Close scrutiny of rotating presidency in light of Slovakia’s turn in 2016

Vladimír Bilčík
Since the Lisbon Treaty entered into force in December 2009, Slovakia’s representatives have been assessing the practical changes in the EU’s institutional architecture rather sporadically. Slovakia’s politicians were consumed with the domestic agenda while campaigning before the country’s parliamentary elections on 12 June 2010. EU institutional issues did not figure prominently in Slovakia’s political debates in the months before the elections. Rather, the salient topics included questions about managing the economic crisis, including, for instance, intensive debates about the financial situation in Greece. Interest in EU institutional reform was largely confined to Slovakia’s diplomats and foreign policy-makers, especially those who are present in Brussels either at the country’s Permanent Representation or in other institutions such as the European Parliament and the European Commission.
Slovakia will take over the EU presidency in 2016, so planning and preparations for this task are in embryonic stages. However, Slovakia’s diplomats are keenly watching the changes in the work and responsibility of the rotating presidency with the introduction of the post of the new President of the European Council held by Herman Van Rompuy. As one senior Slovak diplomat observed, apart from fundamental changes to the field of foreign and security policy, the rotating presidency has kept its important functions in all major policy fields. Hence, preparations for Slovakia’s Presidency will have to begin early – perhaps in 2011 – in order to prepare the country’s administrative structures for this challenge.[1]
While it is still too early to make any comprehensive assessment of the work of Herman Van Rompuy, one Slovak Member of the European Parliament (MEP) stated, “[V]an Rompuy is proving [to be] a very good manager.”[2] This positive statement contrasts somewhat with questions about the work and responsibilities of the new High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton. Slovakia’s representatives have been keenly watching the developments regarding the establishment of the European External Action Service (EEAS), whose shape and mandate are going to provide us more clues with respect to Ashton’s role within the European Commission and her relationship with the Council of the European Union. According to Ivan Korčok, head of Slovakia’s Permanent Representation to the EU, Slovakia wants to preserve the Council of the European Union as the main source of EU foreign policy. Korčok argues that the task of the EEAS is to function as an executive service – not as an institution or political organ – in order to serve the High Representative in the implementation of foreign policy.[3]
In February 2010, Slovakia, together with partners from Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, circulated an informal paper in Brussels in which the four Visegrad countries (V4) argued that “[t]he eventual lack of [member states’] involvement in shaping and implementing policies could lead to the loss of their interest in EU foreign policy and could even result in a widening gap between EU and national policies.”[4] According to this paper, Slovakia, together with its Visegrad neighbours, considers “it necessary to ensure an adequate geographical balance and a meaningful presence of nationals from all EU member states in order to ensure that the service could draw from a wide variety of diplomatic culture and experience.” Specifically, Slovakia and the other V4 countries emphasised that geographical balance “should be incorporated in the staff regulation as a binding principle [...and] requires regular monitoring through [...] e.g., yearly reports.” It is worth noting that also Austria, the Baltic countries, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Malta, Portugal, Romania and Slovenia broadly allied themselves with this position in early March 2010 before the publication of the official “Proposal for a Council Decision establishing the organisation and functioning of the European External Action Service”[5] on 25 March 2010.[6]
In contrast to the future of the EEAS, the proposal defining the rules and procedures for the European Citizens’ Initiative has received little notice in Slovakia. The notable exceptions are the position of Maroš Šefčovič, Slovakia’s nominee and current Vice-President of the European Commission, who is responsible for coming up with these rules. Also, Slovakia’s MEP Monika Flašíková-Beňová generally welcomed the initiative in a public speech, calling it a breakthrough in European democracy. However, she also warned against its misuse by lobbyists and organised interests. Hence, she called for some strict rules that would ensure the initiative’s administratively and financially simple implementation.[7]
More broadly, the launch of the Lisbon Treaty perhaps most acutely reopened the domestic debate on the future of EU policy-making in Slovakia. In April 2010 at an annual conference on Slovakia’s foreign policy, several politicians called for more effective coordination and leadership in the formation and articulation of Slovakia’s preferences in the EU. Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič suggested during the conference that Slovakia’s foreign ministry should get a new name – Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs. He also called for an audit of EU policy-making across Slovakia’s ministries in order to identify the country’s strengths and weaknesses. State Secretary Diana Štrofová also underlined the need for a greater coordinating role of the foreign ministry in EU affairs, whereas MEP Eduard Kukan called for stronger links between the European Parliament and national parliaments, as both institutions have gained new powers thanks to the Lisbon Treaty.[8]

[1] Interview with a senior diplomat, Slovakia’s Permanent Representation to the EU, Brussels, 6 May 2010.

[2] Interview with a member of the European Parliament, Brussels, 5 May 2010.

[3] Ivan Korčok: Východná Európa žiada férové zastúpenie v Európskej zahraničnej službe, 25 March 2010, available at: (last access: 30 June 2010).

[4] A. Rettman: New EU States Make Bid for more Diplomatic Clout, EUObserver, 10 March 2010, available at: (last access: 29 June 2010).

[5] Proposal for a Council Decision establishing the organisation and functioning of the European External Action Service, 25 March 2010, available at: (last access: 30 March 2010).

[6] A. Rettman: New EU States Make Bid for more Diplomatic Clout, EUObserver, 10 March 2010, available at (last access: 29 June 2010).

[7] Speech by MEP Monika Flašíková-Beňová at the conference “Wake up Brussels: How a Million People Can Change
Brussels”, Brussels, 15 April 2010, available at: (last access: 29 June 2010).

[8] Slovensko bilancuje svoju zahraničnú politiku, 12 April 2010, available at: (last access: 29 June 2010).