March 22, 2018 / 7:31 PM / a year ago

Breathless in Brussels, new Slovak PM vows loyalty to EU

Slovakia’s Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini gestures as he arrives at a European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium, March 22, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Peter Pellegrini looked a little out of breath as rushed to meet fellow European Union leaders in Brussels on Thursday — as well he might, having been appointed in Bratislava just five hours earlier.

“I’m late. Sorry. It’s the first summit in my life,” the 42-year-old told reporters as he arrived from the airport while the EU summit was already getting started.

Promoted on Thursday morning in the wake of a scandal over the murder of an investigative journalist, Pellegrini said his priority was to assure the loyalty of the new cabinet, based on the existing coalition parties, to the EU.

“First, my role is in the beginning to confirm to my colleagues that my government will maintain a strong pro-European course,” he said.

His predecessor Robert Fico — who resigned after protests over corruption and the murder but remains leader of Pellegrini’s Smer party — was an often outspoken critic of EU policy, notably urging tighter controls on immigration and asylum seekers.

However, in an otherwise eurosceptic central European region, Fico avoided the clashes that Hungary and Poland have had with the EU over media freedom and the rule of law.

Reporting by Samantha Koester; Writing by Alastair Macdonald; editing by David Stamp

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