Interviews

Monika Beňová: I would rather negotiate than fight without compromise

Published: 5. 4. 2022
Author: Luboš Palata
Photo: Photo archives of Monika Beňová
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Monika Beňová, now in her fifties, is able to manage not just being a mother, but also the job of a member of the European Parliament. She manages it so well, in fact, that she has been re-elected as a quaestor in the EP.

You are the only Slovakian MEP to defend their seat in a key function in the European Parliament, being re-elected as quaestor. What does such a position entail?

I have been in the EP for almost eighteen years; my party colleagues as well as members of other factions that have been in the EP for even longer know that I would rather negotiate than fight without compromise against everyone and everything. I do stand by my opinions with resolve, but I have always been able to calmly listen to those of other people and try to reach an acceptable compromise. I like to call it doing the “maximum possible” in this very diverse environment that we have in the EU, and are certain to have for years to come. I attribute being able to defend my seat in our faction as well as in the subsequent EP election to that. A quaestor's job is more technical and supervisory, but I am also chair of a committee against harassment of the EP and a member of the High Level Group on Non-discrimination, Equality and Diversity, as well as being in charge of EP offices in many different member states. I must point out, however, that everyone in leadership positions in the EP, including the President herself as well as all the vice-presidents, and us quaestors, are very politically neutral in comparison to other national parliaments and focus more on the technical side of overseeing the Parliament's inner competencies.

Besides having a demanding job, you are also a mother now. How is that going? And how many MEPs-mothers with young children are there in the European Parliament?

Oh, I could not tell you an exact number, but I do remember when the current president, Roberta Metsola, was pregnant with her fourth child during the last term. That might also be why we have a very proper and friendly relationship. Motherhood, as well as the way we have managed to “juggle” our work obligations with being mothers and parents, has brought us closer together. Being away from my daughter for a few days while I handle business in Brussels or Strassbourg is not as difficult, perhaps just emotionally. But I have always been able to effectively manage my work and personal life. In just a few months' time, my daughter will start going to a local creche in Brussels, which will make things much easier. I have an amazing partner, Lea's father, he is so wonderful that I have no doubt we will manage everything just fine without any worries.

Is all of this more difficult during Covid times than it was in the past?

Not really, quite the opposite, at least as far as being home goes. Everything was done online for almost two years, and that was how I got through my pregnancy as well as the first year after my daughter was born. It was rather nice because as an MEP you only get six months of maternity leave. I was able to be with my daughter and fulfill all of my work obligations at the same time for over a year.

You have always been a proponent of the strongly pro-European faction of the SMER party, however, you were surprisingly not among the politicians who founded HLAS. Why did you choose to stay? What makes SMER better than HLAS?

In my case, it is about loyalty, but also because I am really not quite sure what the “different” kind of politics my former colleagues want to do is, seeing as most of them were a part of SMER for 20 years and held key positions in the government and parliament without ever criticizing how things were done. I have always been honest in this regard – if the criticism was justified, I would publicly recognize the issue at hand. I feel that it was more personal ambitions and grudges that led to people leaving and subsequently establishing a new party. And that is not my case. SMER is a bit of an “old-timer”, but at least it is easy to read, predictable, and stable in both good and bad times. We have been through the euphoria of victory as well as the disappointment of having lost. We have become stronger for it. HLAS has not won anything so far, but I do know how the people that left react to losing, and I also know that it will catch up to them eventually. But that is just how politics works.

The defense treaty with the US is a big talking point in Slovakia. You and your SMER party are not in favor. Many other countries in the Eastern wing of NATO want to have as large a US army presence as possible in their territory. Why do you see the defense treaty as detrimental to Slovakia?

I will not get into an extensive analysis right now, that would make for an entire article in its own right. For one, I am uncomfortable with how the minister of defense has been “defending” it, saying that if the Baltic countries and Hungary and Poland have it, why shouldn't we? That is simply not an acceptable argument in such important negotiations. I think we should focus more on European safety and defense, even in the context of how EU-US relations are changing in the mid- to long-term. And finally, I must point out that critical discourse is non-existent. As if it is almost automatically expected that everyone will agree meekly and without discussion. Things just cannot work that way.

Slovakia is one of the EU countries that have struggled the most with Covid. What is the main reason for the losses your country has faced during the pandemic?

Another complicated question. Yes, we suffered substantial losses. People's lives first of all, but the economy is bleeding too, and sole traders and entrepreneurs have no reserves to fall back on, either. The government has failed to handle the pandemic. I am not happy about it even as a member of the opposition. Just look at the neglected cancer patients or others waiting for surgery. Our healthcare is a catastrophe. I do not even know what more to say. Getting things back on track will take decades, and they are trying to push for healthcare reform in the midst of all this.

The main talking point in the EU is currently the Green Deal. In Czechia, we keep hearing how hard it will be to meet the goals it sets. How do you see it in terms of Slovakia? Is it beneficial that most of Slovak energy comes from nuclear? How important is it that nuclear energy be designated as a “green” energy source in EU taxonomy?

The Green Deal is ambitious, that is what we like to call it in the EP, and it is highly unlikely that all of its goals will be met by the time they are due. Ambitious goals do however create pressure that will make the necessary changes happen more quickly. And so I believe we will do the aforementioned “maximum possible”. As for the taxonomy, it is a strong agenda of the French presidency. I do agree that Slovakia, for instance, needs natural gas as it is an important energy source, seeing as other than nuclear – which I am still in favor of – Slovakia is not nearly as prepared to switch to alternative energy sources as other EU countries might be. And nuclear is seeing a lot of pushback at that.

This year will mark the thirtieth anniversary of the separation of Czechia and Slovakia. Could you ever imagine our countries becoming one entity again in the future? Or is both of them being in the EU enough?

I see both of our countries as occupying a common political space. We remain proof to this day that there is a way to separate amicably, and that if one day we were to meet on the same “playing field”  again, we would be happy and root for one another for the good of our people. Even we, the Czech and Slovak people, are different, but we will always be close, no matter how things turn out with the Union's administrative structure in the future.

CV

Monika Beňová (born August 15, 1968, in Bratislava) is an MEP for the SMER – Social Democracy party.

She started her university studies at the sociology department of the Faculty of Philosophy at Comenius University Bratislava, taking a break in 1988 after the birth of her son. In 2006, she graduated in political science from the Faculty of Political Science and International Relations at Matej Bel University.

Beňová then went on to work as a general manager of WA Slovakia, CEO of Radio Koliba, director of Planet Sport, and CEO of Reebok Slovakia, among others. She is also the co-founder of the foundations Nadace Solidarita and Malý Princ.

In 1999, she was one of the founding members of the SMER party, going on to become its vice-chair for six years. Between 2002 and 2004, she was an MP in the Slovak National Council. She gave up her seat after being elected an MEP in 2004, which she has remained to this day, running

#She is divorced, she has a thirty-year-old son, Martin, and a one-year-old daughter, Lea.


The author works as a European editor for Deník.

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