Slovenia to Preside over the Council of the EU
Everything happens for the first time once. In 1991 Slovenia became an independent country, and in 2004 a member of the European Union. Less than four years later, that is in the first half of 2008, Slovenia will preside over the Council of the European Union. A country with a population of two million will head a community which now unites twenty-five countries and almost five hundred million citizens, while by 2008, the number of member countries will probably have increased to twenty-seven. Slovenia is already in the midst of thorough preparations for this great historic opportunity.
Slovenia will preside over the EU Council as the first of the ten new member states which joined the European Union in 2004. This is a sign of great trust and a recognition for our achievements so far, and it also presents a great responsibility.
Preparations for Slovenia's Presidency of the Council of the EU
In January 2005 Slovenia launched a detailed preparation programme to facilitate the successful conduct of its mission and take advantage of the opportunities the presidential term brings. Experience has shown that a country needs at least three years to prepare for the office. In 2005, organisational and technical frameworks were defined. With regard to defining general political guidelines and priorities, the preparations are headed by the Prime Minister, Janez Janša. A special working group, which deals with operational management and implementation and which is headed by State Secretary for European Affairs, Janez Lenarčič, head of the Government Office for European Affairs, was established. Other ministries and government bodies also actively participate in the preparations.
The preparations focus on five areas, which refer to (1) the presidency programme, (2) human resources, (3) public relations and promotion, (4) events logistics, and (5) the presidency budget.
Slovenia will employ around one thousand highly trained professionals to meet the staff demand. Some will be based in Brussels, where they will head individual bodies of the Council of the EU and represent the EU at the international level, while others will work in Slovenia's capital, Ljubljana to coordinate activities. Recruitment was completed at the beginning of 2006. Some of the staff have already begun working on the project, while others are undergoing intensive training. Much effort has been invested in recruitment, so as to ensure the participation of the most experienced civil servants.
The Presidency of the Council of the EU is very Demanding in Terms of Organisation and Logistics
During the presidency more than one hundred events are to take place in Slovenia, ranging from traditional ministerial to various other meetings and third-country conferences, which all demand careful preparation and synchronised work by all involved.
The presidency itself, and particularly formal meetings in Brussels and informal events in Slovenia, offer a unique opportunity for promoting Slovenian culture and traditions, and for improving Slovenia's recognition in Europe and the rest of the world. Slovenia plans to organise numerous cultural events at home and abroad in which acclaimed Slovenian artists will participate.
The conceptual preparations for the presidency began with a draft overview of topical issues which the government thinks will be important during Slovenia's presidency of the Council of the EU. The government believes four issues will prove strategically important to the EU in 2008: institutional reforms, EU enlargement and new neighbourhood policy, inter-cultural dialogue, and energy.
Slovenia believes that a discussion on the future institutional development of the EU will be conducted during Slovenia's presidency, and that the country will have to face these issues in an active and constructive way. In the first half of 2008, accession negotiations with Croatia and Turkey will probably be underway, so enlargement is certainly one of Slovenia's priorities. Apart from these two 'inherited' issues Slovenia will focus on culture, which links the EU's endeavours to respond to the challenges of migration policies, global competitiveness and sustainable development.
The year 2008 is the year of inter-cultural dialogue, so there will be many activities relating to the promotion of culture. Energy is currently a burning issue, due to the high level of the EU's dependence on imported energy. Slovenia intends to encourage discussion on the reliability of energy supplies in the future if the issue remains unresolved when it takes over the presidency. Slovenia believes that these priorities are of strategic importance to Europe, and therefore intends to pay them greater attention. Naturally, the possibility that the list of priorities will change due to changed political guidelines or needs has to be considered. Therefore, the Government of the Republic of Slovenia will finalise the list of priorities only at the end of 2007.
Slovenia, Germany, and Portugal constitute the so-called trio, which means they draft a joint eighteen-month programme together. To ensure the smoother continuation of work in the EU, Slovenia's programme will be harmonised with the programmes of Germany and Portugal, which preside over the EU in 2007, and also with that of France, which is to head the EU after Slovenia.
The first step in preparing a presidency programme is to define attainable goals in line with EU priorities. The Slovenian government is aware that the presidency of the Council of the EU is a project of national importance and that a consensus at all levels of government, with all political partners, non-governmental organisations and civil society needs to be reached to ensure its successful outcome. Slovenia is aware that by successfully presiding over the EU, it will prove it is capable of undertaking the most demanding and responsible tasks and thus strengthen its recognition among other EU members and internationally.