Heger, Prime Minister of Slovakia: “We know Putin. If Ukraine falls, we go after”

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Edward Heger (Bratislava, 1976) is seen as one of the emerging leaders in the family of the European center right. And that he has not been in the position of Prime Minister of Slovakia for more than a year and a half and, in fact, his party is the most recent signing of the European People’s Party (EPP). But the economic growth of his small country, bordering Ukraine, is contributing.

In addition, after coming to power in the midst of a political scandal over the purchase of the Russian vaccine against Covid that his predecessor wanted to close, he has adopted striking measures against corruption. Now, he continues his journey betting on the moderation of his political formation, whose name (OĽaNO, that is, Ordinary People-Independent Personalities) exhibited at birth, a little more than a decade ago, a tone of right-wing populism, are contributing.

The Christian Democrats at the continental level are in full reform of their structures, after the arrival of the German Manfred Weber for president. The EPP knows that radical ideas find a good breeding ground during crises. And Europe has been chaining one after the other for 15 years: financial, Brexit, Covid, war… so the popular people’s project involves expanding its bases with three criteria: Europeanism, support for Ukraine and absolute respect to the rule of law.

Eduard Heger, Prime Minister of Slovakia, during the interview with EL ESPAÑOL.

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Heger gives this interview to EL ESPAÑOL in Lisbon, a few minutes after making his entry speech into the EPP, and remarking the “great joy” that the affiliation brought him, because “this is also an act of recognition for all the effort that we have done in our eleven years of history as a party”.

Your government is a coalition government and, after several vicissitudes, you replaced the then leader of OĽaNO as head of the Executive. Have you started an ideological journey? Have the values ​​shared with the popular Europeans been better identified on account of the war in Ukraine?

I think our affiliation will fit very well with the vision of the EPP. Because we have the same values, we have proclaimed them in Slovakia and we have been putting them into practice for some time on a political level. But yes, considering the difficult challenges facing the world, especially Europe, which is war… Ukraine is a neighboring country, so we know very well what is happening. We support and will continue to support Ukraine’s candidacy for the EU, and in the meantime to make it through the winter, and then win the war.

That is, the invasion has changed the narrative in Europe.

And the consequent energy crisis… I think it is very important that the solutions that come are necessarily in unity. It will be much easier to build the unity of the Twenty-seven and maintain it with common solutions. And don’t forget all the post-war economic growth.

We must think strategically. And Ukraine is very important for the strategic perspective of all these issues. Not only from an economic point of view, but also from a security point of view. So let’s support her until her victory.

The unity exhibited so far in the EU against Russia and its war, is it real, can it be maintained? Hungary has just blocked a loan from the Twenty-seven to Ukraine, for example… Is this the beginning of some end?

No. It’s definitely not the beginning of any end. This is a challenge, one more. But we have faced so many challenges in such a short time, in the last two and a half years, starting with the Covid pandemic… So we saw that, first of all, we cannot give up. We have to keep walking. Sometimes it goes with small steps, sometimes with bigger steps. But we have to move on.

It’s like the many disagreements we’ve had in the last two years! But the principle that always applied was that of unity above all else. The leaders said many times ‘okay, I give up my own vision and understand that the principle of unity is bigger’. And that is why we were able to introduce sanctions packages, for example… There is always more room for negotiation. And that, basically, is exactly what we need to become a stronger global power.

In the Visegrad Group (V4) there are very different visions regarding Russia. Hungary has dealings with Moscow and Poland sees it as the most dangerous enemy. In what position is your government?

Several questions in one… The V4 has a long tradition. Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia are neighboring countries with strong economic ties, but I would also say human ties. A lot of people, you know… travel and consider themselves, we consider ourselves, allies. That is the essence of the V4.

That is not to say that we agree on all issues. No way! But we have common interests, and one of them is to be part of a really strong Europe. We all understand very well the security threat, as I mentioned earlier, with the war in Ukraine and the Russian aggression.

But Hungary does not seem to be dealing with it in the same way as the rest of the EU, not even the other three in Visegrad.

Indeed, in this perspective Hungary has a different approach. Which does not mean that we should not cooperate in the other fields and also discuss this difficult issue. Next week there is going to be a meeting of the V4 – in Slovakia, because we hold the presidency now. There we will discuss all perspectives of the energy crisis, in which we are all united. And everything related to the war, of course.

Slovakia’s position is well known: we are big supporters of Ukraine. First of all, because we understand that we understand what they are going through; secondly, because it is a security issue, and we want all our neighbors to be sustainable and prosperous. These are the points we are working on now with the Czech Republic and Poland. But yes, Hungary has a different approach.

Why did you say last May that Bratislava would be the next to be attacked if kyiv fell? The missiles that fell in Poland must have put them on alert…

Well, that’s a statement I should have made in Davos. I was not referring to Bratislava and kyiv, but to the fall of the Ukraine, which Slovakia would follow, of course! But you will not only hear this in my country, but also in Poland. We are bordering countries, and we knew for a long time what Vladimir Putin was capable of… Now the whole world knows! He doesn’t stop. I mean, he looks at his approach and his speech.

As a neighboring country, yes, we must be prepared. And I hope that this will never happen – because we trust, believe and appreciate the courage and bravery with which the Ukrainian people are fighting – that Russia will never border Slovakia… because we want Ukraine to remain on our border. And that is what we are going to help.

How can we Europeans deal with the energy crisis? You already mentioned “unit”, yes. But what are your recipes?

First of all, we know that gas is the problem and that diversification is a process. That difference is key. There are some countries that are much less dependent on Russian gas, but Slovakia, Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic… we were much more dependent. So we’re investing a lot in diversifying, as much as possible.

We’ve reduced from 100% to 30% somewhat, but we still haven’t hit the target. So we need to strengthen our infrastructure to get more gas from Norway, Algeria or Azerbaijan through pipelines, but also invest in LNG infrastructure so that we can get more LPG through pipelines. And if we achieve this, then we will not be dependent on the very expensive Russian gas. There is no such thing as cheap Russian gas. Not anymore.

That, in the short term. But…

Yes. First, we have to cut off all Russian gas, and as soon as possible. And then stabilize the price of electricity. We are working on this together in the EU. There will soon be a meeting of finance ministers at the level of the European Council, where a proposal is being prepared on how to separate gas prices from electricity prices.

Of course, this is a very challenging task, but we have to accomplish it. And if we do, in the heating season that’s here, it’s mostly about subsidizing our economies to help them survive this terrible crisis. And so, prepare for the coming winter, so that we don’t have to face prices as high as the ones we have now.

Eduard Heger, Prime Minister of Slovakia, responds to journalist Alberto D. Prieto.

Eduard Heger, Prime Minister of Slovakia, responds to journalist Alberto D. Prieto.

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Slovakia is a small country, only 30 years ago it came out of the communist yoke… And yet, its economic data is much better than Spain’s: less debt, less deficit, half unemployment, better country-rating. .. what recipes do they apply that we should learn in Spain, much bigger and richer?

Well, to answer this question we would need all day! [risas] I don’t think there is a quick answer. I can only say that Slovakia has many challenges, like all countries.

Normally, the key is to invest in increasing the quality of life of our people. But right now we need to bring security, protection and stability to our countries. Because it is an environment that is too uncertain in which we live. We face so many crises… but we have to understand that crises are always the place for… they must be considered as an opportunity at the same time. And know that after the crisis the moment of growth will come.

Post-Covid recovery funds have further united the economies and politics of the Twenty-seven. You, the Heads of State and Government, have the power and responsibility to evaluate others. Do you think we are doing it right?

I don’t want to go too long in the comparison, but when all our countries introduced the NextGenerationEU, after the Covid, they inaugurated a great tool. Each country proposed its own reforms so that we all develop together, if we execute them well. And what is very important, and we must always bear in mind, is that Europe and the EU are such an interconnected mechanism that we cannot forget that my changes and my progress, like those of Spain, are helping the progress of other countries. , and vice versa. And that my mistakes also influence others.

That is what we have learned very well in recent years. As you can see, there is much more common work among the leaders, much more communication, much more cooperation. And not only among the leaders, but the ministers in different areas. Our common growth passes through the principle of unity. It is not only the legislation, but the relationship that we have to build together.

But some countries do not finish going back…

But that is what we are doing, that is how we are dealing with it, and I believe that when we overcome all these crises we are going to face a long period of growth in Europe.

Last March, you visited Pedro Sánchez in Moncloa and now you are allied with Alberto Núñez Feijóo in the EPP.

And we will do another bilateral in 2023 with the Spanish president, we are already working on it. But there’s still a lot left, I’m the prime minister of a country, don’t make me compare.

Russia-Ukraine War

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