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24th Mar 2017

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EU wonders how to win back people's trust

  • Slovakia and other eastern EU states said voters wanted national governments to run the show (Photo: theodevil)

EU institutions and member states should stop bashing each other in public and EU capitals should take back some powers from Brussels, Slovakia has said after initial talks on how to react to Brexit.

Slovakia, which currently chairs the EU Council, issued its advice after an informal meeting of member states in Bratislava on Monday (25 July).

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“We should stop sending out negative messages”, its junior minister for EU affairs, Ivan Korcok, told press.

“Member states very often criticise Brussels, but it also doesn’t help … if we receive statements from Brussels which say that problems originate at member state level, that we bear the responsibility for the problems”, he said.

The Bratislava meeting, on how to improve the EU’s image, comes ahead of a summit on EU reform, to be held also in the Slovak capital in mid-September.

Korcok said that it would take more than a PR agency or media strategy to win back trust.

He said the EU needed to clarify “what are the responsibilities of the EU institutions and where, on the other hand, the EU must have no responsibilities or no powers”.

He said Monday’s meeting did not come up with any “ready-made solution” on where to draw those lines.

“You have two camps at the moment. Those who feel we need to move toward greater transfer of powers and competencies to the EU institutions. We [Slovakia] don’t agree with that. Then there are those who say the EU is itself the problem and we need to transfer competences back to member states”, he said, summing up Monday’s debate.

He said the ministers briefly touched upon EU initiatives, such as building an energy union and a digital single market.

But he said it would have been “paradoxical” if the meeting had not been “overshadowed” by the implications of the British referendum.

He said no one seriously thought that the British exit could somehow be avoided, but he added that the UK had a full say on EU decisions until the day it leaves.

“After today’s meeting it’s quite clear that the UK government has no alternative plans other than … to fulfil the decision of British voters”, Korcok said.

He added that EU-UK negotiations would not start, even at a low or “technical” level, until it formally notified the EU that it was leaving.

He also said that a report on Sunday in British media about a draft deal on EU migrants was “highly speculative”.

David Jones, the British junior minister for Brexit, also said in Bratislava that the outcome of the referendum was “very clear” but that the UK, for the time being, still had all its EU “rights”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, said the EU’s message should be that it was important for the future of young people and that only joint action could tackle problems such as migration or climate change.

“We have to explain why we needed the European Union after World War II and why we need the European Union for this century”, he said.

Slovakia’s Korcok noted that EU-aspirant states in the Western Balkans were also “asking about the future of this project [the EU]” in the aftermath of the British decision.

He said, after meeting his counterparts from the region on Sunday, that the EU remained a “very attractive” prospect for candidate nations.

He also said member states which believed in further enlargement, such as Slovakia, must protect the “credibility” of the process.

“If these countries are delivering … then at the end of the Slovak presidency it would be very important to adequately reward this progress”, he said, referring to the prospect of opening new accession “chapters” in some of the talks.

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