1. The Eastern Neighbours and Russia

Jure Pož­gan and Dani­jel Crnčec

Russia Remains an Important Partner Despite Harsh Sanctions

The Repub­lic of Slove­nia aims to pre­serve good, open, and friend­ly rela­tions with Ukraine as well as with the Russ­ian Fed­er­a­tion based on mutu­al respect, inter­na­tion­al law, and good eco­nom­ic cooperation.

On the one hand, Slove­nia strong­ly sup­ports Ukraine’s ter­ri­to­r­i­al integri­ty and sov­er­eign­ty and reit­er­ates that the con­flict in East­ern Ukraine should be solved peace­ful­ly by the imple­men­ta­tion of the Min­sk Agree­ments. Slove­nia does not recog­nise the ille­gal annex­a­tion of Crimea and Sev­astopol. In July Sloven­ian Min­is­ter of For­eign Affairs, Karl Erjavec, vis­it­ed Ukraine and invit­ed Ukrain­ian Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko to pay a vis­it to Slove­nia. Poroshenko accept­ed the invi­ta­tion say­ing that the two coun­tries enter­tain spe­cial relations.

On the oth­er hand, Slove­nia strives to main­tain good and friend­ly rela­tions with Rus­sia. Regard­less of the cur­rent sanc­tions relat­ing to the events in Ukraine, Rus­sia remains an impor­tant busi­ness part­ner of Slove­nia. In 2014, Rus­sia was the 7th largest trade part­ner and the 5th biggest investor in Slove­nia. How­ev­er, sanc­tions have a sig­nif­i­cant neg­a­tive effect on the small and open Sloven­ian econ­o­my. In July, Russ­ian Prime Min­is­ter Dmit­ry Medvedev vis­it­ed Slove­nia to attend the memo­r­i­al cer­e­mo­ny at the Russ­ian Chapel under the Vršič Pass built by Russ­ian World War I pris­on­ers engaged in forced labour. The chapel serves as both a war memo­r­i­al and a sym­bol­ic link between Slove­nia and Russia.

Fol­low­ing the memo­r­i­al cer­e­mo­ny, the Prime Min­is­ters dis­cussed the pos­si­bil­i­ties for stronger bilat­er­al eco­nom­ic and cul­tur­al coop­er­a­tion and agreed that it would be in the mutu­al inter­est of all to lift sanc­tions. Del­e­ga­tions agreed and signed a three-year coop­er­a­tion pro­gramme in cul­ture, research, edu­ca­tion, and sport; coop­er­a­tion pro­grammes in health­care and jus­tice; and a mem­o­ran­dum of under­stand­ing regard­ing eco­nom­ic coop­er­a­tion in third coun­tries. Addi­tion­al­ly, a mem­o­ran­dum of under­stand­ing on renew­able ener­gy resources was signed.

Slove­nia thus aims to pre­serve friend­ly and open cul­tur­al and eco­nom­ic rela­tions with Rus­sia and stress­es that the sit­u­a­tion in Ukraine should be solved peace­ful­ly. As a small state, Slove­nia advo­cates that inter­na­tion­al dis­putes should be set­tled peace­ful­ly with­in exist­ing inter­na­tion­al insti­tu­tions and in accor­dance with the inter­na­tion­al law. How­ev­er, Slove­nia as a small and open econ­o­my tries to remain prag­mat­ic in eco­nom­ic rela­tions. On account of the lat­ter, some have crit­i­cized Sloven­ian for­eign pol­i­cy as being too soft and friend­ly in rela­tions to Rus­sia. Janez Janša, leader of the Sloven­ian Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty, Slovenia’s biggest oppo­si­tion par­ty, has com­ment­ed that some issues in the sum­mer arbi­tra­tion scan­dal between Slove­nia and Croa­t­ia arose on account of (friend­ly) rela­tions with Rus­sia and Medvedev’s vis­it in Slove­nia. Name­ly, in July a wire-tap­ping scan­dal of secret talks between the Sloven­ian arbi­tra­tor and agent broke out after which Croa­t­ia announced the ter­mi­na­tion of the arbi­tra­tion agree­ment and with­draw­al from the bor­der arbi­tra­tion between the two countries.


Eastern Partnership – Process of Small Steps

The cri­sis in Ukraine fos­tered a lot of media atten­tion in Slove­nia. How­ev­er, the events were not pri­mar­i­ly analysed from the per­spec­tive of the East­ern Part­ner­ship. Most of the media and diplo­mat­ic atten­tion focused on the ques­tion of how the events in Ukraine will affect (bilat­er­al) polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic rela­tions between Slove­nia and Ukraine and, espe­cial­ly, Slove­nia and Russia.

Slove­nia sup­ports the East­ern Part­ner­ship coun­tries in their reform pro­grammes and is com­mit­ted to a mutu­al­ly con­struc­tive part­ner­ship. At the East­ern Part­ner­ship Sum­mit in Riga in May 2015 the Sloven­ian Prime Min­is­ter, Miro Cer­ar, stressed that despite the tur­bu­lent sit­u­a­tion in the region, Slove­nia is pos­i­tive that the East­ern Part­ner­ship can pro­vide sig­nif­i­cant and tan­gi­ble ben­e­fits to the whole neigh­bour­hood. Accord­ing to him, polit­i­cal, social, and eco­nom­ic reforms are cru­cial for achiev­ing pros­per­i­ty in the region, so the focus should remain on the imple­men­ta­tion of these reforms. How­ev­er, it was nec­es­sary to take into account the dif­fer­ent needs, ambi­tions and real­i­ties of indi­vid­ual part­ner coun­tries. Due to dif­fer­ences between part­ner coun­tries, dif­fer­ent lev­els of rela­tions with the EU will be achieved, accord­ing to indi­vid­ual capa­bil­i­ties and with­in dif­fer­ent time­frames. Thus it is impor­tant to fur­ther sup­port Geor­gia, Moldo­va, and Ukraine in imple­ment­ing the pro­vi­sions of the asso­ci­a­tion agree­ments. In that man­ner the Sloven­ian par­lia­ment has already rat­i­fied the asso­ci­a­tion agree­ments with these three coun­tries. Nev­er­the­less, it is also very impor­tant to con­tin­ue coop­er­a­tion with Arme­nia, Azer­bai­jan, and Belarus.


Riga Summit: bolstering cooperation with partner countries or confirming the status quo?

Regard­ing the assess­ment of the East­ern Part­ner­ship Sum­mit in Riga in May 2015, two pre­dom­i­nant dis­cours­es can be iden­ti­fied — a pos­i­tive one cre­at­ed by state-offi­cials, and a pes­simistic one con­struct­ed main­ly by ana­lysts, experts, and the media.

At the end of the Riga Sum­mit Sloven­ian Prime Min­is­ter Miro Cer­ar gave a pos­i­tive assess­ment of the progress achieved, stress­ing the impor­tance of increased eco­nom­ic, polit­i­cal, and cul­tur­al coop­er­a­tion with all six East­ern Part­ner­ship coun­tries that does not endan­ger rela­tions with Rus­sia. He expects that the Riga Sum­mit will not wors­en or improve EU-Rus­sia rela­tions, but rather keep them at the lev­el of a dynam­ic sta­tus quo with high expec­ta­tions regard­ing the imple­men­ta­tion of the Min­sk Agree­ment. An agree­ment on visa lib­er­al­i­sa­tion regimes (in Moldo­va, Ukraine, and Geor­gia) and pro­mo­tion of fur­ther eco­nom­ic coop­er­a­tion in the whole region are, accord­ing to Cer­ar, an impor­tant step towards peace and secu­ri­ty in Europe. State Sec­re­tary Bog­dan Benko point­ed out that the main secu­ri­ty risks for the EU lie in its neigh­bour­hood. Accord­ing­ly, at the Riga Sum­mit the EU proved it could act as a uni­fied actor even in the case of a (Ukrain­ian) cri­sis, there­fore the lev­el of coop­er­a­tion with part­ner coun­tries is vital. There was no dif­fer­ence in posi­tion between the coali­tion and oppo­si­tion polit­i­cal parties.

Media com­men­ta­tors, ana­lysts, and experts on the oth­er hand under­lined the fact that the Riga Sum­mit failed to pro­vide an impor­tant incen­tive for Part­ner­ship coun­tries to con­tin­ue with the asso­ci­a­tion process. Not only the sum­mit lacked a clear EU mem­ber­ship per­spec­tive for Euro­pean Part­ner­ship coun­tries, it also reaf­firmed the image of the EU as weak and inde­ci­sive. Con­se­quent­ly, with EU scep­ti­cism already being a press­ing prob­lem in the Part­ner­ship coun­tries, these might turn towards Rus­sia again.


European Army Not a Key Issue For Slovenia

Jean-Claude Juncker’s idea that the EU needs its own army to face up to Rus­sia and oth­er threats, as well as to restore the EU’s stand­ing around the world has received bare­ly any atten­tion in Slove­nia. There have been some media reports about Juncker’s state­ment; how­ev­er, they focused most­ly on the reac­tions of oth­er (big) EU mem­ber states. Sloven­ian offi­cials and experts have not com­ment­ed on it, and Slove­nia remains in a group of EU mem­ber states which seem unde­cid­ed on the issue or even not inter­est­ed in it. More­over, Slove­nia does not con­sid­er it to be a key ques­tion at the moment and focus­es on more prag­mat­ic, dai­ly eco­nom­ic, and inter­nal issues

2. EU Enlargement

Jure Pož­gan

Deepening partnership, avoiding membership

The offi­cial posi­tion of the Sloven­ian gov­ern­ment before and after the East­ern Part­ner­ship Sum­mit in Riga has been that the sta­tus of East­ern neigh­bour­hood coun­tries is far from sim­ple, real­iz­ing their grow­ing need for more incen­tives from the EU in order to secure the sta­bi­liza­tion and democ­ra­ti­za­tion process, how­ev­er mak­ing it clear that the EU should not promise any­thing it can­not live up to with respect to the poten­tial EU mem­ber­ship of Ukraine, Moldo­va, and Georgia.

Ear­li­er in March 2015, Min­is­ter of For­eign Affairs, Karl Erjavec, said that the ulti­mate goal of the East­ern Part­ner­ship is not for east­ern neigh­bours to become EU mem­bers, but rather to har­monise eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal sys­tems. This posi­tion was reaf­firmed by Prime Min­is­ter Miro Cer­ar at the Riga Sum­mit. Slove­nia thus stress­es that addi­tion­al empha­sis should be giv­en to the prin­ci­ple of dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion and on an indi­vid­ual approach based on the desires and progress made by each indi­vid­ual part­ner. Spe­cial atten­tion should be paid to fur­ther enhanc­ing peo­ple-to-peo­ple con­tacts, sup­port for youth and stu­dent exchanges and schol­ar­ship pro­grammes. Slove­nia sup­ports the con­tin­u­a­tion of the visa lib­er­al­i­sa­tion process on a case by case basis, pro­vid­ed that all con­di­tions are fulfilled.

With respect to Ukraine, Slove­nia sup­ports its ter­ri­to­r­i­al integri­ty and the peace­ful set­tle­ment of the con­flict in the frame­work of the Min­sk Agree­ments. Regard­ing the future of Ukraine and the East­ern Part­ner­ship, Erjavec hopes for suc­cess­ful imple­men­ta­tion of the Visa Lib­er­al­iza­tion Action Plan in order for the regime to enter into force. At the same time, the acces­sion process should be han­dled with cau­tion, i.e. at most rec­og­niz­ing Euro­pean aspi­ra­tion of part­ner­ship coun­tries, but in no way offer­ing the prospect of EU mem­ber­ship in order not to wors­en rela­tions with Russia.


European perspective of Western Balkans must never be questioned

The West­ern Balka­ns remains a top pri­or­i­ty region for Sloven­ian for­eign pol­i­cy and enjoys con­sen­su­al sup­port from all polit­i­cal par­ties, the eco­nom­ic sec­tor, and civ­il soci­ety as such. In this respect, Slove­nia sup­ports EU mem­ber­ship of the whole region by pro­mot­ing long-term polit­i­cal, eco­nom­ic, and social sta­bil­i­ty in the West­ern Balkans.

Part of this is also the Brdo Process, a Sloven­ian-Croa­t­ian ini­tia­tive for the facil­i­ta­tion of inte­gra­tion and coop­er­a­tion among West­ern Balka­ns coun­tries, which should help can­di­date and poten­tial can­di­date coun­tries on their way to full EU mem­ber­ship. At the last Brdo Process meet­ing at the min­is­te­r­i­al lev­el in May 2015, Mr Erjavec reaf­firmed the need for the West­ern Balka­ns to remain not only a Sloven­ian pri­or­i­ty but also high on the EU agen­da as well. Espe­cial­ly in the con­text of the cri­sis in Ukraine, a clear Euro­pean per­spec­tive for coun­tries in the region remains a pre­con­di­tion for main­tain­ing sta­bil­i­ty and growth in the imme­di­ate neigh­bour­hood. EU and West­ern Balka­ns coun­tries also share some of the most press­ing com­mon prob­lems fac­ing Europe, i.e. ter­ror­ism, the Ukrain­ian cri­sis, and the human­i­tar­i­an cri­sis in the Mediter­ranean. Accord­ing­ly, EU expan­sion towards the South-East­/West­ern Balka­ns seems more press­ing than ever and should not be stalled, frozen, or pro­longed indef­i­nite­ly, i.e. EU enlarge­ment pol­i­cy should there­fore nev­er be questioned.

On the occa­sion of a bilat­er­al offi­cial vis­it of Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Slove­nia, the Sloven­ian Prime Min­is­ter Miro Cer­ar reaf­firmed a clear Euro­pean per­spec­tive of Turkey as well as Sloven­ian sup­port in the acces­sion process but remind­ed that in order for Turkey to become full mem­ber it needs to con­tin­ue with the reform process and assume its part of respon­si­bil­i­ty. Sim­i­lar as in the case of West­ern Balka­ns, all rel­e­vant actors sup­port EU expan­sion to Turkey.


This EU-28 Watch is part of the a project called ‘East­ern Neigh­bours and Rus­sia: Close links with EU cit­i­zens’ (ENURC) in col­lab­o­ra­tion with TEPSA (Trans Euro­pean Pol­i­cy Stud­ies Asso­ci­a­tion). The project focus­es on devel­op­ing EU cit­i­zens’ under­stand­ing of the top­ic of the East­ern Neigh­bour­hood and Rus­sia and aims at encour­ag­ing their inter­est and involve­ment in this pol­i­cy which has an impact on their dai­ly lives.

The EU-28 Watch project is map­ping out the dis­cours­es on these issues in Euro­pean poli­cies all over Europe. Research insti­tutes from all 28 mem­ber states are invit­ed to give overviews on the dis­cours­es in their respec­tive countries.

This sur­vey was con­duct­ed on the basis of a ques­tion­naire that has been elab­o­rat­ed in March 2015. Most of the reports were deliv­ered in June 2015. This issue and all pre­vi­ous issues are avail­able on the recent­ly relaunched EU-28 Watch web­site:

The EU-28 Watch No. 11 receives sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing from the Otto Wolff-Foun­da­tion, Cologne, in the frame­work of the ‘Dia­log Europa der Otto Wolff-Stiftung’, and finan­cial sup­port from the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is not respon­si­ble for any use that may be made of the infor­ma­tion con­tained therein.