Books on Slovenia
Update No: 124 - (28/09/07)
An awesome job ahead
The greatest event in Slovenia's modern history was of course the revolution
against communism and its secession from Yugoslavia in 1989-91. Then at the
beginning of this millennium it played the host, (and thereby attracted the
attention of a world that had hardly even heard of it), to the first ever summit
meeting between the newly elected president of Russia Vladimir Putin with the
newly elected George W Bush of the USA. The second major event in its modern
history was the adhesion to the EU in 2004. A third major development impends,
Slovenia's assumption, by alphabetical rotation, of the presidency of the EU, in
January for the first six months of 2008.
It is an enormous responsibility. Slovenia - an Alpine country of 2m people -
will be in the hot seat, running the presidency of the EU, a bloc of almost 400m
people. "It's a little bit like taxiing a 747 with a bicycle," one
Western diplomat observed. But for the former communist country, the first of
the EU's 2004 intake of new members to assume the rotating presidency, it is a
sign and a test of Slovenia's growing maturity.
But the Slovenes are very well liked in Brussels and other EU capitals. They are
viewed as the model transition country from communism. It is thoroughly
appropriate that they should be the first of them to hold the rotating
It will put the country in the limelight as never before. The one area where
Slovenia has lagged has been in attracting foreign investment. The presidency
gives it an excellent opportunity to catch up here.
Akin to the Olympics
Other countries have run a mile from taking on the cost and commitment of
running the EU. Estonia, for example, has managed to avoid the fateful moment
until 2018; Poland will not have its go until 2011. One can see why. Slovenia
has pencilled in 62m euros as the cost of running the six-month presidency
starting on January 1, while Janez Jansa, prime minister, reckons at least 70
per cent of his time will be devoted to European issues.
It is the diplomatic equivalent of hosting the Olympics. A brand new conference
facility is taking shape at the lakeside venue of Brdo in the shadow of the
Alps. Slovenes expect to chair 3,000-4,000 meetings and are taking courses in
how to conduct them, as well as crash courses in French; scores of officials are
being dispatched to Brussels.
Cross-party support for Jansa's role
"Every country has to take its turn," says Mr Jansa, a former
dissident jailed back in 1988 after criticising the Yugoslav People's Army.
"The question is not yes or no - it's when."
There was near unanimous parliamentary support in 2004 for Slovenia taking on
the presidency, and the main parties have agreed to suspend hostilities on
European issues, while Mr Jansa is in the chair. "We are taking this very
seriously," Mr Jansa says, in an interview in his modern office in
Ljubljana, the capital. He says smaller countries are sometimes better at
running the EU because they focus on the job and are less able to push their own
Mr Jansa hopes the long-running saga of the EU's revamped constitutional treaty
will be largely sorted out under the current Portuguese presidency, and
ratification of the text will be under way by the time he takes over.
The treaty, if approved, would hand over the job of running the European Council
to a full-time president from 2009, although national capitals would still take
turns to run ministerial councils.
Mr Jansa does not expect to have to get bogged down in EU battles over future
budget priorities and agricultural spending - a struggle with France (defending
farm subsidies) and Britain (defending its budget rebate).
He also hopes the question of Kosovo's future status will be resolved by
January, but is ready for the issue to land on his plate. As a former Yugoslav
republic, Slovenia has an emotional interest in bringing the region closer to
Then there is is the "very important issue" of how to meet the EU's
highly ambitious plans to tackle climate change and deciding which country does
what: the potentially explosive question of " burden-sharing''.
For Janez Lenaric, the country's Europe minister, the task of chairing the EU is
a reminder of how far Slovenia has come since independence in 1991.
"Sometimes we are awed.'' he says. But Slovenes are " thrifty
people" and want to know what they will get for their investment in running
the EU, he says.
Apart from the prestige and publicity, past experience suggests, "income
directly related to presidency activities are more than double the costs of the
presidency". Are they ready? "We can be quite confident,'' he says.
"We have almost everything in place."
Floods bring need for EU aid
As it so happens, an urgent call on EU funds came unexpectedly in September. The
damage caused by torrential rains in Slovenia will overburden the country's
finances and the government will be forced to seek European Union aid for the
first time since joining the bloc in 2004, the prime minister said.
Jansa, who toured the northern region ravaged by September 18th's storm, said
the damage, estimated at £138 million, "exceeds budget reserves" and
other financial aid earmarked for relief.
He said the government would seek aid from the EU's Solidarity Fund for the
first time. Slovenia is a prosperous market economy, whose 4% economic growth
exceeds the EU average, making it a contributor rather than recipient of EU
The government will also aid regional companies in amounts allowed by the EU
rules, Jansa said.
On September 20th, two more bodies were recovered, raising the death toll from
the floods to six. The two new victims were from Zelezniki, a village of 3,000
people in a narrow valley in north western Slovenia, and the hardest hit town in
the storm. One body was found in a local factory, another near her house.
The floods damaged hundreds of houses, swept away bridges and cars and buried a
Second World War clinic that was later turned into a national monument.
Two villages remain cut off from outside help, as a bridge and a road leading to
them have been washed away. Helicopters are dropping food and other necessities
to the residents.
Slovenia's largest insurer, Triglav, said it expected about 5,000 claims and a
record payout for damages, totalling around £14 million.
Prodi comes to town
Jansa welcomed Romano Prodi, the President of the Council of Ministers of the
Republic of Italy on a two-day visit in mid-September. Prodi also met the
President of the National Assembly, France Cukjati, and representatives of the
Italian minority in Slovenia.
Jansa expressed satisfaction over the fact that this visit, the first official
visit of an Italian Prime Minister to Slovenia, has occurred while Slovenia is
preparing for the EU Presidency, as the experience of Italy, which has presided
over the EU several times and is one of the EU's founding members, is
"During the visit, we also exchanged views on key challenges awaiting
Slovenia and Europe in the first six months of next year, when Slovenia presides
over the European Council," said the PM.
With regard to bilateral relations, PM Janez Jansa and his guest continued the
intensive dialogue which has strengthened over the course of this year. They
also focused on economic cooperation, as Italy is Slovenia's second largest
trade partner. In 2006, trade in goods between the two countries amounted to
over €5.5 billion.
"Trade in goods is becoming more and more balanced, while trends are also
encouraging. In comparison to 2005, last year saw an increase of over 15 per
cent," said the PM, stressing the significance of the Slovenian economic
representative office which was opened this year in Milan and which will
facilitate even closer collaboration. The two PMs also discussed the situation
of the countries' respective minorities.
Mr Jansa welcomed the progress that has been made lately, particularly the
approval of the list of thirty-two municipalities in which the Regulations for
the Protection of the Slovene Linguistic Minority of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia
Region would be implemented, and the establishment of a bilingual school in San
Pietro al Natisone.