The rotating presidency of the EU falls to Slovakia in July. But the latest pronouncements on Islam by Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico have caused widespread indignation. EURACTIV France reports.
Re-elected in March this year, Slovakia’s nominally Socialist leader has continued to develop a strong anti-Islamic rhetoric. The French Socialist Party was particularly angered by Fico’s recent declarations.
Last week, in his first interview since being re-elected, Fico said, “It may seem strange, but sorry, Islam has no place in Slovakia.”
“I have talked about this several times with the Maltese prime minister, who told me that the problem is not that they were coming, but they are changing the character of the country,” he added.
Observers had expected the Slovak premier to soften his stance on immigration after the recent election, but this hope appears to have been misplaced.
The French Socialist Party (PS) hopes this new episode will stir the Party of European Socialists (PES) into action. Up to now, the pan-European political party has held endless discussions on the issue, but has never agreed on firm sanctions against Fico.
Orbán to the right, Fico to the left
“While the European right seems happy to accommodate Viktor Orbán in its movement, European social democracy has always fought national-populism and refuses to make any rhetorical or political compromise with the ideas of exclusion and division that characterise the extreme right.
“This is the opposite of the Europe we want to build. The Socialist Party firmly condemns the statements of Robert Fico and expresses its concern about his political orientation as Slovakia prepares to take on the European Union presidency,” said Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, the first secretary of the PS.
Last week, Harlem Désir, France’s Minister of State for European affairs and a former PS first secretary, was subtler in his criticism, inviting Slovakia simply to “contribute to European unity”.
“I think that Slovakia, as the future president of the EU, will certainly want to contribute to European unity and to joint positions concerning the hosting of refugees,” the ever-diplomatic Désir said at a press-conference in Prague, the day before travelling to Bratislava.
Concerns over the Slovak presidency
The agenda of the Slovak presidency, which begins in one month’s time, is a source of real concern for the European Commission. Commission officials will meet with Slovakia’s government on Wednesday (1 June) to discuss the programme for the first time.
“It is very important for Slovakia to take ownership of this presidency, which will follow the British referendum, whose aftermath will need managing, whatever the result,” said Désir.
The presidency of the Council of the European Union can be more or less important depending on how much energy the different countries decide to expend on it. Their ability to advance or hold up policy also depends on concurrent circumstances.
Between Brexit and the refugee crisis, the Netherlands has had trouble bringing any other political priorities to the agenda over the last five months, despite a genuine motivation to act on burning issues like climate change.
In Bratislava, the priorities for the upcoming presidency have not yet been clearly defined. The official programme will not be definitively adopted before 30 June, after the Brexit referendum.
The Slovak government has assured that it will work to overcome the “fragmentation of the EU” and concentrate on achieving tangible results for citizens. Broadly speaking, Slovakia would like to concentrate on economic growth and budgetary issues, the Digital Single Market and the Energy Union.
But it is probably a safe bet that questions of migration and the EU’s external borders, along with the United Kingdom, will continue to top the agenda for the next six months.