Prime Minister Janez Janša: Much of what will happen in the European Union over the next four years will depend on the outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic
At today’s 67th extraordinary session of the National Assembly, Prime Minister Janez Janša spoke about the proposal for a Declaration on the Orientations for the Republic of Slovenia’s functioning in the European Union institutions for the period 2021–2024.
As the Prime Minister said at the outset, we had already discussed a similar declaration twelve times in the National Assembly. „However, this time, it is a document that tries to take a view at a slightly more extended period as opposed to until now when this document was adopted for a period of 18 months. Fast changes in Europe and the world require the adoption of a more strategic document with fundamental orientations for our action in the European Union, and the period covered by this Declaration coincides with the cycle of the entire legislative period, i.e., the mandate of the European Commission and the European Parliament. This Declaration is also synchronised with the EU Strategic Agenda for 2019–2024. So there are greater clarity and coherence between the critical priorities of the Republic of Slovenia’s action in the EU institutions. It is also about improving the transparency of our interests or what we want to achieve in the institutions at this time,“ stressed the Prime Minister.
„For the first time since we have adopted a similar document, we have planned our work in the EU institutions after the Brexit, that is, at a time when one of the Member States, and one of the largest in the European Union, left the group. And not in an entirely consistent and unanimous manner because several issues are still open. Some issues we believed were closed are now being resolved in court, or there are announcements of lawsuits. This situation represents a strategically different environment than we have been accustomed to so far since Slovenia’s accession to the European Union. Momentarily, as also mentioned in the Declaration, the COVID-19 pandemic is a key problem for the European Union and most of the world. Much of what will happen in the European Union over the next four years will depend very much on how the combat against the pandemic will come to an end or what will be the results. And above all, what lessons will be drawn from it,” said the Prime Minister. He pointed out that Slovenia had added two priorities already on the outset when it was included in the three Presidencies programme together with Germany and Portugal, which were agreed unanimously. These priorities are set to prepare the European Union for greater resilience against possible emerging pandemics. Probably, this a sad fact, and preparing the European Union for greater resilience against cyberattacks, which are in essence the biggest threat to the modern world, except for the nuclear conflict at this moment,” said Prime Minister Janez Janša.
„At the moment, the European Union is working on efforts to provide enough vaccine, the only known way to halt the pandemic effectively. Unfortunately, the European Union summit, planned for this week, has been organised as an audio-video conference. The formal ground is the situation with worsening or increasing infections in most Member States of the European Union or at the beginning of the third wave. The real cause probably lies elsewhere because yesterday, many meetings took place in Brussels – from well-known ministers’ meetings to the meeting of well-known ministers with the US Secretary of State in the framework of NATO and a series of other meetings. And here, the situation due to COVID-19 is not a sufficient reason for these meetings not to occur. Therefore, the cancellation of the meeting in person of the European Summit and switch to a video conference, which is a completely different format, is subject to great dissatisfaction. Due to the contracts concluded with vaccine manufacturers, especially with AstraZeneca, since this supplier does not adhere to the contracts. Thus, the entire European Union faces problems with implementing vaccination plans as they were adopted at the end of last year or the beginning of this year,” said the Prime Minister and expressed doubts if all these issues could be resolved through the audio-conference. He also said that there would be no satisfactory response to this situation for some time. „However, further efforts are being made to provide vaccines from other manufacturers or to approve vaccines that are being tested as soon as possible to eliminate this error due to contracting,” said the Prime Minister.
He continued that there was a lot of talk in the resolution about green transition and digital transformation. In all the European Union strategy papers about the near and medium future, these transformations are referred to or defined as a strategic definition. „As far as the green transition is concerned, it is important to note that it is a transition rather than a breaking point. In other words, in addition to deciding when to move to carbon neutrality and that everything will be green, it is also necessary to weigh the price of this transition and, above all, the impacts of these transitions. Suppose this is not weighed up; if it is not included in the strategies and many cases in a sectoral way, it is under-treated. Therefore, the stark ruin to certain percentages in practice means the collapse of industries, which currently provide tens of millions of jobs in Europe and a large percentage of each of the most industrialised countries’ gross domestic product. On the other hand, this means moving these industries to other continents to the less developed parts of the world, where CO2 emissions are rising. Thus, globally we have not reached anything other than the destruction of certain industries that are strategically important for Europe,” said the Prime Minister. He also added the awareness that this is not a breaking point, but a transition is not sufficiently highlighted in several strategic documents. „If you are following discussions in Europe, especially in Germany, this also causes major turbulence in the internal political scenes of individual countries,” added Prime Minister Janez Janša.
When it comes to digital transformation, we are talking about something that is going on. We are talking about something where competitiveness needs to be achieved, and we are also talking about something where there are huge risks. Because artificial intelligence is not just a way of making some things cheaper, better and greener, it is also a technology that can also be misused in the other direction. To simplify, I am talking about the risk of cyberattacks and cyberdependence. This is the point where every Member State of the European Union by itself is far too weak to face this challenge. Even Europe as a whole is too weak in a given power relationship in the world. It is a point where a North Atlantic Alliance or transatlantic Alliance is particularly needed. And this may be, or most likely is the only way to establish sufficient cybersecurity. And sufficient cybersecurity will allow us to exploit all the promising potentials of this digital transformation,“ stressed Prime Minister Janez Janša.
„The European Union’s strategic problem, with which will be forced to deal with in the future and is pressing, is demography,“ continued Prime Minister Janez Janša. According to him, the ageing population in Europe poses multiple challenges. „The debate on how much this problem can be solved through migration and how much through a different family policy with traditional ways of revising the demographic picture is taking place. However, an obvious solution lies in a healthy combination that presupposes that Europe also has a single migration policy, that it is capable of protecting external borders and as well as of setting and implementing rational and uniform criteria for legal migration flows,” said the Prime Minister.
„The subject contained in the Declaration and, of course, also pressing within the European Union, which was largely a topic that started the debates on Brexit, is a question of the rule of law. It is fundamental for the multinational and multi-State community, such as the European Union. The presumption that a community is founded on the rule of law primarily lies on the ground that the same criteria apply to all. We are equal and equivalent before the EU institutions, regardless of the population and when a Member entered the European Union. That is to say, the same criteria apply when France exceeds some percentage or the criteria for meeting European stability, sustainability, or anything else. The same criteria also apply to Malta, Slovenia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Sweden, etc. The main discussions took place when the individual Member States justifiably or unjustifiably took the view that the same rules do not apply to all,“ said the Prime Minister and continued: „Slovenians, who have lived for a long time in multinational countries and under different governments, know the feeling. This feeling leads to the opinion that the same criteria do not apply to all, and, sadly, we know how such stories end. And from this point of view, the struggle for the rule of law comes first. This struggle aims to ensure that the criteria and rules in a given community apply equally to all. Then, individuals, as well as nations and countries, have a place where justice prevails and in which they wish to reside,” said Prime Minister Janez Janša.
He continued that in the next four years, the discussion on the future of the European Union would also be open in a way that had not yet been opened. Not only because the conference on the future of Europe was formally launched and the central part – the main timeline of this conference – coincided with the second half of this year, when Slovenia is leading the Council of the European Union. „This discussion will be different from what it has so far been due to many factors, two of which are the most important. One is Brexit, as already mentioned before. For the first time, we are in a situation where the European Union has expanded and has also reduced, and significantly so. The second factor is the ongoing pandemic. That is to say, in this situation, which will mainly be limited to these two factors, there will be a discussion on how Europeans imagine our shared future. The preparations for this conference alone do not offer much hope of optimism. Those of you who remember the previous Conference on the future of Europe know that the president of the conference was appointed, there was a flexible yet hierarchical structure, which then led this conference. At first, we were presented a proposal for a Constitutional Treaty that was rejected in France and the Netherlands. Then some compromise in the form of the Treaty of Lisbon arrived. So, despite the difficulties, the process somehow ended in some mostly good conclusions. The European Union institutions have now disagreed on a single President. Thus, the conference is in the hands of a trio, i.e. the presiding country and the President of the European Commission and the European Parliament. This means that Slovenia will co-lead the conference on the future of Europe. This is a great responsibility at this time, given that the conclusions are to be adopted at the beginning of next year, i.e., practically in less than 12 months or precisely in one year,“ said the Prime Minister. He pointed out that this meant that most of the work was to be done during the Slovenian Presidency, a substantial additional burden on Slovenia and a great responsibility. „We had to organise ourselves further for this discussion, and we decided to take this challenge seriously.“ As the Prime Minister said, we will not take this as a technical challenge, where you organise those meetings you are supposed to, write minutes and wait for the mainstream to pass for half a year, “but firstly, we will try to open this conference for all the ideas circling Europe about our shared future, without eliminating any ideas based on one or the other political correctness or imaginary mainstream.“
This is the only way to come to some conclusions that will contain an assessment in which everyone took part, not just officials, bureaucracy or government representatives of the Member States. We also want to involve the thinking part of Europe, from universities to think tanks, civil society, all the parliamentary groups of the European Parliament. Namely, all those who have any idea of what we should do to make Europe increasingly a shared home for all Europeans,“ said the Prime Minister. As he pointed out, the Bled Forum’s regular international meeting will be fully dedicated to this task. We will also organise a series of other events, where this topic will be discussed. „Given the concept that has been harmonised between the Council of the European Union, the European Parliament and the European Commission, no expectations are oriented towards a new treaty based on the conclusions, which would replace or upgrade the Lisbon Treaty. These expectations are not part even of the most optimistic designs of this document. Although, in my opinion, this is a goal from which we should not run. Since some issues can probably be upgraded in this Treaty, but above all, this is a large white canvas, a grey zone. These are questions which, even under the existing treaties, can, of course, be addressed and resolved in a completely different way from what we are currently seeing. Thus, we will try our best to work on this and that based on our contributions and our work and, above all, our open approach, the conclusion of this conference may be more promising than somewhat lower expectations. These were lowered because the European institutions failed to organise the conference in a similar way in which we carried out the last one,“ said the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister concluded that, given that the Declaration is set for the period up to 2023, some of its objectives and ambitions could be seen as an empirical fact. Namely, it is about consistency with the programme of the European Parliament and the European Commission’s current convening. And now, we are talking about things that will happen. However, how they will happen and what the result will be, is, of course, still to be seen. „But here, we are talking about our ambitions in the context of something that will be on the table. However, given that it is no longer 18 months but rather a four-year period, it is practically possible to count on several unexpected challenges. In such case, this National Assembly will, if necessary, have to complete this Declaration or face these challenges in some other formal way.“