I'll Be Walking To Brussels Very Slowly
Before he moved back to Brussels in July, he spoke with the Slovenia Times about the most pressing issues facing the EU and Slovenia at the moment. The French and the Dutch have rejected the EU Constitutional Treaty. Does this mean that the European constitution should be declared dead? I think that it would be premature to say that the constitution is dead. Those who jumped to that conclusion have been proven wrong: the constitution has been ratified by 14 countries, this is more than a half of the EU member states. It is very important that the European leaders have decided that the ratification process should continue, but that there should be a period of reflection before that. We cannot ignore what prompted the electorates to vote 'no', we have to look very seriously at the causes and reasons for that, and one of them is, of course, the very strong alienation that exists between the voters and the leadership as well as the EU institutions. Don't you think that one of the more important causes for the rejection of the constitution was the fear of enlargement and increased immigration? The proverbial Polish plumber certainly figured highly in the minds of those that decided to vote 'no' at the referenda. The enlargement certainly was not the only cause and it certainly was not the main cause. The main reasons behind the voters' decision were domestic problems - protest votes against their own governments. But for those who did mention enlargement, I think this is a reflection of the fact that the governments did not pay enough attention to enlightening their public about the significance of the enlargement, to explain to their citizens the opportunities that enlargement brings and its historical significance, and in this way to allay the fears and misperceptions that arose. Were you surprised by the lack of public debate concerning the constitution here in Slovenia? The debate is not over of course. We have always advocated that although the country has already ratified it, it is absolutely essential to conduct an information campaign at the local level, so that every citizen is aware of where Europe is going. But can we expect local communities to have an influence over decision making at the European level? This would be the ideal. I have always been a fervent advocate of the Europe of regions, because this would ensure that there was a greater connection between the decisions taken at the EU level and the people who are directly affected by those decisions. The problem of the European integration process is that decision making has become increasingly remote from the end result of the decisions, but at the same time local communities are the lifeblood of the EU. Is it fair to say that the constitution lives up to that ideal? I think so, yes. It enhances the right of initiative at the local level and opens up new possibilities, but, most importantly, it gives a stronger role to national parliaments and in that sense it brings the constituencies into the decision making process. Turning to the further enlargement of the EU: what are the chances that Croatia will join Turkey in starting membership negotiations with Brussels? It is difficult to say. The way that the debate is focused now slightly marginalizes the larger picture which still remains, and that is that the EU has reconfirmed its strong commitment to the Balkan region and that the map of EU will never be complete without these countries joining. The quicker we can extend the frontiers of security and peace to this region, the quicker will it be able to achieve political and economic stability. I think Croatia has made significant efforts in fulfilling the EU's conditions, among them being cooperation with the Hague tribunal, but as regards the timing, it is very difficult to say. One of the conditions that aspirant Balkan states have to fulfil is to cooperate with other states within the region. Do you think Slovenia could play a role in this process, for example by foreign direct investment? Absolutely, no doubt about it. This is one of the best assets that Slovenia can bring to the EU. We have always said that Slovenia is a natural bridge between the EU and Eastern Europe. It is good to see that Slovenia is a partner in twelve twinning programmes, exchanging expertise and experiences in the accession process with aspirant countries. But also politically, Slovenia has a bridging role to play, because it has the sensitivity for the region, the language, so that many EU member countries look to Slovenia to play this role. Slovenia is assuming the EU presidency in 2008. What would your advice be to the Slovenian government? The first thing I would say is to leave behind any qualms about being a small state as being a limiting factor and to focus instead upon the quality of the leadership that Slovenia can offer. Slovenia has enormous assets and attributes that it can bring forward in the presidency, for example, its extraordinary cultural diversity, a sense of pride in its achievements and particularly its foreign policy perspective as regards the Balkan region. Slovenia understands the problems of transition and we have always referred to the Irish experience. Ireland is a small country, but its six presidencies were all highly successful and they enabled Ireland to shape EU policies in more ways than one. Slovenia can also do the same. You said that you are going to walk to Brussels very slowly, but what are your plans for the future? Are you planning to stay in Brussels? No, I will go back to the headquarters first, but then I would hope to have another posting in the Balkan region. I believe that my experience here in Slovenia, as well as my experience in South Africa where I was able to witness the reconciliation process, is a valuable asset; if I could put that to a good use in another country of the region which is aspiring to join the EU, then I would be very happy. Still, I hope to take part in the Ljubljana marathon in October.