Monday

23rd Jan 2017

Interview

EU should be 'less obsessed' with Trump, says Slovak minister

  • Ivan Korcok says Slovakia's EU presidency is producing "tangible results"

The Slovak presidency of the EU is producing "tangible results" in a challenging time when the European Union should better define its interests, the country's Europe minister has said.

With over a month left of its six-month stewardship of the EU council of ministers presidency, Ivan Korcok told EUobserver he "definitively would be satisfied" with his government's actions.

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"The context could hardly be more challenging," he said last week, pointing to Britain's EU-exit vote and Donald Trump's election win.

But stressing the EU's signing of the Paris climate agreement and Ceta, the EU-Canada trade agreement, as well as last week's deal reached on the 2017 EU budget, he said: "There are results and there were moments when we did not expect such momentum."

The EU agreement on Ceta "was not something that fell from the sky to our table," he said. "We did our job."

"Problems emerged after we had ensured the agreement of all member states on the text," he added, referring to the last-minute opposition from Belgium's Wallonia region.

But the minister admitted that no agreement would be reached on the reform of the EU asylum system, one of the thorniest issues for Slovakia which opposes relocation of migrants.

"We sense that we are far from having a consensus, but that countries recognise we need to move on this," Korcok said.

"Solidarity is more than mandatory quotas," he said, adding that the proposed system "will not work."

"Our commitment was to test whether we are politically ready to think beyond the scheme of mandatory quotas," he added.

Last week Slovakia presented a proposal for a so-called effective solidarity, a more consensual version of the "flexible solidarity" first put forward by Slovakia and its partners from the Visegrad Group (V4) - Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.

Korcok replied to criticism from the Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi over the lack of solidarity from other countries.

He said that he understood Italy, faced with massive arrivals of people crossing the central Mediterranean.

'More flexibility'

But he added Slovakia "would be happy if there was understanding as well, that it will not help us to establish a mandatory system which will never relief this country [Italy] and the countries of final destination," like Germany.

"We need to have more flexibility," he said.

He insisted that "it should be accepted that some countries where migrants will not stay are ready to help in other forms," like proposing facilities, financing projects or sending people to manage the borders.

When Slovakia assumed the EU presidency in July, prime minister Robert Fico said it would be an "honest broker" and would put aside its own positions on issues such as migration.

For the future, however, Korcok said that one should "not overestimate the focus on V4" and that Slovakia and its V4 partners would continue to try to influence EU policies.

He insisted that the group had "common positions on many issues other" than migration, and was "a well-proven platform for the four countries to cooperate."

Reflecting on the future of the EU without the UK started at a summit in the Slovak capital in September, with a so-called Bratislava process that the minister said: "should live well beyond the Slovak presidency."

He said the process was "not a political exercise [but] very much political commitment, focused on concrete and specific results that we want to show our citizens."

Brexit and Trump

The Brexit vote created a difficult situation for the Slovak EU presidency, as "more people are looking to London than to Brussels and their minds are focused on when the UK will start the exit talks," Korcok noted.

But he added that there was "no major problem" in the daily legislative work, for which the EU presidency is mainly responsible.

"The UK has behaved very responsibly and pragmatically," he said.

Another challenge for the EU comes with Trump's election win.

Korcok says that the EU should not "be obsessed by speculating what the US policy will be," because it has "no evidence yet of what Trump's programme will be."

He sees the United States as "more than a partner, a key ally."

"We should be less preoccupied by what the US policy will be; we should be much more preoccupied by what our interests are," he said, adding that the EU should have "a fair discussion" on the issue.

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