Sat, Jul 02, 2016 - Page 7 News List

New EU presidency urges more state power

RECONNECTING:Slovakia said EU policy should be driven by the member states, blaming the loss of public support for the EU on the workings of Brussels


A series of images is projected onto the walls of Bratislava Castle to mark the handover of the presidency of the EU Council from the Netherlands to Slovakia yesterday.

Photo: EPA

Slovakia yesterday took over the EU presidency determined to help reconnect the union with its citizens and put decisionmaking back in the hands of European nations as the bloc reels from Britain’s vote to leave.

Unveiling Slovakia’s plans for the next six months, Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico said the EU’s migration policy does not work and Europe has failed to properly communicate with its citizens.

He said EU heavyweight member states like France, Germany and Italy have run the show for too long, and they should start listening to countries like Slovakia that have joined the 28-nation EU since 2004.

Slovakia, which split amicably from the Czech Republic in 1993, has a population of 5.4 million — just more than 1 percent of the EU population. It is geographically at the heart of Europe, and for the next six months it will be at its political heart, too.

“The crucial decisions on the future of Europe cannot be defined by the decisions of one or two member states, or by the founding member states,” Fico told reporters in Bratislava.

“Can we be successful by selling policies that don’t work?” he asked, as the EU wrings its hands over losing a member state — the bloc’s second-biggest economy — for the first time.

Fico’s government also took aim at the EU’s executive arm, the European Commission, which has gained increasing power since the governing Lisbon Treaty was introduced in 2009, for dictating policy from Brussels.

“There is a feeling among the member states that they are being sidelined,” Slovakian Minister of Foreign Affairs Miroslav Lajcak said. “Policy should be driven by the member states and the commission should turn it into legislation.”

Lajcak said nations should wield more power because “this is where citizens live, they don’t live in the institutions.”

He partly attributed the loss of public support for the EU to the workings of Brussels, saying: “It’s probably because there’s too much institutions and too little member states.”

Migration was cited as a key reason for last week’s decision by British voters to exit the EU.

However, British concerns centered on migrants from other EU countries that some Britons thought were taking advantage of their country’s welfare benefits.

Other EU nations have been upset at the union’s refugee policy. Slovakia has been particularly peeved by the commission’s mandatory quota scheme to share among all EU nations refugees from Syria or Iraq that have flooded into overburdened Greece and Italy. EU members voted to pass the measure, but Slovakia was among a small minority, along with Hungary, to be overruled.

The EU presidency, which rotates between its member countries every six months and has most recently been with the Netherlands, sets priorities for the EU agenda and works to bridge differences and broker compromises.

Slovakia’s entrance on the stage appears to break with the recent tradition of low-profile terms. It also promises an interesting six months ahead, as the EU reflects on how best to handle the UK’s exit and what direction the bloc wants to take with the rest of its members.

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