The newly-appointed Slovak Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini held talks with Czech top officials in Prague on Wednesday on what was his first foreign trip since taking office. Twenty-five years after splitting up, the two neighbor states are cooperating closely to defend their national interests and boost their position in the EU.
Twenty-five years ago, the Czech Republic and Slovakia found it impossible to agree on a common direction, opting to go their own ways after more than 70 years of co-existence. Today they say they have no closer partner in Europe or beyond and are working closely together to defend their national interests and get their voice heard on issues such as migration and the EU budget.
The Slovak-born Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš welcomed the Slovak head of government as a close friend and each spoke in their own language with no translation required.
“I am very happy that we see things eye-to-eye and are able to agree on a common negotiating strategy in the EU, together with the other countries of the Visegrad group. We have a similar stance on migration and a similar stance on the EU budget, where we both want member states to decide how the money allotted to them will be used. We want to strengthen the position of EU member states and make sure that even smaller countries like ourselves will be heard loud and clear in Europe.”
Prague and Bratislava would like to see more of the decision-making in the hands of national governments and fewer directives from the European Commission. Prime Minister Pellegrini noted that greater attentiveness to and respect for individual countries’ needs was crucial to overcoming the present divisions in the EU.
“We perceive the risk of a political and economic fragmentation of Europe, there are divides not only between the old and new members, but between the countries north and south. We believe that a greater sensitivity to, greater respect for these countries’ national interests can help halt this fragmentation which would have a devastating impact on the European project.”
In this connection, the Czech and Slovak prime ministers welcomed the EC’s action against a double standard in food and other products sold across the EU, hailing it as a result of their common strategy in repeatedly drawing attention to the practice and pushing for sanctions.
The two neigbour states are each other’s second biggest trading partners and the Czech Republic is the second most popular tourist destination for Slovaks –which has led the Slovak government to make plans to improve cross-border transport. On his visit to Prague the Slovak prime minister announced plans to build a high-speed railway between Bratislava and Brno, as a prolongation of the existing stretch between Prague and Brno. The new track would be part of the European rail corridor connecting Belgrade and Berlin.
Czech and Slovak officials will be seeing a great deal of each other in what is a year of important anniversaries for both countries – 100 years since the founding of Czechoslovakia, 50 years since the crushing of the Prague Spring reforms and the country’s invasion by Warsaw Pact troops and 25 years since the Czechoslovak Velvet Divorce.