Small States Get Creative in Global Affairs: Interview with Foreign Minister Lajčák of Slovakia

“I would say it’s not about big or small [states]—it’s about creative or not creative, responsible or irresponsible,” said  Miroslav Lajčák, the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Slovakia, in this interview with the Global Observatory.

“There are numerous examples of small countries making great contributions or a great difference on the global scene and the international agenda,” he said.

“The European Union is the most successful existing project of integration of states. Regardless of different phases and of the EU’s development, the fact is that there is no other group of countries that has achieved a higher level of political stability and a level of respect for democratic principles, economic prosperity, protection of individual rights–social rights and human rights,” he said.

“What we receive by joining the UN or the European Union is the multiplication of our voice and our role, and whenever we have good ideas, this is a room to promote them. It makes our voice stronger and our policies more efficient,” he said.

The interview was conducted by Andrea Ó Súilleabháin, a Visiting Fellow at the International Peace Institute. She conducts research on small states at the UN for a joint project of IPI and the Permanent Mission of New Zealand.

Listen to interview (or download mp3):

Transcript:

Andrea Ó Súilleabháin (AOS): I’m pleased to welcome to the Global Observatory Miroslav Lajčák, the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Slovakia. Minister Lajčák has had an extensive career as a politician and diplomat. He is an authority on EU enlargement, having served as the Managing Director for Russia, the Eastern Neighborhood, and the Western Balkans in the EU’s External Action Service. Minister Lajčák has also served as the High Representative and EU Special Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, and was the EU’s supervisor of the 2006 independence referendum for Montenegro. In his work in Europe and beyond, Minister Lajčák draws on the valuable experiences of his own country in joining the European Union in 2004. Slovakia, Slovenia, and Estonia are the only former communist states that are now members of the European Union, the Schengen Area, the Eurozone, and NATO, making Slovakia’s expertise particularly valuable for countries looking toward the EU accession process.

Minister Lajčák, thank you for joining us today in the Global Observatory to discuss the role of small states in European and world affairs.

Your visit to New York marks the 20th anniversary of Slovakia’s membership in the UN. Next year, Slovakia celebrates its tenth year as a member of the European Union. What do small states like Slovakia bring to large multilateral or regional organizations like the UN and the EU? And, what do they receive in return?

Miroslav Lajčák (ML): Countries like Slovakia bring respect for the rules, our own authentic experiences, and, of course, the promotion of universal values and instruments, because that’s our protection. We want to see a functioning system of international organizations because we have no other protection. What we receive by joining the UN or the European Union is the multiplication of our voice and our role, and whenever we have good ideas, this is a room to promote them. It makes our voice stronger and our policies more efficient. I would say it’s not about big or small, it’s about creative or not creative, responsible or irresponsible. 

AOS: Today at the International Peace Institute, you spoke about the promise and the role of the EU in bringing values like democracy, human rights, freedom and the rule of law to every country in Europe and beyond. How has the European project developed this soft power? Does the small size of many EU countries strengthen this soft power and influence? Or does small size make it more difficult to have a voice in global affairs?

ML: The European Union is the most successful existing project of integration of states. Regardless of different phases and of the EU’s development, the fact is that there is no other group of countries that has achieved a higher level of political stability and a level of respect for democratic principles, economic prosperity, protection of individual rights–social rights, human rights, and economic rights. The European Union has this soft power of leading by its example. The European Union is transformative because other countries want to be like the countries of the European Union; they want to join the EU or get closer to the EU. That’s the uniqueness of the European project.

It doesn’t really matter whether you are big or small in the European Union, because European policy making is based on compromise and on consensus-reaching. Each country’s voice counts, and on different issues, you find yourself in a group of different countries, because we have different interests, but the good thing is that we are not twisting each other’s arms or shouting at each other, but we are talking to each other.  We had to master the art of finding allies on different issues and being constructive, that means to take a step forward on one issue and a step back on another issue, in order to help the whole European process move forward. And that’s a fantastic experience. And the size of the country doesn’t really matter here.  

AOS: IPI is conducting research on small states at the UN. Slovakia is a member of the Forum of Small States (FOSS) – an informal group of 105 UN member states with populations under 10 million people. Can small states play an important role in ensuring that multilateralism and international cooperation prevail in foreign affairs–not just in the EU, but at the UN and around the world?

ML: Yes, because it’s the small states who need to be protected by clear international standards, by clear international rules. You can always count on small states when you are trying to promote international norms, which help them feel more secure. 

There are numerous examples of small countries making great contributions or a great difference on the global scene and the international agenda. Let me mention Liechtenstein and it’s role in promoting the International Criminal Court. Or I can also mention my own country, Slovakia, and our UN agenda in promoting security sector reform, which is a global issue and a global agenda. It’s welcomed and appreciated by everyone. The fact that this group of so-called small states consists of more than one-half of all members of the United Nations shows how relevant and important the group is.

AOS: Minister Lajčák, thank you for sharing your insights in the Global Observatory.



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