Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico called on July 6 for the EU to deliver tangible results to fight the spread of nationalism and populism.
The demand came - apparently without irony - as Fico spoke to MEPs to open a debate on the priorities of the incoming Slovak Presidency of the EU Council of Ministers. In a bid to shore up support for his Smer party, the PM has for the last year or more blasted EU plans to shelter migrants and made it clear numerous times that Muslims are not welcome in his country.
However, he told the European Parliament the bloc must work together to the benefit of EU citizens, to allow them to regain confidence. "We have arrived at a stage where we have to overcome fear," said Fico, according to a press release from the EU. "The fear of our citizens, fear of migration, (...), the fear of terrorism (...) and the fear of economic problems", but also "fear of political leaders that we will not be able to overcome the crises."
The "loss of citizens’ confidence in the EU strengthens extremists and nationalists in Europe”, the Slovak PM reiterated. Fico was evidently genuinely shocked in March, when his long campaign against immigration – which includes an ongoing legal case against Brussels' attempt to impose migrant quotas on member states – saw Smer lose its majority in elections as nationalist and neo-nazi rivals gained.
Meanwhile, Smer has faced no little suspiscion in the West over its stance on Russia. Slovakia has regularly objected to EU sanctions, while Moscow claims the country is now ready to break ranks with its CEE peers to take part in the Nord Stream 2 gas project. The PM's speech to MEPs was delivered as the Slovak opposition tried to mount a confidence vote against him due to his links to an ongoing corruption scandal centered on the interior minister.
Fico praised the EU as "an amazing and unique project" which "is not perfect", but for which there is "no alternative." He also said the "EU has to listen more closely to critical voices" and "become more flexible, less bureaucratic and more responsive to diversity."
"We need a discussion on how to make the EU better and more efficient. The outcome of the British referendum is the proof of that," Fico said, adding that "we cannot focus on crisis management only" but must offer EU citizens a “long-term vision.” The Slovak presidency intends to start a "deep reflection on what the EU wants and must offer to European public," he added.
That should happen at an informal summit of EU leaders on 16 September, which Slovakia will host following the UK's vote to leave the bloc – an event that has made the presidency a challenge to say the least. The meeting must not end with a statement of "business as usual" he insisted; that would only prove eurosceptics right.
"It would be harmful, if we would leave Bratislava with a statement saying that everything is fine, but [that] people don’t understand us," he said. That will only fuel more fragmentation and more referendums, asserted the Slovak leader, who as part of the Visegrad group has been pushing since the Brexit vote to try to avert a tightening grip on the bloc by the Franco-German axis.
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