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).