Final Preparations are Underway
The Presidency of the EU, in the first half of 2008, is a great opportunity for a young European state to achieve wider recognition in the European and international arenas, but it brings vast challenges as well. Preparations for the Presidency, which started three years ago, are probably one of the most important and demanding tasks after gaining independence in 1991; Slovenia is well aware of this fact. Two-phase Preparation The government began the preparations for the EU Presidency immediately after the Council of the European Union chose Slovenia for the presidency in December 2004. It adopted the document "Preparations for Slovenia's Presidency of the EU" and concluded the first phase of the preparations: the first outline of the priorities for the Presidency, the selection of the proper human resources and the preparation of the financial plan. The first phase also featured listening to and learning from the experiences of other member states, which had already presided over the EU. In January 2007 the second phase started. As for logistic preparations for the presidency, the country is currently engaged in training participating civil servants and identifying the present problems of the EU. The Organizational Structure for Preparation In January 2005, Slovenia started its preparations for the Presidency of the EU Council. All preparations are strategically led by a Core Working Group for the EU presidency, which is headed by the Prime Minister. Afterwards, a special working group - the Operational Group for Preparation Activities and Holding the Presidency, responsible for operational management and implementation of the projects - operates within the framework of the Government Office for European Affairs. Within this group, five sub-groups headed by different ministries and the office of Protocol of the Republic of Slovenia are in charge of specific priority areas: the presidency program, human resources, public relations and promotion, presidency budget and events logistics. Additionally, other ministries and government bodies actively participate in the preparations. What Does the Presidency Cover? During the presidency, a country leads the Council of the European Union (EU Council) and the European Council for a period of six months. Holding the Presidency of the EU Council means that the presidential country is in charge of all EU Council configurations, at all levels, chairing the EU Council Working Party as well as the European Council. Slovenia will represent the EU Council in relation to other EU institutions and the European Union to the international community. Organization and logistics Although the vast majority of formal events, two European Council meetings, 30 meetings of the EU Council and 4,000 meetings of the working bodies are held in Brussels and Luxemburg, the presiding country traditionally also holds many informal meetings at all levels. "Currently we estimate around 150 events in Slovenia, ranging from traditional ministerial to various other meetings and third-country conferences. All other events that are indirectly connected with the presidency are not included," stated Matjaz Kek, the Secretary of the Government Communication Office. To ensure a smooth flow of logistic preparations, a Logistics Centre for Slovenia's EU Presidency was established in April 2006. This special centre, which operates within the Office of the Government Secretary-General, coordinates and ensures all organisation and logistics activities for all events organized by the sector ministries or bodies within the ministries during the presidency. Although the preparations for the Presidency of the EU are approaching their conclusion, some highly important issues remain unrealized. More effort is needed in the area of transport and ensuring lodging and conference capacities. "We estimate that during the presidency Slovenia will host around 15,000 official delegates and 4,500 media representatives. To meet these ends, we have already booked 25,000 accommodation reservations in the hotels between Ljubljana and Bled", said Franci Kodela, the leader of the logistics centre. To provide proper conference capacities, a new protocol-congress centre in Brdo is under construction, while several public contracts for office stationery and technical equipment for a new protocol-congress centre are also underway. Presidency programme The conceptual preparations for the Presidency began with a draft overview of topical issues that Slovenian government thinks would be important. Afterwards, a draft of a joint 18-month programme for Presidency of the EU was established by the so-called trio of Slovenia, Germany, and Portugal. Naturally, it is highly likely that the list of priorities will be altered due to changing political needs; therefore, the Slovenian government will finalise its six-month program for Presidency not much earlier than the end of 2007. The same holds true for the calendar of the events during the Presidency, which has to be composed and sent to the Secretariat General of the Council of Europe seven months before the presidency begins, thus by 1st June 2007. According to Kodela, the calendar will be composed on time but some changes could still be added afterwards, due to economic, natural and political circumstances. Vivid promotion activities The Presidency of the EU is seen as an excellent opportunity to improve the recognition of the country, to once and for all let others know where Slovenia is, and to prove to Europe that it has been successfully integrated to the Union. Many questions about whether Slovenia is capable takeoff taking advantages of the EU Presidency have already been posed. What are the planed activities for improving the promotion and recognition during the Presidency of the EU? According to Kek, Slovenia has prepared a significant amount of promotional activities to take place throughout the presidency. For effective communication in Slovenia and throughout the EU, a logo for Slovenia's presidency was selected by a unanimous public tender. The elements of the new visual identity, which will be used uniformly and consistently on all events in Slovenia and abroad, on the presidency website, the gifts and stationery, will be presented to the public in December. As a part of the promotional activities, the Government Communication Office and the protocol office of the Republic of Slovenia are preparing gifts for all participants of the events and for the important guests, who will meet the Slovene representatives during the presidency. Finally, the Ministry of Culture is contributing a diverse cultural program. The major cultural events abroad will be the first official representation of Slovenia and the announcement of its Presidency in the Brussels in December 2007 as well as a concert of the Slovenian Philharmonic in Brussels on the eve of the meeting of the European Council. Meanwhile, the majority of the cultural events in Slovenia will be thematically linked with the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue. In conjunction with the celebration of the Statehood Day (Slovenian national holiday, celebrated on 25th June), Slovenia's Presidency of the EU will end with an impressive spectacle in Ljubljana. According to a plan "We still need to determine the final details. However, according to the consultations with representatives of the former presiding member states, we estimate that, as for a time that is left until our Presidency, we are not falling behind with the preparations," concluded Franci Kodela. The Slovenian Tourist Board (STO) and the Government Communication Office are preparing a joint "EU Road Show". According to Matjaz Kek, the Secretary of the Government Communication Office, the concept of the project, planned for the whole period of the Slovenia's presidency, features selected cultural, sport, tourism and science events all over the EU in all capitals of the member states to present Slovenia to a broad foreign audience. "But the project has not been confirmed yet," concluded Kek.