Fajon to visit Berlin and Zagreb soon, new ambassadors to stay

Ljubljana – In an interview with the STA, Foreign Minister Tanja Fajon expressed the hope that the war in Ukraine would end as soon as possible and announced a visit to Berlin as a sign of return to the core EU countries. She will also work on having good relations with Croatia, which is however unlikely to join the Schengen Area any time soon.

Asked about the difference in foreign policy compared to the previous government, Fajon said she wanted that Slovenia improves its reputation as a credible country committed to European values, respect for the constitution, the rule of law and democracy.

“I want to pursue a foreign policy towards the core EU countries. Also in the sense of decent communication, respect of all partners. It seems to me that there has been too much ill-advised, offensive communication in recent years,” she said.

Fajon was happy to announce that her first bilateral visit will be in Berlin, as this makes good on the announced ambition of improving cooperation on the Berlin-Paris-Rome axes. She will meet German counterpart Annalena Baerbock next Friday.

The foreign minister noted that she had the opportunity to speak twice with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz this week, and that Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio will pay a visit to Ljubljana next month.

“Opportunities are opening up to strengthen cooperation with these key countries in Europe, which are also the foundation of our European community,” she said, adding that opportunities to improve cooperation with France were also being sought.

Fajon said she had talked with her French counterpart in Luxembourg, especially about the Western Balkans, trying to convince her why it was so important to speed up the process of granting the EU candidate country status to Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The Slovenian minister notes at the time that the debate on enlargement to the Western Balkans should be put in a higher gear, including by understanding the security risks related to the war in Ukraine.

Slovenia needs to emphasise its commitment to multilateralism, Fajon said, adding that this meant that “Slovenia’s place is certainly on the side of democracy, the rule of law and away from autocratic regimes that we can see in Hungary, Poland.”

She said that the war in Ukraine had undermined the world order, noting that the issue of violations of human rights and democratic principles in Russia had been raised long ago and that Russian President Vladimir Putin was seen as an autocrat.

“We will certainly take Slovenia away from this, to a policy of a culture of peace,” Fajon said, adding that there was no excuse for Russian aggression against Ukraine and no one could oppose Slovenia helping with international sanctions.

The minister noted that the public debate had made it clear that “we are all concerned about the consequences for Slovenia”, and that “we all share the desire for the war to end as soon as possible. This is not a debate that should divide us.”

While saying that Slovenia had provided EUR 3 million in humanitarian aid and EUR 7 million in military aid for Ukraine, Fajon added she wanted that Slovenia did more in humanitarian and development aid and in rebuilding of Ukraine.

Dilemmas about the effectiveness of sanctions can already be felt in all countries, she said, noting that she had proposed that the European Commission make an analysis of the impact of sanctions before the debate on the next package of sanctions.

The minister would like to see a more in-depth strategic analysis on how to bring the two sides at the negotiation table, instead of talk about sanctions and their consequences. “What will happen when all possibilities of sanctions are exhausted?”

Asked about the recent EU summit at which Ukraine and Moldova were granted the EU candidate country status, Fajon said she had been told by all Ukrainian politicians in recent weeks that their country fought for democracy and European values.

“The candidate status is a symbolic message to Ukraine that it has a European perspective as a European country. And Ukraine very much needs this message these days,” the foreign minister added.

The same is true for Moldova and Georgia, and Slovenia also mentioned the Western Balkans in this context, as the region has become the training grounds for various geo-political interests and is becoming an increasing security risk, she added.

“I also understand in this context the anger, disappointment, frustration of people in the Western Balkans, because the EU is losing credibility in the enlargement process,” Fajon said, noting that Bosnia-Herzegovina has met several criteria.

“And now Moldova has gained the status in a very short time and without meeting any criteria. This is difficult to understand and justify, so the discussion with the Western Balkan leaders at the Brussels summit was very bitter.”

Fajon said that if the EU did not show its commitment to the Western Balkans clearly and sincerely, there were concerns that there the next war might take place in Slovenia’s immediate neighbourhood.

The new government is bringing a positive message to Croatia. “I will work on strengthening neighbourly relations and resolving open issues,” she said, while noting that Slovenia would not give up on the border arbitration decision.

“However, I want to put open questions on the table and see where any progress can be made. I don’t want to have eternal problems with incidents between fishermen in [the Bay of Piran]”, Fajon added.

The minister will visit Zagreb in July and she hopes a positive element of future cooperation could be found at the first meeting with the Croatian counterpart, for example making it easier to people to travel during the summer holidays.

Slovenia will thus certainly not be among the countries that will block the enlargement of the Schengen Area to Croatia.

“I congratulated Croatia on its coming adopting the euro on 1 January next year, and of course we will also help Croatia become a member of the Schengen Area as soon as possible.”

But the fact is that there is currently no consensus to enlarge the Schengen Area, with the Netherlands and some other member states blocking it, Fajon said, noting that Bulgaria and Romania had been in the “waiting room for several years.”

The minister said the rules for the Schengen Area did not work and they needed to be reformed. “So we will first need to solve the problems within the area so that it functions in the first place, and only then can it be expanded.”

Asked about the government’s announcement of revision of the appointments of ambassadors by the previous, Janez Janša government, Fajon said that the appointments had been approved at all levels and there was no legal basis for recalls.

The minister talked with President Borut Pahor and it was agreed that the procedures should be finalised, while the new government has managed to extend by a year the term of the ambassador in Moscow and send back the ambassador in Kyiv.

The interviewer noted that this is the first large interview given by Fajon as foreign minister, wondering whether there was a special reason to pick the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) to have this honour.

“It is about the attitude towards public media. Given the problems that you had, I think that this is an important message – to express support and cooperate with public media houses that provide credible information,” she said.

Asked about her view of the situation at RTV Slovenija as the former Brussels correspondent for the public broadcaster, Fajon said that the plan was to make RTV Slovenija a “truly public service, meaning to withdraw politics, to ensure independence.”

The previous government subjugated this outlet with distinctly political appointments and this is continuing with attempts by the current opposition to delay the procedure to pass the coalition-sponsored amendments to the relevant law, she added.

The amendments are only the first step in achieving change at RTV Slovenia in the foreseeable future, as a comprehensive overhaul of the act on the public broadcaster will be needed, which is a much more demanding job, Fajon concluded.