Prime Minister Janez Janša: Debate on the future of Europe must be open and inclusive
On Europe day, 9 May, the work on the Conference on the Future of Europe has started. This unique and democratic project will enable Europeans to exchange views and try to find answers regarding the direction of the future development of our continent, the role and positioning of the Union in the changed geopolitical relations and, last but not least, our own existence. What are the foundations that will unite and connect the Europeans in the present as well as in the future? The Council of the EU, which will be chaired by Slovenia for the most of the time during which the conference will be held, the European Parliament, and the European commission will be jointly responsible for the implementation of this major project. In its role as the country holding the presidency, Slovenia will coordinate and represent the positions of the Member States when conducting the conference.
Today, Prime Minister Janez Janša held the first introductory debate entitled “The Future of Europe – Discussion on Strategic Challenges at the Beginning of a pan-European debate”, which was also attended by the President of the Republic of Slovenia Borut Pahor, Adviser to the President of the Republic Dr Ernest Petrič (through video call), former Minister of Foreign Affairs Dimitrij Rupel, lawyer Dr Matej Avbelj, lawyer Dr Jurij Toplak and Zofija Mazej Kukovič, who is dealing with the issues of resilience in the European Union.
Prime Minister Janez Janša initially explained that the European Union decided to organise a new debate on the future of the European continent a while ago. At first it was planned that Germany would lead the debate during its Presidency of the Council of the EU, but everything was delayed due to the coronavirus epidemic. For this reason, most of the time frame devoted to this debate falls under the Slovenian presidency of the Council. “This presents us with additional challenges,” said the Prime Minister, adding that he had already discussed with some of the currently present guests whether Slovenia should merely take a technical approach to organising debates or also add some value in substance. “We decided for the latter, and today, an introductory debate is taking place, which is an introduction to a number of round tables, debates, exchanges of views and opinions, that we will organise by the end of the year. Some of those events will only take place at the national level, while others will be organised more widely, with the participation of colleagues from all European countries,” said the Prime Minister. Prime Minister Janez Janša said that the part of the debate on the future of Europe where the EU institutions will influence the content will focus on the green and digital transition, because this is a strategic agenda that will change our way of life and affect it in the next decade. “The impact of the strategic agenda on the debate is thus understandable,” said Prime Minister Janez Janša.
He further emphasised that the epidemic has raised two prevailing topics – one is the issue of resilience, which will be an essential component of all the future round tables, and the other is reaching an agreement on how to ensure resilience at a global level.
Prime Minister Janez Janša also said that Slovenia proposed to the trio of member states holding the presidency that building resilience in Europe for better tackling the epidemic should be a priority, in order to improve the response from the beginning of the last year, when the epidemic came as a surprise for most. He added that we must not only ensure resilience but also obtain own resources. The Prime Minister highlighted the plans for recovery and resilience and pointed out that some parliaments across European countries are undertaking specific commitments and decisions, sometimes even involving the judicial branch, while some others explicitly emphasise that the ratification of mechanisms for own resources applies only for this case and stand against defining common needs in the European Union in such a way. According to the Prime Minister, this topic will definitely not be removed from the agenda, because there are also two pending acts before the authorities, namely the directive on digital market and the directive on digital services. “Tax on digital services is very likely one of the future key mechanisms for the EU’s own resources, which I believe is also quite appropriate, since no country can efficiently collect this tax on its own and include it in its own finances, as this is a global matter, and, next to reaching an agreement on this within the EU, we also need to reach an agreement within the World Trade Organisation,” said Prime Minister Janez Janša.
The Prime Minister believes that majority decision-making on foreign policy issues will be another high-profile topic, since the views on this are very different. “We will need to discuss the demographic picture of the EU, which resents a strategic problem, and the debates in this regard are too often narrowed down to the issue of migration. We are currently also dealing with the complete package with regard to migrations and there is little place for optimism on reaching breakthrough solutions – perhaps only on the issue of asylum, but elsewhere, the differences are too big and a wider demographic picture needs to be taken into account and used as a basis for everything else, the Prime Minister pointed out.
He also said that some other topics should be addressed, but what is the most important is for the debate on the future of Europe to finally start. “By this, I mean that this should not only be a debate between institutions and at the level of the governments, or at the level of social partners; this should be a debate where every individual with different views can participate and where those who differ from the “mainstream” view on the future of Europe or wish to propose a topic that is otherwise not listed among the Conference’s starting points are not restricted”, said the Prime Minister and added that in the recent months, the EU institutions, the stakeholders and the trio agreed on a unified approach to this, i.e. that the debate will be open and inclusive and not only limited to the strategic agenda. “The Bled Strategic Forum, which will be held on 1 and 2 September, will be fully dedicated to an open debate on the future of the EU and, after the first contacts, a lot of interest for participation was expressed. This means that at the beginning of September, there will be a lot of key people in Slovenia who bear responsibility for the short-term development of the EU in the coming years. There will also be individuals from European think tanks with a more long-term focus, who have diametrically opposite views on the future development of the EU,” said the Prime Minister and added that it is of crucial importance that we remain open and not rush to any conclusions and formal declarations at the end of the Bled Strategic Forum, fighting on every word; “instead, we must ensure the start of the debate, that everything is put out in the open and that no one s’ view on what is important for the future is excluded from the debate.”
The Prime Minister then continued the debate by stating the goal of a Europe whole and free and at peace. “When this goal was set and later redefined, no one probably expected that a large part thereof will be fulfilled during the lifespan of just one generation and also in the same time frame when this objective was laid down and largely in contrast with the tragedy that Europe faced in the first half of the 20th century”, said the Prime Minister. He pointed out that EU became smaller in the last year, as for the first time, a member country has left it, and not just any member country, but the very one that represents one quarter of the common market economy, that is a member of the United Nations Security Council, and that represented balance between excessive regulation and the advocacy for a free market. “This has changed Europe, and the degradation of the prioritized enlargement has also taken a direction opposite of this goal,” the Prime Minister said. He pointed out that at the time when Slovenia entered the EU, enlargement was the number one political topic in Europe, which was also the reason for its success. “This is hardly the case since the first enlargement. We all know that EU enlargement to Western Balkans will be possible when this will actually become a part of the Europe’s general motto, i.e. Europe whole and free and at peace; as long as the enlargement is only considered from the bureaucratic point of view, every detail and obstacle will hinder this process. Therefore, the debate on the future of Europe is also a debate on its enlargement,” pointed out Prime Minister Janez Janša. He also noted that Slovenia has a certain importance in the Western Balkans, “so we are able to help and it is our mission to connect the dots and make this topic a priority in Europe, otherwise the situation will remain unchanged, which means no great shifts are likely to be achieved.”
According to the Prime Minister, the agenda of the debate on the future of Europe should also include the fact that Europe has started to focus excessively on itself and the issues far from the basic motto, and that a generalization of some kind occurred, because, due to the narrow point of view of the Brussels institutions, the same script always tries to be followed and the way of speaking has also become adapted to this. Prime Minister said that the views circulating in certain documents and stating that Europe has been at peace for 70 years are not correct. “This is not true – we were at war, half of Europe was not living in democracy, prosperity and peace, civilians were shot at borders and at the Berlin Wall, and this just cannot be labelled as prosperity and 70 years of progress. In short, these differences must be taken into account,” pointed out the Prime Minister.
He also emphasized that there are some brilliant resolutions of the Council of Europe that address the actions Europe should be taking to become a space where human rights and fundamental freedoms are respected. “We must return to the origins of these concepts. Thus, freedom of expression is a fundamental right of every individual and not of an institution, so it should apply to individuals and not to institutions; this is not made clear in several documents and is leading to problems that were already well described before. This respective debate should also be conducted in a transparent way,” pointed out Prime Minister Janez Janša.
The same applies to the issue of the Single European Market, “when you look at the numbers, you can see that, regardless of the cohesion funds, the ones that benefit the most from the single market are those who are better developed, who manufacture the products with higher added value, and when this is balanced, it is hard to say who is the net contributor and who is the net receiver. All this has brought with it a selection of wording which is not fair, and directives are written using the wrong terms, which causes problems,” the Prime Minister said.
He also pointed out that the coronavirus pandemic raised certain issues that will be subject to debate also within the Conference on the Future of Europe. There is a lot of discussion on the topic of federal Europe vs. a Europe of nations. But it is being forgotten that the question regarding the meaning of EU as an institution has already been answered when discussing the Treaty of Lisbon. In the EU, we are dealing with those issues that we cannot resolve at a national level and those that are more efficiently tackled at European level. This synergy brings added value that cannot be measured with numbers, because when people, institutions and nations work together, a space is created where even the impossible may happen,” pointed out Prime Minister Janez Janša.
The Prime Minister also said that the European Union needs to redefine its attitude towards Russia, “as we are currently in a situation where, meeting to meeting, we are looking for answers to short-term dilemmas with far too little strategic consideration”. The last time when the situation was somewhat alike was around the year 2008, said the Prime Minister.
Upon conclusion, he pointed out that many challenges humankind is confronted with go beyond national boundaries. There are issues that concern the entire human race. “Humankind must define common goals, which would enable for several problems and conflicts to be addressed and resolved in a different way.
The coronavirus crisis has shown that the EU presents a major added value. We must strive to ensure that the nations who are not a part of the EU yet also get to share the EU’s prosperity, we need to help them, because in the end, it is in our interest for Schuman’s dreams to be realised,” said the Prime Minister, and invited all the institutions and civil society organisations who believe that they can contribute or organise a debate on the future of Europe, to send a petition. “Every proposal made will also be forwarded to the plenary session of the Conference on the Future of Europe, and we will do our best to ensure that the original ideas will find their place in the final document,” concluded Prime Minister Janez Janša.