Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša, whose country is on the verge of taking over the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU, admitted that the EU needs a “boost”.
Speaking at a press conference, the Prime Minister also acknowledged that the EU needs “greater resilience” to deal with emergencies such as the ongoing health pandemic, saying that some areas of its response were “not up to par.”
A priority for the Slovenian presidency, he revealed, will be to create a European institute of constitutional law to crack down on violations of the rule of law.
The EU disagreed on this issue with Poland and Hungary, but the Janša did not mention any particular Member State.
He also said on Wednesday that the new conference on the future of the EU would be an opportunity to breathe new life into the “European project”.
He spoke to reporters after an online discussion with European Parliament President David Sassoli and political group leaders on the priorities of the six-month Slovenian presidency which begins on July 1.
He told reporters he wanted to work closely with MEPs and Parliament, which he called “an important institution”.
“All issues to be resolved can only be resolved in close cooperation with Parliament.”
“[We] can now see the light at the end of the tunnel and hopefully we can put that behind us after more than a year. But the year ahead will be one of recovery and building resilience to tackle a future crisis of a similar nature ”Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša
This will be Slovenia’s first presidency since 2008, which comes just four years after joining the EU, he noted. “We are attached to this cooperation and to the relaunch of the EU.”
After the pandemic, he said the world “can now see the light at the end of the tunnel and I hope we can put that behind us after more than a year.”
He added, “But the coming year will be one for recovery and building resilience to tackle future crises 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 make sure we are building on the areas shown that are not up to par. “
He noted that in the “next few weeks” the European Commission will validate the national COVID recovery plans and was confident that “in the next six months things will get better and the recovery will be achieved. But we need greater resilience from the EU. “
Slovenia, along with Germany and Portugal, is part of the 10th Presidency trio and will “work with” the two countries on various issues, including cyber-resilience.
He said: “We have suffered cyber attacks and the aim is for the EU to be able to better protect itself against this.”
The Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the EU coincides with the start of the conference on the future of Europe which finally begins this month and he considers that the initiative is “important because it is part of the post phase. -pandemic and the revival 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 recent 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 consensus. “
However, he remained low key in response to a journalist’s question as to whether he “still believes Donald Trump won the US election.”
Last November, Janša congratulated Trump on what he saw as his election to a new term.
At the time, he said: “It is quite clear that the American people elected Donald Trump and [Vice President] Mike Pence for another four years. Further delay and denial by the mainstream media would only accentuate the president’s eventual triumph.
Janša is a close associate of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and, like him, has criticized the European Union.
He was also asked about what a reporter called his “obsession” with white panthers.
It comes after it was recently revealed that his government was planning to give cufflinks depicting a panther as a gift to senior EU officials during his presidency.
Janša told the press conference that he considers the panther to be a symbol of Slovenia. He once wrote a novel in 203 BC. titled “The White Panther”.
The panther has been adopted by far-right groups in Slovenia and some Slovenes 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 mentioned it at the time. It does not matter. I thought that today I was going to be questioned on matters relating to our presidency.
Speaking to parliament at the same press conference, European Parliament President David Sassoli said the two had “long and detailed discussions” on the priorities of the incoming Slovenian presidency.
He said: “We focused on how to increase the resilience of the European Union, the lingering health crisis, cybersecurity and the rule of law.”
The Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the EU, he said, will have “a lot of problems on its plate”, adding: “We also need to discuss new perspectives for the EU after the crisis.”
“It was a high-profile, priority-driven discussion that comes at a critical time for Europe, as we seek to rebuild our Union after the COVID-19 pandemic. I look forward to working with him and his ministers in the months to come.