Slovakia's refugee record casts doubt on its EU presidency pledges

A week after the British vote to leave the European Union threw the entire EU project into question, one of the bloc's newer members is preparing to take a leading role for the first time.

Beginning Friday, Slovakia will take the revolving presidency of the Council of the EU, a role in which Prime Minister Robert Fico has promised the nation will be "an honest broker" and a good moderator.

The presidency of the Council of the European Union, which rotates every six months and currently sits with the Netherlands, requires its holder to chair meetings, set agendas and facilitate dialogue.

Slovakian Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak has taken this moderator role to heart even before the handover, travelling to London on Tuesday in order to look into the most pain-free negotiating line possible on Britain's decision to Leave.

"One of the main priorities must be to maintain the best possible quality of relationships," a statement on Slovakia's Foreign Ministry website reads. "It is in this spirit, as holders of the EU presidency, that we want to approach this difficult process."

Britain's June 23 decision to leave the EU is the cause of much EU hand-wringing, but the refugee crisis is also simmering on the back-burner ... and Slovakia's stance so far on migration policy casts doubt on Fico's rhetoric that he will be a moderator will actually be fulfilled.

In December, Fico went so far as to take the European Union to the European Court of Justice for its refugee relocation mechanism, calling mandatory quotas "nonsensical and technically impossible."

Aside from the migrant issue, Fico has proved an ardent supporter of the EU, a stance that won him a landslide victory in 2012, securing 83 of the 150 seats in parliament.

The early elections were prompted when outgoing prime minister Iveta Radicova linked approval of the eurozone's bailout fund to a confidence vote, which she lost. Fico supported the mechanism and had promised that his cabinet would enforce strict budgetary discipline.

The move let him prevail against opponents who argued Slovakia had no business pushing for joint bailouts when it had been so stingy about payments in the past. It was his biggest victory, a trick he did not manage to repeat earlier this year, when far-right parties ate into his support.

Nonetheless, European institutions and the euro enjoy much higher popularity ratings in Slovakia than in most other member states. It's no surprise that Slovakia still holds the record for the highest percentage of "yes" votes, with 92.46 per cent, in its 2003 referendum to join the EU.

It appears therefore even more curious that Slovakia often has the lowest turnout for EU Parliament elections, counting only 13 per cent in the last round.

"It's exactly because its EU membership is so undisputed that there is nothing to argue over and so no one goes to the polls," explains political expert Pavel Haulik about the paradox.

Only with the start of the refugee crisis has Slovakia seen a change in sentiment about the bloc, with the first eurosceptic party - the far-right Our Slovakia People's Party (LSNS) - making a surprise entrance into parliament for the first time in March elections.

On the issue of migration, it seems, Slovakia's love for the EU hits its limits: Hardly any other country has taken in so few refugees.

Last update: Thu, 30/06/2016 - 20:09

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