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State of the Union: Slovakia's Fico returns and EU enlargement comes back into focus

Chairman of Smer-Social Democracy party Robert Fico adresses the results of an early parliamentary election at a press conference in Bratislava, Slovakia, Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023
Chairman of Smer-Social Democracy party Robert Fico adresses the results of an early parliamentary election at a press conference in Bratislava, Slovakia, Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023 Copyright Darko Bandic/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Darko Bandic/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
By Stefan Grobe
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Three time prime minister Robert Fico made an electoral comeback last weekend.

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Since their counteroffensive began in June, Ukrainian forces have been attacking Russian territory almost every day – with drones, missiles or artillery.

And now Kyiv’s Western allies are worried Ukraine is depleting its stocks of ammunition too fast.

This could not come at a worse moment, as support for Ukraine is faltering.

In the United States, Congress passed a short-term budget without any aid for Ukraine at all.

And closer to home, elections in Slovakia likely brought to power pro-Putin populist, Robert Fico.

If he succeeds in forming a coalition government, Fico will become prime minister for the fourth time, campaigning on a pro-Russian and anti-American message.

"Slovakia and people in Slovakia have more serious problems than Ukraine. That’s all I can say at this moment," he said following his victory last weekend.

A Fico-led government could add cracks to the united European wall of support for Ukraine that the EU was putting on display this week.

For the first time ever, a foreign affairs council convened outside of the EU – namely in Ukraine.

EU enlargement in the spotlight

And unlike the next Slovak Prime Minister, EU High Representative Josep Borrell was unshakable in his support for Ukraine.

"And for sure, the strongest security commitment that we can give Ukraine is European Union membership. This is the strongest security commitment for Ukraine," Borrell said on Monday.

Integrating war-torn Ukraine and other candidates would be a historic expansion of the EU.

So historic, in fact, that member states are getting more and more divided over this issue.

Austria's foreign minister, Alexander Schallenberg, told Euronews that the process for EU candidate countries joining the bloc should not be rushed, it should be merit-based.

 "Enlargement is our biggest and most important geostrategic tool. It's not a bureaucratic endeavor. We have proven so as a community in the past. Think about the accession of Greece or Spain or Portugal, but we safeguarded young democracy," he said in an interview.

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"So, the same thinking should prevail now. But it cannot be that some countries are on the fast lane and others on the sidelines. I believe that would be a geostrategic, grave mistake of the European Union. It has to remain merit-based. It cannot be a shortcut for some and not for others."

Schallenberg added that EU enlargement needs a rethink.

"We have to leave behind us the binary thinking, it's either zero, you're not a member or one, you're a full member. This has proven the wrong approach in the Balkans. 20 years after Thessaloniki, we are nowhere," he told Euronews.

"So, you have to acknowledge enlargement is also a geostrategic endeavor and instead of waiting until everything is agreed, think about agriculture in Ukraine, think about cohesion policy in Ukraine or others. We should adopt. We should bring them in."

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Leaders from both Albania and Serbia echoed these comments too, while at a meeting of the so-called European Political Community in Granada, Spain, calling for a new approach to the EU accession process.

"We should be realistic and we should not look at the finger while the finger shows the moon and believe that this Europe of 27, that is having a lot of trouble to have compact decision-making, to have strategic thinking and planning, can be enlarged with 33 or 35 or 37 soon," the Prime Minister of Albania, Edi Rama, said on Thursday.

"So, instead of nothing or all for us, the non-EU members, a new approach should be found. And this should be considered."

Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić also told Euronews that the status quo – remaining outside the EU – is no longer acceptable.

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"It doesn't matter what [changes], because there were some – during different conversations – there were some new ideas," he said in an interview on Thursday.

"Whether we can get first [transport] green lanes, then economic market [access], unique economic market, whatever it is, we need to move. We need to move ourselves. Otherwise, we'll feel bigger fatigue than within European member States."

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