Slovenia – 3 weeks into the Presidency

So, Slovenia has just covered the first 3 weeks of the Presidency. Too little to make a decent judgement, but enough to give it a try…

First, the glamour. Obviously the names of Janez Janša or Dimitrij Rupel do not attract the same amount of media attention as French I-can-do-everything President Nicolas Sarkozy or his foreign minister Bernard Kouchner. Especially if Nicolas dates Carla Bruni (Urška is nice as well though) and launches uncoordinated initiatives every day. He’s a constantly all over the place, enough for the socialist leader in the European Parliament Martin Schultz to say: “Instead of the European Union focus being on important political challenges, it is on the private life of Mr Sarkozy.â€? Absolutely true, there has been little delivery on substance by Sarkozy. Sorry, not completely true. He divorced few months ago and managed to catch Carla Bruni. Quite a delivery.

On a more serious note, many commentators say that France is overshadowing Slovenia and such were also the concerns of some MEPs during Janša’s presentation in the Plenary on the 16th January. But there is a general feeling, also coming from the Kanzleramt in Berlin, that Sarkozy is more and more on the margins of European politics because he is a “loose cannon” (a label sometimes attached to Dimitrij Rupel in Slovenia as well). And in fact, the Slovenian EU Presidency plans are quite modest on the glamour side of the story. As said in one of the earlier posts, no big breakthrough stories on climate, no large 50th Anniversary celebrations, no new Treaty to sign in Ljubljana…Mostly what the Slovenians will have to focus on is delivery of practical results in numerous Committees.

So, second point – the committee work. A large and complex legislative proposal will be published by the European Commission tomorrow as a follow-up to the commitments that the EU took at the Spring European Summit in March 2007. The package will deal with climate and energy questions – lowering of CO2 emissions, emissions-trading, renewable energy sources etc. Now, it might seem easy, if only 27 people would be involved in a room, closed away from the public. Give them few days and they will muddle through. But the EU relies on a slightly more democratic procedures and such legislative pieces go into various committees, in this case those dealing with Environment and Energy issues. On the top, take into account the pressures from large industries, pressures from member states hosting these large industries…If the restrictions are too rigid, you risk making energy intensive industries uncompetitive forcing them to move somewhere abroad with all the consequences for the level of employment and more. If the restrictions are too loose, the EU blames itself with unfulfilled promises. Now take Slovenia. Its officials will have to steer this legislative monster through, all the way to the EU leaders meetings in March and then June.

But there are two more things that were taking headlines in the last weeks. The Slovenian Presidency did not get an invitation to the “mini-summit” on financial issues to take place in London at the end of the month. Brown only invited Merkel and Sarkozy, with Angela advising him to take Prodi on board as well. Someone also told him that the Commission President Barroso might be irritated a bit if not there, so there you go José Manuel – come to London! But such an invitation was not extended to the Slovenian EU Presidency that will chair the “financial situation” debates at the upcoming meetings of the ECOFIN Council (= EU27 Finance ministers) and then the Heads of State and Government level. OK, the excuse goes that this is preparatory work for the G7/G8. But, isn’t G7/G8 always joined by the Presidency as well?

Then comes Kosovo. This will be perhaps the only headline news for the Slovenian Presidency – be it good or bad news. Bad, if things go wrong, good if Kosovo and Serbia manage to live with each other peacefully. But let’s see what the diplomacy behind the scenes is doing. The Slovenian Minister Rupel invited his UK, French, Italian and German counterparts to join him this weekend in Slovenia for a meeting behind closed doors, discussing EU’s possible reaction to Kosovo’s declaration of independence. They were joined by Javier Solana and Olli Rehn. No big statements (besides a news piece in La Repubblica saying that EU will recognize Kosovo’s independence if the date is coordinated and agreed beforehand). Then yesterday my inbox gets news from Berlin that Condi Rice showed up for a meeting on Kosovo with the German, French and the UK foreign minister…

And the things are not simplified by the matters at home. Janša has to keep up with severe criticisms on his government’s inaction on countering raising inflation. The public sector trade unions promised a full scale strike on the 29th of January (now postponed to 6th of February). The government has been also under heavy fire on some privatization stories, one of the coalition parties is basically half out. “If we lasted so far, we will do survive few months as well” its President Karel Erjavec (said – not a very positive attitude for a government minister. Janša is also coming under increased criticism, home grown and from abroad, because of his government reaction to the media freedom petition (now called Petition571 due to the number of signatories). His Communication Office distributed questionable materials to foreign journalists attending the EU Presidency presentation at the beginning of January, thus discrediting the Government even further on this matter. Plenty of reports were published later, most notably also by New York Times.

No fun to run the EU if you’re small then? Well, not fully. Away from the spotlights, Slovenia will most probably do a decent job in progressing on several important legislative matters. It will also bring the EU to a decision on Kosovo. Its civil servants will learn a great deal and the country will get some media attention. But the toughest decision for Janša will be to decide whether do the EU job properly and invest less time at home during the pre-election campaign or disregard the EU and attack on all fronts at home.

P.S.: There is a good paper on the Slovenian presidency by Manja Klemenčič published by Notre Europe.

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