Slovakia a pro-European island in its region, PM says

BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Slovakia’s prime minister, president and parliament speaker pledged on Monday to keep to a pro-European path, a day after its Czech neighbors became the latest central European ex-Communists to elect a populist taking a hard line on the EU.

Czech billionaire Andrej Babis’s ANO party won the vote that punished traditional parties. Babis said on Saturday his party was pro-European but he is cool to adopting the euro single currency and resists deeper integration in the EU.

With the election of Babis, the Czechs join the Poles and Hungarians in electing leaders who emphasize national interest and say they are skeptical of greater integration with Europe. Far right parties critical of Brussels have also scored successes in recent weeks in Austria and Germany, notably in Germany’s former Communist east.

“I never dared to comment on the domestic political situations in other countries, but I am glad that Slovakia has become a pro-European island in this region,” Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico said on Monday.

He said it was unintentional but apt timing that the pro-EU foreign policy declaration, which he backed along with President Andrej Kiska and parliament’s Speaker Andrej Danko, appeared on the morning after the Czech vote.

In power for nine of the past 11 years, Fico has clashed with Brussels himself on many occasions. But he also likes to boast that he increased Slovakia’s clout by bringing it into the euro zone in 2009 when its richer Czech neighbors kept their own currency.

In recent months, since the election of Emmanuel Macron in France gave a boost to pro-Europeans across the bloc, he has embraced the EU more ardently, saying he aims to steer into a “core” Europe, even if neighbors want to stay on the fringes.

Fico, too, is battling a rise in anti-EU sentiment in his country of 5.4 million. But Slovakia, with a small economy driven by exports of cars and electronics to other EU states, has more to lose from alienating Brussels than its bigger and more self-sufficient neighbors.

Reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova; Editing by Jason Hovet, Toby Chopra and Peter Graff