Slovakia currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union and the summit was deliberately held in Bratislava — not Brussels — to send out a message that more powers should be returned to member states, amid rising euroskepticism throughout the continent.
At the heart of Slovakia’s first summit under its current presidency was a north-south split over the Eurozone and austerity, as well as an east-west split over immigration.
The summit ended in a farce, when Italian prime Minister Matteo Renzi refused to share a stage with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande.
“I cannot hold a press conference with [Angela] Merkel and [Francois] Hollande if I don’t agree with their positions on immigration and the economy,” he said.
Juncker, Timmermanns and Schulz will need to address the massive issue over immigration. Hungary again made clear in Bratislava that it would continue to oppose the Brussels plan to relocate refugees around Europe via a mandatory quota system — a position Hungary shares with its Visegrad partners, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Only 5,290 out of 160,000 refugees have so far been relocated because of opposition to the scheme, backed by Juncker. However, a split has occurred after the Visegrad group proposed an alternative to the quota system — “flexible solidarity” — under which member states would take in refugees on a totally voluntary basis, which Schulz said he would be inclined to accept.
“I’ll be glad if the four Visegrad Group countries are ready to talk at least about greater financial involvement. It would be good if we accepted this offer,” Schultz said.