EU Common Foreign and Security Policy and European Security and Defence Policy – Slovakia’s Engagement in Strengthening the EU as a Global Actor
The security situation and security threats of the existing globalised world give a clear enough answer to the questions whether and to what extent the world’s democratic powers should engage in addressing global security issues. Since de facto no EU Member State is currently able to face all possible challenges to its security on its own, Slovakia calls for as close cooperation under the Common Foreign and Security Policy as possible. It is necessary that the EU has such position and influence on the international scene as it reasonably deserves in view of its economic potential. The power necessary in order to pursue the EU’s interests may only be gained through joint action of all its Member States when addressing major foreign policy and security issues.
The Slovak engagement in the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) was driven by its foreign policy priorities. Similarly as in the previous period, Slovakia’s core activities focused on an active and committed involvement in shaping EU policies primarily towards the Western Balkan region (Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina) and Eastern Europe (Russia, Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus). The Slovak Embassy in Minsk successfully performed, upon Portugal’s request, the challenging task of a local EU presidency in the second half of 2007.
Slovakia actively participated in the process of preparation and implementation of EU policy towards the Western Balkan region. It presented its positions and proposals to several issues discussed and actively commented on draft texts of Council conclusions. Preserving realistic and tangible European prospects of the Western Balkan countries in compliance with the Thessaloniki Summit conclusions and the principle of a case-by-case assessment of candidate countries was pivotal.
The Stabilisation and Association Process (SAP) remained the EU’s major policy framework for the development of relations with the Western Balkan countries Stabilisation and Association Agreements (SAA) were signed with Montenegro, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2007. The EU’s attention primarily focused on Serbia and Kosovo. Slovakia, along with other V4 Group or Regional Partnership countries, was notably instrumental in the shaping of an EU policy in this area by presenting reliable and balanced positions and specific proposals. One concrete example of the added value of Slovakia’s activities in the Western Balkan region was the appointment of a Slovak representative to the Office of the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina on 1 July 2007, His decisions show the road away from regional nationalism to reinforcement of common structures of the state.
Throughout 2007, Slovakia actively participated in preparations of EU positions towards Mediterranean, Middle East and Gulf countries, mainly at a working group level. EU’s activities in relation to this region stemmed from the Good Neighbourhood Policy, Strategic Partnership and the Barcelona Process. The EU’s involvement in the Middle Eastern peace process was affected in 2007 by the non-improving situation in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, disintegration of Palestinian government, lasting tensions in Arab-Israeli relations and a tense situation in Lebanon. As regards Iran, Slovakia intensively participated in the efforts to resolve the problem of the Iranian nuclear programme at working meetings in Brussels as well as at UN Security Council sessions. Slovakia endorsed the dual-approach policy which consists of pressure exerted by the international community on Iran and parallel diplomatic efforts to settle the dispute. Iraq represented a critical item on the agenda in this region. Iraq witnessed an escalation of violence after the death of Saddam Hussein. The situation subsided to a certain degree later on; however, joint international efforts to establish stability are still required. The EU, including Slovakia, as one of the major donors, is irreplaceable in this process. As regards the Gulf countries, the signing of a GCC-EU Free Trade Agreement still remained unresolved.
Slovakia’s strategy for building relations with Russia (RU) is based on Slovak national interests and aspires to become conducive to the intensification of a constructive EU-RU dialogue in all areas of common concern (including the energy sector and energy security, which is an extremely important area for Slovakia), while respecting the principle of solidarity among EU Member States. Positive trends have appeared with regard to participation in an energy dialogue between Russia and the EU, which has proved the important role Slovakia plays, particularly in the transit of energy carriers from Russia to Europe. The EU-Russia summits held in 2007 (Samara/RU – May 2007, Mafra/PT – October 2007) proved that the basic short-term EU-Russia cooperation framework would cover those areas where they could build on the achievements already made (e.g., the “Four Spaces” Agreement, visa and re-admission agreement, building of an energy early warning system, etc.). Russia is also a strategic partner in combating new threats and challenges such as terrorism, environmental pollution, international organised crime and illegal migration. Our dialogue with Russia in the UN Security Council facilitated joint efforts in searching for solutions to current global security problems (e.g., the status of Kosovo, Iranian nuclear programme and others).
Slovakia actively pursued the EU’s policy towards the Republic of Belarus through the Slovak Embassy in Minsk which, as the first embassy in the history of Slovakia’s diplomatic service, performed the tasks of a local EU presidency in a third country in the second half of 2007. The Embassy acted on behalf of the EU towards the Belarusian government and society and promoted the trans-Atlantic dimension of the EU-US cooperation in coordinating relevant activities.
The highest-level dialogue between the EU and the US and Canada continued in the form of summits with both North American partners. The summits demonstrated the strategic importance of trans-Atlantic relations not only for addressing global challenges (the environment, energy security, international security), but for ensuring the economic prosperity of the partners as well. The Trans-Atlantic Economic Council was set up at the EU-US summit held in April as a new forum for the building of an open trans-Atlantic market and intensive economic relations between the two strong and prosperous economies.
As regards the removal of visa requirements for Slovak nationals, the EU sent a stronger message to both the US and Canada mainly through the 3rd EC report on visa waiver reciprocity with certain third countries, published in mid-September. Despite the EU’s efforts to equalise the position of all its Member States in visa policy towards third countries, the US and Canada still deem this issue a bilateral affair. A positive change concerning the visa regime for Slovak nationals occurred when the US Congress passed a new amendment to the US Visa Waiver Program (VWP) legislation. The new wording has put greater emphasis on security criteria and eased some subjective requirements for the inclusion of new countries in the VWP. An expert-level dialogue has been launched in order to meet the criteria in a fast-track fashion. Canada also specified in more detail its security and social-economic criteria pertaining to the issuance of visas, and expert-level talks continued.
Slovakia endorsed the development of social cohesion, regional integration and the rule of law built on the principles of effective multilateralism in the countries of Latin America. The first-ever EU-Brazil summit held in Lisbon in July 2007, also attended by the Slovak Prime Minister, proved the EU’s status of a major player on the global scene, including Latin America.
Slovakia paid attention to developments in Cuba, supporting in line with the EU framework policy towards Cuba all activities aimed at improving human rights protection, releasing all political prisoners and leading a critical dialogue with Cuban political leaders. At the same time, it pursued further development in particular that of economic cooperation, including visits at the level of ministers.
Even though Africa is not one of the priority regions of Slovak foreign policy, Slovakia paid increased attention to the African continent in the 2006-2007 period, mainly in its capacity as a non-permanent UN Security Council member. At the bilateral level, Slovakia participated, inter alia, in the ongoing implementation of official development assistance projects carried out on the African continent (ODA – project countries include Sudan, Kenya, and Mozambique). The Foreign Affairs Minister paid several visits to Africa, e.g., to the Republic of South Africa. In connection with the preparation of the 2nd EU-Africa Summit (7-9 December 2007, Lisbon), Slovakia took active part in discussions in Brussels concerning the Joint EU-Africa Strategy and the first Action Plan for Strategy Implementation for 2008-2010. The summit resulted in a general consensus and recognition as to the importance of the implementation of security sector reform.
EU-Asia relations continued to develop positively. The EU concentrated more on the strengthening of cooperation with Asian countries within the ASEM process. Under the strategic partnership programme, Slovakia was involved in intensive preparations for EU-China and EU-India summits (held respectively on 28 November 2007 in Beijing and 30 November 2007 in New Delhi). The quality as well as mutual interest in further development of bilateral relations and political dialogue between Slovakia and China was also proved by an official visit by Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico to Beijing (4-9 February 2007). Two inter-ministerial agreements were signed: a Cooperation Agreement between the Ministry of Agriculture of the Slovak Republic and China, and an Education Cooperation Programme for 2007-2010 (the Education Ministry). A meeting of the inter-ministerial Slovak-China committee for agricultural cooperation was also held in Beijing. A Vice Chairperson of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress paid an official visit to Slovakia in 2007. As a non-permanent UN Security Member, Slovakia communicated with China in addressing major regional and international conflicts.
The EU thoroughly watched developments in Burma/Myanmar and took several actions in connection with this year’s political crisis in the country. In this context, the EU utilised the summits with strategic partners (China and India) in order to strengthen its influence on the Burmese/Myanmar regime with the aim of launching a real political dialogue between the ruling regime and the opposition. An EU Strategy for Central Asia was approved during the German Presidency, which represents a major turning point as to the Union’s activities in the regions attractive from a geopolitical perspective where Russia and China have continuously been increasing their political influence.
Following the approvals of draft mandates at a meeting of the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC, 23-24 April 2007, Brussels), negotiations commenced with the ASEAN Member Countries, India and South Korea concerning conclusion of mutually balanced free trade agreements.
Slovak diplomacy participated in the development and implementation of the EU policy towards the countries of the Central Asian region and took an active part in approving an EU strategy for cooperation with these countries. Bilateral dialogue and cooperation with the countries of this region also became more intensive, as proved by a visit of the Kazakhstan President to Slovakia.
A sound cooperation continued last year in the mutual exchange of classified information through a register system in compliance with multilateral security agreements with the EU and NATO and, at the bilateral level, with their individual Member States. Traditionally, the cooperation with the Czech Republic was most intensive in this area, but there was also a good level of cooperation with other countries, e.g., Ukraine and Russia.