EU action plan for new Libya migrant wave
  6. Far-right party leaders meet in Prague
  7. Priest shames politicians at reporter's funeral in Belfast
  8. Putin offers Russian citizenship to Ukraine regions

Schengen at stake in Austria-Germany talks

German interior minister Horst Seehofer is in Vienna on Thursday - as his plan to reject some asylum seekers was met by an Austrian threat to close its borders too.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Latest News

  1. Greens commit to air quality 'super commissioner'
  2. Far-right Facebook networks removed before Spain election
  3. EU and Japan in delicate trade talks
  4. Closer EU-Caribbean ties mean greater prosperity for all
  5. Details of EU Brexit talks with Blair and Soros kept secret
  6. Weber vows to block Nord Stream 2 amid 'sue' threat
  7. 'Next Juncker' must fix EU's corporate power problem
  8. EU want Facebook pan-EU advert fix for May elections

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  6. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  7. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  9. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  11. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  12. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us