Western Balkan countries a top priority of Slovenian EU Presidency

Slovenian attitude towards the integration of countries of the Western Balkans into the EU is predominantly positive. In its annual declaration on guidelines for the work of the Republic of Slovenia in the institutions of the EU,[1] the Slovenian Parliament declared that Slovenia will strive to maintain enlargement high on the EU’s agenda, since the enlargement perspective is the most important political instrument for achieving stabilisation of the countries of the Western Balkans and their structural, economic and political reforms. The declaration stresses that the countries of the Western Balkans have a clear European perspective and Slovenia will endeavour for their early accession to the EU on the basis of the Thessaloniki agenda and the strict fulfilment of the accession criteria. More specifically, it pledged Slovenia’s support for reform process in Macedonia, in order for this country to receive a date of the beginning of accession negotiations as soon as possible. The declaration also states that specific attention will be paid to a European perspective of Serbia, since Serbia is crucial for stability and progress in the region. Slovenia’s support for Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina is also mentioned.

No stalemate over Enlargement

There has been a lot of media and inter-political group debate about the negative impact that the Irish ‘No’ on the Lisbon Treaty might have had on Slovenian EU-Presidency. The Irish rebuttal without a doubt cast a shadow over the presidency; however it would have had the same effect in the case of any other EU country presiding at the time. Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dimitrij Rupel, has expressed his hope that the French Presidency will find a way to solve the quandary surrounding the Irish rejection.[1] Slovenian Prime Minister, Janez Janša, believes that the Irish votes against the Lisbon Treaty are not votes against the EU and that the process of ratification will continue.[2] The President of the Republic, Danilo Türk, sees the Irish refusal as an opportunity for all EU citizens to consider the kind of instrument the EU should be in order to help find the right answers to the world’s challenges in times of globalisation and to encourage people think of the EU as their broadened homeland.[3]
Two implications of the Irish ‘No’ can be observed. Firstly, the consequences it has brought about for the incoming French Presidency in relation to its concentration and continuity of policies and processes on the EU political agenda, which touch upon the institution of presidency and extend beyond the French term.

Great majority for a parliamentary ratification of the Lisbon Treaty

Slovenian government
For the Slovenian government, the Lisbon Treaty represents a successful closure of a process which began with the fall of the Berlin Wall and continued with the big-bang enlargement of the EU in 2004, in which Slovenia also played part. Signing of the Lisbon Treaty also ended a period of uncertainty which appeared due to the two negative referenda results in the spring of 2005. The new Treaty brings higher integration of the EU, raises the efficiency of its functioning and brings the Union closer to its citizens. The Lisbon Treaty includes almost all the novelties of the non-ratified Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe.
Due to co-decision by European Parliament and the Council, the Treaty increases the democratic principles of the Union. National parliaments are to be included much more intensively into the legislative procedure with higher authorities. The Charter of fundamental rights is to become legally binding which enables the citizens to profit from an understandable catalogue of fundamental rights. The possibility of a citizen’s petition is pointed out as a positive way of direct people’s participation. A second contribution of the Treaty is therefore to making the functioning of the EU more transparent and understandable.

Wrong EU tactics: Copenhagen only the beginning of a long process

Andreja Jerončič and Danijel Crnčec
Copenhagen conference failed to reach expectations
While looking forward to the next conference on climate change (the sixteenth Conference of the Parties (COP) and the sixth Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP)) at the end of November 2010, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Slovenia assessed the conference in Copenhagen as the beginning of a long process. Even though the conference ended without a legally binding agreement on joint action on climate change and therefore failed to reach global and also Slovenia’s expectations, it can lay the foundation for a comprehensive agreement. Therefore, it is even more important that, in the future, member states announce their commitments and show their political will and maturity in order to create an efficient global environmental management plan: “We can no longer afford to hesitate. The consequences of climate change will have devastating effects on development, the elimination of poverty, health care and security, and the political stability of countries and regions. Without timely and joint action, the costs of the consequences of climate change will greatly exceed the costs related to greenhouse gas emissions.”[1]

Border dispute resolution changes social policies

Andreja Jerončič and Danijel Crnčec
In the last six months, the Slovenian foreign policy was characterised by the Arbitration Agreement regarding the ongoing border dispute between Croatia and Slovenia and by the Brdo process concerning the future of the Western Balkans that started in March 2010 with the Brdo Conference. Additionally, the government’s decision to reform the pension system, employment policy and the family code were among the most discussed issues. All of the mentioned are discussed separately in the following paragraphs.
Slovenia and Croatia to move forward on the border dispute resolution
By signing the Arbitration Agreement between Croatia and Slovenia in Stockholm in November 2009, the two countries agreed to establish a five-member arbitration court empowered to resolve the nearly 20-year border dispute.[1] According to Article 3 of the Arbitration Agreement, “the Arbitral Tribunal shall determine the course of the maritime and land boundary between the Republic of Slovenia and the Republic of Croatia, Slovenia’s junction to the High Seas and the regime for the use of the relevant maritime areas.”[2]

Situation in Greece widely discussed: strict adherence to obligations demanded

Andreja Slomšek and Jure Požgan*
The economic and financial crisis in Greece has been among the most often discussed issues in Slovenia, not only by the media, but also by a number of economy experts as well as by trade unions and politicians. Regarding the financial aid package for Greece from the EU, the government of the Republic of Slovenia, along with other Eurozone members, supports the motion to assist Greece in order to ensure the stability of the Euro area, in which Slovenia has recognised and realised its vital economic and export interests. The Slovenian government supports the assistance, because the country’s key markets are in the Euro area, hence the destabilisation of this area would be particularly detrimental to the small, open and inter-connected Slovenian economy. However, Slovenia has not yet decided to grant its assistance to Greece unconditionally; namely, as part of the Greek programme, Slovenia calls for strict adherence to the obligations arising from the aid programme and a transparent timeline that will be verified by the European Commission. Individual amounts of financial assistance released by the Commission should be subject to Greece meeting its obligations.[1]

General support with selective criticism for new EU officials

Maja Cimerman and Jure Požgan
Good relations with Van Rompuy restored
The President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, visited Slovenia on 1 December 2009, the day when the Treaty of Lisbon entered into force. On that occasion, the Slovenian Prime Minister (PM) Borut Pahor expressed his conviction that Herman Van Rompuy will “cope with the task” and will be able to “slowly slowly” build a new European institution. During the press conference with Herman Van Rompuy, the Slovenian Prime Minister also explained that he first endorsed the former British PM Tony Blair for the position of the new President of the European Council, because he believed that the European Union needed a leader with a strong political personality who will empower this new EU post. However, with European countries predominantly supporting Herman Van Rompuy, Slovenia backed the Belgian candidate as well. Borut Pahor also emphasised the importance of having a person with a sense for social dialogue and social questions leading the European Council.[1]

Croatia and Iceland first, Turkey and Macedonia to follow

Andreja Slomšek and Jure Požgan
Slovenia expects two new members
The EU enlargement, and especially the EU enlargement in the Western Balkans, remains a priority foreign policy action for Slovenia. As a consequence, Slovenia will continue to work towards the convergence and integration of, above all, Western Balkan countries (Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo), but also Turkey and Iceland into the EU.[1] According to the statements of the Slovenian PM Borut Pahor in the media, Slovenia expects that, in the next enlargement round, the new member states of the EU will be Croatia and Iceland. As stressed by Pahor in December 2009, the EU should, however, not postpone this process after this enlargement round. His estimation was that in 2011 the EU will probably have 29 members.[2]

Elections, “Patria”, and border dispute with Croatia

Centre of International Relations
In Slovenia the second half of 2008 was predominantly characterized by the parliamentary elections which took place on 21 September. Other issues involved an alleged corruption case in the purchase of a large quantity of military vehicles from a Finnish company “Patria”, involving ministers and officials from the government, the continuing border dispute with Croatia, and the introduction of controversial vignettes on Slovenian highways. All issues are discussed separately in the following paragraphs.
Victory of the centre-left in the elections to the National Assembly

Bringing the Western Balkans in

Centre of International Relations
Slovenia’s primary interest in Europe’s neighbours for a long time has been (almost exclusively, apart form good relations with Russian Federation) in the Western Balkans. Following the 2006 and 2009 gas-crisis, in combination with the experience of holding the EU-presidency, Slovenia’s policy towards the region has become more structured. If prior to these events, Slovenia supported European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) for reasons of principles and legitimacy, it now sees direct interest in (energy) security as well as more structural reasons in terms of human rights policy and general consistency of EU’s policies towards its Southern and Eastern (extending over Caucasus to Central Asia) neighbours. A clear example of this is support for continued talks with Ukraine and for a necessity of closer relations with Belarus, provided there is a satisfactory move in Belarus towards respect for rule of law, democracy and human rights.