Bringing the Western Balkans in

Slovenia’s primary interest in Europe’s neighbours for a long time has been (almost exclusively, apart form good relations with Russian Federation) in the Western Balkans. Following the 2006 and 2009 gas-crisis, in combination with the experience of holding the EU-presidency, Slovenia’s policy towards the region has become more structured. If prior to these events, Slovenia supported European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) for reasons of principles and legitimacy, it now sees direct interest in (energy) security as well as more structural reasons in terms of human rights policy and general consistency of EU’s policies towards its Southern and Eastern (extending over Caucasus to Central Asia) neighbours. A clear example of this is support for continued talks with Ukraine and for a necessity of closer relations with Belarus, provided there is a satisfactory move in Belarus towards respect for rule of law, democracy and human rights.

Criticism of the EU’s long-term vision of the Caucasus region emerged in the media in the aftermath of the military conflict in Georgia. It was centred around the premise that the EU should not be forgetting about the neighbourhood prospects of the region at the expense of being focused on other (the Afghan and Iraqi) conflicts. The integration of the states of the Caucasus region to the EU is seen as an alternative to the currently conflicting US and Russian aspirations.[1] Contrary to this position, Former Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel was of a more pragmatic view, stating that the EU should continue building the partnership with Russia in order to stabilise the whole region,[2] and mentioned the OSCE as the most suitable for resolving the Russia-Georgian dispute.[3] Slovenia is a member of the so called ‘Olive Group’ (a group of EU member countries, devoted to the exchange of opinions and ideas about issues, important for Europe; it consist of ten EU member states from the Mediterranean region). The latest annual meeting took place in December 2008 and the state secretary from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dragoljuba Benčina, attended this meeting. The main conclusion of the meeting was the recognition of the will to invigorate cooperation between members of the group at a state, and EU-representative (Brussels) level. The continuing sustenance for further development of the ENP was agreed upon, emphasizing the Eastern Partnership as well as the Union for the Mediterranean. There was a lot of debate about the Western Balkans and the need to strengthen the European perspective of the countries in this region was recognised as an initiative which could stimulate reforms needed to stabilise and further develop the region.[4]

It can be said that issues such as the ENP and the enlargement of the EU and NATO, are of a high salience in Slovenia, but as seen in the media coverage, only with a regional focus and preference towards the permanent expression of Slovenian foreign policy priorities, namely the neighbouring countries, especially Croatia, and the Western Balkans.

 

 

 

[1] Branko Soban: Kavkaški talci (The Caucasus Hostages), Delo, 9 August 2008, available at: http://www.delo.si/clanek/65185 (last access: 26 January 2009).
[2] STA: EU enotno za mednarodno preiskavo krize in pomoč Gruziji (EU unanimously for international investigation of the cricis and help to Georgia), 6 September 2008, available at: http://www.sta.si/vest.php?s=s&id=1317864 (last access: 26 January 2009).
[3] Slovenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Dr. Rupel: okvir OVSE najustreznejši za razpravo o Gruziji (Dr. Rupel: The OSCE framework most suitable for a debate on Georgia), 31 August 2008, available at: http://www.mzz.gov.si/nc/si/splosno/cns/novica/article/141/24797/ (last access: 27 January 2009).
[4] Slovenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Srečanje ministrov za zunanje zadeve sredozemskih držav članic EU, Taormina, 15. in 16. december 2008 (Meeting of Foreign Ministers of Mediterranean EU-member countries, Taormina, 15 and 16 December 2008), 16 December 2008, available at: http://www.mzz.gov.si/nc/si/splosno/cns/novica/article/141/25045/ (last access: 27 January 2009).