The solution to the migration crisis is beyond the European Union borders and the EU must be prepared to talk to all relevant players in troubled countries and provide financial and logistical help, the former prime minister of Slovakia told EURACTIV.
Mikuláš Dzurinda talked to Lucia Yar of EURACTIV Slovakia and told her that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was balancing on the edge but still within norms and that Hungary’s problem was the falling level of overall democracy rather than growing ties with Russia.
The former minister of foreign affairs and prime minister of the Slovak Republic, Mikuláš Dzurinda currently directs the Wilfred Martens Centre for European Studies, a political think tank of the European People’s Party.
The Martens Centre, as well as most of the EPP’s MEPs see the solution of the migration crisis outside the European Union. Are similar agreements such as the one concluded by the EU and Turkey the key to solving the migration crisis?
Undoubtedly. There is no better option that I would know of.
However, the countries with which we could conclude similar agreements are politically even more unstable than Turkey. Who do you negotiate with, for example, in Libya?
Everyone who is a relevant player. We have a very fragmented political scene there, but there is no doubt that we need to negotiate with a legitimate government. But it is also necessary to negotiate with those who have military arsenals and the military power in their hands.
Recently, we could see pictures where General Haftar and the President of the Libyan government visited the Elysée Palace, and it is clear that President Macron is preparing something. We must try to conclude agreements with countries that have become a funnel for refugees and economic migrants, aimed primarily at managing the key asylum procedure in North Africa, not in Europe.
What about the situation of refugees? The Union has shifted its border problem and washed its hands and the situation in refugee camps, for example, in Libya has become disastrous. The UN refugee commissioner has recently warned about it as well.
It is necessary to act. When I say that agreements with relevant players are needed, these agreements should be directed in such a way that they don’t create modern concentration camps where people are raped and abused. The conditions in centres in which people spend the time needed for an asylum procedure must be dignified.
Should the EU also offer financial support to such divided countries?
Certainly. And not only financial but all that is related to the existence of such centres: from basic infrastructure through education to military protection of centres and security for those who live in them.
Brexit and the retreat of the United Kingdom have given space to new European projects. Common defence is an example. What perspective do you see in it?
A very good one, not only from the defence-security but also from the political point of view. Today we are divided in Europe. On the one hand, there is a dividing line between Poland, Hungary and others. It would be good to overcome these divisions.
I am very confident that the issue of the security of the external borders and some of the related topics could be a very grateful line to underpin, in order to make us even more united. I am also happy that the Poles have signed this initiative.
How far should the Union progress with this initiative?
So far, we have just started. Why hurry? As a person who was responsible for this country (Slovakia), I can tell you one thing: I do not need the European social pillar to know how to promote the necessary economic and social reforms in our country. I do not need tax harmonisation to know how to shape the business environment, so that Slovakia is attractive for investment. But I need common defence forces. I cannot protect the Slovaks who live not only in Slovakia but all over Europe and around the world.
I would jump on the subject of common defence without needing to think for a second. I am talking about applying the principle of subsidiarity. It is a fantastic principle we often forget about. But we need to stick to it.
You have mentioned Poland and Hungary, which together with Slovakia and the Czech Republic have gained more political power within the EU, particularly during the migration crisis. But is it appropriate to maintain such intense coordination and cooperation in the current circumstances of questionable democratic principles, both in Poland and Hungary?
We must not expect more from the Visegrad cooperation than its real base allows. We must not glorify it or overrate its meaning. We should not forget why this cooperation was actually created. It was about getting out of the past and starting to integrate westward, into the European Union.
It is quite natural that we do not dissolve this cooperation. We can still use it as a tool to promote some regional interests, but above all as a consultation platform. On the other hand, we should be very careful not to turn it into a lobbying party, for example against Germany. No regional co-operation should be used to create new dividing lines. That would be the beginning of the end.
Are you worried about the situation in the V4 countries’ capitals? Slovakia seems to be the last pro-European island.
I do not feel nervous that some accents are now different in Warsaw or Budapest. Rather the opposite, the accents should be understood. Sometimes even the Slovaks could be interpreting them in Brussels or Paris.
Not everything that Orbán or Kaczynski say is foolish. Yet, the degree of centralisation worries me. I often feel that the European administration in Brussels interferes with the member states’ competence and that they are barely consulted.
All of these processes need to be seen very soberly, and the Visegrad Four needs to be cultivated. It does not need to be pushed to the position of a breaker. It should become a unifier.
In the European People’s Party, the possibility of excluding Orbán´s Fidesz was also intensively addressed. In the end, it did not happen. Was it the right thing to do?
I do not think that the discussion has got there just yet. But the President and the EPP have had and still have intense communication with Viktor Orbán, there is no doubt about it. Personally, I still feel that Viktor Orbán, who is well known for recognising red lines, is trying to balance himself on the edges in such a way that he does not slip.
Moreover, Brussels is accusing him of communicating with Moscow, which is also somewhat on the brink of breaking the sanctions.
The affection for Russia is not a violation of the political, Copenhagen criteria. However sensitive, it’s still a political issue.
The worrying issue in Hungary is, however, the level of democracy, the freedom of the media, the freedom of non-governmental organisations, academic freedom. In these themes, the optics of the European institutions is intense. Russia is a concern because it obviously overstepped certain boundaries.
Let’s look at Russia’s crossed boundaries. Has Kremlin discovered the extended options provided by soft power as well?
The Budapest Agreements were exceeded by their annexation of the Crimea and that is a clear hard power usage. However, the situation is unpleasant and more complex. Not only is there Donbas, a hybrid war, but we are undoubtedly facing a major misinformation campaign that comes from Russia. I will not repeat suspicions related to elections in the United States or other countries.
What is to be noticed, however, is that Russia has been promoting an unusually intensive foreign policy in the last period. It has done very well in Syria. It is trying to play a strong role in the Gulf countries, in Iran, or with Turkey. We have not recorded such unprecedented activity and the initiative of Russia in previous periods, and it is also necessary for us to act accordingly.
What about the opposite side of the globe? What does the election of Donald Trump say about the level of democracy in the United States? How should Europe communicate with him?
The fact that Americans have chosen Donald Trump is not a sign of weakness, but the opposite: the maturity of democracy. And developments only confirm this. There is no doubt that the system of checks and balances works there. How many court verdicts has he already faced?
I am rather surprised by how little we, the elite democrats who are viewing Trump through extremely spectacular glasses, ask questions. Why did it happen in America? Why is Marine Le Pen strong in France? Why is Alternative for Germany gaining power? Why do we have fascists in Slovakia? How is it possible that we do not ask these questions?
Why did it happen, then?
Well, because we, the elite democrats, are so weak and fearful for our cosy chairs that we cannot solve the problems that affect ordinary people. We have fallen into elitism and political correctness and we are afraid to even name a phenomenon, let alone solve it. For example, migration.
But the citizens of the United States wanted to say something. And we should understand what it was. Unless we understand it, no one will choose those we think are the right and best upholders of democracy. That is what I still find lacking in our discussion and discourse. We act as if we were the masters of the world and everyone else stinks, they are all extremists or even fascists.
I only see two options for the United States: either standard political forces will understand what is happening and will correct their policies accordingly, and in the next election, somebody will beat Trump. Or we will remain in such leaven, an intense bubble, continuing to observe until we wake up.