The EU must come together and deliver tangible results, with clear benefits for its citizens, to regain their confidence and fight growing populism and nationalism across the continent, agreed Slovak Prime Minister Róbert Fico and most MEPs in Wednesday morning’s debate on the priorities of the incoming Slovak Presidency in the EU Council of Ministers.

"We have arrived at a stage where we have to overcome fear. The fear of our citizens, fear of migration, (...), the fear of terrorism (...) and the fear of economic problems", but also "fear of political leaders that we will not be able to overcome the crises," which leads to loss of citizens’ confidence in the EU and strengthens extremists and nationalists in Europe”, Mr Fico said.


Mr Fico praised the EU as "an amazing and unique project" which "is not perfect", but for which there is "no alternative." But he also said the "EU has to listen more closely to critical voices" and "become more flexible, less bureaucratic and more responsive to diversity."


"We need a discussion on how to make the EU better and more efficient. The outcome of the British referendum is the proof of that," Mr Fico said, adding that "we cannot focus on crisis management only" but must offer EU citizens a “long-term vision.” He also announced that the Presidency intends to start a "deep reflection on what the EU wants and must offer to European public" and promised that it will seek to "deliver tangible results", so as to "regain confidence" of EU citizens and "fight growing populism and nationalism."


To view the full speech of Prime Minister Fico, click on following links:


To view the full statements by other speakers, click on their names.


EU Commission First Vice-President Frans TIMMERMANS agreed that the EU "needs to set a positive agenda and focus on what matters to people." He stressed that "Europe is more than just a single market" but also that the EU must make sure that people feel that. Paraphrasing the late writer and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, he added that "the opposite of love is not hatred. The opposite of love is indifference" and this is what EU must fight today.


EPP Leader Manfred WEBER (DE) highlighted Slovakia as "a successful model in Europe" but stressed the European reunification was possible only because "we have been able to come together against populists" who opposed it. He regretted the populist tone of the most recent Slovak parliamentary elections: "We have to make sure we fight populism in all our countries," he stressed and warned against using migration crisis "for scaremongering."


S&D leader Gianni PITTELLA (S&D, IT) recognised that Slovakia "has a very difficult task." He called on the Presidency to defend good values stemming from European history "tooth and nail" and expressed the hope that it would help to adopt "strong and tangible proposals that will unite Europe," for instance on combatting tax evasion. But he also reminded Mr Fico that part of the solution of the migration crisis is "reception and relocation of those that are fleeing wars and terrorism."


For the ECR, Ashley FOX (UK) said that even though he supported UK membership in the EU, "we have a clear decision and it must be respected. We now need to move on." The Slovak presidency will play a crucial role now, he hinted, insisting that "we need (...) deeper, cooler consideration" to reflect on the meaning of the referendum. Millions across the continent "want an effective European Union" but also "a limited European Union," he added. He also called for "a renewed partnership" between the UK and the EU based on shared values and history of cooperation.


Speaking on behalf of ALDE, Pavel TELIČKA (CZ) said the EU "is not any longer at a crossroads - we have come to a political dead end" and "we should recognise that." "We have high expectations" that the Slovak Presidency "will be able to steer the EU out of the crisis," and to make EU capable of solving crises and challenges that lie ahead.


For GUE/NGL, Kateřina KONEČNÁ (CZ) said that the Slovak Presidency "could not come in a harder time." Brexit and migration are just two of many challenges, she said but there is "no energy left” for the rest of them." On migration, she stressed that "Visegrad countries are not enemies of Europe (...) but we have our specificities and we want them to be respected." She also said that if Slovak Presidency is "serious about a positive agenda, then ditch TTIP."


Greens/EFA leader Rebecca HARMS (DE) said that "we have so many crises (...) but they are for all of us to solve", not only the Presidency. She also pointed to the "gap between the Visegrad states and other member states", insisting that it is important to narrow this gap. "Together we are much better placed to act," she insisted.


For the EFDD, Petr MACH (CZ), said "the EU should take account of concerns of people in terms of migration and security" and praised Mr Fico's government for being "brave" enough to bring a European Court of Justice case against the Council's decision on an urgent relocation mechanism. He also said that Czechoslovak “divorce” in 1993 could be used as an example for an "amicable Brexit."


On behalf of the ENF, Nicolas BAY (FR) said that "the country which gave us George Orwell gave us also a lesson in democracy." He argued that the EU is "becoming ever more like a dictatorship" and while criticising the "migration policy imposed by the Commission and Ms Merkel", he praised Mr Fico for his determination "to refuse" the relocation mechanism.


For non-attached members Diane DODDS (UK) criticised the post-referendum "hardened rhetoric" which "will not help” and expressed the hope that the Presidency would focus on finding a solution that will allow the EU and UK trade with each other and cooperate for good of their citizens.


You can re-watch the plenary debate via EP Live, and EbS+.