Close scrutiny of rotating presidency in light of Slovakia’s turn in 2016

Since the Lis­bon Treaty entered into force in Decem­ber 2009, Slovakia’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives have been assess­ing the prac­ti­cal changes in the EU’s insti­tu­tion­al archi­tec­ture rather spo­rad­i­cal­ly. Slovakia’s politi­cians were con­sumed with the domes­tic agen­da while cam­paign­ing before the country’s par­lia­men­tary elec­tions on 12 June 2010. EU insti­tu­tion­al issues did not fig­ure promi­nent­ly in Slovakia’s polit­i­cal debates in the months before the elec­tions. Rather, the salient top­ics includ­ed ques­tions about man­ag­ing the eco­nom­ic cri­sis, includ­ing, for instance, inten­sive debates about the finan­cial sit­u­a­tion in Greece. Inter­est in EU insti­tu­tion­al reform was large­ly con­fined to Slovakia’s diplo­mats and for­eign pol­i­cy-mak­ers, espe­cial­ly those who are present in Brus­sels either at the country’s Per­ma­nent Rep­re­sen­ta­tion or in oth­er insti­tu­tions such as the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment and the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion.

Slo­va­kia will take over the EU pres­i­den­cy in 2016, so plan­ning and prepa­ra­tions for this task are in embry­on­ic stages. How­ev­er, Slovakia’s diplo­mats are keen­ly watch­ing the changes in the work and respon­si­bil­i­ty of the rotat­ing pres­i­den­cy with the intro­duc­tion of the post of the new Pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Coun­cil held by Her­man Van Rompuy. As one senior Slo­vak diplo­mat observed, apart from fun­da­men­tal changes to the field of for­eign and secu­ri­ty pol­i­cy, the rotat­ing pres­i­den­cy has kept its impor­tant func­tions in all major pol­i­cy fields. Hence, prepa­ra­tions for Slovakia’s Pres­i­den­cy will have to begin ear­ly – per­haps in 2011 – in order to pre­pare the country’s admin­is­tra­tive struc­tures for this chal­lenge.11Inter­view with a senior diplo­mat, Slovakia’s Per­ma­nent Rep­re­sen­ta­tion to the EU, Brus­sels, 6 May 2010.

While it is still too ear­ly to make any com­pre­hen­sive assess­ment of the work of Her­man Van Rompuy, one Slo­vak Mem­ber of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment (MEP) stat­ed, “[V]an Rompuy is prov­ing [to be] a very good man­ag­er.”22Inter­view with a mem­ber of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment, Brus­sels, 5 May 2010. This pos­i­tive state­ment con­trasts some­what with ques­tions about the work and respon­si­bil­i­ties of the new High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Union for For­eign Affairs and Secu­ri­ty Pol­i­cy Cather­ine Ash­ton. Slovakia’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives have been keen­ly watch­ing the devel­op­ments regard­ing the estab­lish­ment of the Euro­pean Exter­nal Action Ser­vice (EEAS), whose shape and man­date are going to pro­vide us more clues with respect to Ashton’s role with­in the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion and her rela­tion­ship with the Coun­cil of the Euro­pean Union. Accord­ing to Ivan Korčok, head of Slovakia’s Per­ma­nent Rep­re­sen­ta­tion to the EU, Slo­va­kia wants to pre­serve the Coun­cil of the Euro­pean Union as the main source of EU for­eign pol­i­cy. Korčok argues that the task of the EEAS is to func­tion as an exec­u­tive ser­vice – not as an insti­tu­tion or polit­i­cal organ – in order to serve the High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive in the imple­men­ta­tion of for­eign pol­i­cy.33Euractiv.sk: Ivan Korčok: Východ­ná Euró­pa žia­da férové zastúpe­nie v Európskej zahraničnej službe, 25 March 2010, avail­able at: http://www.euractiv.sk/obrana-a-bezpecnost/interview/vychodna-europa-ziada-ferove-zastupenie-v-europskej-zahranicnej-sluzbe-014799 (last access: 30 June 2010).

In Feb­ru­ary 2010, Slo­va­kia, togeth­er with part­ners from Poland, Hun­gary and the Czech Repub­lic, cir­cu­lat­ed an infor­mal paper in Brus­sels in which the four Viseg­rad coun­tries (V4) argued that “[t]he even­tu­al lack of [mem­ber states’] involve­ment in shap­ing and imple­ment­ing poli­cies could lead to the loss of their inter­est in EU for­eign pol­i­cy and could even result in a widen­ing gap between EU and nation­al poli­cies.”44A. Rettman: New EU States Make Bid for more Diplo­mat­ic Clout, EUOb­serv­er, 10 March 2010, avail­able at: http://euobserver.com/9/29651 (last access: 29 June 2010). Accord­ing to this paper, Slo­va­kia, togeth­er with its Viseg­rad neigh­bours, con­sid­ers “it nec­es­sary to ensure an ade­quate geo­graph­i­cal bal­ance and a mean­ing­ful pres­ence of nation­als from all EU mem­ber states in order to ensure that the ser­vice could draw from a wide vari­ety of diplo­mat­ic cul­ture and expe­ri­ence.” Specif­i­cal­ly, Slo­va­kia and the oth­er V4 coun­tries empha­sised that geo­graph­i­cal bal­ance “should be incor­po­rat­ed in the staff reg­u­la­tion as a bind­ing prin­ci­ple […and] requires reg­u­lar mon­i­tor­ing through […] e.g., year­ly reports.” It is worth not­ing that also Aus­tria, the Baltic coun­tries, Bul­gar­ia, Cyprus, Greece, Mal­ta, Por­tu­gal, Roma­nia and Slove­nia broad­ly allied them­selves with this posi­tion in ear­ly March 2010 before the pub­li­ca­tion of the offi­cial “Pro­pos­al for a Coun­cil Deci­sion estab­lish­ing the organ­i­sa­tion and func­tion­ing of the Euro­pean Exter­nal Action Ser­vice”55Pro­pos­al for a Coun­cil Deci­sion estab­lish­ing the organ­i­sa­tion and func­tion­ing of the Euro­pean Exter­nal Action Ser­vice, 25 March 2010, avail­able at: http://eeas.europa.eu/docs/eeas_draft_decision_250310_en.pdf (last access: 30 March 2010). on 25 March 2010.66A. Rettman: New EU States Make Bid for more Diplo­mat­ic Clout, EUOb­serv­er, 10 March 2010, avail­able at http://euobserver.com/9/29651 (last access: 29 June 2010).

In con­trast to the future of the EEAS, the pro­pos­al defin­ing the rules and pro­ce­dures for the Euro­pean Cit­i­zens’ Ini­tia­tive has received lit­tle notice in Slo­va­kia. The notable excep­tions are the posi­tion of Maroš Šefčovič, Slovakia’s nom­i­nee and cur­rent Vice-Pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, who is respon­si­ble for com­ing up with these rules. Also, Slovakia’s MEP Moni­ka Flašíková-Beňová gen­er­al­ly wel­comed the ini­tia­tive in a pub­lic speech, call­ing it a break­through in Euro­pean democ­ra­cy. How­ev­er, she also warned against its mis­use by lob­by­ists and organ­ised inter­ests. Hence, she called for some strict rules that would ensure the initiative’s admin­is­tra­tive­ly and finan­cial­ly sim­ple imple­men­ta­tion.77Speech by MEP Moni­ka Flašíková-Beňová at the con­fer­ence “Wake up Brus­sels: How a Mil­lion Peo­ple Can Change Brus­sels”, Brus­sels, 15 April 2010, avail­able at: http://monikaflasikovabenova.sk/sk/aktivity/detail/prejav-na-konferencii-o-europskej-obcianskej-iniciative (last access: 29 June 2010).

More broad­ly, the launch of the Lis­bon Treaty per­haps most acute­ly reopened the domes­tic debate on the future of EU pol­i­cy-mak­ing in Slo­va­kia. In April 2010 at an annu­al con­fer­ence on Slovakia’s for­eign pol­i­cy, sev­er­al politi­cians called for more effec­tive coor­di­na­tion and lead­er­ship in the for­ma­tion and artic­u­la­tion of Slovakia’s pref­er­ences in the EU. Com­mis­sion­er Maroš Šefčovič sug­gest­ed dur­ing the con­fer­ence that Slovakia’s for­eign min­istry should get a new name – Min­istry of For­eign and Euro­pean Affairs. He also called for an audit of EU pol­i­cy-mak­ing across Slovakia’s min­istries in order to iden­ti­fy the country’s strengths and weak­ness­es. State Sec­re­tary Diana Štro­fová also under­lined the need for a greater coor­di­nat­ing role of the for­eign min­istry in EU affairs, where­as MEP Eduard Kukan called for stronger links between the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment and nation­al par­lia­ments, as both insti­tu­tions have gained new pow­ers thanks to the Lis­bon Treaty.88Euractiv.cz: Sloven­sko bilan­cu­je svo­ju zahraničnú poli­tiku, 12 April 2010, avail­able at: http://www.euractiv.sk/obrana-a-bezpecnost/clanok/slovensko-bilancuje-svoju-zahranicnu-politiku-014900 (last access: 29 June 2010).

The reports focus on a report­ing peri­od from Decem­ber 2009 until May 2010. This sur­vey was con­duct­ed on the basis of a ques­tion­naire that has been elab­o­rat­ed in March and April 2010. Most of the 31 reports were deliv­ered in May 2010.

The EU-27 Watch No. 9 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.