Slovakia took on its first Presidency of the Council of the European Union at a complicated time when the EU is faced with several crises: the migration crisis, the still unresolved euro crisis, terrorism, the unstable situation in our neighbouring regions and the decision of a member state to leave the EU.
It is, however, also a moment that demands self-reflection on the part of the EU. We must strengthen citizens’ confidence in our common European project and emphasise its benefits. The EU must become better and more comprehensible to all its citizens.
We are pleased that the Slovak initiative to organise an informal summit of the heads of state and government of all 27 member states in Bratislava on 16 September 2016 was well received and that the summit achieved positive results. The main objective was to hold a political debate on the impact and causes of the current situation and the future of the EU. The “Bratislava Process” was successfully launched at the summit, sending a signal of EU cohesion. At the beginning of 2017, a meeting of the EU’s 27 member states will be held in Valletta. The aim is to complete the Bratislava Process in March 2017, to mark the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome. We succeeded in reaching agreement on a “Bratislava Roadmap”, which sets out the next steps in the three most important areas: migration and protection of external borders, internal and external security and economic and social development.
The next few months will be challenging not only for the Slovak Presidency but for all member states. However, I am convinced that this project has a future and that this work will bear fruit. The EU is not perfect, but it provides great benefits for all of us. The EU project has brought us peace, prosperity and security. No other integration project in the world has so far been this successful.
One of the first successes of the Slovak Presidency was the agreement on a common position on the 2017 EU draft budget. The aim is for the budget to focus on sustainable priorities and to enable the EU to meet the challenges that it is facing. We have built on the discussion about the revision of the multiannual financial framework that was launched during the Dutch Presidency and are striving to achieve greater flexibility in the budget.
Progress has also been achieved in other important areas. The EU has been working to improve the protection of our external borders, and on 6 October 2016 the European Border and Coast Guard began its work. The EU had announced that the normal functioning of the Schengen area would be restored, and all temporary internal border controls lifted, by the end of the year. Further progress was made on visa liberalisation for Georgia, which sent a strong signal to this country ahead of parliamentary elections there.
My country’s aim is to achieve an economically strong Europe that enjoys the benefits of the modern internal market and has a sustainable migration and asylum policy. A Europe that is a global player – that is the sound of Slovakia and of Europe.