A Discussion with Slovakia's Dep. PM and Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Miroslav Lajčák
H.E. Miroslav Lajčák, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, Slovak Republic
Karen Donfried, President, The German Marshall Fund of the United States
On Thursday, December 17, 2015, the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) hosted Slovakia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Miroslav Lajčák for a roundtable discussion on the challenges facing Europe and the European Union. GMF President Karen Donfried moderated the discussion.
Lajčák began his remarks by stating “I am a strong believer of the European Union and the European project because I have witnessed how much it has changed my country and how much it has changed my life.” Having worked in and for the European Union, Lajčák indicated his belief that the European Union has achieved great successes. However, while the EU has been successful in providing humanitarian assistance, development assistance, and by investing in other countries, Europe still needs to play a greater role in political leadership.
Turning to the challenges facing Europe, Lajčák began by considering internal challenges. Lajčák indicated that migration was an unprecedented challenge Europe was not prepared to handle. At the beginning of the crisis, Europe only focused on the humanitarian aspect and ignored the political, economic, social, cultural, and security aspects of migration. Moreover, Europe sought to “deal with the consequences, but not with the root causes,” and went after “symbolic gestures rather than sustainable solutions.” Given its complexity, Lajčák explained that Europe cannot solve this issue with administrative measures, and Europe must instead protect its border and implement the Schengen rules, register migrants before they enter the EU, and cooperate with transit countries. Considering the United Kingdom’s referendum, Lajčák expressed his personal belief the referendum should not be seen as negative, and Europe must continue the project of integration as 28 member states. Lajčák highlighted several additional internal challenges, including the need for better communication and contact with citizens, economic challenges, and the challenge posed by Greece and the Eurozone, which although absent from conversation, is still a significant challenge that has been overshadowed by recent challenges.
Considering the external challenges facing Europe, Lajčák indicated that Daesh, or the self-proclaimed Islamic State group, has resulted in the “most tragic conflict of our time.” Referencing Assad, Lajčák added that “instead of being obsessed with the fate of one person, we should try to solve the problem” by “including everyone who is relevant as part of the solution.” Considering Ukraine, Lajčák indicated that because the ceasefire has provided some stability, it has provided an opportunity to focus on reform, where Lajčák believes the “European Union could and should play a more active and more visible role” by providing Ukraine with the shape and vision of the reform process. Despite Ukraine’s significant efforts, Lajčák commented on the absence of an internal consolidated reform strategy and proposed to address this by appointing a senior politician into a position of the high-level reform court. Linked with Ukraine, Lajčák also highlighted the challenge posed by Russia, and cautioned that while the official line with Russia for the past two years has been “no business as usual,” two years later “we should know what no business as usual means otherwise we run the risk of sliding back to business as usual.” Europe must be united against Russia, and while an extension of sanctions is the only logical next step, Lajčák insisted there is a need for greater dialogue.