Slovenia

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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: www.eu-28watch.org.

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.