Happy new year everyone. For the introduction into 2008, a short article I wrote for The New Federalist on-line on the 31st December.
Slovenia at the forefront of EU politics in 2008
Slovenian EU Presidency 2008
Monday 31 December 2007
Slovenia takes over the chair of the EU on 1 January 2008. For 6 months this small republic, until 1991 part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, will be at the political forefront of the Union of 27 member states and almost 500 million people. For Slovenia this represents a move towards the most active role in EU affairs since the entry in 2004 and of course political prestige. For the EU this is greatly symbolic: one of the younger kids gets to host the party.
At the end of the day, weâ€™ll simply have another EU Presidency, most of the job should be business as usual, or? Two big political stories have been written by Germany and Portugal in 2007: climate change & energy and the Lisbon Treaty. True, there will always be work to do in the EU, but it currently seems difficult to â€œinventâ€? something equally resounding in the public eye.
The Slovenian Foreign Minister Rupel recently presented the five priorities of the Slovenian Presidency in Brussels: Future of Europe (=implementation of the Lisbon Treaty), Energy and Climate package (=technical follow up to the March 2007 commitments), Lisbon Strategy (=launch of the next cycle), Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy (=Western Balkans) and Intercultural Dialogue. According to his words, Slovenia will seek new synergies across the policy areas and strengthen further the performance of the EU.
The Future of Europe
The Future of Europe priority should draw some attention among those interested in EU institutional issues. After Hungary ratified the Treaty as first, the EU is left with 26 ratifications until it steps into force (letâ€™s hope we manage this timeâ€¦) hopefully in January 2009. But besides national ratifications, there is preparatory work that Slovenia will need to do in order for the Treaty to be operational from the start. First the political part: the selection and modus operandi of the new President of the European Council and the new post of the High Commissioner for Foreign and Security Policy. This will require a lot of cooperation with the French (who take over the Presidency on the 1st July) and a lot of political manoeuvring. In addition, there will be work again on the External Action Service or the EU Diplomatic Corps. For those that remember 2005, this might sound as a dÃ©jÃ -vu. It proved problematic back then, it might well prove problematic again. Minister Rupel should also keep his fingers crossed that nothing goes wrong on the ratification front.
Energy and Climate
The work on the Energy and Climate package will be a mix of technicalities and highly political issues. The Commission should place the most crucial dossiers on the Presidency table sometime at the end of January. In short, the package will foresee the â€œburden-sharingâ€? of the commitments from March 2007: mainly about greenhouse emissions and renewable sources. Slovenia will have a hard time striking a basic compromise in time for the March European Summit, since the issue has proved very divisive. Even a partial agreement of the 27 would be a success.
Lisbon Strategy Lisbon Strategy is as difficult to handle as ever: very abstract and very varied. Slovenia will oversee the launch of the next 3-years cycle of guidelines for further reforms. Most of the job is already done in advance; Slovenia will seek more political ownership and start silently the debate on the after-Lisbon period.
The Western Balkans attracts more headlines. Even if we leave the issue of Kosovo aside, there is plenty of work to do. While Montenegro and Albania only slowly move on, Macedoniaâ€™s progress almost stalled and Bosnia and Herzegovina doesnâ€™t look too promising. But the Commission will do most of the job on enlargement questions, while Slovenia wants to strike a different chord: reaffirm the EUâ€™s ambition to see Western Balkans in the EU soon. Due to Sloveniaâ€™s supposedly superior knowledge of the region we might see a political declaration sometime along the 6 months looking at greater benefits for the countries from the region.
The year 2008 has also been designated as the European Year of the Intercultural Dialogue. Judging from tradition, this means the Presidency will run some projects on the subject, the Commission will open some budget lines for civil society and various EU institutions will organise conferences. All well and fine, hopefully some decent debates take place.
I left foreign policy issues intentionally apart. Pundits say that the decisive moment of the Slovenian Presidency will not be in June, but more probably in the second half of January already. Kosovoâ€™s expected declaration of independence will come in as a â€œmake-it-or-break-itâ€? political issue for the Slovenian Presidency. And since the Slovenes donâ€™t want to see it as the Iraq 2003 sequel of the EU foreign policy, hard work has already started. The recent European Summit has agreed on the EUâ€™s practical action in the form of an ESDP mission on the ground, but failed to agree on a common stand on Kosovoâ€™s future status. Slovenia will seek consensus (or just-about-consensus) and will be judged accordingly.
With the possible exception of Kosovo, Slovenia will most probably earn fewer headlines than its predecessors Germany and Portugal. Still, this does not diminish the symbolism of the 1st Presidency held by a country from the 2004 enlargement. Away from the public eye, the enlargement will be put to a test in the corridors of EU politics. Can Slovenia master the task both in numerous committees and on the stage of high-politics?
All said and done, on 1 July 2008 Slovenia hopes to hand over to France an EU closer to delivering on its promises. It might sound modest, but history tells that it is not a small task for a newcomer.