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DIPLOMACY ДИПЛОМАЦИЯ

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THE SLOVAK PRESIDENCY OF

THE SLOVAK PRESIDENCY OF THE COUNCIL OF THE EUROPEAN UNION... that he was not expecting a “war” in Slovakia, fomented by the refugee-and-migration crisis. He admitted that there have been some discrepancies between the Slovak government and the European Union in relation to some issues, but not in the case of all issues. There are no discrepancies, he said, with respect to the issues related to the protection of the EU external borders and shores, nor are there any discrepancies in relation to the so called “blue cards”. 10 As regards the contesting of the migrant quotas before the European Court of Justice, the President of the European Commission said that the contested decision had been taken by the European Council, and not by the European Commission. This of course, is not a very solid argument, he said. Moreover, that a crisis of this kind could be settled neither by any uncoordinated unilateral measures, nor in the absence of any coordination between the EU institutions or a consensus reached on the EU level. The staunch Slovak Prime Minister’s position on the refugee-and-migration crisis had turned into a cornerstone in his election platform and had brought about a fairly large number of adherents both on a national, as well as on a European level. We need to mention here only two other initiatives. Firstly, that mobile barriers have to be put up along the Slovak border with Austria and Hungary and, secondly Fico’s former position that there is no room in Slovakia for Islam. In this case, there seems to be no adequate answer to the question as to how messages of this kind fit in with the provisions of Article 10 of the Lisbon Treaty, which reads: “In defining and implementing its policies and activities, the Union shall aim to combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.“. Such extreme messages, as the ones mentioned above, can be considered to be the proper technique of winning electorate on a national level but they are in sharp contradiction with the functions of the rotating Council Presidency as such. Because the main mission of this Presidency is to steer the Council’s operations, as well as to focus these operations on the EU legislation, to try and preserve continuity in the implementation of the programme and, last but not least, to do everything within its powers to be an unbiased mediator who can encourage the creative cooperation between the EU Member States in compliance with the acquis communautaire and with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. Moreover, within the framework of the “Visegrad Four” meeting, which had taken place in late August, 2016, the Czech Republic had welcomed two proposals concerning the reform of the EU. The first one had involved an approval of the idea for the establishment of a common European army because “Europe needs much better cooperation, as well as consolidation of its security and defense policy.” Secondly, shortly before the Bratislava Summit, the Slovak Prime Minister had appealed to the EU in Facebook to suspend its sanctions against Russia arguing that these sanctions had had no tangible effect on resolving any issue significant for the European community. Notwithstanding its propensity for populist rhetoric, it was the Bratislava Declaration that announced the following: “We will have to focus our attention on the citizens’ expectations and to courageously and steadfastly oppose the simplistic solutions offered by the extremist or the populist political forces.“ 11 However, as soon as Slovakia had assumed the rotating Council Presidency, it was only natural for Fico to make an attempt to demonstrate a much more balanced approach. As early 10 The decision on the introduction of a Blue Card had been made for the purpose of attracting highly qualified labour from third countries with a view to raising the competitiveness of the EU. 11 The Bratislava Declaration – September 16, 2016. DIPLOMACY 18/2016 139

THE SLOVAK PRESIDENCY OF THE COUNCIL OF THE EUROPEAN UNION... as July, 2016, he underlined that the refugee-and-migration crisis was going to be the dominant topic throughout the Slovak Council Presidency, as well as in the work of the Troika. And also that Slovakia was having some “clear ideas of its own” as to how this crisis could be dealt with. He also added that Slovakia was going to be an “honest mediator” in the discussions searching for a common European approach, and also that his country was going to do its best to level out the differences existing between the individual EU Member States. The Slovak Prime Minister said that, despite all that, Slovakia was not going to withdraw its complaint filed with the European Court of Justice against the mandatory migrant quotas underlining the fact that the majority of the European citizens were against the current refugee-and-migration EU policy; therefore, this policy had to be radically changed. The quota allocated to Slovakia comprises 2 300 refugees. However, the official position of the Slovak government is that the country is prepared to voluntarily receive not more than 25 families, or a total of 149 refugees – all of them Christian, and all of them from Iraq. As an additional argument, Fico also quoted a European Council decision that had not provided for any mandatory quotas. At the same time, he valued highly a number of European Commission initiatives aimed at getting the refugee-andmigration crisis under control. This could also be exemplified by the three main objectives that were set out in the Bratislava Road Map: • Avoidance of any return to last year’s uncontrollable refugee-and-migration flows and further reduction of the number of illegal migrants; • Guaranteeing full control of the EU external borders and getting back to Schengen; • Broadening the EU consensus on the long-term refugee-and-migration policy and adhering to the principles of responsibility and solidarity. 12 Slovakia believes that the refugee-and-migration topic is too complicated; therefore, this crisis calls for a comprehensive political solution, rather than for an administrative or a bureaucratic one. What is more, such a solution has to be found within the shortest possible term because any further delays are going to have additional serious consequences for both the European Union, as well as for the people seeking asylum on the Old Continent. The October 20-21, 2016, European Council meeting reconfirmed the general line of action of what had been agreed upon during the informal Bratislava Summit, and the topic of getting the refugee-and-migration flow under control was left to be the leading topic. The Concluding Remarks of this summit underlined that “more attention has to be paid to the root causes of the refugee-and-migration influx into this region, including by support rendered to the persons displaced in the region, contributing in this manner to the prevention of any illegal migration “. 13 In his “notes” produced after the end of the Bratislava Summit, Donald Tusk writes: “During this summit, the European leaders also touched upon the issue of solidarity between the EU Member States in the course of the crisis. We are going to discuss the particular proposals in December but today it is important for us to reach an agreement that there is going to be no solidarity “a la carte”. Instead, we are going to work for effective solidarity.“ 14 The level of the effect, if any, of the Road Map adopted by the Bratislava Summit is going to be seen during the forthcoming rotating Council Presidencies, including the Bulgarian Presidency in the first half of 2018. 140 12 The Bratislava Road Map – September 16, 2016. 13 European Council meeting Conclusions – October 20-21, 2016. 14 Notes of the European Council President, Donald Tusk, promulgated on the first day following the beginning of the European Council meeting – October 20, 2016. ДИПЛОМАЦИЯ 18/2016

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