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DIPLOMACY ДИПЛОМАЦИЯ

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THE SLOVAK PRESIDENCY OF

THE SLOVAK PRESIDENCY OF THE COUNCIL OF THE EUROPEAN UNION... strategy in the context of Fico’s winning the general elections in Slovakia in March, 2016. In August, 2016, however, in his speech before the European Parliament, he made a tangible effort to get out of this image. By admitting that the Slovak Council Presidency is inevitably going to take place “in the shadow of Brexit”, he also said: “The European Union is an amazing and unique project. This project has brought peace and prosperity to a continent that had been deteriorated by wars”. And then he added: “I am proud that Slovakia has been part and parcel of this project”. 5 According to Robert Fico, the European Union has to combat the ever growing separatism, populism, and nationalism because a strong Europe is not only in Brussels’ interest – it is in the interest of us all. Later on, at a press conference, organized jointly with the President of the European Parliament, Fico declared: “If we do no manage to decide, in the following five or six months, how the European Union will have to operate from now on, we are bound to find ourselves in a situation in which every country will be insisting on … a referendum of its own”. 6 Fico underlined further that the advantages of the European project should be made more understandable to the European citizens. However, if this could really happen, the European Union will have to bring down to a minimum its own bureaucracy and elitism by focusing on the common projects that have been agreed upon by the individual Member States. It is the need for a consensus of this kind that has made the Slovak Council Presidency convene the informal meeting of the Heads of State and Government in Bratislava. This meeting is expected to focus on all kind of topics, but chiefly on the European future without Great Britain. Fico also asserted that the major objective of the informal Bratislava Summit, which had been scheduled for September 16, 2016, should be to try and avoid to a maximum any extreme visions about the way in which the EU should go on functioning from now on. We need to underline, however, that, in this case, he dissociated himself from the extreme “Visegrad Four” position on this issue, as well as from the Polish appeals that the European Commission has to be isolated from any Brexit crisis-associated decisions because these decisions’ initiative should be left in the hands of the EU Member States. In addition, Fico’s assertion had come in collision with the opinion of the Slovak Foreign Minister, Miroslav Lajcak. Mr. Lajcak has been sharing the view that there has been a general feeling among the EU Member States that, whenever they manage to come to an agreement, the European Commission will inevitably interfere with all kinds of new proposals, contrary to what has just been agreed upon. He also thinks that the EU citizens are becoming less aware of what the European Union has been doing. And he attributes this fact to the “too many institutions and the very few Member States”. The Bratislava Summit – searching for the proper EU road map Prior to the summit in Bratislava, Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, underlined in a letter, addressed to the Heads of State and Government, that the European Union is faced up with an unprecedented situation in which one of the EU Member States has expressed its desire to withdraw from the European community. Moreover, this has taken place as a result of a national referendum. In his letter, Tusk also underlined that “the Brexit campaign had abounded with false arguments and unacceptable generalizations. However, it is also a fact that the vote during the referendum had been a desperate attempt 5 Robert Fico’s speech during a European Parliament plenary session – August 3, 2016, Strasbourg. 6 The debate with Prime Minister Fico about the Slovak Council Presidency – July 5, 2016. DIPLOMACY 18/2016 137

THE SLOVAK PRESIDENCY OF THE COUNCIL OF THE EUROPEAN UNION... to find an answer to the questions that millions of Europeans have been asking themselves every day – all these are questions about the very nature of the EU policy.“ 7 During the Bratislava Summit, however, the leaders of the EU Member States “shouted” a warning that Great Britain was going to be deprived of its access to the Single European Market, unless this country continued to adhere to the principle of free movement of people and, unless it permitted the free movement of work force within its own territory. The Declaration that was adopted as a result of the Bratislava Summit (the Bratislava Declaration) underlined the following: “We need the European Union so that we could be able to better meet the needs of the European citizens to live, to study, to work and to develop freely across the European continent.“ 8 On his part, Fico announced that the “Visegrad Four” were going to be uncompromising unless they received some guarantees that their nationals were going to preserve their right to work in Great Britain, as well as to enjoy equal rights, so that they would not eventually find themselves in the position of “second hand” people. Otherwise, Fico said, the four “Visegrad countries” were going to veto any agreement that could be negotiated between Great Britain and the EU. The Slovak Prime Minister also argued that his country was entirely against a situation in which Great Britain would continue to only avail itself of the advantages and the benefits that are being offered by the European Union. The response of the Czech ambassador to Great Britain deserves special attention because he declared openly that Fico’s assertions did not constitute either an “official statement”, or a common position of Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic that had been agreed upon prior to the beginning of the Brexit negotiations. He added that he highly values Fico’s opinion but underlined, at the same time, that Poland, which is presiding over the “Visegrad Four” group, is entitled to speak solely on its own behalf. In addition, if we scrutinize the messages of the “Visegrad Four” which had been issued right after this group’s meeting, which had taken place only two weeks prior to the Bratislava Summit, we will see that the leaders of the four countries have been working on a common, but different approach as regards the future development of the European Union. We would like to underline here the position of Witold Waszczykowski – the Polish minister of foreign affairs. Mr. Waszczykowski believes that “the Brexit negotiations need to be conducted on three levels. The first one should be the level dealing with the British withdrawal from the EU. The second one should deal with the new situation in which this country has found itself in relation to the European Union. And also, there should be a discussion on the third level about the reasons that had made the second largest European economy leave the European Union, as well as about the ways in which this situation could be possibly remedied.“ 9 The refugee-and-migration crisis – the Slovak Presidency spaced out between the national and the pan-European interests The ongoing refugee-and-migration crisis is the next serious problem related to the rotating Council Presidency. As from the very outset, the Slovak Prime Minister, Fico, had declared that “the overwhelming majority of the EU citizens is entirely against the migration policy that has been pursued this far”. Quite expectedly, Jean-Claude Juncker took on a well-balanced position by declaring 138 7 Donald Tusk’s letter promulgated prior to the Bratislava Summit – September 13, 2016. 8 The Bratislava Declaration and Road Map – September 16, 2016. 9 Waszczykowski’s statement made [immediately] after the “Visegrad Four” meeting – August 30, 2016. ДИПЛОМАЦИЯ 18/2016

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