Prime Minister of Slovakia

Speech made to the Assembly

Monday, 21 January 2008

Mr President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, allow me to start by congratulating you on your election as President of the Parliamentary Assembly, one of the key bodies of the Council of Europe.

I am really pleased and honoured to be at the Parliamentary Assembly and have the opportunity to address you in my function as Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic after my country took over the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers.

I sat in the same chairs as you are sitting today for over 10 years – first as a member, and then as the head of our national delegation. I gained some experience of the environment of European structures in Strasbourg also in my function as governmental agent of the Slovak Republic in the proceedings before the European Commission of Human Rights and European Court of Human Rights – hence I feel today and here among you as being on my native soil.

Holding the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers means a great commitment for the Slovak Republic, which is in this position for the first time in its history. The Slovak Government prepared for this role with great responsibility and even included its performance in its governmental manifesto of August 2006.

The Council of Europe played a key role in building the independent and democratic Slovak Republic – there are no reasons to doubt that. That is why I would like to thank the Council of Europe and its bodies. The Council’s observations and recommendations, as well as our genuine ambition to make often rather demanding commitments and our determination to pursue them, helped Slovakia in building a modern state. The Slovak Republic has fulfilled all the integration criteria for entry into the European Union and has succeeded in developing a civil society with full guarantees for respect for, and protection of, human rights, human dignity and – so important for Slovakia – protection and promotion of national minorities.

One of the objectives of my cabinet – which stemmed from the democratic elections in summer 2006 after eight years of the conservative policy of the previous government – is a fair sharing out of the results of high economic growth in Slovakia among all our citizens on the principles of solidarity. Today, it is generally recognised that the high economic growth that we enjoy in Slovakia has been redeemed by social reforms and measures. We can observe the same economic growth in other post-communist countries even though they have not introduced similar social programmes. Slovak citizens must share the benefits of the high economic growth on a solidarity basis, because the growth has been the result of their efforts and willingness to work hard for often low salaries in a system in which the cost of living is very high. Even more, the Slovak Government is able to combine economic and social policies based on solidarity with the fulfilment of very strict Maastricht criteria, mainly those on the deficit and inflation levels. It seems that after Slovenia, Cyprus and Malta, the Slovak Republic will be the very next one to join the eurozone.

Slovak coalition parties foster principles of democracy, rule of law and human rights including rights of people belonging to national minorities. That is why, in our efforts to develop the multi-ethnic and multicultural character of the society, we committed ourselves in our manifesto to permanently curb discrimination, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, extreme nationalism and chauvinism, and why we promote dissemination of the truth about the Holocaust. The Slovak Government understands the existence of national minorities as a source of enrichment for the life of society. Let me remind you that we have 12 national minorities in Slovakia, the largest of them being the Hungarian and Roma minorities.

Any doubts about the determination of my government to pursue its commitments, which were articulated upon its inauguration in 2006, have been refuted by our concrete actions and steps, and none of those catastrophic scenarios has been confirmed either. The position of national minorities has not been impaired. For illustration, I am proud to inform you that we systematically develop and foster a comprehensive system of education for national minorities in their mother tongue starting from pre-school facilities up to universities – which is not quite a common standard in all member states of the Council of Europe.

Apart from initial investment in the foundation of the Jan Szelye University in Komarno instructing its students in Hungarian language, the state budget – in line with the law on financing higher education institutions – has increased the state subsidy for this school by 30% in 2007. On top of that, the university received another special subsidy to enhance its buildings.

We are proud that the Hungarian department of Slovak Radio has a 75-year tradition in broadcasting. With its technical parameters and 80% coverage of the Slovak territory, programme structure and schedule with 56 hours of broadcasting per week in daily prime time, it stands any comparison or in-depth examination. Slovakia adheres to its obligations resulting from the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. Therefore, the Hungarian language can be used for official communication in 501 municipalities in the Slovak Republic.

On the other side, we believe it is only natural that members of national minorities are able to speak the official language of the country they live in, and hence I am convinced that any critical stance towards our efforts to create conditions for better self-fulfilment of all our citizens is unjustified.

I am also willing to assure you that addressing the problems of the Roma minority is one of the top priorities of the Slovak Government. The deputy minister for minorities, the plenipotentiary of the government for Roma communities, as well as individual departments of the government, pay special attention to these issues and objectives. Last year, they jointly prepared strategies for the education and training of Roma children and pupils including secondary and higher education, and for education and training of national minorities, as well as a mid-term programme for the development of Roma communities in Slovakia. We can only welcome a European focus on this field since we consider the social integration of Roma in all EU countries and their participation in public life to be a pan-European issue. We support all initiatives either on the ground of the Council of Europe – for example, the European Roma and Travellers Forum proposed by Finnish President Tarja Halonen – or on the level of the European Union. The European Parliament is currently debating the pan-European strategy on Roma. Slovakia strongly endorses joint action by international organisations. The synergic effect resulting from a good co-operation between the Council of Europe and European Union is desired and, in the field of Roma issues, even imperative and vital.

Slovak ambition is to find the best possible solution for Roma living conditions and social integration. That has been reflected in the list of priorities of the Slovak chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers. I believe that the European conference devoted to the education and training of Roma children and youth, which is currently being prepared by the Slovak Republic in co-operation with the Council of Europe and, scheduled for April this year, will contribute to the exchange of experiences and the identification of desired solutions.

Mr President, please allow me to convey to the Assembly some thoughts and reflections on the Council of Europe itself. The Council of Europe is struggling to find its position in the system of European organisations. We should not take its position for granted for ever. Nothing is pre-defined in today’s dynamic international processes.

What will the Council of Europe look like in 25 years from now? No one can foresee and predict the answer with certainty, not even my distinguished Luxembourg colleague Jean-Claude Juncker, who recently compiled an excellent report on this topic. The future face or structure of the Council of Europe will depend on the will of its member states and the development of other European structures, as well as on the intelligence and adaptability of the Council itself.

We fully promote current efforts to revive the Council and its process of self-reflection and modernisation. On the other hand, we should register the fact that certain signals have highlighted its routine behaviour and fumbling, as well as the continuing disproportion between the expectations of states and the Council’s actual capabilities, between its declarations and the practical steps that it can take.

We know from our own experience that the Council of Europe is capable of responding adequately to the requirements of our era. Overcoming division in the European continent has brought new challenges, at the same time as injecting new strength into the Council. The Council has opened its doors to new members despite warnings that that might lead to the erosion of its standards. With hindsight, we can now see that that was a very smart decision. Thanks to such a far-sighted approach, many of those countries – including Slovakia – are now fully fledged members of the European Union.

There are no grounds for serious concerns about the future. Nevertheless, I do not believe that the Council will be able to keep its extensive scope of activities with which it entered the new century. It will have to streamline those activities, and focus on where it can be most useful.

The key area of the Council’s activities is the field of human rights and the rule of law. If we speak about any achievements with long-lasting value, we should mention the Council’s achievements in the field of protection and promotion of human rights and the rule of law and its democratic institutions. That is the real family silver: the treasure of the Organisation and its member states which needs to be polished and enhanced. All members of the European family now have access to it; our ambition is to share its assets among all European countries, without exemption.

The Council of Europe created a comprehensive and sophisticated system of human rights protection, from setting standards through to forms of implementation and the implementation of monitoring mechanisms. All instruments of this system are available: the traditional ones are being enhanced and new permanent ones are being added. Human rights experts are running from one expert forum to another. So why is the number of the complaints at the European Court in Strasbourg constantly increasing? Why on earth are citizens so often unable to claim even their basic rights in their home countries? Something does not work, which only proves that the role of the Council in the field of human rights protection is not yet obsolete.

I sometimes hear that the European Court has become a victim of its own success. Well, if success results in crisis, what is such success good for? Should we call it a victory if a citizen, after several years of juridical obstructions at home, has to wait for several more years for the verdict in Strasbourg? Clearly, the European Court and its judicial system are one of the great achievements of modern Europe, yet for me genuine success would be achieved if there was no reason for any citizen to apply to Strasbourg, and if it were necessary, only as an exemption to the rule.

The European Court is overwhelmed with cases, so no wonder it requires more funds. If states are unable to prevent complaints going to the Court and are unable to fulfil their commitments, then let them pay. That might be unfair to some states, but those are the rules as they were set out. For the Slovak Republic as presiding country in the Committee of Ministers, raising sufficient funds for the European Court is one of our key tasks. However, we all know that that is no remedy for the disease. The real solution rests in the prevention of cases of human rights violations at a national level and in the improved efficiency of national legal remedies, namely national courts. This is where we have to inject money; this is the real investment in the future. Indeed, it is not my intention to claim that the European Court mechanisms require no fine-tuning; it is vital to put into effect Protocol No. 14 to the European Convention on Human Rights. Consequently, it is also essential to implement the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights, which are also a factor of prevention.

Some say that we should protect the European Court from an influx of complaints. As a lawyer, I defended the rights of citizens against the state, as well as the state before the European Court, hence I know both sides of the story. I believe that the role of the European Court is to protect the rights of citizens – and not the European Court from the citizens. However, it is obvious that an overwhelmed Court is of no use to our citizens. Therefore, it is smart to install filters in the countries with high numbers of complaints so as to identify early those complaints that are unjustified or have no chance of winning. Of course, access of citizens to the Court cannot be impaired in any way.

I repeat that I foresee the future of the Council of Europe mainly in the area of human rights. However, that does not mean that we should reduce the Council’s action radius. It remains a practical vehicle for co-operation among member states in divergent sectors; for instance it is a creator of regional international law in Europe. Furthermore, each of the conventions recently drafted by the Council of Europe has a practical meaning for all member states. Recommendations from the Parliamentary Assembly and Committee of Ministers are significant, too; nevertheless, quite frankly speaking, some of them are rather empty.

Within almost 60 years of its existence, the Council of Europe has accumulated an extensive and diversified know-how and it is therefore only natural to make this expertise accessible to all member states which can make use of it. This is not about getting rid of activities in other sectors – even though this also may be the case. It is about concentrating functions to specific areas where the role of the Council is irreplaceable and where it works at its best, or where it can offer an attractive ratio between money spent and product or performance provided.

After all, the general objective of the Council of Europe as defined in its Statute is still valid: “to achieve a greater unity between its members for the purpose of safeguarding and realising the ideals and principles which are their common heritage, and facilitating their economic and social progress.” States have to adhere to and observe their constitution and accordingly, international organisations have to observe their statutes. However, maybe we should legitimately discuss whether this 60-year-old Statute requires any innovation.

Distinguished President, I have made a few reflections on what the future of the Council of Europe should look like. Let me now briefly mention a few examples of what the Council of Europe should not look like.

The Council of Europe must not be: an institution where subjective ideas and positions of individuals, rivalry between bodies and their functionaries, personal sympathy or antipathy complicate the joint effort and reduce the value of its results and accomplishments; the place where double standards are applied towards different states; a forum in which one group tries to impose its partial views upon others either in the area of human rights protection, or in any other; a forum where one group treats its historical trauma and national complexes to the detriment of others; a place where experiments with history are performed and problems smelling of naphthalene are reintroduced.

I am convinced that the Council of Europe will become none of these. What it really will be like, is dependent on all of us.

Thank you for your attention.

I am ready and willing to take your questions now.

THE PRESIDENT (interpretation)

said that he had found Mr Fico’s speech very interesting, especially when he had touched on the issue of national minorities: he had provided a full description of the situation. He also thanked Mr Fico for setting out the personal intentions for his presidency.

He would now take questions to Mr Fico from the list of those who had put their names down. He said that he would not allow supplementary questions and that the questions themselves had to be less than 30 seconds each, to permit as many questions as possible to be asked.

He called Mr Hovannisian, on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.


Thank you, Mr President, for your tour d’horizon. Slovakia is certainly a central democracy and what is going on in your parliament today reflects that due process of democracy. Together with the Czech Republic, you represent the European benchmark for civil separation leading to a partnership based on friendship and good neighbourliness. Reflecting on the similar challenges in Kosovo, mountainous Karabakh and elsewhere, will you give us your guidelines as to what is the secret to your success in turning a very difficult relationship with the Czech Republic into a successful European experience?

Mr Fico, Prime Minister of Slovakia (interpretation)

answered that the successful relationship between the Slovaks and the Czechs had its roots in history. They had lived in one common state. A common experience of historical events, and particularly the events of the Second World War, had threatened to split them. The break-up of Czechoslovakia in 1992 had also been handled in a cultural way. The good relationship was unique between these two nations and remained at a high standard. The Slovak Republic did not have a relationship with any other country as high as that which it had with the Czech Republic. People had also been very excited when the national borders had fallen with the Schengen Agreement.

THE PRESIDENT (translation)

Thank you. I call Mr Chelemendik on behalf of the European Democratic Group.

Mr CHELEMENDIK (Slovak Republic)

I would like to ask a question about Europe. Slovakia is probably the second post-communist country yet to enter the eurozone. Bearing in mind the rather tough experience of Slovenia, what are the main reasons for Slovakia entering the eurozone so quickly?

Mr Fico, Prime Minister of Slovakia (interpretation)

said that the Government of the Slovak Republic had believed that there were more benefits than disadvantages to joining Europe and had taken the decision to meet the demanding criteria for the introduction of the euro. The Slovak Republic would be the fourth country to implement the euro of those member states which had joined the European Community in 2004. The Slovak Republic had a commitment to meet the Maastricht criteria and had already implemented its commitment to introduce many and diverse business control mechanisms. He wanted all Assembly members to realise that the Slovak Republic had different living standards from many other European states and that his government had put a lot of attention into meeting the strict criteria for joining the euro. He anticipated that the European Central Bank would make a decision on his country’s membership of the euro in the summer of 2008.

THE PRESIDENT (translation)

Thank you. I call Mr Kox, on behalf of the Group of the Unified European Left.

Mr KOX (Netherlands)

Thank you, Mr Prime Minister, for the good news that your government is giving priority to the European Court of Human Rights. However, could you also give some priority during your period in office to the financial situation of this Assembly, in order to end the financial and budgetary anorexia that we have suffered for some years? Please give us another good news message.

Mr Fico, Prime Minister of Slovakia (interpretation)

did not want to make any distinction between the different institutions of the Council of Europe. Each played an irreplaceable role and this was why, in meetings that very day, the Slovak Republic had confirmed its interest – by means of a special letter from its foreign minister to his counterparts – in dealing with the question of funding for the European Court of Human Rights. As a lawyer, he had experience of the Court, which was a unique system for the protection of human rights. It would be a grave mistake to impair this unique system in any way.

Furthermore, the Assembly was playing a unique role in promoting and sustaining democracy and the rule of law. In 1993 and 1994, the Slovak Republic had seen a monitoring system put in place by the Council of Europe of which it had initially been nervous, but this system had, in the end, helped to build democratic institutions in the Slovak Republic. For these reasons, the Council of Europe was a very important body for the Slovak Republic.

THE PRESIDENT (translation)

Thank you, Prime Minister. It is now the turn of Mr Iwiński, from the Socialist Group.

Mr IWIŃSKI (Poland)

Mr Prime Minister, I am addressing you as a citizen of a friendly neighbouring state. What is the Slovak approach to the plan of establishing an American missile defence system in both Poland and the Czech Republic? Secondly, how do you see the future of the Visegrad Group, which now encompasses five central European countries? Do you think that these member states can do something special together in, for instance, fields of special interest to the Council of Europe?

Mr Fico, Prime Minister of Slovakia (interpretation)

said that the deployment of anti-missile radar in the Czech Republic and Poland was a matter for bilateral agreement between those countries and the United States. He did not however accept that this meant that neighbouring countries had no involvement in the matter. Questions of participation in the anti-missile defence scheme were often asked of the governments of those countries. The Government of the Slovak Republic had refused to participate in such an anti-missile umbrella and saw no need for it in Europe. Such a scheme would serve only to increase tensions. It was more appropriate for issues of missile defence to be decided in international organisations such as the United Nations, but it seemed that bilateral agreements would continue to be adopted, leaving the neighbours to the countries adopting the scheme as mere eyewitnesses.

The V4 countries would, however, proceed by common consent and it would be important to watch the positions of their national governments and parliaments. The Slovak Republic was very positive towards common action in the V4 and regarded all V4 opportunities with enthusiasm.

Mr GRZYB (Poland)

Thank you, Prime Minister, for an interesting presentation. What is your opinion of Slovakia’s joining the Schengen area? How do you assess the effects of joining the Schengen area with reference to Ukraine and other eastern European countries?

Mr Fico, Prime Minister of Slovakia (interpretation)

said that his government had had to exercise great efforts to secure its outer border as required for entry into the Schengen area. In the time since the Slovak Republic had joined the Schengen zone, there had been no worsening of the security situation nor any increase in the number of immigrants. The border between the Slovak Republic and the Ukraine was at a high security level, but it was vital that this did not become a new “Iron Curtain”. For that reason, relations with the Ukraine were extremely important, and it was essential that those who wanted to cross the border for reasons such as tourism and business should be free to do so.

Mr JÁUREGUI ATONDO (Spain) (interpretation)

noted that 80 countries had recently met in Madrid to discuss the Alliance of Civilizations, to foster peace in the world, and asked what reaction Mr Fico had to the meeting.

Mr Fico, Prime Minister of Slovakia (interpretation)

said that he had followed the meeting in Madrid with interest. There was no question but that the future of the Alliance of Civilizations was very important. The next meeting was due to be in Turkey. He had been surprised by the number of countries which had been represented but could only express full support for the forum. Such differences were visible in Slovakia where there was a great number of registered religions and churches, and it was important to work towards enhancing co-habitation.

Mr LINDBLAD (Sweden)

Prime Minister, I assume that you are against discrimination against ethnic groups and natural minorities and that you are also against collective guilt. I would therefore ask you about the adoption of the Beneš decrees in December 2007. Do you think that that was in accordance with the statutes and principles of the Council of Europe?


reminded Mr Lindblad that the Beneš decrees had been adopted in 1945, not in 2007. The declaration of the Slovakian Parliament had refuted the notion of collective guilt. The Beneš decrees were a part of the history and legislation of Czechoslovakia, and were irrevocable for the government of the Slovak Republic. There was no reason to use history as a tool for division. The Council of Europe had enough issues to address looking forward without delving into history. Furthermore, this declaration had been approved by members from across the Slovak Parliament, even those in opposition, and was not a product of the government.

Mr SAAR (Estonia)

Let me first express extreme sympathy with your vision relating to knowledge-based economies and regional balance. Many European countries, including Estonia, would do well to take those things into account. My question is not about economics but about human rights, however. For how long do you think it is acceptable for you to govern with Ján Slota and the Slovak National party, who constantly make anti-minority statements that violate human rights and propose measures that undermine the status of national minorities laid down by the Slovak Government programme?

Mr Fico, Prime Minister of Slovakia (interpretation)

said that when Slovakia had become independent, there had been countless predictions of catastrophe. It was now 2008 and these predictions had been proved false. The country had high economic growth, the governing coalition had strong public support, and Slovakia had presided in the United Nations Security Council and in the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. The political hue of the government was unimportant; rather it was the government’s actions which showed its intention and its stability. Slovakia could serve as a role model in the field of human rights since it was a country in which, for example, minority rights were respected by law: the use of the Hungarian language for example. The Slovak Republic had taken a peaceful path and would continue upon it as long as he was Prime Minister. It would respect the principles of the European Union.

THE PRESIDENT (translation)

We must now conclude the questions to Mr Fico. On behalf of the Assembly, I thank him most warmly for his address and for the answers he has given to questions.

(The speaker continued in French)

Mr Fico’s comments about the problems facing his country had been much appreciated by colleagues in the Assembly; he wished Mr Fico success for the remainder of the Slovakian chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers.