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Slovak presidency will seek to maintain accession process momentum.


Your Excellency, the Slovak Republic is assuming the Presidency of the Council of European Union in a very difficult time when the Union is facing a number of challenges and problems. How can a rational way and balance be found in pursuing the Slovak vision and priorities and at the same time be a credible player, an honest broker, an unbiased negotiator and a fair mediator?

The Slovak Presidency comes at a time when the EU is facing many challenges: the decision of the citizens of the UK to leave the Union underlines the need for discussion on the future of the EU; the migration wave is testing our ability to maintain the integrity of the Schengen area; the terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels have reminded us that there is still much to improve in terms of our mutual cooperation in the field of internal security and the impacts of the economic and financial crisis still affect the economies of the EU Member States. Despite these challenges and increasing uncertainty, the Slovak Presidency intends to promote a positive agenda and to enforce sustainable solutions. The ambition of our Presidency is to regain the trust of citizens in the European project. The task of the Presidency is to work for the benefit of the whole Union. Slovakia's tenure of the Presidency is not about promoting national priorities. Our Presidency will address all issues raised at the EU level, with particular emphasis on topics that are important for Slovakia as well as for the Union as a whole, but without pursuing of our national interests. To what extent we succeed in our mission will be clear at the end of the year.

Making the European economy stronger means supporting the environment favorable to investment, further economic growth and job creation. How can financial stability, prosperity and full credibility of the euro zone be secured?

"Economically stronger Europe" is the first of the four priorities of our Presidency. The other are: "Modern single market", "Sustainable migration and asylum policy" and last but not least "Globally engaged Europe", which includes strengthening of the credibility of the EU enlargement. Despite the signs of recovery of the European economy after the crisis, full recovery requires further incentives. The first priority area is thus focused on initiatives aimed at creating a supportive environment for investments and further development of the Union. Our Presidency is convinced that efficient use of the investment instruments, pursuing structural reforms and promoting a responsible approach to public finances are at the heart of an economically strong Europe. The Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) remains incomplete. Therefore, the Slovak Presidency will support the implementation of the actions that will give positive momentum to its completion. The economic crisis has shown that to enable the Union to better deal with economic shocks it is necessary to deepen the EMU.

The European Union needs long-term solutions. The Slovak Presidency intends to be pragmatic, which means delivering tangible results, and to be uniting, which means overcoming the fragmentation in Europe. What about the needs of European citizens and restoring their trust in the EU?

The EU citizens are becoming increasingly unconvinced of the ability of the Union to address their concerns and the problems of everyday life. For some, Europe is not a solution, but the major problem. For others, Europe is even the enemy number one. And for many, Brussels is simply too far away.

As a result, nationalism, radicalization and extremism are gaining ground in our societies. As Presidency, we know none of these symptoms can be solved by a single country acting alone. Therefore, we are committed to an ambitious agenda for the Council. Therefore, the priorities of our programme have been chosen around these guiding principles: (1) focus on our citizens--This is the overarching principle behind our priorities. I know it might have become a cliche yet for us this can never be relegated into an empty slogan. Instead, we believe this is the major mission of any of the European institutions. By achieving tangible results that help the Union overcome fragmentation, we are placing the citizen into the centre of our efforts; (2) tangible results--This is the most appropriate time to prove that the Union has the capacity to influence everyday life of our citizens in a positive way. This can be done mainly through the EU legislation. Therefore, the Slovak Presidency will be pragmatic and seek progress in areas which can bring tangible benefits to our citizens; and (3) overcoming fragmentation--Despite the dynamics of the integration process, after almost 60 years since the Rome Treaties, there are still many areas where barriers persist between Member States, be it within the digital area, the free flow of energy or capital. This fragmentation makes the EU vulnerable! What we need is substantial progress in legislation that will help overcome the existing barriers and better connect the Member States in the Single Market.

It is obvious that migration will remain an urgent issue during the Slovak Presidency. What does the official announcement that the Slovak Republic does not want to reduce its role to being just a crisis manager mean?

Migration is a long-term historical phenomenon. Current migratory flows, however, are putting extra pressure on the EUs external borders and the asylum systems of the Member States. The ambition of the Slovak Presidency is thus to move Europe towards sustainable migration and asylum policy. The Schengen area is one of the greatest benefits of European integration. However, due to temporary controls introduced along some internal borders, the Schengen area is not fulfilling currently its essential role, which is to ensure the free movement of citizens and goods. Our Presidency regards the return to fully functioning Schengen area the main objective. The protection of the EUs external borders is a key precondition to fulfil this objective. The Slovak Presidency will also actively contribute to the deployment of the European Border Guard. Then the wider use of modern technology at the external borders is needed. Our Presidency supports smart borders. Their implementation will facilitate the handling of passengers, contribute to the fight against irregular migration and strengthen the internal security of the Union. Cooperation with third countries, namely with migrants' countries of transit and origin, forms an integral part of a comprehensive approach to migration. The Slovak Presidency will focus on eliminating causes of migration and will encourage the development of targeted strategies to deal with the mass movement of people. The migration and refugee crisis has led to reflections on the future of the joint European asylum system. Our Presidency feels a strong responsibility for further developments in this debate, and wishes it to move forward in those areas where there is agreement among the Member States. And finally, the Presidency will encourage an ambitious approach to internal security. The main preconditions are improved information exchange, increased operational cooperation and mutual coordination among the police and judicial authorities of the Member States.

Your Excellency, the Slovak Republic is a pro-enlargement country and in this light, during the Slovak Presidency of the Council of the European Union, do you expect some positive trends in terms of Macedonia's Euro-Atlantic processes?

The enlargement policy is an effective means of ensuring a democratic transition for the integrating countries. With a view to strengthening the policy's credibility, the Presidency will seek to maintain the momentum of the accession process and achieve concrete progress in the candidate countries.

So the performance of our Presidency with regards to your country will mostly depend on developments in your domestic political and institutional framework. The Presidency will, of course, support your country's efforts to move out of the deadlock, but obviously cannot solve your political crisis, or the bilateral dispute between Skopje and Athens. The Presidency's degree of solidarity with integration ambitions of the candidate country simply cannot exceed the degree of solidarity of the candidate country with the values and principles the functioning of the European project relies upon. Our Presidency would wish to achieve a tangible success at the European Council in December this year by unblocking the integration process of your country. As was the success of the Finnish presidency in 1999, when my country's integration was unblocked and when it received an invitation for opening the accession negotiations. By the way, we managed to conclude the negotiations within only 3 years of their opening, which is perhaps a "speed record" in the history of the EU enlargement.

H.E. Mr. Martin Bezak, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Slovak Republic to the Republic of Macedonia
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Publication:Macedonian Diplomatic Bulletin
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:4EXSV
Date:Jun 1, 2016
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