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State Secretary: Slovak Republic has strong interest in the intensification of mutual political dialogue with Azerbaijan - INTERVIEW

Lukáš Parízek: Slovakia has overtaken the Presidency of the Council of the EU at a time when the Union is experiencing serious security threats

Baku. 10 August. REPORT.AZ/ Interview of Report News Agency with the State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic, that is helding Presidency of the Council of the European Union,  Lukáš Parízek.

What are your first impressions of starting the Slovak Presidency of the Council of the EU? Could you inform us about its main priorities and goals?

The first Slovak Presidency of the Council of the EU (SK PRES) has been kicked off very well even though it comes in an unprecedented situation. Apart from the negative results of the UK referendum, we are facing many global challenges to our overall resilience (migration and refugee crisis, terrorist attacks, continuing consequences of the financial and economic crisis).

The priorities of the SK PRES are a reflection of our ambition to increase the EU´s unity, coherence and its resilience to external and internal challenges as well as to restore citizens' confidence in the European project.

Our aim is to attain tangible results acceptable for all Member States and the Union as a whole, to overcome the continuing fragmentation of the EU. The needs of ordinary EU citizens are crucial for us.

That´s why the SK PRES intends to be:

pragmatic - because it is time to deliver very concrete and tangible results;

uniting – since we must overcome fragmentation and individual approach in Europe and also;

the one which listening to People´s voice – as we need to deal with real problems of our people – such as economy, jobs, security, migration, terrorism.

In order to achieve this, we have four main goals:

 To make European economy stronger. SK PRES will support the environment favorable to investment, further economic growth and job creation. For that to happen, we will work on the deepening of the Economic and Monetary Union, the Banking Union and building the Capital Markets Union.

To modernize and broaden the Single Market in areas such as energy and the digital economy. To achieve this goal, our Presidency is ready to work on further enhancing diversification of resources, suppliers and transit routes. This plan will contribute to secure supplies of clean energy at affordable prices for industry and citizens.

 To work towards sustainable migration and asylum policy. Migration does not represent a seasonal but a global problem. The SK PRES will promote comprehensive and sustainable solutions linking up all relevant internal and external aspects. We must also return to a proper functioning of the Schengen area. We hope that the European Border and Coast Guards will become operational during our Presidency. We will also work on enhancing cooperation with third countries of origin and transit. Besides that, we will focus also on positive aspects of legal migration as a mean of attracting highly qualified migrants needed for our growing economies.

 To pay attention to our external environment, namely trade deals and enlargement policy. Free trade is a significant contributor to internal and external stability of the EU. This is why we support the signature and ratification of the CETA agreement with Canada. We are convinced that the successful conclusion of TTIP negotiations with the USA would have positive impact on EU’s growth, employment and overall well-being. Our Presidency is ready to work on the implementation of new European global strategy for common foreign and security policy, once adopted. At the same time, we will remain a vocal advocate of more effective and preventive European Neighborhood Policy. To the East, we wish to make strong emphasis on stabilization and reform processes. To the South, we would like to focus inter alia on countries contributing to migration flow to Europe.

We will also try to ensure the credibility of enlargement policy. Given our own experience, the enlargement policy is one of the most effective transformation tools. It is thus a key instrument for stabilizing our neighborhood. We want to actively communicate that the path towards the EU leads via doing own homework – namely deep and comprehensive reforms. We place particular emphasis on the last one – a globally engaged Europe and its relations with its neighboring countries.

As the EU is facing a lot of challenges today, we'd like to know the Slovak position on issues like migration crisis, economic crisis, terrorist threat and Brexit.

Slovakia has overtaken the Presidency of the Council of the EU at a time when the Union is experiencing serious security threats.

The current situation is testing both the EU's capacity to be a community of states as well as the core of the European identity. Therefore, we need even more empathy, willingness to reach a compromise and ability to listen to what the citizens are saying. From this angle Brexit is not a British phenomenon. It's symptomatic of something deeper. We are witnesses of a widening of the gap between ordinary people and the European elite. People's fear of losing their jobs, cultural identity and of lower security is based on their concerns that we as leaders will fail to solve their real problems.' Our Presidency intends to focus on agendas and topics that can bring tangible results for citizens.

As far as economic crisis concerns, to make the European economy stronger is a vital interest of all of us. During our Presidency, we will deal with the mid-term review of the Multiannual Financial Framework and the EU Budget 2017. They both must better reflect EU priorities and have strengthened capacities in order to address challenges we are facing in this area.

Migration represents a global and long term challenge. We can help resolve it only through joint efforts on global level. As I mentioned above, we will do our best to promote comprehensive and sustainable solutions linking up all relevant internal and external aspects.

Fight against terrorism is among the highest priorities of the Slovak government. We condemn terrorist attacks in every form wherever and whenever they occur… including those in the European Union such as in Paris, Brussels, and – most recently – in Nice. Following the terrorist attacks in the EU capitals and cities, it is necessary to improve and to move forward our cooperation in countering terrorism in Europe, in particular among intelligence services and law enforcement agencies, including prevention of terrorism-related travel of foreign terrorist fighters and detection of their return. It is equally important to increase information exchange and cooperation with third countries. We shall ensure overall continuity after the Dutch Presidency on international security-related matters including counter-terrorism and work to make sure that EU's reaction is adequate and proportional to the challenge. We shall also strive for overall consistency and synergy of efforts of the broad Global Coalition to counter Daesh/ISIL, and also other initiatives of the international community.

 Almost every high-ranked EU official underlines that protracted conflicts on the border of EU is a threat to European security. What's the position of Slovakia regarding these conflicts, particularly, regarding Nagorno-Karabakh issue?

First of all, I would like to underline that Slovakia has been always a strong advocate of respecting international law principles, including the sovereignty and territorial integrity not only in the South Caucasus. Talking about the Naghorno Karabach conflict, the task of the day is to continue in discussions on a political solution of the conflict, which is the only way that, we believe, can bring peace. Slovakia welcomes that in Sankt Petersburg the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia have renewed their commitment to a cease-fire and to a peaceful settlement of the conflict made in 16th May in Vienna. Sides must be committed to implementing Vienna arrangements. Slovakia in this respect fully supports the work of the Minsk Group, which plays an indispensable role in the process of finding a solution to the conflict for Nagorno-Karabakh. Slovakia highly appreciates and commends involvement of Germany in the process of the restoration of the peace talks between Baku and Yerevan.

How do you assess current bilateral cooperation between Slovakia and Azerbaijan? How does Slovakia intend to contribute to tightening relations between the EU and Azerbaijan in general, and with V4 countries, in particular?

Bilateral relations between Slovakia and Azerbaijan are friendly and trouble-free. However, there is a significant unused potential in the sphere of economic ties and trade. Slovak Republic has strong interest in the intensification of mutual political dialogue, completing the legal and contractual basis, as well as development of economic relations between our countries. We see the biggest opportunities in energy, modernization of the transport infrastructure, production cooperation, as well as in agriculture and tourism.

The EU Eastern Partnership project is one of the Slovak foreign policy priorities. The Slovak Republic is ready and willing to share its experience from transformation and reform processes with Azerbaijan partners. With regard to the situation in the Eastern Partnership countries, Slovakia fully supports the effort to deepen the relations of the EU with all six Partners including Azerbaijan. We can see recently a lot of positive developments in the EU – Azerbaijan relations. Meetings between the EU and Azerbaijan under the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) are to be resumed soon. As a Presidency of the Council of the EU, Slovakia is convinced that a mandate negotiating a new agreement to replace the PCA will be approved and following negotiations will start soon after. Beside so-called high politics and economics there are possibilities to identify new avenues of cooperation for example in the area of people-to-people contacts or research and education. At the same time the EU encourages Azerbaijan to comply with its international commitments including those stemming from the membership in the Council of Europe.

At the meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Visegrad Group and the Eastern Partnership countries on May 3 and 4, 2016 in Prague, which I had a privilege to attend, the V4 countries reaffirmed our strong support to the Eastern Partnership as a strategic dimension of the European Neighborhood Policy. We expressed readiness to further strengthening it in accordance with the Riga Declaration in an evolving active framework for cooperation and contacts among governments, parliaments, local authorities, members of civil society and business communities. This approach allows Azerbaijan to choose her own individually tailored relations with the European Union. One of a key priority for the Visegrad Group is implementation of the Energy Union, that is highly relevant to Azerbaijan as well. The geopolitics of today shows that energy security and related topics gain global importance. The Visegrad countries underline that the Energy Union implementation requires swift action, strengthened security of supply measures, including development of the Southern Gas Corridor.

Does Slovakia plan to open its embassy in Baku?

The Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic has long-term interest in the opening of the Embassy in Azerbaijan. There is only one Slovak diplomatic mission in South Caucasus region so far - in Tbilisi, Georgia, opened in April 2014. (Our bilateral Slovak – Azerbaijani relations are currently being addressed by the Embassy in Moscow). Azerbaijan is an important political player in South Caucasus, its economy represents almost 80 percent of regional GD and Baku is a key partner of EU in the area of energy security and energy infrastructure projects.

Can we expect visits of high-level delegations of the EU or Slovakia to Azerbaijan during the Presidency of your country?

For the time being I cannot officially confirm any high-level visit of the EU representatives to Azerbaijan in the second half of 2016. But I would like to highlight that at the end of February 2016, High Representative Federica Mogherini and Vice-President of the European Commission Maroš Šefčovič visited Baku. The President of the European Council Donald Tusk visited Azerbaijan last year. The EU - Azerbaijan cooperation is intensive and regular visits of high-level delegations of the EU to Baku will continue. Regarding the Slovak delegations, we are currently working on the official visit of the Speaker of the National Council of the Slovak Republic Andrej Danko to Baku in late autumn 2016. 

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