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Prime Minister Janez Janša: We see a strong Europe made up of strong Member States

Prime Minister Janez Janša attends the Bled Strategic Forum, which he opened with an opening address. The unauthorised Prime Minister's speech is published below.

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Thirty years ago, we Slovenians established our own country. One year before that we fought for and held our first multi-party elections. At that time, as many as 90% of voters supported the dream of an independent country at the referendum.

On only one other occasion did so many Slovenian citizens support one specific decision, and that was the decision for Slovenia to join the European Union.

Being a part of the European Union was never merely an economic opportunity for us. It was the return to a family connected by the values of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and democracy. All that had been taken from us or violated in communist Yugoslavia.

This return to Europe coincided with the fundamental historical mission of the European Union, spurred by the fall of totalitarian communist regimes in Europe: the mission to establish an integral and free Europe, which is at peace with itself and its neighbourhood.

Today, the European Union is very different than it was at the time of Slovenia's accession as well as the first Slovenian presidency of the Council of the EU. We could say that the Slovenian presidency in the first half of 2008 was the last presidency not marked in one way or another by a severe crisis.

After that, they have come one after another: financial crisis, migratory crisis, the occupation of Crimea, the creation of frozen conflicts in our eastern neighbourhood, Brexit, and the coronavirus pandemic since the beginning of last year.

We strongly hope the time has come when the actions of the European Union can and must become strategic and long-term, oriented towards achieving the goal set by the fathers of the European Union. A Europe that is free, whole and at peace with itself and its neighbourhood.

After the Second World War, the founding fathers of the EU were faced with a challenge how to restructure relations among the nations of Europe.

Ten out of eleven of them were associated with Christian Democrat parties. Therefore, they knew the moto of Saint Augustine:

Unity in necessary things; freedom in doubtful things; charity in all things.

From this motto, derive the mechanisms of the European unification idea: consensus seeking and mutual respect, subsidiarity, and solidarity.

These are the crucial principles. Unfortunately, it seems that along the way we often moved away or even against them. We would be well advised to follow the lead of the EU founding fathers and think about the implementation of these principles in the EU today.

This is the defining question of our time – how to interpret and implement the values and mechanisms of consensus seeking and mutual respect, subsidiarity, and solidarity. A common good that includes the good of every participating nation.

This is the condition for a joint response to the crucial developmental challenges – economic, demographic and societal – that Europe is faced with today.

The debate on the future of Europe comes at a decisive moment.

After a decade of crises that uncovered many of the EU's deficiencies and gaps. But, sometimes, also our resilience and unexpected strength.

Clearly, there are different visions about the future of the EU, but we cannot afford exclusion. That is why we are so keen on having a sincere and open discussion about our common future. We want to preserve our European family.

The debate needs a procedural fairness, where everyone can participate, be heard, and listened to. Only so, we can understand each other. The relational dynamics within the EU needs to reflect much more the consensus seeking and mutual respect, as in relations within a family, than relations between international actors.

As such, the debate on the future of Europe is about learning and understanding. This will enable consensus seeking as well as mutual respect, subsidiarity, and solidarity. And this will then allow the EU to face external challenges, which we cannot do if we are divided.

The COVID-19 pandemic unmasked again the so far latent tensions in the international system: the struggle for global governance. The EU has been at the forefront of this struggle. But, unfortunately, not always as an actor, but also as a stage for that struggle.

This is our own fault due to the some unnecessary fights within the EU that are occupying our political agenda. Necessary crucial conditions of a good strategy are historical sensibility and a moral compass. Hence, relying only on the normative power of the EU will not be enough.

Thus, the debate on the future of Europe is foremost a discussion about who we are, about understanding the logos, pathos, and ethos of European nations. This will also enable us to broaden the strategic horizon of the EU’s foreign policy.

The main challenge of European unification is to assure unity, while preserving diversity. Europe has not yet found all the answers to this question. In a quest we do not have to reinvent the wheel but return to the origins: consensus seeking and mutual respect, subsidiarity, and solidarity.

I started with a memory from thirty years ago. Let us conclude with a look at the next three decades. We imagine and we see a Europe that is based on European civilization. A strong Europe made of strong member states. A strong Europe, able to project and execute soft and hard power. European Union enlarged with new members from Western Balkans and Eastern neighbourhood. A Europe with efficient and lean European Union institutions.  We see a Europe that is at peace with itself and set in peaceful and prosperous surroundings. We see Europe as part of a strong North Atlantic Alliance, as a world leader in terms of freedom and quality of life, as home to justice and prosperity.

We see Europe as a place of dynamic and free expression of opinions, cooperation, high standards in terms of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and in terms of the rule of law, which is based on equal standards for all and on the cooperation of democratic institutions elected by the people.

This is what the debate on the future of Europe is about – how do we get there. To a Europe, whole and free and at peace with itself.

I am confident that the debate can deliver.