Halfway through his term, opinions on Slovenia’s EU presidency are mixed
Slovenia currently holds the six-month rotating presidency of the Council of the EU. How is his turn at the bar looking so far?
Slovenia officially assumed the six-month rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union on July 1, the second time the country has held the agenda post since becoming a member of the ‘EU in 2004.
According to Boštjan Udovič, a political scientist at the University of Ljubljana, the timing is unfortunate: the July-December presidencies tend to be less memorable than their January-June counterparts.
“The problem is always the August holidays,” he said. Emerging europe. “This means that the presidency does not really start until September.”
Nonetheless, Udovič and other Slovenian analysts believe that the Slovenian Presidency has got off to a good start – working hard behind the scenes – and is in a good position to make the most of the time left, especially with regard to enlargement. of the EU in Western countries. Balkans.
The EU Member States close to the Western Balkans that have held the Presidency have all made enlargement a priority, including most recently Bulgaria in 2018 and Croatia in 2020. None of them, however, did. significant progress.
Slovenia intends to change that, with the country’s Prime Minister Janez Janša (who was also Prime Minister the last time Slovenia held the Presidency in 2008) promising that “we need to focus on this strategic issue. We will do our best to take at least a few steps forward ”.
Gorazd Justinek, professor at the Faculty of Government and European Studies at the New University of Slovenia and economic advisor to Janša during the country’s presidency in 2008, says putting enlargement back at the top of the EU agenda, by especially when it comes to the Western Balkans, is the most important thing Slovenia can do.
“It is a region that must be taken care of,” he said. Emerging europe. “However, the feeling is that in previous years the region was forgotten.”
“I hope that the biggest achievement of the Slovenian Presidency will be the EU-Western Balkans summit on October 6,” Udovič adds, referring to an event due to take place in Brdo, which Foreign Minister Anže Logar said that Slovenia intended to make it an annual event. facilitate the European integration of the countries of the region.
Logar says an annual summit will keep the spotlight on the region and put “a significant kind of pressure” on EU member states such as Bulgaria which have blocked the start of enlargement negotiations for Albania and the United Kingdom. North Macedonia for reasons unrelated to the candidate country. ability to meet membership criteria.
“History teaches us what happens when the main European states turn a blind eye to the Western Balkans,” says Jernej Letnar Černič, an expert on Slovenian EU law, who laments that “it seems that the ‘old ones’ EU member states are not fully in favor of further integration. [in the] Western Balkans.
The future of Europe
“The Conference on the Future of Europe is also important, at least here in Slovenia. Almost every day there is some sort of debate on the subject of the EU, which is, again, from my point of view, very positive ”, says Justinek.
The Conference on the Future of Europe is a joint endeavor of EU bodies that emerged in 2019 as a means to facilitate the participation of individuals, civil society as well as national, regional and local authorities in the process. decision-making at EU level.
The first of these conferences is expected to be held in spring 2022, the main topics of discussion being the environment, the European economy, the bloc’s foreign relations, values, digital transformation, democracy and health.
Udovič argues that opening the door to greater cooperation in healthcare within the bloc could be an important contribution from the Slovenian Presidency. “It could move the EU forward towards a health union,” he said.
Černič is also convinced that the Slovenian Presidency has been able to contribute to the common future development of the Union, arguing that “the most notable achievement of the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the EU has so far, after almost three month, was its contribution to the successful recovery of the EU economy in the later stages of the [Covid-19] pandemic”.
“Eighteen national recovery plans have been adopted,” he adds, underlining the extraordinary moments in which the Slovenian presidency is taking place.
Rule of law
However, others questioned Slovenia’s ability to contribute to these pressing issues.
“The main problem is not that the Slovenian Presidency has not been ambitious, but its potentially negative role in the rule of law crisis,” said Bojan Bugarič, professor of European law at the University of Sheffield . Emerging europe, referring to the ongoing feud between Hungary, Poland and EU supervisory bodies.
“I would like to see more progress in the EU’s monitoring of respect for the rule of law and protection of human rights in [member states] from Spain and the Netherlands to Poland and Hungary, ”he said.
Ana Bojinović Fenko, professor of international relations at the University of Ljubljana, says this would be an unlikely outcome given the current political climate in Slovenia itself.
“I criticize the way in which the function and purpose of the EU Presidency has been seriously hijacked [by Slovenia]. The current Slovenian government is instrumental in applying the “EU leadership position” to increase the national perception of its power and strengthen the legitimacy of its own governance ruled by decree, ”she said. Emerging europe.
“Such an enlargement of the executive branch dangerously closes the door to democracy in Slovenia. As a result, the distorted and mainly national orientation of the government also limits the potential that Slovenia could have in the Council, ”she adds, arguing that this political exploitation of the presidency limits Ljubljana’s ability to play the decisive role that it can play. ‘it wants to be in the Western Balkans.
Fenko further underlines the unique opportunity the country has to “facilitate dialogue between net contributors and net beneficiaries on the economic, social and environmental aspects of the Green Deal”.
However, she finds this unlikely, given how “illiberal-minded fraternization with the Hungarian and Polish governments has weakened Slovenia’s position as an honest broker”.
Photo: Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša (right) with EU Charles Michel at Lake Bled. (© European Union).
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