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).