Meeting between the V4 and Slovenia as the country presiding the Council of the EU

Met dank overgenomen van Sloveens voorzitterschap Europese Unie 2e helft 2021 i, gepubliceerd op vrijdag 9 juli 2021.

"The positions of the Visegrad Group on the priorities of the Slovenian Presidency largely reflect Slovenia’s positions as well," said Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša at today’s press conference during a working visit by the Prime Ministers of the Visegrad Group (V4 i).

Today the Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša welcomed Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban i, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki i, Slovak Prime Minister Eduard Heger and Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš to Ljubljana to discuss the priorities of the Slovenian Presidency of the EU i Council, the conference on the future of Europe, the situation in the Western Balkans and other topical European issues.

Great solidarity in Central Europe during the pandemic

Prime Minister Janša began by saying that the discussion on Slovenian priorities during the Slovenian Presidency of the EU Council was at the heart of the working consultation: recovery and resilience, EU strategic autonomy, EU security and credibility, the European way of life, as well as topics that Slovenia wishes to discuss at the conference on the future of the EU, including EU enlargement. He said that the prime ministers would continue the talks as part of the working lunch. Prime Minister Janša also highlighted the complex legislative challenges underlying these political issues: from migration to the European Commission’s expected proposal to achieve a 55% reduction in CO2 by 2030. He thanked the prime ministers of the Visegrad Group for their sound cooperation during the pandemic and pointed out that in the first critical months when the EU had not yet organised its response, there was great solidarity across Central Europe. He also thanked the Polish and Hungarian Prime Ministers for their assistance in protecting the external Schengen border.

Enlargement in the Western Balkans is economically important too

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, currently chairing the V4, thanked Prime Minister Janša for the invitation. He stressed that the cooperation of Central European countries is not just theoretical, but a practical reality, adding that these countries had been exemplary in helping each other during the pandemic. He said that the European Union would be facing difficult issues over the next six months - from the climate package to migration - and it was fortunate that Slovenia is currently holding the presidency of the EU Council and that Mr Janez Janša is the Prime Minister of Slovenia, as he has a historical overview when it comes to assessing European issues. Prime Minister Orban highlighted the following as important issues: the restart of the economy, the need for new investments (encouraged by lowering taxes), and the restart and expansion of markets through the enlargement of the EU to the Western Balkans. He expressed his full support to Slovenia during its presidency.

Prime Minister of Slovakia: EU citizens must remain at the heart of the debate on the future of the EU

The Slovak Prime Minister Eduard Heger said that the presidency's priorities, presented by Slovenia to the V4 today, were well-balanced and successfully reflected the topics that are currently important in the EU. "We support Slovenia in the implementation of these priorities, including the rule of law", he said. In his view, the resilience of the European Union is another vital topic, and he wished the Slovenian presidency a great deal of strength in its implementation. Prime Minister Heger stressed the need to increase vaccination coverage in Europe; Slovakia has been falling behind and is therefore paying a great deal of attention to this issue. Vaccination is linked to economic recovery, which is another issue that needs to be the focus of attention. The discussions that the leaders intend to continue during the working lunch also included climate issues, migration and the future of the EU, where, according to Prime Minister Heger, EU citizens must remain at the heart of the debate. In this context, he also highlighted digitisation as a great opportunity and also a high risk for the EU. He therefore welcomed cooperation between the V4 and Slovenia on issues related to enhancing cyber security and the fight against disinformation. Regarding the climate package to be presented shortly by the European Commission, he said that Slovakia supports carbon neutrality, but the measures to be taken must prevent energy poverty. He expressed his full support on these issues for Slovenia as the country presiding the Council of the EU and called for an acceleration of accession negotiations with the countries of the Western Balkans.

Approval of resilience and recovery plans is crucial for re-booting the economy

The Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, Andrej Babiš, thanked the current President of the V4, the Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, for organising, and Slovenia for hosting the meeting. Given a new surge in infections, a difficult summer awaits us, he pointed out and said that achieving a high level of vaccination coverage was crucial. "We must convince our citizens to take the vaccine if we want to return to normality and if we want our children to go to school in autumn," the Czech Prime Minister said.

Mr Babiš said that before today's working consultation the prime ministers of the Visegrad Four had met to discuss current topics. He underlined that the plans of the Hungarian Government, which took over the V4 Presidency on 1 July, were good and expressed the hope that Hungary would implement them. He also hoped that the resilience and recovery plans for these four countries would be approved and that European funds could be used for re-booting the economy.

According to Czech Prime Minister Babiš, the Schengen area is the most important topic of the working consultation with Slovenia as it holds the Council Presidency. He said that this issue was also strongly linked to the issues of migration and security, since Europe is threatened by a strong wave of migration from Afghanistan due to the reduced military presence there. He felt that the situation in Mali was similar, where, in his opinion, the military presence should be strengthened.

Morawiecki: Double standards should not be used in the assessment of internal reforms

The Prime Minister of Poland, Mateusz Morawiecki, opened by expressing his belief that the six-month Presidency plan that Slovenian Prime Minister Janša had put forward, was very good. He emphasised the need to rebuild the economy and ensure economic growth. He said that although we are currently successfully maintaining jobs, we should bear in mind that the EU is strategically strong if its members are strong.

"The countries in Central Europe do not just want to be merely inconsequential pawns," Mr Morawiecki said, "so our voice in the debate on the future of Europe must be heard very well." "We must take a stand against the centralisation of the EU and support a strong role for sovereign states working together, particularly in the economic sector," he stressed. Dealing with migration, we must also defend our external borders, so the plan proposed by the Slovenian Prime Minister was sound, according to the Polish Prime Minister, as it will strengthen the sovereignty of EU countries and contribute to decentralisation as well as to the more effective realisation of our strategic goals.

Mr Morawiecki also touched on the possible fourth wave of Covid and stressed the need for countries to work together to find an effective response to the pandemic and mitigate the consequences of the spread of infections.

He concluded by stressing that there was no room in the EU for better or worse categories of member states. We are all equal, but we are also all sovereign, so we must not use double standards in the assessment of internal reforms. The Polish Prime Minister also touched on the issue of migration as one of the priorities of the Slovenian Presidency. He said that there were two sources of migration, one in Asia and the other in sub-Saharan Africa, and he considered that the reduction of European troops in these areas was not a step in the right direction. He also made the point that the European Parliament was currently dealing with completely trivial issues, and said he hoped that Slovenia, as the country holding the Presidency of the Council of EU, would be able to focus on real problems such as migration and the pandemic.