Slovakia to fight EU 'fragmentation'
By Eric Maurice
Slovakia's main objective when it takes the EU Council presidency in July will be to avoid "fragmentation" and combat the perception of an East-West divide, its Europe minister has said.
"Buzzword number one is to tackle fragmentation," Ivan Korcok told journalists in Brussels on Thursday (12 May).
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He said there were "many good reasons to spread defeatism across Europe", but he did not share the view of an East-West divide and insisted Slovakia regarded its role "from a positive angle".
The Slovak presidency could contribute to overcoming "this extremely difficult period for the EU development", said Korcok, a former Slovak ambassador to the EU.
Slovakia's first time in the EU chair comes at a delicate moment.
On one of the most difficult challenges for the EU, the migration crisis, Slovakia has been one of the main opponents of the European Commission and the majority of other member states.
As chair of the ministers council, Slovakia knows it will have to build consensus between the 28 member states, especially on the asylum package proposed by the commission on 4 May.
"Obviously it will be difficult," the minister said.
EU countries need "sustainable migration and a sustainable asylum policy", he said.
"Migration is not a problem as such, the problem is that with the dimensions we were confronted with last year, it became unsustainable," he said
Korcok stressed the need to strengthen control at the external borders of the Schengen passport-free area.
He said Slovakia would work to make the EU border and coast guard operational and that he expected a "very important agreement" to be made on so-called smart borders, the plan to develop electronic management of EU borders.
But the country has so far refused to welcome even the asylum seekers required by the EU relocation scheme adopted last year.
And according to a Slovak source, authorities in Bratislava consider that the commission's latest asylum proposal, which contains fines for countries that refuse to take refugees, could break the consensus countries were reaching after last year's.
However, a Slovak source said that the authorities would ask their partners in the Visegrad Four group – Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary – to tone down their anti-immigration rhetoric in order to avoid tensions with other member states.
Another risk of fragmentation Slovakia could face when it takes the helm on 1 July will be the aftermath of the British EU referendum.
If the UK votes to stay in, Korkoc said Slovakia's role will be “to implement the package that was offered to the UK” in February.
If the Brexit option wins the referendum, the Slovak presidency will reflect what EU leaders will say when they meet for a summit on 28-29 June, he said.
That is why Slovakia will wait until after the summit to publish its presidency programme so that it includes the leaders' guidelines about how to handle the referendum outcome.
In the meantime, the Slovak source said, the country was not working on contingency plans in case of a British exit.
If migration and a possible Brexit do not plunge the Slovak presidency into crisis mode, Bratislava intends to push for progress in three other areas, Korcok said, calling them "building blocks".
The first block will be financial and economic affairs. That include talks on the 2017 EU budget and on the upcoming 2021-2026 financial framework, as well as the capital market union - to ease funding of business in Europe - and the future of the Economic and Monetary Union.
The second block will be the different dimension of the single market, mainly the digital and energy unions.
The Slovak minister said that these issues were part of the need to tackle fragmentation in the EU as well as delivering results to reconcile citizens with the EU.
The third block will be the EU's external relations, including trade - mostly the EU-US free-trade talks and the question of whether to grant China a market economy status - and enlargement.
"Enlargement remains instrumental to stabilise the EU's neighbourhood," the Slovak minister said, adding that candidate countries also needed to understand that "the only way to get closer to the EU is to make clear progress" on what the EU expects.