On 1 July, as part of the rotation taking place every six months, Slovakia assumed presidency of the European Union Council. Despite its adamant opposition to Brussels over migration policy, Bratislava is actually called exemplary.
The Slovakian government approved the final version of its six-month work programme on the day before its presidency was to start. Long-known priorities had to be supplemented taking into account the outcome of the referendum in the United Kingdom. “At this juncture, it is of vital importance that the EU engage in self-reflection. Its aim should be to restore citizens’ confidence in the common European project,” it states in the final version.
That which used to involve routine solutions to familiar problems has now taken on an existential meaning. The results in each of the priority areas must show the preferability of the EU and halt the growth of Eurosceptic sentiments in order “to demonstrate to citizens that joint European projects have a practical impact on improving their quality of life”.
Slovakia has four priorities:
- economic growth in the EU due to investment and job creation,
- expansion of the single market into other sectors (creation of an Energy Union with a viable climate policy, single digital market),
- migration policy (strengthening control of EU borders, cooperation with outside countries),
- active foreign policy (stabilization of crises along EU borders).
Meanwhile, while calling for solidarity, the Slovakian leadership has simultaneously been making totally dubious statements related, first of all, to migration policy. Back in 2015 the country refused to participate in the common European plan for distributing refugees. Then in May this year, Prime Minister Robert Fico announced that “Islam has no place in Slovakia” and took a direct stand against the idea of multiculturalism.
An emphatically dismissive attitude towards Brussels and the leading countries was observable even at a press conference dedicated to the beginning of the presidency. “The crucial decisions on the future of Europe cannot be defined by the decisions of one or two member states, or by the founding member states,” said Robert Fico. “Policy should be driven by the member states and the Commission should turn it into legislation,” Foreign Minister Miroslov Lajcak agreed with him.
However, European Council President Donald Tusk lavished praise during his speech at the opening ceremony in Bratislava. “Looking at how much you have achieved over the past years, and how you are coping in this critical moment for Europe, I have to say that the EU couldn’t wish for a better presidency,” he said.