Paris, July 2016 – Slovakia (5.4 million inhabitants) took over from the Netherlands the rotating presidency of the European Union on 1st July at a time of unprecedented challenges following the ‘Brexit’ vote in Great Britain, which was to succeed Slovakia next semester. A member of the ‘Visegrad Group’ with other Central and Eastern European countries, Slovakia has announced that a “sustainable migration and asylum policy” is a top priority. In the area of Justice and Home Affairs, the chief priorities are the fight against terrorism and radicalisation, financial fraud and cybercrime.
In her 36-page presidency programme, the Slovak Republic, which joined the EU in 2004, recognises that, “the Presidency comes at a time when the European Union finds itself in an unprecedented situation. The negative outcome of the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU has presented us with a new challenge; for the first time in history, we are required to concern ourselves with the practicalities and political ramifications of a Member State leaving the EU. At this juncture, it is vital that the EU engage in self-reflection. Its aim should be to restore citizens’ confidence in the common European project, develop its tangible benefits and defend the results of the integration process on our continent. We need a coherent, better and more comprehensible Europe.” This is obviously a major and unexpected new challenge for Europe, and the Prime Minister, Robert Fico has been very clear that he will make the voice of the small countries heard and would not let the founding members take the lead.
Regarding the general priorities of the Slovak six-month Presidency (until 31 December 2016), the programme presents four major areas:
- Economically strong Europe: “We will focus on initiatives that help create an appropriate environment for investment and for the further development of the Union.”
- Modern single market: “The single market is considered the greatest achievement of the European Union. The vision of the Slovak Presidency is therefore to further develop unifying projects, such as the energy union or the digital single market.”
- Sustainable migration and asylum policies: “The current migration crisis is putting enormous pressure on the EU’s external borders and on the asylum systems of the Member States. The Slovak Presidency therefore seeks to encourage the Union to develop more sustainable migration and asylum policies.”
- Globally engaged Europe: “We aim to strengthen the Union’s position in the world.”
Regarding the area of Justice and Home Affairs, “the Slovak Presidency aims to contribute to the further development of EU policies, in particular in the fields of migration, asylum, border control and visas.” The presidency programme intends “to preserve the integrity of the Schengen area and to contribute to the re-establishment of its proper functioning. Another priority of the Slovak Presidency is to protect external borders.”
It is to be noted that Mr Fico has adopted a hard-line position regarding the question of refugees, staunchly refusing the quotas proposed by Germany, although it is generally expected that he will adopt a much more measured position as the main spokesperson for the Slovak presidency.
Another priority in the area of Justice and Home Affairs is the fight against terrorism, which Slovakia links with border control and increased cross-border judicial cooperation. Lastly, the programme mentions the fight against financial fraud and cybercrime as areas of major interest of the new EU presidency.