Slovenian premier Janez Janša, whose country is set to take over the rotating EU Council Presidency, has admitted that the EU needs a “relaunch”.
Speaking at a news conference, the prime minister also conceded that the EU needs “greater resilience” to tackle emergencies such as the ongoing health pandemic, saying there were areas of its response that were “not up to scratch.”
A Slovene presidency priority, he revealed, will be to set up an EU Institute for Constitutional Law to crack down on breaches of the rule of law.
The EU has found itself at loggerheads on this issue with Poland and Hungary, but the Janša, did not mention any particular Member States.
He also said on Wednesday that the new Conference on the EU’s Future would be an opportunity to breathe new life into the “European Project”.
He was speaking to reporters after an online discussion with the European Parliament’s President David Sassoli and political group leaders about the priorities for the six-month Slovenian presidency which starts on July 1.
He told reporters he wanted to work closely with MEPs and the Parliament which he called an “important institution.”
“All the issues to be sorted can only be sorted out in close cooperation with the Parliament.”
“[We] can now see light at end of the tunnel and I hope we can put this behind us after over year. But the year ahead will be one for recovery and to build a greater resilience for fighting future crisis of a similar nature” Slovenian premier Janez Janša
It will be Slovenia’s first presidency since 2008, which came just four years after it had joined the EU, he noted. “We are committed to this cooperation and the relaunch of the EU.”
After the pandemic he said the world “can now see light at end of the tunnel and I hope we can put this behind us after over year.”
He added, “But the year ahead will be one for recovery and to build a greater resilience for fighting future crisis of a similar nature.”
Janša, speaking from the country’s capital, Ljubljana, said, “Memories [of the pandemic] are still fresh so now is the time to ensure that we build on areas shown not be at up to scratch.”
He noted that in the “coming weeks” the European Commission will validate COVID national recovery plans and was confident that “in the coming six months things will be better and recovery will be achieved. But we need greater EU resilience.”
Slovenia, together with Germany and Portugal, is part of the 10th presidency trio and, “will work with” both countries on various issues, including on cyber resilience.
He said, “We have suffered cyber attacks and the aim is for the EU to be able to better protect itself from this.”
Slovenia’s EU Council Presidency coincides with the start of the Conference on the Future of Europe which finally gets underway this month and he believes the initiative is “important because it fits into the post pandemic phase and the relaunch of our economies.”
“We are also in the post-Brexit period and, after all this turbulence of the last few years, this conference must be open and include everyone.
“We are also in the post-Brexit period and, after all this turbulence of the last few years, this Conference [on the Future of Europe} must be open and include everyone. Two thirds of Slovenia’s population has expressed great interest in the conference and the debate it will have and so the conference must be an open debate for all” Slovenian premier Janez Janša
“Two thirds of Slovenia’s population has expressed great interest in the conference and the debate it will have and so the conference must be an open debate for all.”
Another priority, he said, will be enforcing the rule of law, saying, “This is not something that can be selective and our aim is to make progress in this field.”
“That is why we will propose the creation of an institute for constitutional law.”
This, he said, will be based on the Venice Commission, an advisory body of the Council of Europe, composed of independent experts in the field of constitutional law.
In a reference to the ongoing crisis with Belarus, he said, “Anyone who has been a victim of a repressive regime, such as in Belarus, is worthy of our support and solidarity.”
Janša, a right-wing populist who polarises domestic opinion, added, “We are looking forward to the coming six months.”
He also faced sensitive questions about Slovenia’s role in nominations to the new European-wide public prosecutor office which is being created to probe financial fraud of the EU budget.
The Luxembourg-based office will be launching its first investigations in June. But Slovenia has yet to put forward candidate prosecutors for the office, something which has led to criticism of Janša’s government.
When asked about this, he said, “We did not take the same position as some others countries because participation is voluntary and we can choose to take part or not.”
“The government has yet to decide how to resolve these difficulties but this should not be seen as an obstacle to the workings of this new office.”
In a Q & A he was also asked if Slovenia will push for EU accession for Western Balkans nations.
He said, “These countries and the EU face of lot of current challenges and, since Slovenia joined the EU in 2004 the issue of enlargement has gone to the back of the queue.”
“Enlargement should, I believe, be a strategic answer to these challenges and it is not currently high up on the agenda but we will still try to move things along.”
“You have to remember that Slovenia is a country that, just 33 years ago on its borders had people still losing their lives and were being shot at by federal forces. Becoming part of the EU was an answer for us as it is for others but you cannot do this [enlargement] without a consensus.”
However, he remained tight lipped in response to a reporter’s question about whether he “still believes Donald Trump won the US election.”
Last November, Janša congratulated Trump on what he considered his election for a new term.
At the time, he said, “It is quite clear that the American people have elected Donald Trump and [Vice President] Mike Pence for another four years. Further delay and denial by the mainstream media would only serve to accentuate the president’s final triumph.”
Janša is a close associate of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, and like him has been critical of the European Union.
He was also quizzed about what one reporter called his “obsession” with white panthers.
This comes after it was revealed recently that his government plans to give cufflinks featuring a panther as a gift to senior European officials during its presidency.
Janša told the news briefing he sees the panther as a symbol of Slovenia. He once wrote a novel set in 203 BC called “The White Panther.”
The panther has been adopted by extreme-right groups in Slovenia and some Slovenians now associate it with far-right nationalist ideology.
He said, “This [his novel] was a work of fiction but the panther is part of our history. We used the same symbol for our presidency in 2008 and no one talked about it then. It is not important. I thought today I was going to be asked about issues relating to our presidency.”
Speaking in parliament at the same news conference, European Parliament President David Sassoli said the two men had “long and detailed discussions” on the priorities for the upcoming Slovenian presidency.
He said, “We focused on how to increase the resilience of the European Union, the continuing health crisis, cyber security, and the rule of law.”
The Slovenian EU Council Presidency, he said, will have a “lot of issues on its plate”, adding, “We also need to debate new prospects for the EU after crisis.”
“It was a wide-ranging discussion focused on the priorities outlined by the presidency which comes at a critical moment for Europe, as we look to rebuild our Union after the COVID-19 pandemic. I look forward to working with him and his ministers in the months ahead.”