Western Balkan countries a top priority of Slovenian EU Presidency

Centre of International Relations

Slovenian attitude towards the integration of countries of the Western Balkans into the EU is predominantly positive. In its annual declaration on guidelines for the work of the Republic of Slovenia in the institutions of the EU,[1] the Slovenian Parliament declared that Slovenia will strive to maintain enlargement high on the EU’s agenda, since the enlargement perspective is the most important political instrument for achieving stabilisation of the countries of the Western Balkans and their structural, economic and political reforms. The declaration stresses that the countries of the Western Balkans have a clear European perspective and Slovenia will endeavour for their early accession to the EU on the basis of the Thessaloniki agenda and the strict fulfilment of the accession criteria. More specifically, it pledged Slovenia’s support for reform process in Macedonia, in order for this country to receive a date of the beginning of accession negotiations as soon as possible. The declaration also states that specific attention will be paid to a European perspective of Serbia, since Serbia is crucial for stability and progress in the region. Slovenia’s support for Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina is also mentioned.
 
Government’s stance on the Western Balkans is consistent with the principles and goals stated in the declaration. At the time of publishing of the reports in the beginning of November, Slovenia was already fully preparing to take over the Presidency of the EU in the first half of 2008 and it was well known that progress in the Western Balkans countries’ integration into the EU is to be one of the main priorities of the Slovenian Presidency. Slovenian Foreign Minister also visited Belgrade, Skopje and Priština in late October, pledging Slovenia’s support in endeavours of Serbia and Macedonia to meet the criteria as well as in retaining the momentum for enlargement during its Presidency. Prior to Foreign Minister’s visit to Belgrade, Skopje and Priština, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement presenting the principles and goals of Slovenian policy towards Western Balkans.[2] The statement stresses the importance of Serbia for stability in South Eastern Europe and declares Slovenia’s support for an accelerated accession process for Serbia, it pledges support for the region’s economic progress and progress towards integration into the EU in general. In relation to Kosovo it states that the existing plans for the solution of the status of Kosovo would benefit from a special concern paid to the rights of minorities.[3] Support for Macedonia’s progress towards the beginning of accession negotiations has also been expressed in Prime Minister Janša’s letter to the members of European Council at the end of September 2007,[4] Slovenian Government hopes for the date of the beginning of accession negotiations with Macedonia to be set during its Presidency in the first half of 2008.[5]
 
The annual progress reports as such did not arouse larger debate. Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed its satisfaction over the progress made by countries of the Western Balkans in their integration to the EU and stressed its satisfaction over the confirmation of the European perspective for these countries given in the report. Bigger importance was given to the issue of Croatia’s implementation of the Adriatic ecological and fisheries zone for the countries of the EU, which is an issue in bilateral Slovenian-Croatian relations.[6] To Slovenian’s satisfaction, the report on Croatia calls for the issue of the non-application of the ecological and fishing protection zone in the Adriatic to EU member states to be resolved.
 
It is worth mentioning that the main political actors, primarily Prime Minister Janša and Foreign Minister Rupel, stressed on numerous occasions[7] the necessity for a revival of a Thessaloniki agenda, paired with strict fulfilment of all the enlargement criteria. 
 
Status of Kosovo and the future of EU-Serbia relations
 
Slovenia’s position on the future of Kosovo is shaped by three factors: historical closeness to Kosovo, geographic closeness and economic ties with Serbia, and the role as a country holding the rotating Presidency of the EU in the first half of 2008. Each of these factors has a specific effect on Slovenian attitude. The first shapes the Slovenian stance towards a pro-independence bloc, which resulted in a tacit support for the Ahtisaari plan (though with improvements regarding the protection of minorities).[8] The second suggests reservation and strong support for Serbia’s EU perspective, which has been confirmed in Prime Minister’s letter to the members of European Council,[9] as well as declared by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.[10] The third gives it a hideaway in its neutral role, placing all efforts on keeping the united European position on the matter, which has been called upon by Prime Minister and Foreign Minister on numerous occasions.[11]
 
In a letter to members of European Council in late September, Prime Minister Janša stressed the importance of a united European stance over the issue of the status of Kosovo, but he also called for a ‘fast-track’ procedure for Serbia’s membership in the EU, more precisely, he suggested de-coupling of the Kosovo issue from Serbia’s EU perspective and a candidate status given to it (provided Serbia meets the criteria) in the first half of 2008.[12]
 
There are two additional elements regarding the Kosovo issue: Slovenia’s aptness to play a more decisive role and a fairly new element of a ‘European’ or ‘global’ solution. The first is a common element in a discourse of Kosovo in Slovenia. Allegedly Slovenia, i.e. its policy-makers, possess knowledge on the subject that justifies hopes laid upon it to contribute to the solution of the problem. Foreign Minister Rupel commented on an occasion that he “notices a shortage on understating of a problem, shortage on knowledge of history.”[13] Ministry of Foreign Affairs established a high-profiled Centre for European Perspective to justify Slovenia’s knowledge and readiness to contribute. Whereas Slovenia can undoubtedly contribute on numerous issues and policy developments in the candidate and potential candidate countries, deeper knowledge on a political issue with such a heavy weight as the one of resolving the Kosovo status is particularly difficult to combine with the non-biased role of the country holding the Presidency.
 
Slovenian foreign policy is to a large extent European oriented and with preparations on the Presidency it is only natural that Prime Minister Janša stressed that in his view “Europe should take the lead regarding Kosovo issue and make a step forward.” He proposed that the EU should prepare a timeline according to which this question would be in the process of solution also during the Slovenian EU Presidency.[14]
 
The new Slovenian President, Dr. Danilo Türk, however, a former high ranking diplomat in the United Nations, brought a broader perspective into the Slovenian (European) foreign policy. After being a Slovenian Ambassador to the United Nations, while he also held the Chair of the Security Council, he served as Deputy Secretary General for Political Affairs in the cabinet of Kofi Annan. Dr. Türk entered the office in late December. In a conversation on the current foreign policy issues in the beginning of January (thus only a fortnight after taking up the office), he presented his views on Slovenia’s aptness and the European task. Dr. Türk’s view is that Slovenia does not have special competence to propose solutions for Kosovo due to its geographical and historical proximity to the area. One has to understand the issue of Kosovo as a global question, he explained. And the resolution of the status of Kosovo should not be understood as a solution to all trouble in the region. He explained that while working in the United Nations he perceived the Kosovo question as one of the big world issues which are of everyone’s interest, just as the Palestinian or Korean questions. He concluded that more efforts should be devoted to reflections on the integration in Europe and he also stressed that Europe in the recent history does not dispose of models sophisticated enough to integrate Islamic element into its cultural-social mainstream. Here, we could learn more from the models, developed in the former Yugoslavia, he proposed.[15]


[1] Deklaracija o usmeritvah za delovanje Republike Slovenije v institucijah Evropske unije v obdobju januar 2007 – junij 2008 (DeUDIEU0708) [Declaration on the directions for activities of the Republic of Slovenia in the EU institutions in the period 2007 – June 2008], adopted by the National Parliament of the Republic of Slovenia on 27 March 2007, Uradni list RS 31/2007 of 6 April 2007.

[2] Statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs prior to Foreign Minister's Rupel visit to Belgrade, Skopje and Priština, 23 October 2007, available at: http://www.mzz.gov.si/index.php?id=13&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=23633&tx_ttnews[backPid]= (last access: 22 January 2008).

[3] Statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs prior to Foreign Minister's Rupel visit to Belgrade, Skopje and Priština, 23 October 2007, available at: http://www.mzz.gov.si/index.php?id=13&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=23633&tx_ttnews[backPid]= (last access: 22 January 2008).

[4] STA (30 September 2007), Jutranji list o Janševem pismu Barrosu: Srbiji čim prej status kandidatke EU [Jutranji list on Janša's letter to Barroso: Early candidate status for Serbia].

[5] STA (19 November 2007), EU/2008: Slovenija za Zahodni Balkan in Evropsko pogodbo [Slovenia for Western Balkans and European treaty].

[6] STA/Ministry of Foreign Affairs (30 November 2007), Eye on Slovenia: Slovenia and Western Balkans, No 22, available at: http://www.mzz.gov.si/fileadmin/pageuploads/Novinarsko_sredisce/sta/Bilt... (last access: 22 January 2008).

[7] Foreign Minister Rupel at the meeting with Austrian diplomats in Vienna on 3 September 2007, STA (3 September 2007), Rupel na Dunaju o izzivih slovenskega predsedovanja EU; Statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs prior to Foreign Minister's Rupel visit to Belgrade, Skopje and Priština, 23 October 2007, available at: http://www.mzz.gov.si/index.php?id=13&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=23633&tx_ttnews[backPid]= (last access: 22 January 2008); Prime Minister Janša in a letter to the members of European Council at the end of September, STA (30 September 2007), Jutranji list o Janševem pismu Barrosu: Srbiji čim prej status kandidatke EU [Jutranji list on Janša's letter to Barroso: Early candidate status for Serbia]; Prime Minister Janša in Ostrava on 10 December 2007, STA (10 December 2007), Evropa mora povzeti pobudo glede Kosova [Europe must take the initiative on Kosovo].

[8] Statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs prior to Foreign Minister's Rupel visit to Belgrade, Skopje and Priština, 23 October 2007, available at: http://www.mzz.gov.si/index.php?id=13&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=23633&tx_ttnews[backPid]= (last access: 22 January 2008).

[9] STA (30 September 2007), Jutranji list o Janševem pismu Barrosu: Srbiji čim prej status kandidatke EU [Jutranji list on Janša's letter to Barroso: Early candidate status for Serbia].

[10] Statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs prior to Foreign Minister's Rupel visit to Belgrade, Skopje and Priština, 23 October 2007, available at: http://www.mzz.gov.si/index.php?id=13&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=23633&tx_ttnews[backPid]= (last access: 22 January 2008).

[11] Press reported the endeavour for a united stance after Foreign Minister Rupel's visits to Portugal in September, Berlin in November, etc. Foreign Minister also stressed the work on keeping the EU position together in a speech at the “TEPSA Pre-Presidency conference” on 3 October 2007 in Ljubljana.

[12] STA (2 October 2007), Bruselj pozdravlja namere Slovenije za spodbudo Balkanu [Brussels welcomed Slovenia's intentions for incentives for Western Balkans].

[13] STA (20 December 2007), Rupel: Naše geslo je Si.nergija za Evropo [Rupel: Our motto is Si.nergy for Europe].

[14] STA (10 December 2007), Janša: Evropa mora prevzeti pobudo glede Kosova [Janša: Europe must take the initiative regarding Kosovo].

[15] RTV SLO (9 January 2008), Türk: Za Kosovo nismo pristojnejši, Slovenski predsednik o zunanji politiki [Türk: We do not have special competence for Kosovo, Slovenian President of the Republic on Foreign Policy], available at: http://www.rtvslo.si/modload.php?&c_mod=rnews&op=sections&func=read&c_me... (last access: 13 January 2008).