1. The Eastern Neighbours and Russia

Mar­ta Králiková

Sitting on two stools

The prospects of nation­al rela­tions with Rus­sia are strong­ly defined by Slo­vak eco­nom­ic inter­ests and almost com­plete depen­dence on Rus­sia in the ener­gy sec­tor (oil, gas, and nuclear fuel). In light of the unre­solved con­flict in Ukraine and EU sanc­tion pol­i­cy towards Rus­sia, the incum­bent government’s approach of bal­anc­ing sup­port for a uni­fied EU voice and efforts to avoid too hawk­ish cri­tique towards Rus­sia to secure its nation­al inter­ests is like­ly to con­tin­ue. Although Slo­va­kia is clear on con­dem­na­tion of Russia´s breach of inter­na­tion­al law and it does not block Euro­pean con­sen­sus on sanc­tion pol­i­cy, it prefers polit­i­cal dia­logue as a solu­tion to the cri­sis. Prime Min­is­ter Robert Fico has in par­tic­u­lar been very explic­it about the use­less­ness and harm­ful­ness of the sanc­tions. This view is, how­ev­er, in con­trast with the posi­tion of Pres­i­dent Andrej Kiska and the major­i­ty of civ­il soci­ety organ­i­sa­tions, who pro­mote adopt­ing a stricter atti­tude towards Rus­sia, which is seen as a source of insta­bil­i­ty endan­ger­ing Euro­pean uni­ty and val­ues. Min­is­ter of For­eign Affairs Miroslav Lajčák’s view bal­ances some­where in between – while being a strong sup­port­er of Ukraine, he also advo­cates main­tain­ing con­struc­tive engage­ment and mean­ing­ful dia­logue with Moscow.

How­ev­er, unre­li­a­bil­i­ty of Russ­ian gas deliv­er­ies, which were cut by 50% after Slo­va­kia launched reverse gas flow to Ukraine and the threat of Rus­sia to bypass Ukraine (and Slo­va­kia) as a tran­sit coun­try have result­ed in increas­ing efforts of the gov­ern­ment to diver­si­fy gas route sup­plies and to expand cross-bor­der con­nec­tions. Togeth­er with devel­op­ment of the EU Ener­gy Union, this might bring about a decrease of Russ­ian lever­age on pol­i­cy deci­sion-mak­ing in Bratisla­va and ease future nego­ti­a­tions in Brussels.

The soci­etal per­spec­tive on rela­tions to Rus­sia is rather divid­ed; the Ukrain­ian cri­sis has uncov­ered a divi­sion in men­tal affil­i­a­tion with the West or with the East (mean­ing Rus­sia). In par­tic­u­lar, on-line media and social net­works have become fer­tile ground for Russ­ian pro­pa­gan­da efforts. Despite the fact that a con­sid­er­able major­i­ty (83 per­cent) agrees that Rus­sia shouldn´t inter­fere in Ukraine’s future, almost half of the respon­dents con­sid­er sup­port of sanc­tions against Rus­sia to be wrong (research by IVO, June 2014). Slo­vak pol­i­cy of the “friend­ly prag­ma­tist” towards Rus­sia is there­fore like­ly to pre­vail and to be backed by pop­u­lar con­sent even in times of “cool” rela­tions between the EU and Russia.


Need for new policy framework

Tra­di­tion­al­ly, the East­ern Part­ner­ship coun­tries have been among the great­est pri­or­i­ties in Slo­vak for­eign and Euro­pean pol­i­cy. Slo­va­kia has strong­ly sup­port­ed trans­for­ma­tion process­es and enhanced coop­er­a­tion with the EU in order to sup­port Euro­pean val­ues, democ­ra­cy, and human rights in the east­ern neigh­bour­hood. Clos­er polit­i­cal asso­ci­a­tion and eco­nom­ic inte­gra­tion in the frame­work of asso­ci­a­tion agree­ments of Ukraine, Geor­gia, and Moldo­va with the EU should, accord­ing to the Slo­vak gov­ern­ment, con­tin­ue as dynam­i­cal­ly as pos­si­ble despite the dif­fi­cult con­di­tions in Ukraine. In rela­tion to Belarus, Arme­nia, and Azer­bai­jan, Slo­va­kia aims at sus­tain­ing prag­mat­ic rela­tions and devel­op­ing polit­i­cal dia­logue and good eco­nom­ic rela­tions. How­ev­er, this approach has been denounced by the expert com­mu­ni­ty, crit­i­cis­ing the EU’s “dance with dic­ta­tors”, which over­looks the sit­u­a­tion of human rights in Azer­bai­jan and Belarus.

The Ukrain­ian cri­sis, how­ev­er, has increased the acknowl­edge­ment of the need to reassess the cur­rent frame­work of the East­ern Part­ner­ship – geopo­lit­i­cal and secu­ri­ty aspects should be tak­en into con­sid­er­a­tion and be trans­lat­ed into mean­ing­ful dia­logue with Rus­sia and into an adjust­ed approach to part­ner coun­tries. This should be achieved through a dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed, indi­vid­u­al­ly tai­lored, and mer­it-dri­ven pol­i­cy of the EU towards the part­ner coun­tries, accord­ing to their lev­el of aspi­ra­tions, com­mit­ments and the will to under­take them.

The issue of EU mem­ber­ship for the “inte­gra­tion trio” seems to get more dis­tinct space in polit­i­cal debates about the future of East­ern Part­ner­ship coun­tries. How­ev­er, ful­fil­ment of deep reforms and meet­ing con­di­tion­al­i­ty cri­te­ria is pro­nounced as urgent and inevitable. Slo­va­kia is pre­pared to help with reforms of the ener­gy and secu­ri­ty sec­tors, and by shar­ing its own trans­for­ma­tion expe­ri­ence. Civ­il soci­ety plays a cru­cial role here with its ini­tia­tive to devel­op a Joint Assis­tance Pro­gram for Ukraine.


Lack of ambitious approach at Riga Summit

The expec­ta­tions of the Riga Sum­mit were not defined by exces­sive promis­es. On the polit­i­cal lev­el it was viewed rather as a con­sol­i­da­tion sum­mit focus­ing on tak­ing stock of achieve­ments of part­ner coun­tries since the Vil­nius sum­mit, and as fur­ther con­firm­ing the mutu­al com­mit­ments of the EU and its East­ern Part­ners, while the expert com­mu­ni­ty voiced the need for set­ting real­is­tic prospects and upgrades of exist­ing pol­i­cy frameworks.

The results of the sum­mit pro­voked, how­ev­er, a dis­sat­is­fied reac­tion: Min­is­ter of For­eign Affairs Lajčák advo­cat­ed for a more ambi­tious text of the final joint dec­la­ra­tion and for set­ting out clear­er prospects for the part­ner coun­tries. He was espe­cial­ly crit­i­cal of the EU’s atti­tude encour­ag­ing the free strate­gic choice of these coun­tries and lev­el of ambi­tion in their rela­tions to the Union, all while deny­ing mem­ber­ship per­spec­tive to them at the same time. With spe­cial regard to Ukraine, under­go­ing dif­fi­cult reforms, he main­tained that these coun­tries should be offered a mem­ber­ship per­spec­tive should they ful­fil the EU’s cri­te­ria. A sim­i­lar posi­tion towards the Euro­pean future of these coun­tries was expressed by Pres­i­dent Kiska. How­ev­er, this posi­tion did­n’t find agree­ment from the EU mem­ber countries.


Missing discussion

Despite the immi­nence of the con­flict in Ukraine and posi­tion of Slo­va­kia as a small bor­der state, there has­n’t been sig­nif­i­cant recon­sid­er­a­tion of Slo­vak defence and secu­ri­ty strat­e­gy with regards to dra­mat­ic changes in Ukraine. Strength­en­ing of the EU Com­mon Secu­ri­ty and Defence Pol­i­cy is instead envi­sioned through enhanced coop­er­a­tion of the EU and NATO and with the aim to main­stream coop­er­a­tion into nation­al defence plan­ning through a pool­ing and shar­ing ini­tia­tive. Slo­va­kia per­ceives NATO as the main secu­ri­ty guar­an­tee, and a suf­fi­cient one, for nation­al and Euro­pean defence. Con­se­quent­ly the idea of a com­mon Euro­pean army has been met nei­ther with ade­quate dis­cus­sion nor with pos­i­tive appraisal on the polit­i­cal level.

Lack­ing dis­cus­sion is a reflec­tion on the wider prob­lem of a lack of atten­tion to strate­gic think­ing and mil­i­tary plan­ning in defence and to its appro­pri­ate fund­ing. The expert com­mu­ni­ty is espe­cial­ly crit­i­cal about dete­ri­o­ra­tion of Slo­vak mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ties, which are in urgent need of mod­erni­sa­tion and an increased lev­el of inter­op­er­abil­i­ty with allied armies. More­over, Slo­va­kia still has­n’t ful­filled the com­mit­ment to NATO to spend 2 per­cent of GDP on defence — con­verse­ly, it has been decreas­ing its defence bud­get con­stant­ly from 2009. Although Pres­i­dent Kiska pledged to raise the bud­get on defence to 1.6 per­cent of GDP by 2020 at the NATO Sum­mit in Wales, this remains a ques­tion of the polit­i­cal will of the next government.


2. EU Enlargement

Oľga Gyár­fášová

Between caution and determination

There are no major changes in Slovakia’s views on EU enlarge­ment direct­ly caused by the Ukraine cri­sis. Slo­va­kia fur­ther­more open­ly and firm­ly sup­ports the enlarge­ment process. How­ev­er, we may observe some rather more implic­it shifts, and above all high­er aware­ness of impor­tance hav­ing a sta­ble neigh­bour­hood. Also the focus of dis­course has shift­ed more in favour of Slovakia’s east­ern neigh­bours; coun­tries of the West­ern Balka­ns have become less rel­e­vant than they were 2–3 years ago.

The EU per­spec­tive is seen in prin­ci­ple as the dri­ving force for inter­nal reforms. Pres­i­dent Kiska said at the Riga Sum­mit that coun­tries that wish to join the Euro­pean Union, such as Ukraine, Moldo­va, and Geor­gia, should have the same chance as Slo­va­kia had a few years ago. At the same meet­ing, Min­is­ter of For­eign Affairs Lajčák under­lined that in the future the East­ern Part­ner­ship will no longer be about big vis­i­ble steps, but more about sol­id coop­er­a­tion in many areas. The role of Slo­va­kia as a neigh­bour and a coun­try which went through a com­pli­cat­ed inte­gra­tion process of its own is seen as impor­tant. The min­istry even opened a new grant scheme for NGO projects assist­ing Ukraine with build­ing up demo­c­ra­t­ic insti­tu­tions. Slo­va­kia should assist Ukraine more with the reforms, since Ukraine lacks strate­gic vision and dri­ve for unpop­u­lar reforms.

The Ukraine cri­sis – but also oth­er devel­op­ments like mem­ber­ship of Belarus and Arme­nia in the Rus­sia-cen­tred Eurasian Union – made the gap between Ukraine, Moldo­va, and Geor­gia on the one side and Arme­nia, Azer­bai­jan, and Belarus on the oth­er more sig­nif­i­cant and strength­ened the quest for a more dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed approach to coun­tries of the East­ern Partnership.

The gen­er­al con­text for the debate is giv­en by the fact that Prime Min­is­ter Fico is very scep­ti­cal about the EU’s sanc­tions pol­i­cy and that the gov­ern­ment tries to bridge good rela­tions with Rus­sia and the sup­port for Ukraine’s democ­ra­ti­za­tion processes.


Time to do the homework

Key con­cerns regard­ing the EU enlarge­ment to the West­ern Balka­ns are inter­nal polit­i­cal insta­bil­i­ty and last­ing eth­nic con­flicts in the region. The con­flicts and eth­nic vio­lence which broke out in Mace­do­nia last May jus­ti­fied these con­cerns. Mace­do­nia was the first coun­try in the region which man­aged to sign the EU Sta­bi­liza­tion and Asso­ci­a­tion Agree­ment; how­ev­er, the inte­gra­tion dynam­ic has been slowed down by eth­nic clash­es and polit­i­cal scan­dals. The most urgent prob­lems of the region are huge unem­ploy­ment, eco­nom­ic hard­ships, and the relat­ed ille­gal and legal migra­tion. Fail­ure to address the prob­lems of the Balka­ns and the slow­down of Euro­pean inte­gra­tion has led to increased dis­sat­is­fac­tion of the pub­lic and incli­na­tion to solve prob­lems through force.

In the debate about the EU inte­gra­tion of the West­ern Balka­ns, one impor­tant fact can­not be over­seen – Slo­va­kia has not rec­og­nized Koso­vo, and recent­ly (April 2015) Prime Min­is­ter Fico repeat­ed­ly con­firmed that Slo­va­kia does not intend to do so. On the oth­er hand Pres­i­dent Kiska has advo­cat­ed for recog­nis­ing inde­pen­dent Koso­vo. Dur­ing the state vis­it of the Ser­bian Prime Min­is­ter, Slo­vak rep­re­sen­ta­tion con­firmed that the Euro­pean per­spec­tive is the only way to ensure the sta­bil­i­ty and pros­per­i­ty of the region and it is Slovakia’s duty to sup­port each coun­try that would like to join the EU. Slovakia’s polit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion was used to high­light the country’s com­pe­tence in trans­fer of inte­gra­tion process experiences.

There are also more scep­ti­cal voic­es com­ing from the think tank envi­ron­ment – the sup­port for Serbia’s mem­ber­ship per­spec­tive (and that of oth­er West­ern Balka­ns coun­tries) has van­ished because democ­ra­cy in these coun­tries is in decline and they are not con­duct­ing the nec­es­sary reforms. Prob­a­bly the coun­try which is clos­est to EU mem­ber­ship is Mon­tene­gro. Alba­nia has sta­tus of a can­di­date coun­try; how­ev­er, it has a lot of work ahead.

All in all, for the West­ern Balka­ns coun­tries the EU per­spec­tive is slight­ly los­ing attrac­tive­ness — but no oth­er cred­i­ble alter­na­tive is emerg­ing. Due to the Ukraine cri­sis, the West­ern Balka­ns is not in such a hot focus as it used to be a few years ago. The decline in inter­est goes hand in hand with slow­ing down the democ­ra­ti­za­tion dynamics.

Turkey’s EU accession is not a salient issue in the political debate

In 2004, Slo­va­kia under the cen­tre-right gov­ern­ment coali­tion led by Prime Min­is­ter Mikuláš Dzurin­da (2002–2006) agreed to start EU acces­sion talks with Turkey with an “open end”. Though the Slo­vak Demo­c­ra­t­ic and Chris­t­ian Union (SDKU) was sup­port­ive of open­ing nego­ti­a­tions lat­er on, it did not address the issue of Turkey’s EU acces­sion in its pro­gram­mat­ic doc­u­ments. The luke­warm sup­port for Turkey’s EU acces­sion has also been giv­en by the next cab­i­nets led by left-lean­ing Smer-Social Democ­ra­cy (2006–2010; and since 2012 on). Prime Min­is­ter Fico repeat­ed­ly voiced his posi­tion that the EU should con­tin­ue in its enlarge­ment pol­i­cy, and Turkey, pro­vid­ed it meets the mem­ber­ship cri­te­ria, should become an EU mem­ber state. Rel­e­vant polit­i­cal par­ties may hold dif­fer­ent posi­tions, but Turkey’s EU acces­sion is not a top­ic that would be dis­cussed polit­i­cal­ly; it is not an issue con­test­ed by the polit­i­cal parties.

The debate about the pros and cons of Turkey’s EU acces­sion — which is heat­ed in, for exam­ple, Aus­tria or Ger­many — is under­de­vel­oped in Slo­va­kia. The cen­tre right par­ties — above all Chris­t­ian Demo­c­ra­t­ic Move­ment (KDH) are clear­ly against it because of cul­tur­al dif­fer­ences; the con­ser­v­a­tive par­ty fol­lows the idea of the Ger­man CDU/CSU and sup­ports the idea of a “priv­i­leged part­ner­ship”. An MP for a small­er cen­tre-right par­ty, Most-Híd, has men­tioned also fol­low­ing argu­ments for “no” to Turkey in the EU: slow Islamiza­tion of the coun­try under Pres­i­dent Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (man­i­fest­ed in the grow­ing impact of reli­gious schools and the grow­ing pres­ence of Mus­lim prac­tices in every­day life); con­flict over Cyprus (the EU can­not accept a new coun­try which does not rec­og­nize a mem­ber state) and final­ly the fact that the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment con­tin­ues to protest against the for­mal recog­ni­tion of the geno­cide of the Arme­ni­ans in 1915. On the oth­er hand, the argu­ments of those who sup­port Turkey’s EU mem­ber­ship are backed by a pros­per­ous, huge econ­o­my as well as secu­ri­ty (buffer zone vis-à-vis the insta­bil­i­ty in the Mid­dle East and ally in strug­gle against ter­ror­ism). There are also voic­es (Slo­vak MEP Eduard Kukan, for­mer Min­is­ter of For­eign Affairs from 1998–2006) express­ing that Turkey should be treat­ed fair­ly – it is not fair to invite a coun­try and then to find excus­es why it should not be accepted.

Slo­va­kia plays a spe­cial role in the Cyprus con­flict – the Slo­vak Ambas­sador to Nicosia mod­er­ates the bi-com­mu­nal dia­logue between Greek and Turk­ish Cypri­ots. As for this ini­tia­tive, Min­is­ter Lajčák reit­er­at­ed Slovakia’s readi­ness to con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing diplo­mat­ic aus­pices for this dia­logue. In bilat­er­al rela­tions Slo­va­kia per­ceives Turkey as an impor­tant part­ner and an influ­en­tial play­er in a region that has not been spared of tur­bu­lence and con­flicts. As for Turkey’s inte­gra­tion process, Slo­va­kia con­tin­ues to sup­port EU enlarge­ment pol­i­cy, which is seen as one of the most suc­cess­ful poli­cies of the EU, thanks to it fos­ter­ing sta­bi­liza­tion and devel­op­ment of aspir­ing countries.


This EU-28 Watch is part of the a project called ‘East­ern Neigh­bours and Rus­sia: Close links with EU cit­i­zens’ (ENURC) in col­lab­o­ra­tion with TEPSA (Trans Euro­pean Pol­i­cy Stud­ies Asso­ci­a­tion). The project focus­es on devel­op­ing EU cit­i­zens’ under­stand­ing of the top­ic of the East­ern Neigh­bour­hood and Rus­sia and aims at encour­ag­ing their inter­est and involve­ment in this pol­i­cy which has an impact on their dai­ly lives.

The EU-28 Watch project is map­ping out the dis­cours­es on these issues in Euro­pean poli­cies all over Europe. Research insti­tutes from all 28 mem­ber states are invit­ed to give overviews on the dis­cours­es in their respec­tive countries.

This sur­vey was con­duct­ed on the basis of a ques­tion­naire that has been elab­o­rat­ed in March 2015. Most of the reports were deliv­ered in June 2015. This issue and all pre­vi­ous issues are avail­able on the recent­ly relaunched EU-28 Watch web­site:

The EU-28 Watch No. 11 receives sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing from the Otto Wolff-Foun­da­tion, Cologne, in the frame­work of the ‘Dia­log Europa der Otto Wolff-Stiftung’, and finan­cial sup­port from the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is not respon­si­ble for any use that may be made of the infor­ma­tion con­tained therein.