The Slovenia Times

Slovenia and its neighbours advocate open borders and EU enlargement

President Nataša Pirc Musar hosts her counterparts from the neighbouring countries at Brdo Castle to mark the 20th anniversary of Slovenia's membership in the EU. Photo: Katja Kodba/STA

Together with the heads of state of Slovenia's neighbouring countries, President Nataša Pirc Musar promoted open borders within the EU and the bloc's enlargement at a high-profile event she hosted on 22 April to mark the 20th anniversary of Slovenia's EU membership.

The five presidents stressed the EU's advantages, but also pointed to the challenges ahead and the need for some changes.

After the meeting, held at the Brdo Castle estate, where Slovenian officials often receive high-level visitors, Pirc Musar highlighted excellent relations between Slovenia and its neighbouring countries - Austria, Croatia, Hungary and Italy. This manifested, for example, in the help Slovenia received after massive floods in August 2023, she said.

She underscored the many advantages of EU membership for Slovenia, singling out fundamental liberties as the bloc's major asset.

Pirc Musar is a firm advocate of a fully-functioning Schengen Area. "I would really like to call on the governments of our neighbouring countries, and the Slovenian government too, to lift border controls," she said. Open borders are a major EU asset, especially in a region that experienced walls in the past, she added.

Austria resumed border checks on its border with Slovenia in the wake of the refugee crisis in 2015 and has been extending them ever since. In October last year, Slovenia decided to do the same on its borders with Croatia and Hungary after Italy reintroduced border controls on the Slovenian-Italian border.

The Slovenian president stressed the importance of enlargement as one of the EU's strongest geopolitical tools, while expressing support for countries' accession efforts, particularly of those from the Western Balkans. These efforts enjoy the support of the four neighbouring countries as well.

Addressing a press conference, Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen said that the EU should adopt some changes in order to get ready for the addition of new member states.

Speaking of the reforms necessary in the future, Italy's Sergio Mattarella mentioned changes to decision-making, a process that he believes should be sped up.

Slovenia and Italy are among the countries advocating qualified majority decision-making when it comes to the bloc's foreign and security policies.

Meanwhile, Croatian President Zoran Milanović expressed his opposition to efforts pushing for such decision-making, arguing that there should be a consensus.

Same as his Hungarian counterpart Tamas Sulyok, Milanović is sceptical about too tight an integration within the EU.

Sulyok thinks that increasingly tight integration would result in a weaker Europe. Hungary believes in an alliance of independent countries, he added.

This marks the first time the Hungarian president visited Slovenia after he assumed office in early March. Hungary, which will take over EU presidency in July, will host an EU-Western Balkans summit in the second half of the year, he announced.

Held in the presence of some 100 members of Slovenian and foreign media, the event has been a major one to mark Slovenia's EU membership anniversary.

As the meeting coincided with Earth Day, Pirc Musar presented her four counterparts with seedlings of the linden tree, the national tree of Slovenia.

This is the first time the presidents of the four neighbouring countries met in Slovenia since June 2011, when the country hosted them to celebrate its 20th anniversary of independence.


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