This website uses cookies

Cookies are small text files stored by a website on your computer. They are used to improve your website experience, analyze your site's performance and collect usage data. We also use third party tools and services for this purpose. Some of the data obtained in this way may be provided to partners inside and outside the EU. By clicking on "Allow all", you agree to the processing of cookies. By clicking on "Reject all" you will reject all cookies except the necessary ones. Click "Manage settings" to get more detailed information and adjust your preferences.

The necessary cookies are used to ensure the proper functioning of the website. They make it possible to navigate the site or access protected areas of the site. Necessary cookies can be processed without the consent of the person concerned.

Provider tx_cookie_consent
The cookie used to record the validity of consents to the use of cookies.
Valid until 1 year
Type Necessary
Provider TS01232bc6
The cookie used to identify a user's session.
Valid until 2 hours
Type Necessary

Statistical cookies help us improve our website by providing information on how visitors use the site, through anonymous collection of information.

Provider _gat
Name Google
Used by Google Analytics to throttle request rate.
Valid until 1 minutes
Type Statistical
Provider _ga
Name Google
Registers a unique ID that is used to generate statistical data on how the visitor uses the website.
Valid until 2 year
Type Statistical
Provider _gid
Name Google
Registers a unique ID that is used to generate statistical data on how the visitor uses the website.
Valid until 1 day
Type Statistical
Provider _hjAbsoluteSessionInProgress
Name Hotjar
The cookie is set so Hotjar can track the beginning of the user's journey for a total session count. It does not contain any identifiable information.
Valid until 1 day
Type Statistical
Provider _hjFirstSeen
Name Hotjar
The cookie is set to identify a new user’s first session.
Valid until 1 day
Type Statistical
Provider _hjSessionUser_#
Name Hotjar
Hotjar cookie that is set when a user first lands on a page with the Hotjar script. It is used to persist the Hotjar User ID, unique to that site on the browser. This ensures that behavior in subsequent visits to the same site will be attributed to the same user ID.
Valid until 1 year
Type Statistical
Provider _hjSession_#
Name Hotjar
This cookie holds the current session data. This ensues that subsequent requests within the session window will be attributed to the same Hotjar session.
Valid until 1 day
Type Statistical
Provider _hjIncludedInPageviewSample
Name Hotjar
The cookie is set to let Hotjar know whether that visitor is included in the sample which is used to generate funnels.
Valid until 7 minutes
Type Statistical
Provider _hjIncludedInSessionSample
Name Hotjar
This cookie is set to let Hotjar know whether that user is included in the data sampling defined by your site's daily session limit.
Valid until 7 minutes
Type Statistical

Report on the State of the Republic

Report on the State of the Republic

Let me begin by saying that despite the constitutional power of the president to address you with a Report on the State of the Republic, which has been incorporated into the Constitution since its adoption, there has not been a strong tradition of doing so thus far. I chose my first address to be a year since inauguration – and I would like to at least contribute towards it in that as long as nothing extraordinary is happening, I will keep to this June date in the coming years.

Since no such fixed tradition exists, I was faced with the question of what meaning and content it should have. What expectations you, the National Council, would have and what expectations the people, from whom parliament and the president have a direct mandate, would have. In my address, I will build on this mandate and talk about what I think is important now and in the near future for Slovakia, for our republic. I believe we all understand that one speech cannot cover every issue or challenge our republic is facing today. But there is one thing that I believe is more important than any other: the challenge of reinforcing our citizens’ faith in their country.

I am also aware that I stand before you during a time in which there will soon be a wealth of “reports on the state of the republic”. Reports and assessments of our country created by people sometimes hidden in your mind or during discussions with your family or friends. All of these “reports on the state of the republic” will soon have the same weight and will be equal to each other because, in March next year, everybody can issue their own report on the state of the republic by voting or not voting in the parliamentary elections. For this reason, I do not want to bypass the parliamentary elections in my address.

In comparison with the majority of countries around the world, Slovakia is a very successful country. In the last 17 years especially, we have come a long way much faster than other countries nearby in a similar situation, with comparable opportunities.

The expectations and ambitions we have had and aimed for were hindered several years ago by the global financial and economic crisis. Here too, Slovakia coped with fewer losses than many other countries. Several difficult decisions of the past have proved to be correct.

Nevertheless, the crisis did not just take economic growth and jobs from us – it also took away something else. It took away our pre-crisis confidence, a widespread feeling of satisfaction and a belief upon joining the European Union that our path towards a better country, greater prosperity and a better quality life seemed predestined. It took away our belief in success. The crisis reminded us that, as a small country, we are too vulnerable to outside influences, and for sustainable success we need stronger and more stable foundations of our own.

There is a feeling again now that we have come through the worst of it. Our economy is growing at a pace that is amongst the fastest in the euro area. The number of people out of work is going down. Objectively speaking, Slovakia is in better condition than a couple of years ago, when it seemed for a while that, along with the rest of Europe, we were standing on the edge of an economic, financial and social abyss.

Thanks to the two governments after 2010, public finances are now under control. It is also surely thanks to the far-sighted administrative arrangement by politicians across the spectrum for a debt brake in constitutional law. It is a good example of how lasting and useful decisions for the country can arise, if an agreement with the right priority for the country is created.

Is this stability of public finances a success? Yes, definitely. It can even be said that you, the members of the National Council and government of the Slovak Republic, together with the parliament and government in the next term of office, have in your hands a unique chance to make a groundbreaking contribution towards the future of Slovakia. You can set standards that will be difficult to go below in the future. By this I mean the commitment of the current political generation to achieve a more or less balanced public budget by 2017.

For two decades, every new government has asked its citizens for understanding at the beginning of their term in office. Budget cuts, so-called belt tightening, or tax increases – they have all happened in the name of improving public finances. Or fiscal consolidation, in the language of the minister of finance.

You have created an opportunity to definitively close this chapter in the near future, and offer people more than just the regular prospect of austerity measures in the name of deficit reduction. I would like to ask you not to let this opportunity slip through your fingers. As president, I can assure you that on the remaining part of this journey, I side with the decisions which will lead us towards this goal.

We need this kind of stability, responsible national economic governance in better times, so that we know how to answer the question and decide during these better times: What must Slovakia invest in so that we can make a qualitative leap, and so that we are stronger and more prepared as a country when the next crisis comes along? Because crises, as we all know, are not just in the past, they are in the future too. Lest our investments crumble into small yet people-friendly projects, however, we will not be making a qualitative, strategic step.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

A similar dispute to the one from several years ago about a responsible state economy has been going on for ten years about the form of our pension system. In this time there have been several governments. Several changes have been made. The second pension pillar, however, which this dispute is mainly about, has remained unchanged. This week, the fourth consecutive period passed in which savers were given another opportunity to withdraw from it. I believe that now is the right time to confirm a broad and firm agreement on the form of our pension system. Just as parliament did a couple of years ago with its commitment to fiscal responsibility. Pensions have to be linked to certainty and a guarantee of the system. You would therefore do a great service to the citizens of Slovakia if you could provide them with such certainty and predictability.

Honourable members of parliament,

A year ago, in my inaugural address, I said that the majority of people in our country do not feel that they are part of a successful Slovakia. I do not think that much has changed since then. Added to this is the conviction that we are not fully utilising the potential that we have. That we are not making the most of opportunities we have been given and which we have created.

It is not common that experts analysing system problems and ordinary people who see the country through their everyday concerns agree. In our country, such consensus on societal problems really exists.

Consensus exists although it seems that we have gradually been losing the belief that we can do something about it. Slovakia has come a long way. We have learnt, overcome, achieved all sorts of things. But it seems like our country has been overcome by fatigue for some time now. Or even resignation, in part of society. People still turn up to vote, but they now have little faith that significant progress here is truly possible.

As president I will definitely not give any recommendations as to whom citizens should vote for in the parliamentary elections. In the coming months, however, I will encourage people to go and vote. Regardless of who they have decided to vote for, or whom they are yet to decide upon – I will encourage my fellow citizens to have the very highest demands for the programmes and commitments of political parties and their representatives. To be thorough.

Not to give up on significant progress being a real possibility. To ask and demand the answers: How specifically, and by when exactly? Not to surrender their right to speak: This is our country, our republic, our responsibility.

I am convinced that we have found ourselves in a critical time, to restore citizens’ confidence in their country. Restoring their trust can only be done by being demanding and by achieving a qualitative leap in certain areas. That is why, in my address today, I am not going to talk about everything, how people live, how the Slovak Republic lives. I will not be listing successes or presenting a list of all the problems. Nor do I aspire to talk today about how Slovakia can be exceptional and how it can stand out. I want to use this opportunity to talk about what should be normal. What I consider important, so every citizen can say: This is our country and it is here for us.

Let me start by saying that it is perhaps ten years since the repeated debates about whether Slovakia should return to a system of a single health insurance system. Or whether it is possible – and how – to prohibit profit for private health insurers. It is a topic for a while, then for a while it is not, and then it is again. It will probably be a topic for the next election campaign as well.

It is a political conflict which cannot be decided because there are different systems even within the European Union. Nobody has a miraculous argument than one system or another would give patients in Slovakia a higher level of health care. And our health care system would therefore work more effectively, better, more reliably, at a higher quality level for everyone.

At the same time, there are achievable goals for which there is no reason to have a political conflict. For instance, order and transparency are not a matter of ideology. Without order and transparency no system will work any better. Order and transparency in the health care system are not a question of the country’s insufficient resources.

Let me give a recent example, when parliament decided to ban one of the fees – for priority doctors’ appointments. Regardless of what we think of that specific fee, there is a large number of other non-transparent fees within our health care system. Citizens do not understand them, but they pay them. What else can they do? In fact, the fees made nowadays are so extensive that the emotions over twenty crowns several years ago, now worth 70 cents, seem baffling.

Nevertheless, today we hear that we have spent weeks discussing something we probably have not resolved. Doctors say that the fee is necessary on economic grounds. And some patients can pay for this service. So ways and means are found to continue collecting this fee for making doctors’ appointments. Then we use up more energy on analysing, checking and new disputes. Instead of the country establishing order and transparency, for what exactly – and under which circumstances – they are permitted to collect certain fees within our health care system. Everything else would be against the law – and everyone would understand that.

I am talking about the fact that the state, parliament, the government and the Ministry of Health set and define the conditions in around seventy per cent of our health care system, via the state-run health insurance system. And the state has regulatory instruments throughout the health care system. For this reason, it is absolutely able to introduce order, understandable regulations and fairness – and bears political and managerial responsibility before its citizens for this. Subjective arbitrariness, which enables a lack of transparency in the health care system and in the General Health Insurance Company in particular, must be replaced with clear laws and regulations.

It is not a question of resources, nor in this case additional funds. It is merely a question of the will and readiness of the people in charge at the ministry. It is not even a question of whether we have enough ideas. Or whether we know how to do it. Several governments have had this kind of project. And several governments have signed up to them. And it is not just concerning the health care system where we can announce and begin a huge number of projects in this country. But years pass, and we cannot finish them – not so these projects can bring any benefits to citizens.

We have become European record holders in the length of time it has taken to introduce the DRG system, fair payment for a diagnosis which would bring elementary order to the system, greater transparency and more objective, measurable information from our hospitals. Is it really just in Slovakia that it is an insurmountable technical challenge? It is no surprise that it then looks as if we cannot introduce DRG only because various lobby groups do not want it, as the introduction of order does not suit them.

In the same category of long-standing started but unfinished projects is the eHealth system, which is meant to include patients’ electronic health cards. It has been repeatedly postponed. Repeatedly moving the completion dates to a time when someone else will bear responsibility, so once again nobody is responsible.

We all agree that the right to the same basic health care should be the same for every patient. Why then do we not have this – and why is not a high priority – to have legislated standard diagnostic and therapeutic procedures established which are the norm in other countries? According to many doctors – together with delays in specialist examinations and diagnoses – it is ultimately the cause of the very worst thing – the unnecessary deaths of our people.

I do not think it can be justified why the country cannot impose a benchmarking system, or if you like a system comparing prices which would eliminate doubts regarding the purchase of medical equipment using public funds. Or why agreements between the General Health Insurance Company and doctors, private laboratories and diagnostic centres are published in such a way that they only fulfil the transparency criteria formally.

We can make this happen if those in a position of responsibility wish to do so. They have managed to do it elsewhere, where they have not managed to do many things we have been able to do here in Slovakia. I repeat and emphasise: order and transparency in our health care system is not a question of political opinion. It is a matter of respect for people, for health and for life, for the most valuable thing we have. Order and transparency is a prerequisite for knowing whether we have enough resources in the health care system, but we do not use them effectively to the benefit of patients. It is the country’s obligation to its citizens to be able to say: This is our country and it is here for us.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Recently the staff and students of a secondary school in eastern Slovakia invited me for lunch and discussion. One of the students, a sixth form girl, told me about her intention to go to university in a city two hundred kilometres away. When I asked if she planned to return home afterwards, she said she would if she could find a good job. It was clear that she did not really believe it was possible. Her father works abroad, coming home to the family once in two months. How long has her father been working this way? Twelve years in different countries. That is, since she was six years old. The head teacher later admitted that some students have to miss school to take care of their younger siblings. Both parents work away from home and grandmothers are often ill.

With great understanding, I have noted that the ruling party has recently announced its decision to support regions with high unemployment. And that other political parties have also indicated regional disparities as a priority. We do not know the details yet, but I consider it a step forward and an admission that we can no longer just wait until we build a proper road to these regions, and then that everything would come automatically. It will take years before we build these roads – and still nothing will come automatically. Until then, it could happen that these regions will lose their skilled workforce for good, with more and more young people leaving, never to return. We cannot leave them to their own devices. Many people legitimately feel they are a forgotten generation in forgotten regions. Many have lost their appetite and energy to fight on.

It will not be easy, nor will it work the same way in every region. We cannot raise the expectation that it will happen quickly. But we are obligated to revive people’s faith, so they can really say throughout Slovakia: This is our country and it is here for everyone in every corner of Slovakia.

The young woman of whom I spoke, despite the difficult conditions in the region,

is lucky. She passed through our primary and secondary school systems successfully. Perhaps she will get an education through which she will find work. Not everyone is so lucky. There are children starting primary schools who will never escape the vicious circle of poor social conditions, and our schools are not equipped to deal with these disadvantages.

University teachers speak of how students in general are coming to them from secondary school not as well prepared as they were in the past. The secondary teacher speaks of how demands on pupils have gone down by 30 per cent in the last twenty years. At the same time, the way our education system looks today is how our country is going to look in ten to twenty years. When the students of today start working and governing our country.

It has been twelve years since the current education financing system was introduced. We have had the Education Act, which was supposed to increase the quality and equality of children’s access to education, for seven years. The budget for primary and secondary schools is increasing. Previous governments and parliaments have tried to improve education in Slovakia.

Meanwhile, a generation of children for whom these have been positive changes have had ten years of compulsory schooling. Compared internationally, however, they have achieved below average results in many respects. It also appears that when children come from a socially disadvantaged environment, they usually achieve worse results than their peers with a better background. This is something I consider especially alarming.

There are also students coming out of our schools who are winning international Olympiads. We also have good quality vocational secondary schools whose graduates are sought after by employers. We also have universities and faculties providing a valuable education. The overall trend, however, is not good.

Today I would like to put in a special mention for attention to basic education.

Also because it sits in the shadows, and wrongly so. All of our children go through primary education and what we mess up there is not going to be saved in secondary education. It seems to me that it is primary education which needs truly strong momentum in the short term.

We do not have to think up new, radical objectives. We just have to abandon the idea that children and the world in which they have grown up will adapt to our schools. Teachers should get more freedom and support to take care of children according to their individual needs. The purpose of marking and testing pupils should not be an annual disappointment; it should lead to information we can use on a practical level. Where and how to help specific pupils or schools. So every child has the chance to master the curriculum in order to adequately develop their own abilities and skills. So primary schools motivate and develop the potential of gifted and more capable children, and help children who need the support.

We should not accept the division of pupils into good and bad which often starts as soon as they begin school. The education system in primary schools today can no longer rely on the weaker pupils catching up at home with parents. Society has changed and parents nowadays just do not have as much time as they did thirty years ago, however much they would like to.

Then there are of course children from Roma settlements whose family may not be able to help with education. In primary schools we have an opportunity, if not the only opportunity, to help the new generations of Roma. If we are talking about seeking a solution for the poor social situation of the Roma – a promising and enduring solution – then education is the answer. I am in favour of compulsory pre-school education so that these children do not start their first year of school with a social handicap they can never be free of. The teacher who wins the heart of a Roma child, who discovers their talent, who gives them confidence, who helps them and guides them, will save more than one human destiny.

The entire education system – especially primary – is based on a teacher’s personality. It is not modern buildings or computers that decide the quality of our education system, but the teacher. We must return the status of teachers in society to what it should be. So that the best people apply to be teachers, so that being a teacher is an honour, so that it is a popular, attractive profession.

I want to say, and I am in favour of it – for the only topic I am talking about today: we have to be prepared to invest more. And so the teaching profession is not the second choice for many future teachers, for economic reasons, too. And so we can support the greater freedom of teachers with further education. With investments into teachers’ professional growth and better school management. Because all of our children go through primary schools, so let us give them all an equal chance. So all our children can find work and in the future can successfully manage their country.

Dear National Council,

If there is something in Slovakia connecting people with a certain feeling – regardless of their social position, age, location, where they live, regardless of political preference, whether people vote for the current government or the opposition or they do not vote – it is the conviction that in our country we cannot enforce justice. We cannot enforce the law for all citizens. That money and influence play too big a role, if not a decisive one, even where the law should apply. That the rule of law is not the same for everyone.

This feeling probably surpasses all other regrets. People can understand a lot. Mostly they do not place excessive demands on the state, they do not have unrealistic expectations, regardless of whether they want more state or less. They can understand social inequalities, if economic success is based on honest work or fair business. They can bravely battle adverse circumstances in the family, or at work. But they want to say: In our Slovak Republic we are all equal before the law. Not formally, according to the Constitution, but in the real world in which we live.

During my first year since inauguration, it is the question that I find the most difficult to answer. When people ask, “And what can we do so that we can say that we are all equal before the law?”

Too often they meet with discrimination, unjustified favouritism, preferential treatment or, vice versa, injustice and marginalisation. Too many people around them have had similar experiences, too often they hear about it in the media.

Why should one private company like Váhostav enjoy greater protection from the state than others? Why should someone bear heavy consequences for a far smaller mistake when people hiding behind shell companies seem untouchable? Why should someone lose their job, their livelihood, while others continue? And why can they not finally straighten this out?

Life is not always fair. But people could handle the unfairness of ordinary life better, even in the countries functioning best, if they saw that the state could at least cope with cases that we have heard about and all know.

I have promised the citizens of the Slovak Republic that I am going to ask about such cases from the past and that I am going to seek answers. I have tried to fulfil my promise and I must admit that not even I, as president, have received answers that would satisfy citizens.

In the year in which I have been in my position, I have become convinced that in the biggest cases that have not yet gone to court – such as, for instance, the Gorilla scandal, which is nine years old, emission trading system or certain others – the day must come very soon when we say: these are the results, the real results. Or let us will find the courage to tell citizens directly, without further ado and intelligibly: Sorry, we do not know and we are not going to know, we could not and we cannot find out the truth.

To restore citizens’ confidence in their country, it will be better not to test citizens’ patience with unreliable apologies that sound like legal loopholes. And at the same time pretend that it is being investigated and worked on. Let us find the courage to tell the truth, although unpleasant. As it was with the findings in the Gorilla scandal nine years ago and then all the time. Who did what and what they neglected. Let us define what failed, what we have set up badly. Was it the investigative process? The actions of the prosecution? Poorly constructed laws? Let us document the entire process which began 9 years ago. Let us admit, frankly, what failed. And not just so that we can admit an honest mistake and our powerlessness, but so we remove the causes, and so that in future these unresolved cases are not repeated. I think that people will accept it better if we tell the truth and if we add credible measures and guarantees. And if we explain such measures and guarantees.

It is not entirely fair if our judiciary became the only and main symbol of the state in the past, in which the law does not apply equally for everyone and where the law is unenforceable.

In the past year, in our judiciary, there have been several changes – and several times I said that I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. The government and parliament approved several new regulations. I used my competence as president in relation to the judiciary. The primary result is the personnel changes in the top judicial positions. More attention is now paid to the selection proceedings and generational replacement in the courts. It is probably more than we could realistically imagine a year and a half ago.

But it is not enough. The European Union has identified our courts as some of the worst

in the EU, and without further system changes, judges are not going to be amongst the professions for which citizens have confidence, esteem and respect.

At this point I must now add, and I would like to emphasise, that in our judiciary there are many decent, honest, moral and professional judges and magistrates. I think that they do not deserve to be forgotten in our complaints about the judiciary.

And so we understand that they feel it is unfair that the profession of judges does not have a good reputation in our country.

Changes to the judiciary have contributed to a better and freer atmosphere between judges, but after the initial relief, it has gradually diluted into a kind of complacency. Instead of stronger introspection, to which the freer atmosphere should have paved the way, we continue to experience that for everything bad and doubtful we find the answer: it was in accordance with the law.

And the judiciary continues to show signs of a closed system.

After a year of limited presidential powers regarding the judiciary, I must admit that I better understand the obstacles and resistance to any changes that have been or will be attempted by ministers of justice, governments and parliaments. It seems that the feeling of untouchability and the commitment to protecting their personal position is stronger for certain judges than humility regarding the privileged position they have. The decision on the exchange of the Judicial Council in the power of the president, which I made, as did the government and parliament, is suddenly being challenged in the interest of preserving positions. On taking office, I found out what processes were used, and some judges therefore avoided the legal procedure of proposing their removal from office due to age. I was informed of cases where some judges even refused to receive the decision of the removal and just carried on in their position.

It would be a big mistake if we were satisfied that some changes have been made to the judiciary recently. It would be a big mistake to rely on these changes moving the exercise of justice so far that we would at least be out of the bottom position in comparison with other European Union countries. And it would be a big illusion to think that changes so far could be justified before the public as a final contribution to the enforceability of law – of this long-term huge problem in Slovakia, with an especially large impact on the state of the republic.

I think that citizens in the Slovak Republic expect above all that the exercise of judicial power and the management of judicial power will change their view: fairness must come before formal compliance with the law. Above a labyrinth of laws – the rule of law and the spirit of the law.

About this time last year, the judiciary was headline news; politicians, the media, non-governmental organisations and a large part of the public were following whether one era of our justice would come to an end and whether another one would get a chance. I turn to you, honourable members of parliament, to the political parties, to the media, to the non-governmental organisations, to the public, and in particular I turn to the honest, fair judges and magistrates, so that we can all help formulate this new era. So that the judiciary remains in our focus. So that we do not find out in time that we have missed an opportunity to achieve more.

I am also using this opportunity to say a few words on the dispute surrounding the candidates for judges at the constitutional court. First let me say that I am sorry that we are not holding this dispute in the constitutional court against ourselves, you, the National Council, which elected the candidates, and the president, who did not appoint them. On the one hand, you refused to elect more candidates, which I emphasise that I respect. But you did not use your right which in this situation I would consider legitimate and logical: to challenge my decision in the constitutional court. Instead of a dispute with five candidates all equally wanting to be appointed for just two vacancies in the constitutional court, it would have been a legitimate dispute about the competence of the National Council and the president. The nature of the dispute would be constructed clearly and understandably for you, me, the constitutional court and the public. And perhaps in such a case we would already have a result as well, on the basis of which we could continue on and progress from this place.

I assure you that I would like the constitutional court to rule on this issue as quickly as possible, and conclude it with a ruling that will be enforceable and understandable in the operative part and in the justification of it. And which does not introduce further new issues in our constitutional system or does not establish grounds for any further disputes.

I am talking about this matter to remind you of the privileged position of the constitutional court in our constitutional system. I am convinced that being a judge at the constitutional court is not work for a good or perhaps even excellent lawyer or judge, it is a calling. It should be reserved only for the best of the best.

I am talking about this matter in particular since you will be electing another candidate for judge in the constitutional court in this parliamentary term. I want to ask you now to nominate someone for this position who has a general unquestionable character and professional authority. Who has already shown competence in the past as well as an interest in the constitutional justice system and who will contribute personally towards the smooth running of the constitutional court.

After a year as president, I realise now more than ever how important this is for me. Slovakia needs a constitutional court which will itself respect deadlines. Which will handle important disputes for the whole of society and the country with due care and urgency, regardless of who is involved in the administration. Whose justifications we will understand. Whose decision making will not be inconsistent or contradictory. Whose rulings – regardless of whom they favour or whom they are against – will inspire widespread respect in professional circles. And every single ruling will increase the seriousness of the constitutional court and ensure its authority and credibility among citizens.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Nothing is given unless we ourselves are reconciled with it. I think that the people who have put their trust in us expect this. That is why I have selected for today’s address those areas I have spoken about so far – where we can and must achieve more, and where people insist on it the most. Where the state has both opportunities and obligations towards its citizens. So citizens can then say: Yes, this is our country and it is here for us.

Honourable National Council,

Over ten years ago, Slovakia made the decision on which it founded and still founds our security. At the time, we thought that threats could be global, and if they were regional, they would be a long way from us. Today we have them just beyond our borders.

We are half way between two NATO summits, the last in Wales and the next one in Warsaw. At the summit in Wales, I conveyed several plans and commitments for the Slovak Republic and today I also want to appreciate the attitude of the prime minister and several ministers, who formulated these commitments together and with which I identify. I am basing it on the fact that the government had and has a mandate in this matter with the support of the National Council. That is why I want to use this opportunity to ask you, honourable members of parliament, to think about these commitments when making your decisions for the remainder of your parliamentary term, even in your control activities.

The fact is, the government and Ministry of Defence have recently made several decisions regarding modernisation of our army, and the purchase of military equipment.

However, I would welcome and recommend the completion of all strategic documents on modernisation of the armed forces.

We are discussing this with the minister of defence. He says, and rightly so, that tons of documents were written in the past, but what were they for if they were not fulfilled. I do not think that we should accept this in the future.

They are costly decisions, and exceed one parliamentary term. I would therefore consider it appropriate for the intentions to be clear and understandable, foreseeable and for all long-term financial plans to exist as specific and controllable. Let us not have many things unfinished in this area for long years, let us complete them fully. Decisions cannot and must not be made from month to month, or even year to year. Suspicions of ad hoc decisions should not be raised. The public is entitled to know to what the government and the Ministry of Defence has committed with the mandate from parliament. In what way and at what pace Slovakia will modernise its armed forces. Including over what timescale, when and what burden on public finances we are talking about. It would be fair to our citizens.

As a Member State of the Alliance, Slovakia has maintained a reputation, mainly due to foreign missions. The fact is, in terms of the percentage spent on our defence – I must emphasise our own defence – the Slovak Republic is now lagging behind Alliance Member States. These decisions are the responsibility of the government and parliament. But it should be a matter for all of us who honour the commitments and security interests of the Slovak Republic, so we do not approach them like some kind of tolerated matter of secondary importance. Not just the president, the minister of defence or the minister of foreign affairs, but all the constitutional officials, political parties and many others, we must take responsibility in order to maintain the understanding and support of our citizens for Slovakia’s security interests.

Last year it was ten years since we became members of the European Union. In that time in the Union, we have faced serious tests of cohesion, capability and the need to respond. The financial and economic crisis. Threats to and questioning of the common currency. In the last year, add to this the attack on the post-war arrangements and rules in Europe immediately beyond our borders. The Russian annexation of the Crimea and war in the Ukraine have called into question the right of free European nations and states to choose their own path after the fall of the Iron Curtain and the collapse of the Soviet Union. And in recent months, the European Union’s southern border is crossed every single day by thousands of people, refugees and new asylum seekers.

Perhaps only the Slovak presidency of the European Union in the following year will remind many of our citizens that Slovakia today is not a country about which others make decisions. That today we make decisions and bear responsibility for the whole European Union too, a super power with over 500 million people. That this is not a phrase. Nor is it a game somewhere outside the country.

I would like to ask today, to appeal to you, to political parties, to public institutions, to the media, to my fellow citizens, to be aware of this. To express attitudes freely and contribute towards common decisions. To always remember that cohesion and mutual confidence in the European Union is for us, for Slovakia, with special interest. We bear responsibility for it.

I am talking about responsibility because in uncertain and troubled times, confidence and cohesion are not just confirmed at summits with prime ministers or presidents by signing joint declarations and decisions. Confidence and cohesion are born – they get stronger or weaker – in public discussion in individual Member States and across the whole Union. And we live in these times.

However, we also appear to be living in a time when words do not have the weight they once did. Apparently a gesture means nothing, because by tomorrow it will be covered by another gesture. Maybe it is true. But it is a paradox of this time that words and gestures have also become a strong weapon.

This applies to practically every single serious thing. For example, at the moment, Europe is seeking principles and rules as to how to confront the wave of immigrants and how to ensure its ruling. Slovakia is not a country of entry for this mass wave of immigrants, nor are we one of their destination countries. In reality, we have next to no experience and only a small number are granted asylum each year. Yet recent attitudes demonstrate strong statements and categorical judgements from the outset.

I think that in a debate set out like this, it would be useful to stay quiet for the moment, and then start again to at least distinguish the essentials. Human beings, women, children, men, who run away to Europe not for the vision of a better life. They leave home with imminent danger to life, from systematic and targeted killing. These people are not fleeing to us in Europe from poverty, or violence, long common in their home countries. They have lived with it for years or decades and have not gone anywhere. Now the violence is of a different character and magnitude. I personally think that we do have the possibility, and as a successful country also the moral obligation, to help these people. Our internal debate in Slovakia about them will also be a debate about us. And our decision will have the character and the power of a gesture. Let us be active and let us name whom we want to help. How many people we want to and are able to help. How we can show elementary human solidarity.

And then – but separately – let us talk about a significantly more complicated issue. More complicated in all aspects. And let us talk about all of them. About the immigrants who neither the southern states of the European Union separately, nor the whole Union together are now able to handle in such numbers. Amongst whom there are people who are often not in the worst personal situation in their home country. They come because they can. I think that here, quotas really are not promising or the right solution.

Not long ago, you discussed in the National Council the evaluation report on Slovak foreign policy for the past year. As president, I fully agree with the priorities of Slovak foreign policy as written in the official documents. And during my first year in office, I stood behind them and enforced them on my trips abroad, and also embraced in public speeches.

On this occasion, I would particularly like to mention V4 collaboration, in which our presidency will soon end. We should and we want to keep our familial relationship with the Czech Republic. We should and we want to keep friendly, sound relations with Hungary, which has not raised the spirits of the past for a long time, and it would be useful for both our countries if we could expand this relationship in the future and confirm it with actions and gestures.

And we have and we ought to have strategic interest in more projects, more cooperation, and the overall affinity with our largest neighbour, Poland. I also want to say today that I believe in the meaningfulness of the V4 group. I believe in our special interest, the interest of Slovakia which it should have in it.

As president, whose constitutional obligation is to represent the Slovak Republic on the outside and the inside, I am also obliged to take notice of discussions that occur in the context of several European Union countries, including Slovakia. Whether a foreign policy consensus still exists within them.

I am pleased to note that as far as we in Slovakia are concerned, at the government, parliament or other constitutional body decision-making level, no such decisions were made that could lead to the conclusion that Slovakia changed or deviated from its foreign policy commitments, or from our applicable strategic documents, or the permanent foreign policy priorities of the Slovak Republic.

It is not my intention on this occasion to give cause for debates or even disputes about the details in relation to Russia. Regarding Slovakia’s interests, including energy issues, for instance, I think that it is all clear to us, that Slovakia itself cannot negotiate any more important details there independently. At the end of the day, we will only be as successful in relation to this country as the interests we can push through within the European Union – and how effective and successful the European Union will then be in relation to Russia.

The insecure and problematic times in which we are living in Europe, mainly due to the violated sovereignty of neighbouring Ukraine, are a test of the limits of pragmatism, a test of our cohesion and the principles on which the European Union is built. In several countries in the Union, including Slovakia, this time also entails a struggle for the most important thing. For the hearts and judgements of people, whether they can still trust anyone. And words and gestures have become a powerful weapon.

Hence, even the decisions of the European Union in these uncertain and troubled times, made with Slovakia’s consent too, will only be as strong as the convincing and firm attitudes accompanying them. The way we are able to defend them is the way we can stand behind them here, at home. If a country violates international law, if based on its decision it annexes a piece of land in another state, and its troops are operating on the territory of another country without its consent, there is no but.

Honourable National Council of the Slovak Republic,

In the introduction to my address, I spoke about how Slovakia can be successful. We can achieve ambitious goals as well, if we agree to them and take them seriously. We can progress matters if we choose to do so. We can achieve a lot, if we want to.

I would like to encourage you in this. Today I would like to encourage my fellow citizens, and I will do so in the coming months ahead of the parliamentary elections. Let us be consistent about what we want. Let us speak the truth about where Slovakia can be better. And let us be demanding, so in a year’s time we can say that we have moved a step forward.

So that people can say: This is our country, our republic, our responsibility.

Thank you for listening.