No stall in the enlargement process

1. How does the future of the EU after the Irish ‘No’ look like?

 

Regard­ing the con­clu­sions of the Euro­pean Coun­cil of Decem­ber 2008 on the fate of the Lis­bon Treaty, the gov­ern­ment of the Repub­lic of Slove­nia is sat­is­fied with the agree­ment reached. The Sloven­ian gov­ern­ment was faced with the Irish ‘No’, while hold­ing the EU-pres­i­den­cy in the first half of 2008. Then Prime Min­is­ter Janez Janša expressed respect for the deci­sion of the Irish peo­ple, but was quick to utter hope for the Irish ‘No’ to have no neg­a­tive impli­ca­tions on the fur­ther enlarge­ment process. This rep­re­sents the cen­tral theme of the Sloven­ian gov­ern­ments’ (pre­vi­ous and cur­rent, in place since Novem­ber 2008, fol­low­ing the gen­er­al elec­tions of Sep­tem­ber 2008) con­sid­er­a­tions on the fate of the Treaty of Lis­bon. Fur­ther enlarge­ment, espe­cial­ly to the coun­tries of the West­ern Balka­ns, rep­re­sents a clear Sloven­ian nation­al for­eign pol­i­cy inter­est and steps in direc­tion of West­ern Balkan coun­tries’ acces­sion rep­re­sent­ed the utmost pri­or­i­ty of the Sloven­ian 2008 EU-Pres­i­den­cy. The Sloven­ian gov­ern­ment respond­ed to the Irish ‘No’ already as the EU pre­sid­ing state by set­ting the time­line for a com­mon EU reac­tion to the sit­u­a­tion and guide­lines to be reached by the end of the year 2008.[1]

Cur­rent Prime Min­is­ter of Slove­nia, Borut Pahor, expressed his sat­is­fac­tion with the out­comes of the Decem­ber 2008 Euro­pean Coun­cil. Regard­ing the rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the Lis­bon Treaty, he assert­ed that the EU has a good plan which would con­vince the Irish vot­ers. He also point­ed out that, in order for this plan to suc­ceed and the treaty to be adopt­ed by the end of 2009, “[W]e must avoid the mis­take made before the first ref­er­en­dum in Ire­land, that is lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the people”.[2]

Since the main con­cern of the Repub­lic of Slove­nia was the effect of the Irish ref­er­en­dum deci­sion on fur­ther enlarge­ment, the ear­ly reac­tion of the next EU-pres­i­den­cy hold­er, the French Pres­i­dent Nico­las Sarkozy, who explic­it­ly said that the Irish ‘No’ meant a def­i­nite stop to a fur­ther enlarge­ment, was per­ceived as an unnec­es­sary exag­ger­a­tion. Lat­er on, the Sloven­ian gov­ern­ment looked more pos­i­tive­ly on the French Presidency’s role in medi­at­ing for an achieve­ment of guide­lines for rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the Lis­bon Treaty.[3] It remains a firm posi­tion of the Sloven­ian gov­ern­ment that the enlarge­ment process must go on and that fur­ther steps, such as giv­ing a coun­try can­di­date sta­tus, are not con­di­tioned by the treaties.

The Sloven­ian gov­ern­ment does not have any objec­tions to the legal guar­an­tees demand­ed by the Irish as long as they remain with­in the for­mal frame­work of an addi­tion­al pro­to­col to the Lis­bon Treaty, sub­ject to rat­i­fi­ca­tion in each of the mem­ber states. How­ev­er, Slovenia’s firm posi­tion is that insti­tu­tion­al changes of the EU should be dealt with irre­spec­tive of enlarge­ment process in the form of an inter­na­tion­al treaty and not through acces­sion pro­to­cols of the poten­tial new mem­ber states (Croa­t­ia, Ice­land, Turkey) as was done in the case of Bul­gar­ia and Romania.[4]

Regard­ing the upcom­ing Euro­pean Par­lia­ment elec­tions in June 2009, the Sloven­ian gov­ern­ment sup­ports the adop­tion of tran­si­tion­al mea­sures in the event that the Treaty of Lis­bon enters into force after the elec­tions. Slove­nia is one of the mem­ber states whose num­ber of MEPs would increase (by one, from the cur­rent sev­en) by entry into force of the Treaty of Lis­bon. The gov­ern­ment sup­ports the objec­tive that this mod­i­fi­ca­tion should enter into force dur­ing the year 2010. Since Slove­nia rep­re­sents a sin­gle con­stituen­cy, the appoint­ment of the addi­tion­al MEP should not rep­re­sent an admin­is­tra­tive or polit­i­cal dif­fi­cul­ty. Polit­i­cal par­ties present their (nation­al) lists of sev­en can­di­dates. Vot­ers vote for a list, but can also express their pref­er­ence for a par­tic­u­lar can­di­date on the list. It is pre­sumed that the eighth can­di­date, either elect­ed via the list or via the pref­er­en­tial vote, will earn the eighth seat.[5]

While the num­ber of MEPs from Slove­nia hard­ly attracts any atten­tion, the ques­tion of turnout has been raised in the media[6] and it is also felt in the dis­course of Sloven­ian polit­i­cal par­ties. The first elec­tions to the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment by Sloven­ian took place in 2004 and the turnout was about 29 per­cent. The elec­tions on 7 June 2009 are await­ed with inse­cu­ri­ty over vot­ers’ inter­est. It is wide­ly per­ceived that domes­tic pol­i­tics and cur­rent issues will deter­mine the turnout and (in close con­nec­tion to it) the result of the elections.

Regard­ing the process of appoint­ment of the future Com­mis­sion, the Sloven­ian gov­ern­ment sees it essen­tial that the des­ig­na­tion of its Pres­i­dent is ini­ti­at­ed with­out delay after the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment elec­tions in June 2009. The Sloven­ian gov­ern­ment also strong­ly sup­ports that the num­ber of Com­mis­sion­ers equal to the num­ber of mem­ber states is retained. The pro­vi­sions of the Decem­ber 2008 Euro­pean Coun­cil (not entire­ly clear) allow for the one-Com­mis­sion­er-per-mem­ber-state for­mu­la. The Sloven­ian gov­ern­ment advo­cates that a clear deci­sion on keep­ing the cur­rent 27 Com­mis­sion­ers is tak­en by the Euro­pean Coun­cil in June 2009.[7]

The appoint­ment of the next High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive for the Com­mon For­eign and Secu­ri­ty Pol­i­cy is seen as yet unclear, but at the same time as an issue that does not need to be tack­led until the Treaty of Lis­bon is in place, pro­vid­ed the cur­rent High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive will stay in his posi­tion until the con­di­tions will be met for the appoint­ment of the new High Representative.[8]

2. Transatlantic relations renewed after President Bush: top priorities

 

Renewal of strategic dialogue and EU capable to deliver

The three top pri­or­i­ties as seen by the Sloven­ian gov­ern­ment for the revi­tal­i­sa­tion of the EU-US rela­tions can be sum­marised as: (i) mutu­al under­stand­ing of a need for a tru­ly strate­gic part­ner­ship, (ii) con­tin­u­ous dia­logue and strength­en­ing of rela­tions on polit­i­cal rela­tions and glob­al polit­i­cal issues and (iii) strength­en­ing of bilat­er­al eco­nom­ic relations.

In the course of the Bush pres­i­den­cy the under­stand­ing of, what are com­mon threats and chal­lenges faced by the EU and the US have grown apart and under­mined the polit­i­cal rela­tions between the EU (per­ceived large­ly by the US as indi­vid­ual mem­ber states) and the US. The world has also changed in between; there­fore, there is no sim­ple return to the com­fort­able rela­tions of the 1990s. Amidst under­stand­ing that there are dif­fer­ent his­toric rea­sons for the rela­tions between the EU and the US, revi­tal­i­sa­tion of rela­tions should be based on respect for mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism and rule of law.

Polit­i­cal rela­tions and ques­tions of glob­al polit­i­cal issues are dealt with at the infor­mal meet­ings and sum­mits, but with lit­tle prepa­ra­tions, short of strate­gic con­sid­er­a­tions and no over­look over the agreed and its imple­men­ta­tion. In this respect, Slovenia’s gov­ern­ment strong­ly sup­ports insti­tu­tion­al­i­sa­tion of polit­i­cal rela­tions with the EU in a form of a body of senior offi­cials, which would pre­pare sum­mits, and plan and over­look the imple­men­ta­tion of the agreed measures.

“Transat­lantic Eco­nom­ic Coun­cil” (TEC) rep­re­sents the most insti­tu­tion­alised form of rela­tions between the EU and the US (leav­ing NATO aside), but its full poten­tial has not yet been used. It too often stum­bles over immi­nent con­crete issues, undoubt­ed­ly impor­tant to one or the oth­er side, but so it fails to work towards a con­crete goal, that of clos­er coor­di­nat­ed economies with a goal of increas­ing com­pet­i­tive­ness and con­tribut­ing to inter­na­tion­al eco­nom­ic sta­bil­i­ty. A two-tier work of the TEC, one of the imme­di­ate con­cerns and the oth­er deal­ing with strate­gic issues, is need­ed accord­ing to the Sloven­ian gov­ern­ment and also advo­cat­ed by it.

The pri­ma­ry task for the EU in revi­tal­i­sa­tion of its rela­tions with the US is prov­ing that it is able to be a real part­ner, i. e. that it is able to deliv­er. There will be numer­ous tests on that, begin­ning with the will­ing­ness of the EU mem­ber states to accept a cer­tain num­ber of pris­on­ers from Guan­tanamo, show­ing itself more capa­ble in Afghanistan and also take upon its role in the Mid­dle East. Slovenia’s gov­ern­ment believes that the EU should pay utmost atten­tion to act as a capa­ble part­ner. The entry into force of the Lis­bon Treaty and insti­tu­tions in place that are envis­aged by it, are seen as of vital impor­tance in rais­ing the EU’s capabilities.[9]

3. Financial crisis and challenges of global governance: the EU response

 

Belated and cautious steps

As for the expec­ta­tions towards the EU in the con­text of the increased eco­nom­ic and social inter­de­pen­dence on a glob­al scale demon­strat­ed by the finan­cial cri­sis, Slove­nia expects the EU to pro­vide for a com­mon frame­work from which the EU mem­ber states could choose the mea­sures best suit­ed for the struc­ture and speci­fici­ty of their economies. But it is to take into con­sid­er­a­tion, that those economies that did not con­sol­i­date pub­lic finance in the ‘good times’, now do not have the abun­dance of room for measure-taking.

Regard­ing the per­for­mance of the EU in the finan­cial cri­sis so far per­ceived, dis­cussed and eval­u­at­ed in Slove­nia, two more roles of the EU have been emphasised:

  1. to pro­vide mea­sures at the lev­el of the EU poli­cies (for exam­ple: the EU bud­get, the Euro­pean Invest­ment Bank, the com­mon trade pol­i­cy, etc.)
  2. to pro­vide equal­i­ty and the respect of rules at the com­mu­ni­ty lev­el, espe­cial­ly the rules of: a) coun­try aid and b) the Sta­bil­i­ty and Growth Pact.

Acknowl­edg­ing the mea­sures tak­en so far, the EU has set-up two cri­sis-response frameworks:

  1. the frame­work for finan­cial sta­bil­i­ty adopt­ed by the Euro­pean Coun­cil in Octo­ber 2008, and
  2. the frame­work for real econ­o­my stim­u­la­tion adopt­ed by the Euro­pean Coun­cil in Decem­ber 2008.

These two doc­u­ments rep­re­sent an ade­quate response in the eyes of Slovenia’s gov­ern­ment. The role of the Euro­pean Cen­tral Bank has espe­cial­ly been assessed as pos­i­tive. Both, the EU and the Euro­pean Cen­tral Bank, might exit this cri­sis stronger. The appro­pri­ate response by the EU to the giv­en cir­cum­stances can, in the opin­ion of the Sloven­ian Min­istry of Finance, be con­firmed also by the pos­i­tive respons­es com­ing from the Amer­i­can administration.

As for the expect­ed shifts in the inter­na­tion­al pow­er con­stel­la­tion, the Sloven­ian offi­cial posi­tion is that the final out­come of the cri­sis will pro­vide coun­tries greater eco­nom­ic abil­i­ty to adopt. As every cri­sis has demon­strat­ed, the cur­rent one is also expect­ed to change the aspects of inter­na­tion­al finan­cial insti­tu­tions. Slove­nia believes it is rea­son­able to expect a greater role of the Inter­na­tion­al Mon­e­tary Fund (IMF) due to its exper­tise, where­by in the future con­stel­la­tion the IMF would coor­di­nate its activ­i­ties bet­ter with the Finan­cial Sta­bil­i­ty Forum. Con­sid­er­ing oth­er forums, it has been acknowl­edged (and accept­ed) that ses­sions at the G7 lev­el are no longer suf­fi­cient and have there­fore been extend­ed to the G20 lev­el on 15 November.[10]

The Sloven­ian response to the finan­cial cri­sis was very much in line with Slove­nia being an advo­cate of the respect of the Sta­bil­i­ty and Growth Pact. The Sloven­ian gov­ern­ment car­ried out con­sul­ta­tions with its social part­ners and experts before adopt­ing a nation­al mea­sures-frame­work. There was also a debate about these mea­sures held before the Sloven­ian par­lia­ment. The Sloven­ian gov­ern­ment has deter­mined the start­ing points for the rebal­ance of this year’s bud­get which will be pre­pared for the par­lia­men­tary debate in the end of Feb­ru­ary 2009. The eco­nom­ic and finan­cial cri­sis and its con­se­quences, i. e. con­sid­er­able decrease of tax-income and counter-cri­sis mea­sures are the main rea­son for a gov­ern­men­tal pro­vi­sion of this kind; for exam­ple, the most expen­sive counter-cri­sis mea­sure of sub­sid­ing full-time work­ing hours amount­ed up to 130 mil­lion Euros). The bud­getary deficit is going to be high­er than planned, ris­ing from 0.33 per­cent GDP to 2.7 per­cent GDP. The deficit of pub­lic finance will most like­ly exceed the Maas­tricht cri­te­ria for 0.5 per­cent and will amount to 3.4 per­cent GDP.[11] Regard­ing the lat­ter, the Bank of Slove­nia has already expressed non-admis­si­bil­i­ty of the pub­lic finance deficit and the fact that the announced deficit could hin­der pos­si­bil­i­ties of acquir­ing loans.

The dan­ger of the announced pub­lic finance deficit was sim­i­lar­ly exposed by aca­d­e­mics, who uttered that restraint of pub­lic admin­is­tra­tion spend­ing is urgent since the announce­ments of coun­tries run­ning into debt in the amount of 1,500 bil­lion Euros do not promise favourable con­di­tions on the world market.[12]

The gov­ern­ment will con­tin­ue with its pol­i­cy of excis­ing oil derivates and increas­ing the excis­es on tobac­co, cig­a­rettes and alco­hol prod­ucts. The fall of eco­nom­ic growth should be eased by the preser­va­tion of the quan­ti­ty of state invest­ment expen­di­tures. In com­par­i­son to 2008, and con­sid­er­ing the funds of the EU bud­get, these expen­di­tures will increase by around 30 per­cent. Prime Min­is­ter Borut Pahor has announced struc­tur­al reforms, stress­ing that fis­cal pos­si­bil­i­ties for mea­sure-tak­ing have already been exhaust­ed. Accord­ing to Pahor a “larg­er social con­sen­sus for the exam­i­na­tion of the retire­ment, health and salary sys­tems and the effi­cien­cy of pub­lic-funds expen­di­ture” will be needed.[13]

Accord­ing to the Euro­barom­e­ter, a nation-wide pub­lic opin­ion sur­vey, Slove­ni­ans are not over pes­simistic about the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion: 62 per­cent of the ques­tioned assess the finan­cial state of their house-holds as good and 63 per­cent under­stand their per­son­al posi­tion con­cern­ing employ­ment as good. Slove­ni­ans are most pes­simistic when ques­tioned about the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion of their life-expens­es: 84 per­cent of the respon­dents assess the cur­rent posi­tion as bad. More than a half of the ques­tioned (55 per­cent which amounts to +4 per­cent com­pared to 6 months ago) con­firmed hav­ing prob­lems with pay­ing the bills at the end of the month. In con­trast to trends in most EU mem­ber states, Slove­ni­ans are still con­vinced that things are cur­rent­ly mov­ing in the right direc­tion. Nev­er­the­less, the finan­cial cri­sis has tak­en its toll and raised pes­simism among Slove­ni­ans about the future: the pro­por­tion of those, expect­ing dete­ri­o­ra­tion in the next 12 months has gen­er­al­ly risen: 25 per­cent (+12 per­cent) of the ques­tioned expect their lives to wors­en in the next year, 46 per­cent (+4 per­cent) await a down­fall in Slovenia’s eco­nom­ic per­for­mance, 44 per­cent expect an aggra­va­tion in the employ­ment sec­tor and 32 per­cent (+9 per­cent) antic­i­pate a set­back of the finan­cial state of their house-holds.[14]

 

 

 

[1] Veroni­ka Boškovic-Pohar/Ti­na Štrafela, direc­torate for co-ordi­na­tion of the Gov­ern­ment Office for Euro­pean Affairs: Writ­ten com­ments to the EU-27 Watch Ques­tion­naire, 2008.
[2] Cab­i­net of the Prime Min­is­ter: Pre­mier Borut Pahor: Pod­neb­no-ener­get­s­ki paket je dober za EU in Sloveni­jo (Prime Min­is­ter Borut Pahor: The cli­mate-ener­gy pack­age good for the EU and Slove­nia), 12 Decem­ber 2008, avail­able at: http://www.kpv.gov.si/nc/si/splosno/cns/novica/article/252/3378/ (last access: 26 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[3] Veroni­ka Boškovic-Pohar/Ti­na Štrafela, direc­torate for co-ordi­na­tion of the Gov­ern­ment Office for Euro­pean Affairs: Writ­ten com­ments to the EU-27 Watch Ques­tion­naire, 2008.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] RTVSLO: EU: Volitve pred vrati, prave­ga zan­i­man­ja ni (EU: No real inter­est for the upcom­ing elec­tions), 24 Jan­u­ary 2009, avail­able at: http://www.rtvslo.si/modload.php?&c_mod=rnews&op=sections&func=read&c_menu=16&c_id=191684 (last access: 26 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[7] Veroni­ka Boškovic-Pohar/Ti­na Štrafela, direc­torate for co-ordi­na­tion of the Gov­ern­ment Office for Euro­pean Affairs: Writ­ten com­ments to the EU-27 Watch Ques­tion­naire, 2008; Inter­view at the Min­istry of For­eign Affairs of Repub­lic of Slove­nia, Ljubl­jana, 23 Jan­u­ary 2009.
[8] Inter­view at the Min­istry of For­eign Affairs of Repub­lic of Slove­nia, Ljubl­jana, 23 Jan­u­ary 2009.
[9] Inter­view at the Min­istry of For­eign Affairs of Repub­lic of Slove­nia, Ljubl­jana, 3 Decem­ber 2008 and 23 Jan­u­ary 2009.
[10] Urš­ka Štor­man, head of office of the pub­lic rela­tions office of the Sloven­ian Min­istry of Finance: Writ­ten com­ments to the EU-27 Watch Ques­tion­naire, 7 Jan­u­ary 2009.
[11] RTV SLO: Vla­da pred­la­gala spre­mem­be pro­raču­na (The gov­ern­ment has pro­posed alter­ations to the bud­get), 23 Jan­u­ary 2009, avail­able at: http://www.rtvslo.si/play/vlada-predlaga-spremembe-proracuna/ava2.26865317/ (last access: 23 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[12] MMC RTV SLO: Skup­ni pri­man­jkl­jaj čez dovol­jeni prag? (Entire deficit over the allowed thresh­old?), 19 Jan­u­ary 2009, avail­able at: http://www.rtvslo.si/modload.php?&c_mod=rnews&op=sections&func=read&c_menu=1&c_id=191314&tokens=rebalans+prora%C4%8Duna (last access: 28 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[13] RTV SLO: Vla­da pred­la­gala spre­mem­be pro­raču­na (The gov­ern­ment has pro­posed alter­ations to the bud­get), 23 Jan­u­ary 2009, avail­able at: http://www.rtvslo.si/play/vlada-predlaga-spremembe-proracuna/ava2.26865317/ (last access: 23 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[14] Euro­pean Com­mis­sion Rep­re­sen­ta­tion in Slove­nia: Nacional­no poroči­lo Euro­barom­e­ter: Sloven­ci osta­ja­jo med najbolj opti­mističn­i­mi državl­jani Evropske uni­je (Nation­al report Euro­barom­e­ter: Slove­ni­ans remain among the most opti­mistic cit­i­zens of the EU), 21 Jan­u­ary 2009, avail­able at: http://ec.europa.eu/slovenija/hp/2009–0121-eurobarometer_sl.htm (last access: 23 Jan­u­ary 2009).