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Bratislava hosts 19 heads of state

THE FINANCIAL and economic crisis has negatively affected not only individual member states, but also the operation of the whole European Union, which faces several problems, including slow economic growth and recession, and high unemployment. A survey recently carried out by the US agency Pew Research Center in March in eight countries, even shows that Europeans’ trust in the EU is waning.

THE FINANCIAL and economic crisis has negatively affected not only individual member states, but also the operation of the whole European Union, which faces several problems, including slow economic growth and recession, and high unemployment. A survey recently carried out by the US agency Pew Research Center in March in eight countries, even shows that Europeans’ trust in the EU is waning.

Yet, nobody has proposed any alternative other than the EU, said Slovak President Ivan Gašparovič when discussing the results of the 18th Central-European Summit, which took place in Bratislava on June 12 and 13.

Under the motto “Through the Growth Strategy to the Post-crisis Renewal”, 19 heads of central, eastern and south-eastern European states, plus President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy, discussed post-crisis recovery and restoration of EU growth, with the aim of answering questions like how can things be done better and more effectively, or how to regain people’s hope, enthusiasm and trust in the system.

“For the fifth year in a row we are fighting the impacts of the financial and debt crisis, which concern the whole of Europe; regardless of the actual political geography of our continent,” Gašparovič said in his opening speech, adding that although a lot of work has been done, there are still some issues that need to be resolved in order to fully recover from the crisis.

The president stressed that the central, eastern and south-eastern European region has the right to offer its own solutions, gained through its own experience within the European discussion over how to get out of the crisis.

“The results of the great effort we invested into the processes of society-wide transformation after the disintegration of the bipolar division of Europe, maybe with different levels of success, entitle us to it,” the president added.

Also for this reason the voice of this region should have a greater sense of urgency, “with the ambition to achieve a higher rate of perception among our partners in the west of the continent”, the president added.

Rompuy emphasised in his speech that the common strategy of the EU to overcome the crisis and anticipate further development should include some basic attributes, like the protection of financial stability, structural reforms, combating joblessness and strengthening the monetary and banking union, as quoted from the president’s official website.

People have to understand the steps

According to the presidents, the post-crisis recovery of the region and its economic growth should be done in such a way that people will feel the positive impacts as soon as possible. Though at the EU level politicians pass various measures, we should not underrate the deepening of social differences, Gašparovič said.

“People have to understand what the politicians do,” he said, as quoted by the SITA newswire.

The Slovak president also stressed the importance of supporting employment, especially among young people, and strengthening Europe’s competitiveness through reforms, saying that integration should remain attractive for countries willing to join the union.

Austrian President Heinz Fischer considers the summit to have been useful. According to him, each of the 20 presidents had the chance to speak. Moreover, they all made a common agreement that “every country has to access the solutions of problems based on their own specifics”, he added, as quoted by SITA.

Romanian President Traian Basescu added that the presidents also agreed that there exists in Europe a situation in which the crisis requires searching for solutions that are connected with growth. He also pointed to the importance of austerity measures which, as he said, helped Romania restore its economic rise.

Representatives of Serbia and Kosovo meet

Several presidents attending the summit, including Rompuy, highlighted the presence of both Kosovar President Atifete Jahjaga and Serbian President Tomislav Nikolić.

Milan Nič, an analyst with the Central European Policy Institute, said their attendance was a positive signal, even though Slovakia is among five countries which do not recognise Kosovo as an independent state.

“This is the first time the presidents of Serbia and Kosovo have met at such an important event, and on the territory of a state which does not recognise [Kosovo],” Nič said, as quoted by the Sme daily.

Rompuy said that achieving permanent peace in the Balkans is also an aim of the EU. He also highlighted the presence of Croatia, which will join the union in July.

“Our mutual aim is to create political associations and deepen the economic integration in order to increase mobility and contacts between the inhabitants of these countries,” Rompuy said.

He also praised the progress of negotiations with other countries, like Georgia, Azerbaijan, Moldova and Ukraine.

Recovering from crisis a priority

Before the presidential summit Rompuy met with Prime Minister Robert Fico to discuss several issues with which the EU currently must deal with. He said after the meeting that the priority should be to help Europe recover from the crisis.

“Therefore we prepared a consistent strategy based on four pillars,” Rompuy said, as quoted by SITA, specifying these as, a financial strategy, a more resistant economy through healthy public finances and better competitiveness, measures to decrease unemployment and secure economic growth, and a far-reaching structure to support economic and monetary union.

Yet, he praised the positive development of the EU, saying that many things are going in the right direction.

“The existential threat for the euro is over,” Rompuy said, as quoted by TASR, adding that the budget deficits have been reduced by more than one half since 2008, and that competitiveness and exports are gradually improving.

Yet, he warned that the crisis is not over yet and many countries are still grappling with high unemployment. The measures to support this fight, which Rompuy said he is currently working on, will be discussed at the June summit of European leaders, TASR reported.

Fico discussed Slovakia’s current situation with Rompuy and assured him that Slovakia will fulfil its promises and will be able to keep its budget deficit below 3 percent of GDP. He also asked Rompuy to support Slovakia in its effort to extend the period for drawing EU funds allocated for 2007-13 from the end of 2013 to the end of 2014, SITA reported.

Though the European Commission proposed in May to postpone the deadline, the proposal still has to be passed by the council of foreign affairs ministers and MEPs. If this initiative fails, Slovakia might lose up to €300 million, Fico added.

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