Slovakia takes up EU presidency as Brexit, migration woes loom large

Slovakia took over the European Union's rotating presidency for the first time on Friday, taking the helm as the bloc faces disarray over Britain's decision to leave the EU and looming migration challenges.

Every six months, a different member state takes over the presidency of the Council of the EU, organizing high-level meetings and brokering between EU capitals to reach consensus on touchy issues and push forward the bloc's agenda.

One of the focal points of the Slovakian presidency will be an informal summit of EU leaders in Bratislava on September 16 - without Britain - to discuss the bloc's future as 27.

A successor to British Prime Minister David Cameron should be in place by then to lead the exit talks with Brussels, after the country decided in a June 23 referendum to leave the EU.

But Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico said the summit was not primarily about the so-called Brexit process, noting that the idea to gather informally had come up several weeks before the referendum.

"The idea is to cover much broader ground," Fico said, noting the need to sell the EU's achievements to the people of Europe.

"It is high time for us politicians to acknowledge that we have failed ... in communicating the advantages the European project brings to the citizens," the Slovak premier said Thursday.

"At this crucial moment, Robert [Fico] was perfectly right to call for a special informal meeting outside Brussels," European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said during a joint press conference on Friday. Formal summits leave little time for deep discussions among EU leaders, Juncker added.

Migration is another key issue for the Slovak presidency. The thorny topic has tested the EU's unity following an influx of more than 1 million people to Europe last year, with many fleeing war and conflict.

One of the most controversial decisions has been to internally relocate asylum seekers within the EU to spread the burden of the influx - a step that Slovakia has challenged before the European Court of Justice, with the support of Hungary.

"We are against a distribution of refugees according to national quotas," said State Secretary of the Interior Ministry Denisa Sakova, adding that Slovakia would propose a "different approach."

Fico has said his country would try to be an "honest broker" on migration. "It can be a divisive subject," he added. "We don't want to exacerbate the differences between member states. We want to create a space for discussion."

He proposed that there should be more flexibility within the EU for member states to come up with their own initiatives, while respecting the situation in different countries.

Slovakia has set itself four priorities for its EU presidency: an economically strong Europe; maximizing the benefits of the bloc's common market; a balanced EU migration and asylum policy; and the bloc's role as a global player.

Last update: Fri, 01/07/2016 - 17:21
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