Slovenia yesterday assumed the Presidency of the EU Council for the second time. The European Commission, headed by President Ursula von der Leyen, is visited our country to mark this occasion. After a morning visit to the Pediatric Clinic in Ljubljana, Prime Minister Janša and the President of the European Commission met for a bilateral meeting at Brdo, followed by a working lunch of the entire Government and the European Commission. After that, a press conference was held for Slovenian and foreign media.
At the press conference, Prime Minister Janša said that the Government and the European Commission had discussed the difficult issues “that we face and the debate was concrete and frank.” The Prime Minister went on to say: “We are pleased that today we are hosting the entire European Commission in Slovenia, because this is an optimistic sign that our fight against the epidemic has been successful, although we are still very careful and vigilant against a potential fourth wave. Nevertheless, the opening up of public life and the start of meetings in person is taking place all over Europe.” The Prime Minister noted that over the last six months we were prevented from working in this way due to the epidemic and we now know from that experience what can be accomplished by working from a distance and what cannot. “We are particularly pleased that the beginning of our Presidency coincides with this historic moment at which Slovenia celebrates the thirtieth anniversary of its independence and statehood. During these very days 30 years ago, we were still fighting for our lives, freedom and independence, as well as for the European future of Slovenia, and victims fell. The fact that, precisely 30 years later, we are discussing our shared responsibility for the European future and seeking solutions to specific outstanding issues, is a specific irony or even the smile of history,” he added.
“Those of us who took part in the events that marked a turning point in Slovenia know that we could not have imagined that Slovenia would come so far in 30 years and that the difference between then and now, despite the problems we face at home and in Europe, would be so huge and incomparable,” said Prime Minister Janša, adding that today, Slovenia is surrounded by friends – all our neighbouring countries are members of the EU. “So this is a completely different time, and it is with great pleasure that we assume our responsibility for presiding over the Council of the EU for the second time in our history,” said the Prime Minister.
“At the beginning of last year, we faced a great test and we, Slovenians, know what a test is. No country in the world was prepared for an epidemic. We all now know what we faced then, and today we all know, as we draw a line under the events of the past 15 months, that these events have shown that the EU has been part of the solution and that we have achieved two major breakthroughs. The first is the agreement on how we will work together to recover from the epidemic, and thanks to the European Commission, which reacted in time with a different approach than during the financial and economic crisis, allowing the frameworks to expand so that the European economy was able to weather these stormy times, and that we were able to take measures at the national level that preserved the potential and the fitness of the economy, public services and people in general, so that we can now talk about recovery from a situation in which we recorded a fall in GDP and made a lot of sacrifices, but we are not talking about a total devastation,” emphasised the Prime Minister.
The second major breakthrough, he said, was the correct decision reached by the Commission and other European institutions on the development, production and distribution of vaccines. “It is indeed a miracle that the vaccine was produced in such a short time. Without the European Commission’s incentives and funding, this would not have been possible, we would not have achieved this. These two moves testify to the reasons why the EU was created in the first place. Together, we are stronger in our responses to these challenges,” stressed Prime Minister Janša.
“Resilience, recovery and the strategic autonomy of the EU are part of our priorities for the next six months. A great deal has been done towards this goal during the Portuguese and German Presidencies. We thank both countries that we were able to include some of our priorities in the programme that was already prepared at the start of last year. A few hours ago, I also received a message from Portuguese President Costa, who thanks us for this cooperation and wishes us good luck in the next six months; we thank Portugal as well, especially because we and the Commission have made some breakthroughs in recent days, for example, when it comes to a common asylum agency and Europe’s common agricultural policy,” said the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister recognised that the Portuguese Presidency had already tried to move events from audio-video conferences to in-person meetings in the last two months.
“The Conference on the Future of Europe is another common challenge and Slovenia will strive to ensure that this debate is open and inclusive, taking place not only between the European institutions and national governments, but also involving regions, local communities, civil society organisations, and indeed Europeans,” said the Prime Minister. He added that after the financial and economic crisis, the migration crisis, after Brexit and the pandemic, it is time to address things that we did not agree on when discussing the Lisbon Treaty
“Over the next six months, the EU will return to the issue of enlargement as a strategic response to a number of outstanding issues. I strongly share the first dream of its founders: a Europe that is free, whole, at peace with itself and its neighbourhood. For us, the enlargement of the EU is a strategic response to many challenges, because over the past decade, when EU enlargement was not at the forefront due to the crises we have faced, but even experienced a contraction in Brexit, we could see that if the EU does not enlarge, something else will, and that generally would not involve the spread of freedom, the protection of human rights and the rule of law,” said Janez Janša. “We are pleased that the next six months will see a summit between EU leaders and the leaders of the Western Balkans countries and the Eastern Partnership countries in December. We want specific issues to be resolved by then and we will work on that, but we also want EU enlargement to be confirmed as a strategic response to strategic issues and to reach a consensus on this again,” said Prime Minister Janez Janša.
“I am also glad that the confirmation of national recovery and resilience plans is going well. We thank the Commission for its quick work, and also give thanks for linking the issue of recovery from the epidemic to the issue of reforms and the green and digital transition,” said the Prime Minister, adding that this is not just about restoring economic growth and everything based on it to the pre-crisis level, but that the European Commission has ensured, through the right strategic approach, that recovery will be part of a green and digital transition so that we will not lose a year, and in a few years’ time we will be able to take stock and see that we prepared Europe, as far as green and digital transition is concerned, for these challenges and that we took the steps needed to be globally competitive.
Prime Minister Janez Janša also extended his personal thanks to the President of the European Commission. As he recalled, the Slovenian Government took office in March last year, one day after the epidemic was declared, at a time when so much across Europe was in a state of chaos. “No country was prepared for this and I think we were very lucky to have Ursula von der Leyen, a medical doctor by training, at the helm of the European Commission, because she knew the danger we were facing. However, she also had experience as a minister of defence, the government sector whose purpose is to react in a crisis. My wife is also a medical doctor and every morning I was directly informed about what was happening in healthcare and about the proposals, and I was most content when a similar practical approach in terms of fighting the epidemic came from the European level,” said the Prime Minister. He also stated that he would not forget the call of the President of the European Commission at the very beginning of the epidemic, when Slovenia’s facilities for storing protective equipment were empty, when nobody knew what would happen the next day and “when I sensed from this conversation that someone in Brussels knows what we are facing, what needs to be done, and the steps that followed were practical proof that this is true,” the Prime Minister concluded.