State secretary Stanonik at the meeting of agriculture ministers from South Eastern Europe
The main topics of the ministerial meeting, at which Kosovo is taking over the one-year SWG Presidency from Northern Macedonia, will be the exchange of views concerning the accession of acceding countries regarding agriculture and rural development on their path to the EU, the assessment of the situation and dynamics of developmental cooperation between neighbouring countries and the conclusions of the Agricultural Policy Forum held in October 2019 in Ohrid (the so-called Ohrid Agenda).
In his speech, State Secretary Stanonik said that, as an observer, Slovenia is actively monitoring the work of the Regional Rural Development Standing Working Group in South Eastern Europe, believing that the group's operation is of paramount importance to fostering sustainable farming and rural development in South Eastern Europe. The participating countries thus have the opportunity to come together in addressing the challenges that each of them is unable to take on alone.
He then touched on some of the aspects of the Ohrid Agenda. He welcomed the fact that financial support in the form of the Community's pre-accession assistance was available and operating in all SEE countries. He stressed the importance of the diversification of economic activities for sustainable rural development. "With more than a half of the EU's population living in rural areas, we must do our best to make sure that the countryside remains an appealing and lively place to live." As the State Secretary said, "small family farms are characteristic of Slovenia and SEE countries and are of key importance to maintaining the population density in rural areas. The future of food security, rural development and settlement is highly dependent on the implementation of measures relating to the development of small family farms, infrastructural investments and the inclusion of young people and women in rural areas."
Another important item of the Ohrid Agenda is the issue of research capacities as sustainable development in rural areas. "This is another topic that is vital to Slovenia and was addressed at the last ministerial conference held in Ptuj in August 2019. In addition to EU Member States, this year's conference was traditionally attended by ministers and their deputies from both candidate and potential candidate countries. Together we adopted a declaration affirming our commitment to strengthening and coordinating the efforts, goals and successful implementation of Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation Systems (AKIS) in various countries and regions across Europe."
The State Secretary also emphasised that Slovenia's participation in the SEE Regional Rural Development Standing Working Group as well as its presence at today's ministerial meeting are a show of support to the participating countries' efforts in rural development and European integration. He said that one concrete example of collaboration is Slovenia's recent role of advisor to Montenegro in strengthening the administration for the implementation of quality schemes, national schemes, the forestry policy and the fisheries policy, and to Northern Macedonia in performing activities as part of the IPARD II pre-accession assistance programme, implementing the rural infrastructure measure and fostering the development of rural structures by implementing the LEADER approach in the country. Within its HR and financial capacities, Slovenia has been continuously striving to strengthen cooperation with all SEE countries in agriculture, rural development, forestry, fisheries and food security.
The State Secretary ended his speech by saying, "The future of South Eastern Europe should also be an investment on the part of the European Union, one that is bound to pay off. South Eastern Europe is a meeting point of true and efficient cooperation that exceeds state borders. Slovenia is also aware of this and thus remains a loyal advocate and supporter of EU enlargement to the Western Balkans, which will also be reflected in the programme of Slovenia's Presidency of the Council of EU in the second half of 2021".