Following Slovakia’s six month Presidency of the EU Council, we caught up with Ambassador Javorčik, Permanent Representative of the Slovak Republic to the EU, to talk about Slovakia’s experience at the helm.
Take a look at the video above, and read below for the full interview.
Following your turn at the helm of the EU Presidency, do the Slovak citizens and institutions feel more European?
I believe that the Presidency has brought the EU closer to our citizens. From the very beginning, we made sure that the public is as engaged as possible. For instance, we offered Presidency internships to 30 young professionals and launched a grant scheme supporting Presidency-related projects by schools, NGOs or other organisations across all regions of Slovakia. We hope to build on this approach and currently, we are exploring a possibility to start a Back to school initiative linked to the Presidency.
Where do you think the EU is headed?
At the beginning of our Presidency in July 2016, shortly after the UK referendum, we saw for the first time that the EU integration could be a reversible process. With the Bratislava Summit, we aspired to change the atmosphere and inject a positive joint vision to the community. The EU continues to be challenged, internally as well as externally, but I am convinced that it is our duty to continue working towards a sense of unity, continuous cooperation and tangible, citizens-oriented results. There is no better scenario than the EU cooperation which has brought peace, stability and prosperity to our continent.
What was (were) the biggest challenge(s) you faced dealing with the Slovak Presidency’s four priorities?
Before the beginning of our term, we decided to focus on delivering positive, tangible results in four priority areas – namely economy, the single market, migration and asylum policy, an external dimension. We were also set to help overcome a growing sense of fragmentation. Later, the Bratislava roadmap also became a strong guiding principle for our work.
Even in retrospective, I believe that our approach and priorities were chosen well. We managed to deliver on all fronts, showing that speed and quality can go hand in hand. We also went way beyond the least common denominator and that is valuable, too.
Perhaps, trade was an area which unexpectedly played a much stronger role in our work. In particular, the CETA as well as the modernisation of trade defence instruments, a file frozen in the Council for some three years. And as we see, free and fair trade policy is something that will be high on the EU’s as well as global agenda this year, too.
Can you give us examples of tangible results achieved?
Let me highlight at least a few major achievements. First, in the area of economy: In order to boost much needed investments, we have extended and improved the European Fund for Strategic Investments. We delivered swiftly on the EU’s annual budget as well as on the revision of the multi-annual budgetary framework. More resources for young people – namely through the Youth Employment Initiative – were a significant part of it.
Secondly, in the area of the single market: Significant steps were made on the wholesale roaming, geo-blocking and “WIFI4EU” – and this is precisely the kind of work that our citizens can appreciate because it improves their everyday lives. The Presidency work has also contributed to the energy security of the EU. And we also speeded up the EU ratification of the Paris Agreement. As a result, the EU played a leading role in the Climate Conference in Marrakesh.
Thirdly, we took very seriously current challenges in the area of migration and security. Let me highlight the European Border and Coast Guard, which has become reality; systematic checks at our external borders as a response to the problem of terrorism and foreign fighters; the Council’s fast delivery on the European Fund for Sustainable Development aimed at tackling root causes of migration. Furthermore, we have also started open and constructive debate on the concept of effective solidarity with the aim to broaden consensus in asylum policy.
Lastly, our Presidency wanted to be globally engaged. The EU-Canada agreement, CETA, as a “golden standard” trade deal speaks for itself. So does a major breakthrough in the Council on trade defence instruments. We also demonstrated our whole-hearted engagement in enlargement as well as visa liberalisation policy.
How did the Presidency work to restore citizens’ confidence in the common European project?
This is a very serious task that goes beyond one single Presidency. Its importance is in fact ever- growing. The Slovak Presidency tried to contribute to the solution by concentrating on issues that unite us, by focusing on concrete, citizens-oriented results, and by investing into communication with the public. I believe this approach should and will stay at the centre of our efforts in months to come, too.
What lessons would you (or have you) shared with future presidencies, especially something you wish you had known before?
We invested a lot in preparatory work and rightly so. From the very beginning of 2016, our experts were following the life of every single file potentially reaching our Presidency. It was useful in order to fine-tune our priorities and set the expectations for different areas right. The visit of our entire government to Brussels ahead of the Presidency, not necessarily a typical exercise, also proved useful, as it helped to boost political engagement with the Presidency.
But it is also important to motivate the team. The run up to the Presidency and the Presidency itself constitutes a very intense period of time. Therefore, throughout the Presidency, I kept encouraging my team at the Permanent Representation to have fun, too.
The Slovak presidency in one word? One adjective? One verb?
Positive. Like our Presidency logo, a smiling face made up from diacritical marks. I hope this is the case when it comes to our Presidency objectives, i.e. our strong focus on a positive agenda, as well as to the atmosphere we tried to create. I encouraged my team to remember that the atmosphere we leave behind is equally important – being open, transparent and fair.
What is your dream for the EU?
As the saying goes, to know your future, you must understand your past. Therefore, we should never forget that the EU was built on reconciliation and has brought unprecedented peace and stability to our countries. Nowadays, it is ever-more clear that peace and stability should never be taken for granted.
In addition, the EU improves lives – and not only economically but also through values that it represents and stands for. So without going into possible, prospective institutional modalities of the EU, first and foremost I hope that our continent will see a peaceful, stable and prosperous future based on mutual cooperation.
We have just celebrated 30 years of Erasmus Plus, one of our most successful programmes, which gives young people, students and teachers an enriching opportunity to experience the EU as truly their environment. I would wish that the spirit of Erasmus Plus is present across many more fields of cooperation.
Take a look at the Ambassador’s responses on our YouTube channel.