Challenging times for the Slovak Presidency of the EU
Slovakia took on the six month rotating Presidency of the European Union on the 1st July. For one of the newest Member States to the bloc, this will be one of its greatest challenges as it has to address the continuing fall-out form the Brexit vote. Speaking to European press in Brussels Slovak prime minister Robert Fico was heard to say “Man makes plans, but God changes them,” Slovakia is although a small country of only 5.4 million inhabitants is an interesting candidate for the Presidency given that it was required to extricate itself from the former Czechoslovakia and its strong commitment to showing the added value of working together at the EU level.
Slovakia held back its presidency programme until after the vote in an effort to adapt it accordingly. The first summits The Programme of the Slovak Presidency of the Council of the European Union is based on four priorities: an economically strong Europe, a modern single market, a sustainable migration and asylum policies and a globally engaged Europe.
The Slovak Presidency is hosting a meeting of the EU27 leaders without Britain’s new Prime Minister Theresa May in September in Bratislava to discuss the future of the EU. May will be ushered into her first EU summit in late October in Brussels. EU leaders will no doubt want to hear here more about her plans for the British exit and future relationships with the block. However, France's presidential election in May, and Germany's general election next autumn could complicate matters, as their leaders are likely to be grounded by election campaigns and would be less flexible in the negotiations. As a result, May might want to delay launching Article 50 further into next year, not to have Brexit negotiations held hostage by the various campaigns.
In Brussels, the new British PM will need to work proagmatically with countries like Germany, Sweden, Ireland and the Netherlands that would want to maintain strong trading ties with the UK. The perception is that Belgium and France are likely to want to make an example out of Britain. Meanwhile the Central and Eastern European states could be sympathetic to the UK, as they share the future view of the EUas a loose cooperation, rather than that of ever closer Union, but that free movement of people and workers, one of the four freedoms of the Single Market could signal problems depending on the stance the UK adopts. Newsflash readers, should be aware that their are in fact 4.9 million Brits settled outside the UK in the EU, of which I am one, and a figure that will arise in any negotiation.
The Slovak Presidency has four priorities
An economically strong Europe: focusing on initiatives that help create an appropriate environment for investment and for the further development of the Union.
A modern single market: The single market is considered the greatest achievement of the European Union and the Slovak Presidency wants to progress initiatives relating to energy union and the digital single market.
Sustainable migration and asylum policies: The current migration crisis is putting enormous pressure on the EU's external borders and on the asylum systems of the Member States.The Slovak Presidency therefore seeks to encourage the Union to develop more sustainable migration and asylum policies.
Globally engaged Europe: We aim to strengthen the Union's position in the world.
To do this the Slovak Presidency has three principles
Achieving tangible results – demonstrating to EU citizens that joint European projects have a practical impact on improving their quality of life;
Overcoming fragmentation – through better connected Member States working more closely within the single market;
Focusing on the citizen –overcoming fragmentation and achieving results are key to bringing the Union closer to its citizens.
Meanwhile, the European Environment Bureau, an umbrella body for environmental organisations in Brussels, is calling on the Slovak Presidency to help restore public confidence in the EU following the Brexit vote by promoting a greener, more sustainable Europe, where our negative impact on climate, biodiversity and public health in Europe and beyond is rapidly decreased in line with citizens’ expectations and scientific imperatives.
Joining forces with the Green 10 alliance, a platform of the 10 leading NGOs representing 20 million citizens, the EEB Secretary General has written to the three Presidents of the EU institutions to reflect on how to become better in making the case for the values and benefits EU policies for its citizens’ health and wellbeing. This includes cleaner air, water and beaches, thriving wildlife, safer substances and green energy, to name but a few.