Ljubljana – Jerneja Jug Jerše, the new head of the European Commission’s Representation in Slovenia, considers a national recovery and resilience plan an opportunity for a country to step up. The Commission will borrow funds that will have to be repaid by future generations, so the plan should be focused on the future, she has told the STA.
Jug Jerše took over her new post on Friday. She joined the Commission in 2005 and has since worked at the internal market, economic and financial affairs, and structural reform support directorates-general. In the latter branch she headed a unit responsible for revenue administration and public financial management.
Asked what she would advise the Slovenian government in relation to the recovery plan preparations, she said that the plan “is a unique opportunity for a country to step up”.
“All the investments and reforms should provide our descendants with a better world, that is why the European Commission insists on the green and digital.”
The aim of the investments is not only to spend the funds on relaunching the economy, the national plans should also take into consideration the development aspect of structural reforms and look ahead, she said in a recent interview with the STA.
Jug Jerše believes that Slovenia will do very well during its presidency of the Council of the European Union in the second half of 2021, regardless of whether events are held virtually or in person.
The European Commission’s Representation in Slovenia hopes that there will be as many on-site events as possible, but it is likely that a hybrid model will be used.
During Slovenia’s stint at the helm of the Council of the European Union, the focus will be on familiar challenges such as the pandemic and efforts to promote recovery as well as the Green Deal, digitalisation and migration.
Jug Jerše is not worried about a potential political crisis in Slovenia just before or during the presidency as she thinks that such a crisis would not put the presidency at risk. She thinks that pandemic-related issues or an external crisis would pose a bigger problem.
It has been said that the Commission has always been and will remain a scapegoat for member states, but one should also note that the Commission has made a huge step forward by organising the vaccine procurement after the member states competed among themselves for personal protective equipment at the start of the pandemic, she said.
The Commission has done the best it could under Covid circumstances, she pointed out, adding that mistakes always happened and it was likely even more could have been done.
Jug Jerše believes that the EU will meet the target of immunisation of 70% of the adult population by the end of summer despite vaccine-related hurdles. She highlighted that the bloc had reached an important milestone a few days ago – 100 million vaccinations.
The Commission is restricted when it comes to certain issues such as Covid-related border restrictions or coordination of other measures as this is the domain of member states.
“The situation showed us what the world would be like without the EU,” she said, commenting on reports that many EU citizens think that the EU has not been very successful in its response to the pandemic. “The crisis showed us that we actually need more Europe.”
Asked whether the Commission is worried about the developments in Slovenia affecting the country’s media, Jug Jerše said that “media freedom is a key pillar of democracy”, a principle on which the Commission would insist.
“The European Commission believes that media should be critical as they are the ones who monitor in what way politicians act,” she said.
Noting that the second Rule of Law Report was in the works, she said that this week’s virtual visit by the Commission’s officials to Slovenia involved exchanges with a very wide spectrum of stakeholders. She highlighted that her colleagues had examined the situation in the country closely as part of preparations for the annual report.
The head of the European Commission’s Representation in Slovenia sees Brussels or the EU and Slovenia as two sides of the same coin. “If you work for the benefit of the EU, you work for the benefit of Slovenia too,” she said.