Slovenia takes over EU presidency with focus on unfinished business
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Slovenia takes over EU presidency with focus on unfinished business

High-level events during the Slovenian Presidency will take place at the Brdo castle near Kranj, © JGZ Brdo

On 1 July 2021, Slovenia took over the presidency of the Council of the European Union for the second time since 2008 after it joined the EU in 2004. During a six-month period, the country will lead the work of the Council, building co-operation and agreement between the member states.

Its presidency follows the presidencies of Germany and Portugal. Together, the trio of countries have drafted an 18-month programme for one of the most difficult periods in EU’s history. The trio programme aims at ensuring a smooth transition from one presidency to another but each country has also specified issues that need to be addressed during its presidency.

Slovenia’s six-month programme is relatively brief and structured in four priority areas. Under the slogan “Together. Resistant. Europe”, it plans to “work for the EU’s recovery and resilience, reflection on the future of Europe, strengthening the rule of law and European values, and security and stability in the European neighbourhood.”

Commission expectations

“Slovenia is taking the helm of Europe’s leadership at a turning point for our Union,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at a joint press conference yesterday with Prime-Minister Janez Jansa on the occasion of the College visit to Slovenia. She referred to the progressing vaccination campaign and the long-term recovery efforts.

In her speech she also seemed to outline the expectations of Slovenia’s EU Presidency. She counts on the presidency’s support to approve as many national recovery and resilience plans as possible before the summer break.

Its support of the so-called Fit for 55 package with its many files related to cutting greenhouse-gas emissions will be instrumental. She looks to the Slovenian Presidency to steer and structure the work of the Council on “Fit for 55”, and to “keep it balanced and coherent for our citizens, for our economy and, of course, also for our planet”.

EU counts equally on the Slovenian Presidency to help Europe achieve its digital transformation. She welcomes its intention to start trilogues (talks between the EU institutions) before the end of the year on the Commission’s proposals for a safer, more open European digital space. To be sure she recalls the legislative acts: the Digital Services Act, the Digital Markets Act, and on data governance.

President von der Leyen also welcomes the EU-Western Balkans Summit, which the Slovenia Presidency has announced and will organise during its presidency. She would like to continue moving forward on the proposals of the New Pact on Asylum and Migration Pact.

Finally, she reminds the Slovenian Presidency that is has an important role to play on the current rule of law files. “The Slovenian Presidency will be decisive. The tasks will be challenging.”

In the past, Slovenia and its Prime-Minister Janez Jansa appeared to deviate from common EU foreign policy with controversial statements, e.g. when he appeared as a supporter of Trump and prematurely congratulated him to winning the presidential elections in the US. However, Slovenia assures that it will chair the EU presidency in a professional way in the best interests of the Union.

Brussels-based presidency

A spokesperson of the Slovenian representation to the EU told The Brussels Times that it will be a “Brussels-based” presidency, with negotiations and meetings taken place mainly in Brussels. In total, there will be about 1600 meetings. Most of the meetings and working groups will be chaired by experienced Slovenian diplomats. Some high-level events and meetings will also take place in Slovenia.

Another issue is press freedom and freedom of expression in Slovenia itself. This is an important issue also in other member states, where it might have been undermined, and especially in the candidate countries in the Western Balkans.

“We look forward to contribute to the outstanding issues in the enlargement processes and hope to organise the first intergovernmental conferences with Albania and North Macedonia and start the accession negotiations with them,” said ambassador Iztok Jarc, Permanent Representative of Slovenia to the EU, at a press briefing organised by the International Press Association (29 June). The EU agreed already in March 2020 on opening negotiations but has until now failed to set a date for them.

The planned Western Balkans Summit in September would take place in a totally different atmosphere if there would be a breakthrough in the talks between North Macedonia and Bulgaria, explained ambassador Jarc. Bulgaria opposes the start of negotiations because of issues concerning history and language. Parliamentary elections will be held in Bulgaria on 11 July and might affect the talks.

The Commission published recently a report on early lessons learned from the pandemic. According to its programme, Slovenia would like to encourage further reflection on the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic in all relevant areas of the EU’s activity.

The creation of the Health4EU union is another important issue. The Slovenian ambassadors regard it as a political priority shared by many member states but will take into account the institutional balance, referring to the current treaty which places health issues under the competency of the EU member states.

The national recovery and resilience plans in EU’s recovery package (NextGenerationEU) are currently in the process of being approved by the European Commission. Commission guidance on the law of law mechanism is still missing. The new European Public Prosecutors Office (EPPO) is expected to play an important role in investigating and prosecuting fraud against the EU budget.

The decentralised level consists of European Delegated Prosecutors who will be located in the participating EU countries but Slovenia has not yet appointed a prosecutor. “We were among the first countries to support the establishment of EPPO,” said ambassador Jarc. He promised that a prosecutor will be appointed as soon as possible, after the first appointment was cancelled.

Concerning the rule of law, the Slovenian presidency plans to continue the discussion on applying article 7 in the EU treaty towards the end of its presidency. The article lays out a procedure for the suspension of certain rights from a member states which is breaching EU’s values. “We are still working on the details with all member states, including Hungary.”

A sensitive issue which will follow the Slovenian presidency is “Fit to 55” package linked to the European Green Deal and in particular the objective of reducing net greenhouse-gas emissions by at least 55 % by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. Work on the different legislative elements of the package will start already in mid-July and the Slovenia presidency will take the lead in this process.

“We’ll act as an honest broker in the process, without pushing for any specific legislative proposal, and listen to all member states,” assured Ambassador Tamara Weingerl-Pozar, Slovenias’s Deputy Permanent Representative.

M. Apelblat
The Brussels Times