Strasbourg, March 12, (TASR correspondent) – Slovak Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini (Smer-SD) delivered a speech on his vision of the EU’s future at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday.
Addressing MEPs, Pellegrini said that the integration of Slovakia and other countries into the EU provided a guarantee of stability and freedom. “We returned to where we’ve always belonged – to the European and transatlantic space, to the EU and NATO,” he said.
Pellegrini called Slovakia’s membership of the EU “a success story”, even though the beginning was challenging. It was necessary to make significant structural changes, reduce unemployment and build democratic institutions. The result is Slovakia’s membership of the Schengen zone and the eurozone, as well as its presence among countries with the highest rates of GDP growth. In recent times a higher number of people have been coming to Slovakia than leaving it. Pellegrini stressed that “a generally better atmosphere” needs to be used to modernise a Slovakia that has built a strong civil society and has a high degree of media freedom. Meanwhile, Slovaks must increase efforts to improve the quality of the education sector, science, research, state administration and to reduce corruption.
In these uneasy times Slovakia wants to be among the most integrated EU countries, said the premier, adding that there’s no alternative for this than membership of the EU, as confirmed by the Slovak presidency of the Council of the EU and the EU summit in Bratislava in September 2016.
The Slovak prime minister also touched on the murders of journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée last year. These stirred up a justified reaction from the public, a sign of the “maturity” of Slovak democracy, stated Pellegrini. In this connection he thanked the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) for its cooperation in investigating this case, as well as MEPs who were often critical about events in Slovakia through expert missions sent to the country.
The Slovak prime minister pointed to persisting gaps between eastern and western European countries, adding that potential disputes need to be resolved by dialogue. According to him, growing social differences in Europe harm the European project, and people then seek answers elsewhere, in the field of disinformation. He said that Slovakia supports the EU’s social pillar and is applying to host the headquarters of the European Labour Authority.
Pellegrini pointed to external and internal challenges that the EU faces and stressed that the Union first has to raise the question of where it wants to be in 15 years and to adapt its multi-year budget to this. He highlighted the need for fair trade policy in the EU, along with digitisation and robotisation, areas in which the EU is often over-regulated, which is harmful if its wants to hold on to its leading position. He stressed the need for a transition to a climate-neutral economy and for building joint defence forces, which should complement NATO.
A series of discussions on the EU’s future involving heads of countries and their governments on one side and MEPs on the other was launched in January 2018 and will continue until the EP elections in May.