The Slovenia Times

EU Commission inquiring more about Slovenia's views this year, says Stančič


Ljubljana - The European Commission follows the developments in Slovenia and it is no secret that in the past years Brussels has addressed more requests to the country asking it to explain its standpoints, Zoran Stančič, the head of the European Commission Representation in Slovenia, told the STA as the end of his term nears.

After five years of heading the EU representation office, Stančič is to take over on 1 January 2021 a post of a special digital transformation advisor at the Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology.

Stančič, who is looking forward to new challenges, will be temporarily replaced by acting head Nataša Goršek Mencin. The Commission has not yet decided on his successor though.

He expressed hope in an interview with the STA that the office had brought the EU closer to Slovenian citizens. The House of the EU in Ljubljana attracted some 20,000 visitors per year prior to the pandemic.

The relations between Slovenia and the Commission are very good, European commissioners have been happy to visit Slovenia and relevant comparisons with member states have been portraying Slovenia in a favourable light in recent years, Stančič said.

One of the key tasks of the head of the EU representation office is reporting to the Commission on the situation in the country.

Asked how he faced this task amidst political escalations in Slovenia recently, he said that "it is not up to the European Commission to assess the performance of the government or its representatives".

"Naturally, we've been monitoring closely all the events and statements. It does not go unnoticed that senior government officials are retweeting racist posts or promoting Identitarian literature. Such actions are unusual for us since a code of conduct at the European level explicitly bans them."

"I'm worried about interference in media independence or autonomy," he said, noting that European Commission Vice President for Values and Transparency Vera Jourova had raised concern over the government's decision to suspend the financing of the STA.

According to him, "it is no secret that this year there have been more requests for explanations of Slovenia's standpoints".

The scope of reports has increased as well "since one can imagine that you cannot explain briefly, for example, a minister stepping down, followed by an unopened letter [of resignation] or statements saying that the borders are open, however crossing them, one must pay a fine".

Asked about the rule of law and media freedom situation in Slovenia as seen by the Commission, Stančič said that Slovenia was near EU average when it comes to the number of violations of EU law.

However, he added, this ranking was based on long-term average and actions in the past years.

"Establishing infringements is a long-standing procedure, hence nothing can be suggested about the current government based on these figures."

Stančič noted that the Commission had released its first rule of law report this year in which Slovenia fared quite well.

The results are based on data from 2019 and the start of 2020, he said, adding that it would not be appropriate to speculate about what would be in the next report.

Slovenia is and remains an important partner of the Commission and is as such expected to carry on with its role, he said, highlighting that the country would be in the spotlight during its EU Council presidency in the second half of 2021. "We expect the current government will do its work well."

When it comes to the pandemic, relevant figures show that Slovenia is one of the countries hit worst in the second Covid-19 wave. Stančič stressed that the Commission was not authorised to assess the situation.

He did point out though that according to the data released by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control on 14 December Slovenia ranked somewhere between second and fourth in the ranking of worst-off countries regarding the rolling average numbers of infections and deaths per 100,000 residents.

Taking into account the total of cases per million residents, data released on Tuesday by Our World in Data placed Slovenia fourth among EU member states.

Stančič believes key challenges lying ahead for the Commission are endorsing the recovery package as well as a mechanism linking funds to the respect for the rule of law, followed by preparations of all the programmes stemming from the next multi-year budget.

More than EUR 11 billion has been set aside for Slovenia in the next years, including more than EUR 5 billion from the recovery fund.

He agrees with those who say that drawing of recovery funds will be a challenge, mostly because 37% of the funds will have to go into green transformation efforts and 20% into the digital transformation.

What will also be key in drawing up the strategy is addressing recommendations by the Commission on long-term care, efforts to boost healthcare, the pension reform and creating an environment that would be friendlier to business.

Stančič warns that stakeholders have not yet got complete access to the strategy proposal in Slovenia, meaning they have only received partial information, a general picture but "the devil is always in the detail".

"EU rules do not set down that public consultation has to be conducted with all stakeholders, that is up to the member states. However, in some countries a practice of holding discussions at the proposal stage and not only when the strategy is finalised - as will be the case in Slovenia, has proven to be effective."


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