Tuesday

19th Feb 2019

Slovak presidency wants narrative change on migration

  • Migrants embarking on the Greek island on Lesbos to be sent back to Turkey. Slovakia wants to develop the EU return policy. (Photo: Reuters)

About a year after the refugee crisis started to shake the EU, one of the most vocally critical countries over the response is now in charge with a promise to reduce divisions on the issue.

Slovakia on Friday (1 July) took over the six-month presidency of the EU Council and migration, along with Brexit, will be the "predominant'" item on the agenda, its prime minister Robert Fico said.

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

  • Fico: "We want to create enough space for discussion" on migration. (Photo: Flickr/eu2016sk)

The country "has its own clear ideas" on the matter but will act as an "honest broker" in discussions, Fico insisted while setting out what would be his balancing act.

"Migration can be a divisive subject," he noted. But Slovakia wants to "create enough space for discussion" and avoid "exacerbat[ing] differences between member states".

He said that his government would not drop its lawsuit at the European Court of Justice against the refugee relocation scheme that the European Commission designed last year.

But he praised several policies pushed by the commission, like the "back to Schengen" plan, the border and coast guard and the blue card for foreign workers.

At a joint-press conference in Bratislava, the commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said migration was "an issue that is a little more difficult in this country". But he said that both he and Fico agreed to "invest [their] best efforts" in narrowing the gap between their positions.

Four files will be on Slovakia's agenda: 1) EU border and coast guard, 2) the "smart borders" project, 3) the migrant return policy and 4) reform of the Dublin asylum system.

The last issue will be the thorniest for the Slovak presidency because it involves the refugee relocation scheme which it staunchly opposes.

Flexibility

The commission has proposed to make the sharing of asylum seekers between member states automatic and to impose a €250,000 "solidarity contribution" to member states that refuse to participate.

"It would be unfortunate and misleading to claim that this proposal has support from a majority of member states," Fico told journalists on Thursday.

At his press conference with Juncker, he added that member states needed "flexibility" and that they could "come up with their own ideas and initiatives".

For Slovakia, the EU presidency is an opportunity to make its case and reverse policies it had opposed.

"We have to change the narrative" on migration, Slovakia's foreign affairs minister Miroslav Lajcak said, adding that the EU has focused "too much on consequences" of the mass arrival of migrants and refugees.

"This is a complex issue that needs a complex political solution rather than an administrative one," he said, referring to the commission's plans.

No 'bureaucratic orders'

The minister said that some EU countries were more multicultural than others and that Slovakia, along with other central European countries, was reluctant to receive migrants.

"We'll have to change," Lajcak noted. "But not overnight upon bureaucratic orders from Brussels."

Otherwise, he warned, "we'll end up with fascists in parliament not only in Slovakia but in all central Europe".

In elections in March, the far-right People's Party - Our Slovakia (LSNS) - got 8 percent of votes and entered the Slovak parliament with 14 MPs out of 150.

For Slovakia, the new migration "narrative" includes two plans and already existing policy with which it wants to push forward.

The first objective will be to make operational the border and coast guard, for which Fico said he has "great enthusiasm".

The plan was agreed by member states, the commission and the European Parliament in June, and the Slovak presidency will coordinate efforts to make staff and equipment available to the new agency that will be in charge of the new corps.

Speedy implementation

The second objective will be to progress on the smart border project and develop digital methods to better manage the EU's external borders and migrant identification, such as the use of face scans and fingerprinting.

"We need speedy implementation of what is agreed," Fico said. 

This also concerns the return of migrants, a policy that already exists but which Slovakia, in line with all member states, wants to develop.

Return of economic migrants or rejected asylum seekers will help "stabilise the situation on the Western Balkan route and the Central Mediterranean route," interior secretary of state Denisa Sakova said.

She said that returns to countries of transit and of origin would necessitate an "effective partnership" with these countries, through the so-called migration compact. The plan, which was agreed in principle by EU leaders this week, makes development aid conditional in exchange for efforts to control migration to Europe.

Interior ministers will discuss all these issues at an informal meeting in Bratislava on 7 July and are expected to come up with a roadmap for the next six months.

Fico: EU leaders need to overcome fear

Opening the Slovak presidency of the EU, prime minister Robert Fico stressed the need for the EU to reform, and urged better communication with its citizens on the EU's values and results.

News in Brief

  1. Visegrad countries meeting with Israel called off
  2. EU ministers call climate change 'direct and existential threat'
  3. Seven MPs leave Britain's Labour Party
  4. Czech PM: May's EU elections 'most important ever'
  5. 'History will judge us': May tells MPs on Brexit
  6. Trump warns EU on release of Islamist fighters
  7. Venezuela expels 'conspiratorial' MEPs
  8. Holocaust dispute upsets Israel's EU lobbying

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  2. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  3. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  5. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  7. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  8. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups

Latest News

  1. EU should clarify rules for plant burgers and lab meat
  2. Italian populists could be second biggest force in EU parliament
  3. Merkel defends Russia ties, ridicules Trump on cars
  4. British MPs condemn Facebook CEO's misrule
  5. EU's chance to step up on Hungary and Poland
  6. ESA pushback against new EU space agency plan
  7. Sluggish procedure against Hungary back on table
  8. Could Finnish presidency fix labour-chain abuse?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  9. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  10. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  12. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us