NEWS

The difficulties of achieving consensus

Robert Fico is the first Slovakian prime minister to formally visit Greece since 1993. In this interview with Kathimerini, Fico emphasized the need to enhance economic cooperation between Greece and Slovakia, and reaffirmed his government’s strong objection to Kosovo’s independence. Moreover, he argued that Greece has the legitimate right to use its power as a NATO member in order to speed up the process of reaching a compromise with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) over the name issue. You recently implied that Slovakia might never recognize Kosovo as an independent state. Why is that? Slovakia has made it very clear that we have many objections to the recent developments in Kosovo. What happened there is a violation of international law, since the legal and political requirements for the establishment of a new state have not been met. In any case, we will review our position in 100 days, but I cannot exclude the possibility that this government will not recognize Kosovo during its term in office. I would also like to point out that Kosovo will set a bad example for other regions, both in Europe and the rest of the world. Besides, it is not only Slovakia, but other European countries as well, that have expressed their reservations about Kosovo’s independence. Once again, the EU appears divided over a foreign policy issue… You are right. And it’s not only Kosovo. We had similar disagreements regarding the US-led intervention in Iraq. Slovakia supports the idea of a common European foreign and defense policy. Theoretically, it is a common goal for all member states. However, in practical terms, it is often difficult to achieve consensus. I hope that after what happened in Iraq and Kosovo there will not be many similar cases in the future. Kosovo Albanians argue that the international community should respect the will of the majority in the region, as well as the right to self-determination. How do you respond to that argument? I am a lawyer and, as far as I know, there are not any instruments of international law that recognize the right to self-determination for national minorities. Only nations have the right to self-determination. So this is not a very strong argument. Moreover, since we are talking about majorities, we should also take into account the opinion of the majority of the Serbian people. Greek-Slovakian relations Another country in the region that has a sizable ethnic Albanian minority is FYROM, which is still in dispute with Greece over the name of that state. Would you say that Kosovo and the so-called «Macedonian question» are somehow intertwined? I hope that this is not the case. We discussed this matter with Mr Karamanlis, and the view of the Slovak government is that we would welcome a mutually acceptable compromise. At the same time, I would like to add that, if such compromise is not reached, we should all respect the right of the Hellenic Republic to use every legitimate diplomatic measure at its disposal, including its powers as a NATO member. Slovakia does indeed respect Greek concerns over this issue. In general, would you say you are satisfied with the results of your visit to Greece and the state of Greek-Slovakian relations? First, I want to say that I am happy to be the first Slovakian PM to formally visit Greece. I also invited Mr Karamanlis to visit Slovakia at the earliest possible date with a business delegation. Our current level of economic cooperation does not correspond to our friendly and warm relations. Unfortunately, Greece ranks in 50th place in terms of foreign investors in Slovakia. Therefore, we would like to develop closer economic cooperation and trade relations in fields like tourism and defense. Europe Slovakia has been a success story of transition from a centrally planned economy to a market-oriented economy. Nonetheless, other formerly communist states have found it difficult to adapt. Is there a Slovakian secret for success? The answer is simple. Slovakia has enjoyed remarkable economic growth because our people were ready to work very hard for very little money. The levels of productivity in Slovakia are among the highest in Europe. Consequently, it was not political reform that brought about economic performance. Our people are the ones who deserve all the credit for what we have achieved. In a few months, Slovakia will switch its currency to the euro. You are certainly aware that other countries have faced problems (e.g. rising prices and inflation) when they adopted the euro. Is the country ready to successfully handle such dangers? We are studying the effects of the adoption of the euro in other countries, and will try to make use of the expertise gained by member states that have already introduced the common European currency. We are currently doing our best to minimize the risk. It is a risk worth taking, since the benefits of the euro outweigh the potential costs. Eurozone countries are required to follow a very strict fiscal policy. Can the European model of the welfare state survive within this milieu? This is a very good question. Our government is trying to combine economic growth with social welfare measures. I strongly believe that everyone should benefit from sustained development, and not just a minority of the population. I don’t believe that competitiveness, strict fiscal policy and social solidarity are mutually exclusive goals. Hopefully, the Slovakian example will prove this. You recently joined the Schengen zone. Like Greece, you are basically guarding part of the borders of Europe. How are you coping with that responsibility, especially when illegal immigration and human trafficking are still on the rise? Despite the fact that no borderline is impenetrable, Slovakia is guarding EU borders with Ukraine with the utmost efficiency and professionalism. What’s more important is to make it clear to countries outside the zone, that the Schengen agreement is not a hostile measure against them, nor does it intend to limit legitimate trade and economic cooperation. The United States intends to create a missile shield, parts of which will be based in countries neighboring Slovakia. What’s your government’s view on this issue? Very critical. Such issues should be discussed within the framework of NATO and the EU, and should not be decided with bilateral agreements. Furthermore, the shield will only increase tensions in the region and provoke Russian reaction.