Three months before the beginning of the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the Slovenian administration, coordinated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs under the leadership of Minister Anže Logar, Ph.D., is practically ready to take over the “baton,” even though it is facing an uncertain political situation and fate of the current centre-right government at home. The three failed interpellations and the failed vote of no confidence against the government suggest that despite the exit of three SMC deputies from the government coalition, the Constitutional Arch Coalition members still cannot take over the power, but it is worth mentioning that the change of the government set in the middle of the Slovenian Presidency would resonate strongly in Brussels, or perhaps even cause a real diplomatic disgrace. Minister Logar, with whom the host of the show Tema dneva (Topic of the day) Luka Svetina spoke at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and his colleagues, are continuing with their work unbothered, since, as he said, he is doing good work, which his colleagues have also noticed on the European floor. The exclusive interview, which was broadcast on Nova24TV on Friday, can now also be read on our web portal.
We are still in the middle of the battle with covid-19; we have just recently entered the third wave of the epidemic. A year ago, when you took over the baton at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, so to speak, you probably did not think that three months before the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the priority would still be the fight against the virus, and above all, trying to ensure that the population in the European Union is vaccinated as soon as possible, did you?
We have exactly three months left before the official start of our Presidency, and it should be noted that we took over the government in rather unusual circumstances. This was the period when the pandemic was still spreading to the countries in the European Union, and we were not yet really aware of what it will entail. Today, a year later, we find that this kind of crisis has significantly cut into the future of the European Union and, consequently, we have adjusted the activities and priorities of the Slovenian Presidency. The issue of healthcare and the issue of crisis management will thus become two of the priorities of the Slovenian Presidency, and at the same time, we will strive for all the Member States to recognise the importance of the debate on these topics at the highest level of the European Union.
At least at the beginning of the Presidency, everything will probably revolve around vaccination. There have been fewer quantities delivered than promised, what do you think is the main problem that caused this and what will be the common solutions?
First of all, we must be realistic. Pharmacists, scientists and experts have developed the vaccine against the virus in record time, and the supervisory institutions have also approved the vaccine in record time. In short, all of these procedures have made our fight with this epidemic immensely easier, especially compared to what we have been accustomed to in the past. Nevertheless, it is clear that the need for the vaccine all around the world has created certain “bottlenecks,” as the production of these vaccines cannot meet the demand for them, and this is where the question of crisis management arises, where some mistakes may have been made in the beginning. But I think that now, at the highest level, among the Prime Ministers of the Member States, and with the initiatives in which Slovenia is also actively participating, we are trying to make up for this gap, with the intention of ensuring equal vaccination rates across the EU in approximately the same time, which would allow us to return to a more normal way of life. However, I think that for quite some time to come, interviews like this one will still have to take place with masks and the necessary distance.
A few days ago, you expressed concern about the deteriorating human rights situation in many countries, saying that the effects of the covid-19 pandemic are also worrying. What did you mean by that, are the problem here these measures we cannot escape?
Well, we are drawing attention to human rights in countries that are in crisis, where these violations are already happening anyway, but the fact is that in this pandemic, we are somehow all in the same boat. Even if the developed world vaccinates enough of its population, we will not be able to go back to the normalcy we were used to if we do not make sure that the rest of the world is also properly vaccinated. In this respect, the Ministry finds that we need to approach this problem on a global level, and therefore, Slovenia has always advocated a kind of multilateralism in vaccination policy as well.
A while ago, Slovenia also adopted a Declaration on the Orientations for the Republic of Slovenia’s functioning in the European Union institutions for the period 2021-2024. The declaration has four chapters and is dedicated to a number of thematic areas, the first of which is the initiative to return to the fundamental values of the European Union. Could you explain this to us in more detail, please?
When I became the Minister of Foreign Affairs, we first looked over or reviewed the normative basis for the operation of foreign policy, and we found that there were shortcomings in many of the strategic documents. And we decided on a complete, systematic approach to the modification of Slovenian foreign policy in cooperation with the stakeholders and institutions. Together, we will prepare a programme framework on the basis of which the foreign policy will then function. The first finding was that we already have an adopted strategy for foreign policy, which my predecessors did not follow – in short, they acted contrary to this strategy, so our first task was to determine that this strategy is correct and then start to implement it.
Through its implementation, we identified certain shortcomings, which we then wanted or still want to eliminate by renewing this strategy of Slovenian foreign policy. Slovenia also has a special strategy or declaration when it comes to its relations with the European Union, which my predecessors coordinated every 18 months, first with the Committee on the EU Affairs, and then also at the level of the National Assembly. In these 18 months, it became clear that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was late in preparing the document, so they adopted a document that was no longer relevant for the last six months because the period had expired. The document was also not in line with the European Commission’s normative framework. My intention was to first harmonise this document with the normative framework of the European Commission, which is renewed every five years, and at the same time, to harmonise it with the strategy for foreign policy and adjust it to the priorities of the national strategy of the Republic of Slovenia. In this respect, one of the priorities is also to return to the fundamental values of the European Union.
When the European Fathers created the Union, they created it to bring peace, cooperation, respect for each other, and also the two principles of proportionality and evenness to this continent. In short, at the level of the European Union, we are doing what we can to better it, and at the same time, we are only doing what is absolutely necessary to make it better. We leave everything else to the Member States. And it seems to me that recently, the two principles I mentioned before have begun to be disguised, as some have begun to reject them, out of a desire to politicise them. That is why I think it is important to return to these fundamental principles of the European Union and, in general, to return to the purpose of why the European Union was founded.
It has somehow been agreed that the long-awaited conference on the future of the European Union is expected to take place sometime in May, probably after the end of this third wave of the epidemic. In your opinion, how important will this conference be in terms of the future of the European Union, and what will your message to the other Member States be at this conference?
I would like to point out a distinction here – this is not a conference on the future of the European Union, but a conference on the future of Europe. I think this must be emphasised for one simple reason – because this conference aims to look wider, in short, not only at the European Union but also its neighbourhood, we want to have a strategic reflection and talk about the partnership of our continent with other continents. This is an important message to all the debaters within the European Union who will be invited to the debate, as well as others. Slovenia had the opportunity to either play the role of the mediator here in confronting different points of view or to take an active approach to direct the debate. After two rounds of coordination and talks with the Prime Minister, the decision of all those present at the talks was that Slovenia should play a very important and active role here and that we will adjust our way of working during the Presidency accordingly. The conference officially begins on the 9th of May and ends sometime in the following March.
This means that the key and most important discussions on the future of Europe will take place during the Slovenian Presidency. Slovenia wants to start such a discussion at the highest level at the Bled Strategic Forum. So, it wants to add this strategic framework or include it in the forum and, based on that, it wants to lead the debate throughout the Presidency until a final overview is drawn up, which will take two aspects into account. So, we want to use the bottom-up approach, we want to hear the opinions of citizens, and we would also like to use the top-down approach to hear the views of the leaders, which can then be checked on the basis of feedback from the citizens of the European Union. This part, as far as the conversation with citizens is concerned, will be led by the European Commission online, through virtual and also in-person round tables that will happen throughout the European Union. In some way, the Slovenian Presidency will push this strategic part forward in order to make sure that we somehow coordinate around these key issues that the European Union has to face.
Mr. Logar, what reputation does Slovenia currently have in the European Union, in the European Parliament, or rather, in the eyes of the European Commission, three months before the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, when the Slovenian Prime Minister had to sort of defend himself, due to the allegedly deteriorating situation for journalists in Slovenia, who claim that their rights are being violated? We know what happened in regards to the video that they did not want to play in the European Parliament, the video that Sophie in ‘t Veld refused to play – in short, there was a lot of media hysteria, some even claimed that the Prime Minister embarrassed us in the eyes of European Union. So, what is our current reputation in the EU like? It seems that more and more mainstream media in Slovenia want to put us in the same category as Poland and Hungary.
Well, the question of why they want to put us there, whether that is a sincere desire that has its reasons in politicisation, or if it is a factual situation, is something that each individual must answer for themselves. In recent days, we were also able to read the USA State Department’s Report on the state of media freedom in Slovenia, and we have heard that even the United States of America are denying some of what certain people want to export abroad from Slovenia. For me, as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, I find it much more important what Slovenia’s relationship with the other Member States is, and not how the European Union sees us. In regard to this, I can safely say that by intensifying the work of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we have significantly strengthened the mutual relations, mutual potential and also improved the mutual positions with the strategic partners of the Republic of Slovenia. We have activated the Slovenian foreign policy and used it as a way of communicating our key messages or key interests.
And I think we can be very confident that we will have good interlocutors even during the Presidency of the EU Council. However, it is important to know that for one reason or another, someone will always try and use Slovenia as a hostage to satisfy their domestic political interests. This means that we must also know how to separate the grain from the weeds and somehow recognise this context. Perhaps we are a bit unique in our relation to the other institutions, especially the European Parliament because many people in Slovenia already know the real situation, and in this respect, even our citizens do not buy into this kind of propaganda anymore. However, things are then different in another forum, at the level of the European Union, where it is actually difficult to explain that in a country that has become independent, that has democratic values, and that is a Member of the European Union, people can shamelessly lie in the media, and no one takes responsibility for it.
But, due to this media persecution, which was partially also exported to Brussels, so to speak – since Politico wrote some articles about Slovenia’s problems – do you get asked by your colleagues what is going on in Slovenia, when travelling around Europe, when meeting other foreign ministers; is this something they ask you about?
My colleagues from the other Member States are very well informed, they basically laugh at these accusations, especially since they have their embassies here, which can and do clearly present the actual media situation in Slovenia, so in this respect, I really do not see any negative consequences in this regard, except for the negative tone that this gives off in general.
Slovenia has also entered the North Atlantic area; a few days ago, we celebrated the anniversary of joining NATO, and now the NATO flag is also hanging in front of the Ministry. This was obviously not the case before – why not, and how do you see the future of Slovenia in the North Atlantic Alliance?
Well, as I said at the hearing before the committee already, we have two anchors in our foreign policy orientation, which were tested in a referendum, so joining the European Union and joining NATO. The former received 90 percent support, the latter two-thirds support, and I honestly do not understand why the flag has only been put up now, 17 years after joining NATO. I think that in these respects, it is necessary to act on both a substantive and a symbolic level; that is why I ordered that on this anniversary of joining NATO, we should properly mark the event with a flag, which will now permanently hang there. I think that Slovenia could be a very active member of NATO; the alliance offers a framework that in a way complements the framework of the European Union, and at the same time, broadens horizons, as partners outside of the European Union also participate in NATO, and therefore, we can achieve more of our national strategic goals than we would if we were not members of this alliance. At the same time, though, we must also be aware of the responsibilities that this brings – we need to make appropriate investments in our security and, of course, actively participate in NATO missions and other activities implemented by the alliance. In this context, we also have a much wider opportunity to acquire additional knowledge, especially with these centres of excellence which are being implemented, such as the Centre for Cybernetics, Security, and so on, where we can basically educate our experts and then after they return home, we can further develop their acquired knowledge within our own institutions.
Unfortunately, we do not have a lot of time left, but I wanted to ask you this: we know that Prime Minister Janša recently led the negotiations on the allocation of funds in the European Union for the recovery after the covid-19 pandemic, following the conflict between Brussels on the one side, and Poland and Hungary on the other. What role will Slovenia play during the Presidency of the EU Council? Last year at the Bled Strategic Forum, you already said several times that this Central European integration would be important for us. Will Slovenia be a kind of bridge between Brussels and the Visegrad Pact?
Now, if we go back to one of the previous questions where you asked me why we appealed for the return to the core values of the European Union in our declaration… If we were to actually return to the core values, we would not need this bridge. Because then we would be acting in accordance with these fundamental ideas of the European Union, in which we are united in our diversity, but because we know that together we can achieve more, we also cooperate and do not impose on others what we think is best for someone else. During its Presidency, Slovenia will play the role of a kind of fair arbiter; in short, it will gather the views of the capitals and seek a compromise for these key dilemmas, which will be considered the main problems to be solved. It will have good contacts with all partners, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will be very active in seeking interlocutors in practically all Member States of the European Union and also in all institutions, precisely so that as many of these open dilemmas which will arise during our Presidency as possible, can be solved in a satisfactory manner, which will also mean that in the end, we will be able to say that this was the success of the Slovenian Presidency of the European Union.
To conclude this conversation, after a year of being the Minister of Foreign Affairs, you wrote the following on Twitter: “50 visits, coordination with colleagues at the Ministry of Foreign affairs and an excellent team, clear and ambitious goals.” Mr. Logar, what are you most proud of in your job after your first year in office?
I think I am most proud of the fact that all of us in our team agree that we are moving in the right direction and that the enthusiasm has not run out – it is still there, and so we can and will continue to be active in our work.