Slovenian EU Presidency will search for the heart of Europe | View
“Where in Europe do you place Slovenia? The Balkans, Southern Europe, Central and Eastern Europe, Western Europe? Slovenian President Borut Pahor posed the question to his guests at the Bled Strategic Forum lunch in 2018. The question, undoubtedly, was about more than just geography.
Rarely have Europe’s divisions seemed more palpable than at last week’s EU summit, as leaders argued over Viktor Orbán’s anti-LGBT laws. East-West divide.
It is a dramatic setting for the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the EU, which began on July 1. And a reminder that, although the role of a presidency is above all to direct the laws through the Council, it will not necessarily escape the great European politics.
Pay Salvage Money and the Green Deal
Slovenia’s small but efficient civil service is certainly well prepared for the six-month legislative marathon of a Council Presidency. In 2008 it did the job well – as the first of the ten enlargement countries in 2004 to take the helm of the EU.
This time around, the legislative agenda is heavier, with more than 200 cases in progress. The priority in July will be to oversee the adoption of the continent’s 27 recovery and resilience plans to unlock the first installments of the EU’s € 672.5 billion crisis funding. However, any major setback would be a surprise, as the footwork will have already been done by the Commission.
Things could get more complicated with the mega-package of Green Deal legislation that lands on Slovenia’s desk on July 14. It includes complex reforms of the EU Emissions Trading System, tax and energy efficiency, renewable energies and land use rules so that the EU meets ‘minus 55’ climate targets % in 2030 ”and“ net zero ”in 2050.
Slovenia’s role is to chart a roadmap for rapid adoption, but not all member states will agree with the speed of transition and the associated costs, despite significant ‘just transition’ funding and a proposal. revolutionary CO2 tax at borders.
Hopes and disappointments of the Western Balkans
The Western Balkans and enlargement are also on the agenda, with a summit scheduled for October 6. Since the French and the Dutch vetoed North Macedonia and Albania in 2019, the process of enlargement to the whole region has been in disarray. Paris had been saying for years that the EU accession process was not working, so the French “no” didn’t really come out of nowhere.
But to leave the Western Balkans without a tangible European perspective would be a big mistake. The region is hit hard by the pandemic and strapped for cash, with weak government institutions and healthcare. And while the EU dithers, it is China, Russia and Turkey that are stealthily advancing their pawns.
It is unlikely that an enlargement solution will be found just 6 months before the French presidential elections. However, a proactive Slovenian Presidency could help secure investments beyond the 14 billion euros planned by the EU for pre-accession assistance (IPA). It could also advance the debate on what has been called a ‘two-step accession’ process, with faster integration in different policy areas, from transport and energy connectivity to research and innovation. , decarbonization and digitization, and above all, in the single market.
Defend the rule of law?
If that were not enough, it is on its promise to “strengthen the rule of law and European values” that the Presidency will be truly put to the test. Many have choked on this claim. Over the past 15 months, Prime Minister Janez Janša and his right-wing government have repeatedly verbally attacked the judiciary and the media, including putting pressure on the funding and governance of the national news agency STA. Civil society organizations report a hostile environment and a decline in democratic standards.
Yet overall, amid a sharp decline in civil society, the backbone of liberal democracy is strong in the country. In fact, Liberty house ranks Slovenia above, among others, the United Kingdom, Italy and Spain in its 2021 report. But any rapid deterioration is worrying, and also unfortunate given that Slovenia was the star child of the Member States which joined the EU most recently.
On the positive side, the Presidency means Prime Minister Janša now faces a critical spotlight, also within his European political family, Angela Merkel’s European People’s Party (EPP), where fundamental rights concerns were previously too easily overlooked. However, the EU’s values schism does not appear to be resolved anytime soon. Values are an existential issue, and EU fundamental rights or the rule of law cannot be compromised or negotiated.
Prelude to rupture or future for Europe?
It is above all the responsibility of the EU institutions to make full use of the instruments at their disposal, starting with bringing Hungary to the European Court of Justice (CJEU).
Yet the most forceful measures against a member state – the suspension of its rights through the Article 7 procedure – are easily hampered by the need for unanimity of EU heads of state and government. The new rule of law conditionality regulation, linking EU funds to respect for fundamental values, has yet to be applied pending the outcome of a CJEU challenge by Poland and Hungary.
At the same time, a more in-depth reflection on the values of the Union is necessary. The peoples of Europe should not be equated uniformly with their leaders; not all Hungarians think like Viktor Orbán, and not all Slovenians accept Janša’s media attacks. The fight for the soul of Europe must be deepened within the framework of the Conference on the Future of Europe, the last priority area of the Slovenian Presidency.
Ultimately, this is where the Union still has a chance.
The EU’s five years of Brexit negotiations have shown that, tested, the 27 member states prefer to rally rather than divide. Even fiery populists like France’s Marine Le Pen and Italian Matteo Salvini have discovered that breaking up the EU is not a viable political proposition for the electorate. The bet must be that with a democratic debate, also in Hungary, Orbán will not win an election on an illiberal rant that takes his country out of the EU.
As for Slovenia, looking at the presidency slogan (“Together. Resilient. Europe.”) And as President Pahor, longtime political opponent of Prime Minister Janša, answers his own question about membership of the country, his place is at the heart of the Syndicate.
Georg E. Riekeles is Associate Director and Perle Petit is Program Assistant at the European Policy Center
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