The upcoming Slovak presidency of the Council of the EU has overcoming the fragmentation in Europe as one of its main objectives, Slovakia´s State Secretary for European Affairs Ivan Korčok told a small group of journalists today (12 May).
Korčok, a career diplomat who until last summer was the Permanent Representative of Slovakia to the EU, outlined the main priorities of his country’s presidency, with the important disclaimer that the final program would become known only two days before Bratislava takes over from The Hague.
Two uncertainties, and two guiding principles
The diplomat said there were two uncertainties weighing on the upcoming presidency. Indeed, Slovakia would need to fine-tune its program according to the result of the UK referendum on Europe on 23 June, and more importantly, to the relevant decisions to be adopted at the 28-29 June Council. This basically gives Bratislava one day to finetune its priorities.
Regarding the UK referendum, in the event that Britain votes to stay in the EU, Korčok said that the Slovak presidency would work for the implementation of the package which the Union offered to David Cameron.
In case of Brexit, the Slovak presidency will reflect on what the EU summit will say about this outcome, which Bratislava hopes will not materialise, the diplomat said.
Another uncertainty, Korčok said, was “the migration situation”, as he called it, to avoid using the term crisis.
Korčok said that the Slovak presidency would be guided by two main principles. The first, he said, was to “help eliminate or overcome fragmentation in Europe”.
“The buzzword number one is to tackle and confront fragmentations […] which are unfolding”, he said.
Curiously, Slovakia is a country which in fact is exacerbating the fragmentation, against the background of the migration crisis, individually and as a member of the Visegrad group (together with Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia). The group has time and again opposed EU-wide solutions to tackle the crisis.
East-West divisions are visible also in other fields. Yesterday it became known that the parliaments of all countries from Central and Eastern Europe have made use of a “yellow card” procedure, and succeeded to send back to the drawing table a Commission proposal for a revised Posted Workers Directive.
The second main principle of the Slovak presidency, Korčok said, is “to deliver results for our citizens”.
“We are aware of huge expectations in Europe, but in Slovakia as well, that European integration produces tangible and specific results for our citizens,” he said.
Four building blocks
Korčok said that after lengthy considerations, his country’s authorities had decided that there would be four thematic building blocks on which the presidency’s program would be defined.
The first block, he said, was the financial and economic block, for which he said “a crispy and crunchy headline” was still sought.
Subsections of this building block, he state, are the EU budget for 2017, the 2013-2020 midterm budget review, which he said is going to take place without reopening budget headlines, the post-2020 long term EU budget, as well as the Capital Markets Union, advancing the unfinished job of Economic and Monetary Union, and opening the discussion about what can be done with fiscal integration. He added that there should be deliverables for the SMEs, to help them tap the capital which is available across Europe.
The second block, Korčok said, is composed of the important projects of the EU internal market, among which are the Digital Single Market and the Energy Union. He added that citizens would praise the EU if it is able to tackle issues such as geoblocking or data portability.
The third block is migration, Korčok said. Without going into details, he added that it was important for the EU to indicate what kind of migration it wants. He said that his country’s presidency will say that the EU needs sustainable migration, coupled with a sustainable asylum policy. The problem is not migration, which has existed for many centuries. It is that migration has become unsustainable, he explained.
The discussion on the Commission package tabled last week will be difficult, Korčok said. The executive’s recommendation for the continuation of the controls on internal borders within Schengen show that there are still persistent deficiencies in the Union’ ability to protect its external borders. One deliverable of the Slovak presidency could be to have the EU border coastguard operational, he said.
Korčok said there was a chance that an important agreement on smart borders could be reached. Smart borders means how to ensure travel comfort for EU citizens, by retaining control for those who don’t have visas for the Schengen area, he explained.
The fourth basket, Korčok explained, includes the EU’s external action, including trade. This would include the TTIP and CETA agreements, and the issue of the market economy status for China.
Slovakia is a pro-enlargement country, Korčok said, adding that in the conclusions of the December EU summit, the names of the countries which are clearly making progress should be duly mentioned.
The diplomat wrapped up his presentation with the message that defeatism in the EU should be stopped and the East-West divide in the Union should be overcome. The Slovak presidency comes at the right time, he said.
Sources from Bratislava told EurActiv.com that the country was going to ask its Visegrad partners to slow down with their anti-immigration rhetoric during the Slovak presidency.
Until recently, Slovakia was in the forefront of organising Visegrad against Commission efforts to find common solutions to the migration crisis.