Fico: Slovakia Must Be at Heart of EU Affairs

Prime Minister Robert Fico

Bratislava, March 16 (TASR) – It would be a pity for Slovakia to pass up the opportunity to make the most of its current momentum and the major accomplishments in the transformation process thus far, or if it failed to join the list of EU countries advancing at a brisker clip than the remainder, said Prime Minister Robert Fico on Thursday.

Fico was speaking at a conference that is taking stock of Slovakia’s foreign and European policy last year. The event is organised annually by the Slovak Foreign Policy Association along with Slovakia’s Foreign and European Affairs Ministry.

“It’s plain to see that EU countries that will aim for a faster pace of progress will be disinclined to be held back by countries that won’t be able to keep up,” said the premier, drawing on a line of reasoning informed by present-day discussions among EU leaders.

Fico noted that Slovakia has attained the greatest possible measure of integration, and the country’s Presidency of the Council of the EU in the second half of last year demonstrated that the country has what it takes to engage in – and even manage – complex processes.

“A formal remark must, therefore, be worked out into a clear-cut strategy and priority in foreign policy for Slovakia to be part of the very core of European affairs – a circle of countries that is sound economy-wise and is pressing ahead with fiscal discipline; that is, in areas in which we feel comfortable,” said the premier.

The premier went on to speak highly of the Slovak presidency and drew attention to the importance of the Bratislava Summit and Bratislava Declaration in September 2016. “It [the declaration] came in response to a rising tide of euro-pessimism, which was particularly spurred on by unrestrained migratory flows, a lack of stability in the European neighbourhood, the repercussions of the economic and financial crisis, as well as Brexit,” said the premier. He went on to flag up notable accomplishments in which the Slovak presidency played a part, notably the ratification of the Paris Climate Agreement, the signing of the CETA agreement and the beginning of Frontex’s operations.

Migration remains a warning for the EU, said Fico, sounding alarm bells concerning the situation in Libya and the risk of unregulated infiltration through the Turkish-Bulgarian border. He added that there’s a great deal of apprehension in the EU because “as far as migration is concerned, the spring and summer of 2017 may take on critical dimensions again”.

In reviewing the pivotal moments of Slovakia’s foreign and security policy in 2016, the premier remarked that Slovakia backed the ratcheting up of links between the EU and NATO in security while also making its commitments clear and reasserting them.

Fico reviewed Slovakia’s efforts to assist countries of the Western Balkans on their path to the EU. “We regard a credible enlargement policy as an effective tool for a political and economic transformation in Europe,” said the premier, who takes a dim view of opinions within the EU that oppose EU enlargement.

Western Balkan countries need to receive a chance to see prospects, said Fico, adding that at least one of the six countries should be allowed to get onto a faster integration track than the rest of the pack. “I can picture a scenario with this country being Montenegro, which would set an example for the other countries in that it makes sense to implement political and economic reforms that are needed for a country to become an EU member,” said Fico.

The premier also praised relations within the Visegrad Four (V4), which besides Slovakia also brings together the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, and bilateral relations with the other V4 members and Austria. The priorities of Slovakia’s foreign policy continue to include the stability and security of Ukraine, said Fico, decrying “hypocrisy within the EU” when it comes to the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.

“On one hand, you have everybody talking about the need to help Ukraine, while on the other, a project has been rolled out that may jeopardise gas transit across Ukraine and cause huge financial damage to it,” said Fico.