The guardians of the ‘Western Balkan’

Slovenia
Centre of International Relations
 
The general evaluation of achievements, failures or weaknesses of the French Presidency by the Slovenian government is positive. The initial French reaction connecting the Irish ‘No’ directly to a standstill of the enlargement was negatively perceived, but was later on changed as the French position had mollified.[1] The Paris-based French Presidency and its non transparent style in the beginning, called for adaptations in Slovenian organisation of the EU affairs in Brussels and Paris. The main concern of the Slovenian government was the attention paid to the Western Balkans during the French Presidency. The Slovenian Presidency in the first half of 2008 was focused on bringing the Balkans back and high on the EU agenda and was not particularly pleased with the low profile France took with respect to the region. Considering the two big challenges the French Presidency faced, the Russian-Georgian war and the financial crisis, the little attention paid to the Balkans was comprehended.
 
The French Presidency’s role in the Russian-Georgian war and in the financial crisis is assessed positively by the Slovenian government. The French provided the much needed leadership and unification momentum for the EU to simultaneously act on the two fronts – in the internal market and as a global player. It is perceived that France was well equipped for the challenges it faced in its presidency role, it could rely on its state’s capabilities and long term diplomatic tradition to bring together different actors’ opinions in order to come up with the united EU position, internally and globally. The personal style of President Sarkozy somehow also contributed to a positive perception by the people that ‘something is being done at all times’. Moreover, Sarkozy’s ability to hold constructive talks with the US government and the will to smoothen initially low-profile relations with Germany to provide common leadership to the EU in times of crisis, should not be ignored. The increased number of so called ‘mini summits’ is perceived as a successful framework for addressing the issue and as a good practice in this kind of situation.[2]
 
Finally, France decided quite late in its mandate to preside over another pre-accession conference with Croatia to open further negotiating chapters. Slovenia’s objection to these were given due attention relatively late in the process. Also, due to the change in government in Slovenia, and amidst other pending issues, the presidency did not succeed in its mediating role.[3]
 
The expectations of the Slovenian government for the main priorities of the Czech Presidency are relatively high, especially regarding enlargement which was identified as one of its priorities. In relations to the Slovenia’s veto of further accession negotiations with Croatia, Slovenia welcomes the attention paid and constructive role provided by the Czech Presidency so far. The standpoint of the Czech Presidency to treat the unresolved border issue as a bilateral issue between the respective governments has been assessed positively by the Slovenian government. Slovenia does not see the role of the EU presiding state as a mediator in the matter and is therefore up to now satisfied with the role of Czech Presidency.[4]
 
The Czech Presidency’s role in the Ukrainian-Russian energy dispute over the gas prices in December 2008 and January 2009 is also positively viewed. The presidency’s mediation in this regard demanded a more direct role of the presiding state and in this regard the common declarations which were reached are positively viewed. The same could be said for the help of the European Commission provided to the Czech Presidency and taken by the latter not only in a context of a constructive common effort to resolve this particular issue but also to find possible long term solutions for diversification of energy routes and sources.[5]




[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] Interview with Veronika Boškovic-Pohar, directorate for co-ordination of the Government Office for European Affairs, Ljubljana, 16 January 2009.


[3] For more information see the Slovenian answer to question number six in this issue of EU-27 Watch.


[4] 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.


[5] Interview with Veronika Boškovic-Pohar, directorate for co-ordination of the Government Office for European Affairs, Ljubljana, 16 January 2009.