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Prime Minister Janez Janša: Countries that implement a lifelong learning system in good time will be better capable of making both digital and the green transition

Following Friday’s EU Social Summit, an informal meeting of EU leaders was held in the Portugal city of Porto today, and was also attended by Prime Minister Janez Janša. At today’s meeting, the leaders concentrated on how to best ensure an inclusive recovery, with education and skills at the heart of the EU's political action. They also focused on how to create jobs and improve their quality, and on how to combat poverty and social exclusion.

An informal meeting of EU leaders

An informal meeting of EU leaders | Author Office of the Prime Minister

After the informal meeting and the EU-India leaders' meeting, Prime Minister Janez Janša mostly answered journalists' questions, the first of which was about Slovenia’s position on the issue of lifting intellectual property protections on vaccines, while the second question concerned the distribution of vaccines and whether Slovenia would participate in this process, as well as whether there is any possibility that vaccines would also be manufactured in our country.

"Slovenia is already participating in the manufacturing of vaccines, as one of the Slovenian companies is involved in vaccine purification, which is one of the key components of vaccine manufacturing process as well as one of its crucial elements, since the side effects and the quantity of vaccines obtained in a particular rollout depend on the purity of the vaccines,” said Prime Minister Janez Janša, adding that one of the Slovenian pharmaceutical companies has been developing capacities within the chain which it is part of and that the first production should start at the end of the year.

As far as patents are concerned, there has been much debate according to the Prime Minister, but no consensus on this has yet been reached in the EU, so it is likely that the debate will also take place at the extraordinary European Summit to be held on 25 May. "A solution is emerging in the context of a greater flexibility regarding patents within the EU, which is probably the right path to take at the moment, because even in the case of a potential full liberalisation in terms of vaccines and intellectual property protection, the key problem, which is insufficient production capacities, would still remain unsolved," said Prime Minister Janša. "The solution to this problem is to increase the production capacities for vaccines, and both Europe and other countries are working on it,” added the Prime Minister. He went on to say that the issue of patents for mRNA vaccines, i.e. for technological breakthrough patents, has been raised as well. "If all these patents were opened, then there is probably not a country in Africa that would be able to manufacture such vaccines, but China, which already has its own vaccines, could do it. The problem here, however, is more complex," said the Prime Minister, adding that while the purpose of launching a debate on vaccine patents – that is, to provide enough vaccines for everyone – is welcome and appropriate, as the world would need 11 billion vaccination doses to end the epidemic everywhere, until we manage to do so, there is a threat of new variants, and when it comes to new variants, the question of vaccine efficacy is always relevant; however, there are countries within the EU which were initially in favour of full liberalisation and there are those which were against it. "After a long debate, however, a compromise has been taking shape and it will win in the end," the Prime Minister is convinced.

"No country in Europe has yet achieved sufficient vaccination coverage to halt the epidemic, but no one has forgotten about solidarity. Some time ago, Slovenia was one of the first countries to offer several thousand vaccination doses to Bosnia and Herzegovina, and this gesture of assistance is now being realised, and we are also discussing how to help the countries in our neighbourhood, and not only in the Western Balkans, in particular with large quantities of vaccines in the second half of the year, when we will already achieve sufficient vaccination coverage while they will not. If the supply of vaccines is such as was presented by the European Commission, then this will be possible and Slovenia will participate.  The countries that offer vaccines now are offering the batches to be rolled-out in the last two quarters of this year. Slovenia will therefore participate, but first we must achieve the vaccination coverage that will enable us to return to normal life," replied Prime Minister Janez Janša when asked about solidarity with other countries regarding the supply of vaccines.

When asked about the debate regarding the EU-Russia relations and whether the Czech Republic expressed any expectations regarding the tightening of measures against Russia, the Prime Minister said that the Czech Prime Minister had informed them of their findings in connection with the terrorist attack in the weapons warehouse seven years ago, "and we all expressed our solidarity." This topic, however, was not on the agenda. Russia will be the subject of the extraordinary summit on 25 May," added the Prime Minister. "I think this will all lead to an attempt to establish a single EU mechanism for similar cases – that is, if something similar happens, each country will not have to coordinate separately, as a joint action mechanism will be in place," said Prime Minister Janez Janša.

Asked whether there had been any discussion at the meeting on how to expedite the supply of vaccines to third world countries, Prime Minister Janez Janša said that the threat of an epidemic has several phases. "The first phase is when the virus is present in Europe, while the second phase is the threat of the virus being imported once it has already been eradicated here, both are important and each step has to be taken separately," he added. He once again reiterated that the key issue of vaccine supply lies in production capacities and raw materials. "Some raw materials needed for vaccine production are relatively limited, while most of the production takes place in bioreactors in the US," said the Prime Minister and added that the US liberalising the distribution of critical raw materials for most of the vaccines from their bioreactors would be a very good sign. "But when it comes to vaccines to combat the epidemic, those countries that have the production capacities and those that can build them should do everything in their power to keep up the production until the whole world has enough vaccines to stop the virus," said Mr Janša.

Asked about the Conference on the Future of Europe and what proposals are expected during the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the EU 2021, the Prime Minister said that intensive talks on the subject have been held for several months. "In the last three days, talks have also been held with the Prime Ministers of other countries and these talks have indicated some steps that can be taken to reach a consensus on what needs to be done in the future and what will be worked on, but it is clear from the outset that no substantial changes to the Treaty, in terms of decision-making, or changes to the preamble, the foundations of the Lisbon Treaty itself, can realistically be expected at this time," said the Prime Minister.  "In the next half of the year, Slovenia will give the floor to all ideas that arise, and this will not be limited to certain forums, the Council or the European Parliament, but, in the second half of the year, we will try to make sure that everyone who has an idea about the future of Europe has a voice and is heard, and that smaller countries are also taken into account. In order to open this debate, we will expand the scope of the annual meeting, the Bled Strategic Forum, which is likely to see one of the highest turnouts this year," added Mr Janša.

Asked whether the Porto declaration on social policy was ambitious enough, Prime Minister Janez Janša answered that the declaration is ambitious, but that the essential benefit of all the discussions was the awareness of how Europe can maintain its current high level of prosperity and the European social model, and how to develop it further. "This depends on many issues, but two essential ingredients have to be considered. The first is Europe's and EU Member States' ability to rework their education systems so that lifelong learning is not just another additional activity," said the Prime Minister and added that, under the current system, education stops when we finish our education and enter employment. "We will see less and less of this transition as lifelong learning will drastically influence our lives and habits in the future. The side effects of the epidemic, such as distance learning, or remote work, will become a part of our daily life and the process," said the Prime Minister. He is also of the opinion that this awareness has not been developed enough, but thinks that the countries that will be able to introduce a new education system based on lifelong learning will be in a better position to implement the digital and green transitions and do so without a major social cost.

"The second foundation is social dialogue, whereby it is clear what the interests of employers and employees are, without mixing their roles, where each side advocates for its interests, and, where differences arise, these are resolved through social dialogue. This is also one of the essential components of the European model and way of life, but there are many challenges ahead and a clear understanding must emerge from the ongoing discussions that there should be no mixing of roles and that a rational social dialogue is the way forward," concluded Prime Minister Janez Janša.