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Prime Minister Janez Janša joins diplomats to discuss Europe after Brexit and the corona crisis

Prime Minister Janez Janša today attended the 24th Slovenian Diplomatic Consultation, which took place at Brdo pri Kranju, and addressed the assembled diplomats. In his speech he set out views on current topics in the international community, marked principally by Brexit and the novel coronavirus pandemic.

In the Prime Minister’s opinion the departure of the UK signals a “geostrategic disaster whose consequences we will be recovering from over a long period of time.” “In the short and medium term this is a bigger problem for us who have been left behind than for those who have left. This step cannot be explained through rational facts, since within the EU the UK had one of the most favourable positions. They were right there where they thought they could benefit, but not around where they had no benefit.  None of the countries that joined the European Union later could afford such a privileged position,” said the Prime Minister, who added that new balances were being sought and established. “In all the more important decisions taken over the past year, there has been a noticeable absence of the British voice. With regard to the common foreign and security policy, that absence has been felt sharply,” underlined Mr Janša. Here he noted that this does not mean that now with one less Member State in the EU it is easier for the countries to come to agreement, but rather that the points of focus have shifted, especially where this involves discussion of the single market and discussion of security policy. “At this point not all the answers are on the table yet. Ahead of us is the meeting of the European Council, which will be devoted to Belarus and the problems in the eastern Mediterranean, which is to say the conflict between Turkey, Greece and Cyprus, and this meeting will show most clearly where the post-Brexit focus will be formed.”

Prime Minister Janša stated that the coming months and years will be marked significantly by the coronavirus pandemic, for which the European Union was not prepared, although this was something that had once happened before, not in the lifetime of our generation, but nevertheless at a time that has been recorded, for instance during the Spanish flu and the Ebola outbreak. “If we concentrate on Europe, this pandemic has put us in a position where Europe acted as if it was in the Middle Ages, with some countries introducing pretty much a state of war, reviving laws from decades and centuries ago, based on which they seized goods, and personal protective equipment, and banned the export of critical equipment,” listed off Mr Janša, adding that there would need to be direct talks about green lines for goods transport, and about lifting blockades. “Overnight we arrived at a position which we believed in Europe could simply not be. It took a long time for something approaching normality to be established,” noted the Prime Minister, adding that there was still no optimism.  He noted that the financial dimension was one bright side to the coronavirus reactions. “In contrast to the reactions during the last economic and financial crisis, the reactions of the ECB, European Commission and International Monetary Fund were for the most part timely, and sufficiently robust, so we avoided the same consequences that we felt in Slovenia for a long time after 2008. That is a plus,” said Mr Janša. He went on to say that “the latest agreement, the breakthrough reached in the July European Council session, where we reached agreement on what is by far the most extensive EU financial package, where we had together a seven-year financial framework and a recovery fund in an unprecedented amount, is a bright point where it has been shown that when vital issues with the most long-term consequences are at stake, Europe can still find agreement.”

“We all hope that an effective vaccine, medicine or both will be available. The outlook is increasingly optimistic, and we are at a point of great likelihood that it will be found, yet it is nevertheless clear that up until that time we face a few more difficult months where we will need to weigh carefully, and also in respect of the wider environment, coordinate measures, for no country can afford one more shutdown of public life, and this can only be avoided if we have learned something from what happened in the spring,” said Mr Janša. Prime Minister Janez Janša thanked Slovenian diplomats for their effective work during the epidemic through the exchange of experiences and best practices in individual countries. During the epidemic, mutual help and the exchange of knowledge represented the highest national interest.

Prime Minister Janša also drew the attention of diplomats to the artificially generated issue or the “saga of the core Europe”.   “When we decided in the referendum to join the EU, we were not voting for an EU in which there would be first- and second-class countries, but rather we believed in equality and that the same criteria would apply for all as far as the decision-making process was concerned. We joined the European Union in the awareness that we were entering an environment that is civilised, that is the pinnacle of Western civilisation, where we would not be equal in terms of population number or GDP or economic or military might, rather we would be equal in terms of fundamental rights and in terms of the same criteria applying to all of us when it came to decision-making processes and everything else,”  said the Prime Minister, who noted that “it was in this light that we signed the Lisbon Treaty in good faith.” He pointed out that there were no first- and second-class Member States in the Lisbon Treaty, nor was there any concept of a core Europe. “The problem with the concept of a core Europe is not what that core Europe should be, but in the psychological aspect. Whoever uses the paradigm of the core Europe acknowledges that they themselves are not a part of it, or that they are not yet there, and from the outside this is understood entirely differently. From the outside, these discussions about the core Europe look as if a country has an inferiority complex, as if it was trying to join a camp that others don’t even see, and trying to pick up some scraps from that table. In the European Union we do not feel inferior, or second-class, nor are we in a situation where we would have to take sides in advance,” said Prime Minister Janša, adding that the European Union is a bond of compromises, all manner of agreements are concluded, and in making decisions there are very diverse alliances. To reject in advance this flexibility and advantage makes no sense in his opinion, and runs counter to what was voted for in the referendum on joining the European Union and is counter to the spirit of the Lisbon Treaty.  

The Slovenian Prime Minister then listed several examples of how the country had acted. “In contrast to previous policy, Slovenia supported the idea of introducing what was termed the eurobond for financing the recovery of the European economy after the Covid-19 pandemic.  We supported this, since a situation had arisen that was different from anything previous. In countries such as Italy and Spain, which were the most severely hit by the pandemic, this support was not forgotten, and will be remembered. When we were searching the entire globe for protective equipment and first obtained it from the Czechs, we too will not forget this, and will remember it,” noted the Prime Minister, pointing out that any inferiority complex within the EU is undesirable. “Like every Member State we have differing interests and positions regarding individual issues, and we are prepared to negotiate over them, but never from a point of inferiority,” he said.

“Please don’t get hung up on some artificial issue that serves no one,” he added, and went on to say that since a new EU geometry was being constructed in the wake of Brexit, a sense of greater self-confidence was all the more important. “In these relations within the EU Slovenia will not treat other Member States as first- and second-class, for us they are all welcome and equal partners. Where we have the possibility of helping resolve and mitigate conflicts, we will do that,” underlined Mr Janša.

He also highlighted that Slovenia’s strategic interest lay in the EU being preserved, in being stabilised on the foundations of the Lisbon Treaty, in the Schengen area and euro area being consolidated, in enlargement continuing and in Europe being ultimately whole and free, which has been the strategic interest of the EU founding fathers and on. “Slovenia’s interest is that we make progress and stabilise the region to the southeast of us,” said the Prime Minister, who is of the opinion that there is no more powerful instrument than the positive attraction of the European Union, nor will there be in the future.

He concluded his address with a brief overview of two conflict points local to Slovenia, in Belarus and the Eastern Mediterranean. “Slovenia is part of the EU and part of the NATO alliance, and if we are part of a community, then we are loyal to that community. Together with that community we take decisions and accept the benefits and risks of the community,” concluded Prime Minister Janez Janša.