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THE SLOVAK PRESIDENCY OF THE COUNCIL OF THE EUROPEAN UNION... The Slovak Presidency of the Council of the European Union – priorities in the shadow of Brexit, the migration crisis, and populism Assistant Professor Gergana Radoykova, PhD It has been for the first time in its 12-year history of a full-fledged member of the EU that Slovakia has assumed the rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union. This has happened at a time when the European community is faced up with one of the most serious crises in its entire history – a time in which the need for a single European voice in the context of the most pressing EU problems is no longer a matter of choice; it is rather a matter of survival. This article has set itself two main objectives to attain. In the first place, to make an analysis of the major priorities set out in the Council Presidency Programпе, as well as of the way in which these objectives are being pursued in the context of two serious crises – the “pending” Great Britain’s withdrawal from the EU (Brexit) and the “hot” topic of the refugeeand-migration crisis which makes it imperative to seek and find ways out of the impasse in which the EU has found itself in the context of this crisis. And secondly, the author has made an attempt to make an assessment of what Slovakia has achieved in the area of the issues that are of key significance to the European community, as well as of the extent to which all this matches with the foreign political rhetoric of the country which is currently presiding over the Council of the EU. *** In June, 2016, the Slovak government disclosed that it was going to postpone, quite intentionally, the announcement of its Council Presidency priorities declaring that it was going to make these priorities public after the end of the British referendum on Great Britain’s membership of the EU. After a meeting he had had with the President of the European Commission, the Slovak Prime Minister, Robert Fico, said: “There is a saying in my country according to which everybody makes plans but God is the one that can change these plans. It would be best for everybody if Great Britain stays with the EU. But as pragmatic politics we should not forget that it might go as well. “ In turn, Jean-Claude Juncker responded to this statement: “I told Robert I would like him to be, over the coming six months, a much more pro-European EU leader and he promised to do so. I do not doubt, in any way, what he said. “ It was not by mere chance that Jean-Claude Juncker had pronounced these words because the Slovak Prime Minister is known to be one of the most severe critics of the EU policy, as well as a proponent of the thesis that the European Union will have to carry out a radical reform of the way in which it functions – a position that has been strongly supported by the Visegrad Group (also known as the “Visegrad Four” or simply „V4“). 1 Moreover, in December, 2015, only six months prior to the beginning of the Slovak Council Presidency, 1 The Visegrad Group (the “Visegrad Four”) was set up in 1991. It includes Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. The main objective of this group involves the accession of individual countries to the EU and, afterwards, defending the common interests of these countries within the EU. DIPLOMACY 18/2016 135

THE SLOVAK PRESIDENCY OF THE COUNCIL OF THE EUROPEAN UNION... Slovakia had filed an official complaint with the European Court of Justice contesting the migrant quotas that had been adopted by the EU Foreign Ministers at an European Council meeting held earlier in September that same year. To crown it all, Fico has been reiterating that the future of the European Union should not be dictated by only two or three powerful EU Member States from Western Europe. If we go even further back in time, we will see that since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty in December, 2009, Slovakia has been focusing, in its political messages, only on the practical benefits of the EU membership, rather than on the common European issues, messages or values. The Slovak political “elite” has been concentrating chiefly on domestic political issues, rather than on the challenges that have been arising in the European Union context. The relevant discussions have been focusing, first and foremost, on the economic and financial crisis, on the Greek debt and, quite recently, on the refugee-and-migration crisis. The official priorities of the Slovak Council Presidency are in themselves quite logical and do not constitute any surprise. They are based on three principles that supplement one another: achieving tangible results, overcoming the current fragmentation, and focusing on the EU citizens. At the same time, there have been identified four priority areas: • an economically powerful Europe; • a modern single market; • sustainable migration and asylum policies; and • a Europe that is globally committed. 2 The Slovak Council Presidency Programme underlines that the “Brexit” referendum in Great Britain requires a discussion about the EU future, and that the ongoing refugee-andmigration crisis calls for urgent addressing of all problems related to the integrity of the Schengen space. It also draws attention to the fact that the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels have revealed the weaknesses of these countries’ internal security systems at a time in which the negative consequences of the economic and the migration crisis are still felt fairly strongly in the economies of the EU Member States. 3 Identified and presented in this manner, the Slovak Council priorities are in full harmony with the 18-month European Council Programme (January 1, 2016 – June 30, 2017) that had been promulgated in December, 2015. We need to underline here that, in its Introduction, this program puts an emphasis on the following: “The European Union is faced up with some unprecedented challenges which are related to its own security and are the result of the refugee-and-migration crisis. Any successful dealing with these challenges calls for a radical rethinking of some issues pertaining to several areas of our own policy.“ 4 So, the question arises: to what extent do the Slovak intentions overlap with the Slovak practical actions and with the particular results that have been produced thus far? This, however, is a disputable question and may involve more than one answer. The Slovak Presidency in the shadow of Brexit – the contradictory messages of the Slovak Prime Minister, Robert Fico The Slovak Prime Minister is a renowned social democrat known for his populist narrative which, when coupled with some nationalistic messages, turned out to be his winning 136 2 Programme of the Slovak Presidency of the Council of the European Union – 1 July - 31 December 2016. 3 Programme of the Slovak Presidency of the Council of the European Union – 1 July - 31 December 2016. 4 Continuing work on the strategic program, i.e. the 18-month Council program (January 1, 2016 – December 30, 2017). ДИПЛОМАЦИЯ 18/2016

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