Completing the European Mission
An interview with ALEXANDER DULEBA, director of the research centre and head of the Eastern Europe programme at the Slovak Foreign Policy Association. Interviewer: MARTINA CEBECAUEROVA
It has been 20 years since the founding of the Slovak Foreign Policy Association in 1993, and where you have worked since 1995. How would you characterise the association and where it is heading in the next 20 years
The Slovak Foreign Policy Association was founded in 1993 by a group of former Czechoslovak diplomats, of Slovak origin, who entered diplomatic circles after the Velvet Revolution. With the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, these diplomats – among whom I would mention former ambassador Magda Vašáryová, the Czechoslovak ambassador to Austria Pavol Demeš, former Minister of International Relations of the Slovak Republic, Rudolf Chmel, the last Czechoslovak ambassador to Hungary and many others – returned back to their former professions and decided to establish a non-governmental organisation whose aim was to support public debate and education regarding foreign policy. It was especially needed, since foreign policy was a completely new concept for the young state of the Slovak Republic.
The goal of the association since the beginning of the 1990s was to organise public discussions and events. In 1995 a research centre was created, where I have worked since then, with the aim to contribute as well as to shape the formulation of foreign policy trough discourse and analysis. The most significant mission of the 1990s was to create the debate about foreign policy as a part of the ongoing democratisation and reforms in the Slovak Republic, which, in my opinion, has been achieved. Since the last 10 years, we have been members of the European Union and NATO, and we have deepened our research activities in this regard.
In the framework of the research centre we have research programmes which focus on areas such as European Studies, International Security, Central and Southeastern Europe, Eastern Europe, and Economic Policy and Development Aid. Hence, in the framework of these programmes we strive to conduct research addressing international issues. We have around 70 partner institutions abroad, which form a valuable network of contacts. In addition to the research, we hold events. The biggest event that we organise is the Central European Energy Conference. Besides this, we convene a conference devoted to the EU’s Eastern policy as well as a lot of events, which are dealing with regional cooperation and Slovakia’s foreign policy.
What is the most important area in the field of the association’s research? What are the essential interests of the Slovak Republic in regards to its foreign policy?
First of all, from the perspective of the Slovak Republic, it is the functioning of the European Union. The European Union is the very basis for the well-being and smooth functioning of the institutions of the Slovak Republic. Therefore, the European Union should be considered as a top priority for the Slovak Republic. In the second place are our relations with Eastern European countries. While we have already entered and became a part of the European Union, our mission is not complete unless we wholly achieve the European project. By the European project I do not mean that all of the countries should become members of the European Union, however there is a growing number of global challenges driven by new dynamics, multi-polarism, new global centres, and political and economic drivers. Thus, it is inevitable for European countries to unite and agree on common rules which should be built on the basis of the European Union. If this fails it will signify a defeat.
Then, there are relations with Russia as well as the Southern Partnership. If we look at the Southern neighbourhood, we perceive it less sharply than other member states. I think that in the framework of the European Union, I believe that we have acquired the right division of labour, with Central, Eastern and Northern European countries dealing with the Eastern policy, while the Southern neighbourhood is the area of focus of central and southern states. We have this division with the aim of enlargement in different terms. Even though we do not enlarge the European Union in a sense of increasing the number of member states, we extend the rules and the legislation which makes the world a better place.
In terms of Eastern Policy, Ukraine, one of Eastern Partners is a neighbour of the Slovak Republic. It is also a country, which is currently in the process of making an important geopolitical decision on which integration project to join: the Russia-led Customs Union or the EU. How do you assess the relations between the Slovak Republic who, as we’ve said before, has been a member of the EU for the last ten years and Ukraine?
For Ukraine, Slovakia is a very important partner, however not the only one due to the fact that there other countries with great capacities for the development of the Eastern Partnership programme. Among them are our neighbours Poland and Hungary just to name a few. But also the cooperation within the framework of the Visegrad countries (V4) seems to be of high relevance. If I should speak about the very specific role of the added value of the Slovak Republic, then it is important to state that in comparison to our neighbours, we have “a story”, which is important for these countries. What these countries are going through at the moment is similar to what we experienced in the 1990s, the time when we were dismissed from the first round of negotiations to enter the European Union and NATO. Basically, we also had illusions of going down a third path. These issues are still present in the agenda and discourse of the European Union and the countries of Eastern Europe, such as Moldova, Ukraine and elsewhere. For this reason, our story is very close to their stories, which they can listen to and understand. That is our added value.
The third point is that Slovakia does not conceal any agenda. Slovakia is quite a young democracy that does not have any territorial claims or any other problematic historical points with other countries, which in contrast are still present in, for example, Polish-Ukrainian relations. Thus I would say that this is another reason why Slovakia can be effective in the East.
You have already mentioned the Central European Energy Conference which you convene annually (it was most recently held in November 2013), how would you assess the significance of this conference?
Every conference is somehow different. Overall, this year´s conference addressed two main topics. The first area, which we did not cover before, was the formation of a regional market with gas and electricity in the region of Central Europe from three different perspectives. Since the physical infrastructure is very important, the key issue to ensure it is the accomplishment of harmonisation of energy policies, on which, we have a lot of work to do.
The second main topic of the conference was competitiveness of companies and the energy sector within the EU in general. The prevailing problem associated with this is the fact that we pay the highest energy prices in the world and have poor investment conditions in the energy sector. It is not worth investing into new production capacities. So, the question is, until when will the existing capacities continue operating, until when will we be able to produce electricity? While everything related to the use of renewable energy resources, including technology, are very expensive. To put it simply, the European market cannot sustain such a situation when the price of electricity is 40 euros per megawatt, whereas the producers of photovoltaic sources receive guarantees from the state for the period of 15 years on the level of 360 euros per megawatt. Therefore, there is a big problem which neither the energy sector nor the European economy can sustain. It is necessary to find a solution which could revive the economies and the investment environment, because in a while the energy dependency in Europe will rise dramatically.
Alexander Duleba is the Director of the research centre and the head of Eastern Europe Programme at the Slovak Foreign Policy Association (SFPA).
Martina Cebecauerová is an editorial intern for New Eastern Europe. She has a BA in International Relations and European Studies from the Metropolitan University Prague.