Slovakia has warned that the future of the European Union cannot be decided by just two or three powerful Western members.
The comments by Prime Minister Robert Fico, which came as the country prepared to take over the EU presidency, are seen as a dig at France and Germany and included a plea for more involvement by the bloc’s newer ex-communist members.
They come on top of criticism of the European Commission and other institutions by Central and Eastern European states, as the EU reels amid the fallout over Britain’s shock vote to leave.
“Crucial decisions about the future of Europe cannot be defined by two, three member states, or the founding states of the EU,” Fico told reporters.
Germany, France and Italy held three-way talks on Monday to consider the “Brexit” vote. Two days earlier, the EU’s six founding members – also including Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, had held a meeting of foreign ministers.
“The future of the EU can no longer be defined without active involvement of the states that joined after 2004”, Fico said.
But divisions were put aside at a ceremony in Bratislava as Slovakia prepared for six months at the helm of the EU, beginning on July 1.
“We are only hours from taking over the presidency of the Council of the European Union. For Slovakia this is a historic moment,” Slovakia’s President Andrej Kiska told the gathering.
Central and Eastern European states have pointed the finger at EU institutions over Brexit, especially the Commission.
Jean-Claude Juncker has angrily rejected calls for him to step down notably from the Polish and Czech foreign ministers.
His message on this occasion: an appeal for unity.
“I’m convinced that the presidency of Slovakia will be a great success because you will be the main moderator of Europe, so let’s work together for the good of Slovakia and for the best of Europe,” Juncker told his Slovakian hosts.
EU leaders will next meet in Bratislava in September to consider the future of the union.
The so-called Visegrad countries – Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic – are calling for more powers to be returned to national capitals and for the Commission to play a reduced role.
Brexit, they fear, may spur Brussels to push for more centralisation.
“If our citizens understand less and less what the EU is doing, it’s because there is too much institutions and too little member states,” said the Slovakian Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak.
His Czech counterpart Lubomir Zaoralek wrote in an article in the Financial Times that he was “truly baffled” by proposals put forward immediately after Britain’s EU referendum for further integration.
The Visegrad four have already defied the Commission and Germany by refusing to take in refugees who arrived in Europe last year in an influx of some 1.3 million people.
Western EU states have accused the group of lacking solidarity in the migration crisis, and seeking to benefit from the bloc’s joint budget without being willing to accept shared responsibilities.
Poland’s deputy prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki argued for moves to reconcile the two different visions of Europe’s future, “because on the one hand we have complete disintegration, and on the other hand we have extreme attempts, like building some utopia that is the United States of Europe, in which after all, no-one believes.”