Ljubljana – European Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson and Interior Minister Aleš Hojs discussed on Thursday the priorities of Slovenia’s upcoming EU presidency. They highlighted the new Schengen strategy, migration pact and the Western Balkans as some of the key areas of interest.
Johansson said the new Schengen strategy would be “an important task for the Slovenian presidency” since it is important that Schengen be re-established as an area of security, freedom and justice.
Hojs said Slovenia supported the expansion of the Schengen zone, in particular to Croatia. He noted it did not want to defer the implementation of interoperability as some member states have proposed, but sought to implement it by 2023 as planned.
As for the migrations and asylum pact, the commissioner said that Slovenia would have to continue with the efforts and talks currently undertaken by the Portuguese EU presidency.
Minister Hojs said Slovenia and several other countries were opposed to mandatory relocation of asylum applicants, an idea that Italy insists on.
But he said it was still willing to show solidarity in a different way, “perhaps with greater presence in Frontex, perhaps with some financial means”.
He proposes that some parts of the proposal be taken out of the package in an attempt to implement them separately instead of waiting for a solution for the whole package, for example the creation of the European Asylum Agency and the single database of fingerprints for the identification of applicants.
Johansson also mentioned work on the “external dimension” of irregular migrations, in particular working with Western Balkan countries that are on the migration route. She presented efforts to return those whose asylum applications had been rejected.
She expressed the expectation that all member states will respect asylum law and the rights of applicants, while noting that the vast majority of those who enter the EU irregularly are not refugees and would hence not be able to get asylum.
This is why it is important to prevent illegal migrations and create legal avenues for work migrants, she added.
Overall, Johansson said the aim of the visit was to explore how the Commission can support the Slovenian presidency. She thinks that the Slovenian presidency “has a good opportunity to be a successful presidency”.
Media freedom and STA financing broached in Hojs-Johansson meeting
Johansson and Hojs also broached the issue of media freedom in Slovenia and the financing of the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) with Hojs reporting on the latest development regarding the STA.
At a press conference following the meeting, the commissioner said the freedom and pluralism of media was a cornerstone for democracy. “And that’s why it plays an important part in the annual rule of law report that the Commission is presenting. I raised this issue,” she said.
Agreeing, Hojs said he assured the commissioner that media freedom “is absolute in Slovenia”, that the media “are free to report on anything and however you wish to report”.
He said that he was able to inform the commissioner of the “joyful news”, which he had learnt about just minutes before the meeting”, that the STA just today “handed over all the necessary documentation”, which would be “the basis to sign a new contract and for the financing to be carried out as it should be”.
He said it was not clear why the agency had waited months to submit the documents, which the government would now examine before resuming financing. Asked how long it would take, he said he reckoned it would be “relatively fast”, adding: “It shouldn’t take as long as it took for the documentation to be submitted.”
The commissioner expressed the hope “that these issues can be resolved ahead of the Slovenian presidency” of the Council of the EU.