With the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Slovenia Dr. Anže Logar, we talked about the developments related to the new coronavirus epidemic, relations with neighbouring countries, the European Union and the increasingly turbulent international relations.
DEMOKRACIJA: Mr. Logar, on Wednesday (June 3, 2020) there was a joint session of the National Assembly Committee on Foreign Policy and the Parliamentary Committee on European Union Affairs, at which deputies discussed about your letter, at the request of the Left, SD, LMŠ and SAB parliamentary groups, as Minister of Foreign Affairs to the interdepartmental report on the rule of law in the Republic of Slovenia. It is obvious that the opposition parties are very hurt and very disturbed, because in this letter for the European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders, you pointed out some facts, related to the state of justice in Slovenia.
LOGAR: It seems that not only the opposition is hurt. Even the media, which have dimensioned the theme to epic proportions. And even the judiciary, which clearly understands the open and fair debate on the state of justice differently, than I do myself.
Look, a few days of media stampede, seeking responses from all possible, writing some MEPs to the European Commission, writing the President of the Supreme Court to the European Commission, 10 hours of debate in the National Assembly and even a criminal complaint, for the following words from my letter to the European Commissioner for Justice, are a bit excessive, don’t you think?
Well, I just wrote this: “In Slovenia, many unreasonably long court proceedings have ended with the statute of limitations. Our country has lost many cases at the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. We have witnessed the ineffective prosecution of banking crime, disregard for the principle of the appearance of impartiality, the use of totalitarian symbolism by individual judges, the conviction of opposition politicians in the regular judiciary, which ended only with the annulment of judgments in the Constitutional Court, non-implementation of Constitutional Court decisions,… It is all a good principle for people’s bad trust in the judicial system, which, according to a Eurostat survey, is one of the lowest among EU countries.”
Honestly, because of these words such a storm – do you find this normal? In Slovenia, an EU member, in year 2020?!
DEMOKRACIJA: Not really. But this certainly testifies about the state of mind in the country…
LOGAR: Probably yes. The response reminds me, that much remains to be done in Slovenia, before a sense of relaxation, openness and inclusion, will prevail in the country. I want Slovenia, where everyone would be evaluated with the same watts, where everyone would be given the opportunity to prove themselves, the country where their success would be evaluated according to meritorious criteria and where their success would not be blamed, but rewarded. When the majority on the left of the political spectrum will also want it, we will be on the horseback.
The reaction, after the previously mentioned marathon 10-hour extraordinary session of parliamentary committees, at the request of the left-wing opposition, is also very telling. At this joint meeting, the Foreign Affairs and European Union Affairs Committees rejected the left-wing opposition’s proposed decisions about the inadmissibility of the aforementioned cover letter and overwhelmingly supported the decision, that the public writing of individual MEPs to the European Commission is unacceptable – in this case the writing of LMŠ MEPs, in which they publicly settle accounts with the Government of the Republic of Slovenia. With this, the National Assembly, the legislative branch of power, put things in the right place. And interestingly, in the moment this happened, when “ideological doping” on the issue of the rule of law was left without the desired result, the zeal for media coverage on the subject literally disappeared.
DEMOKRACIJA: Well, let’s go back to mid-March, when the new government took office, in which you were sworn in as Minister of Foreign Affairs. Was one of your first tasks, to achieve the liberalization of freight traffic between countries, which practically stalled at the outbreak, of the new coronavirus epidemic? For example, on the border with Italy and Croatia, long columns were formed…
LOGAR: That’s right. The decision, of the then resigning Prime Minister Marjan Šarec, was beyond reason. He also closed the border with Italy for freight transport. I don’t understand how you can decide for such an extreme measure! Yes, but then where would Slovenia get food and materials, if the crisis lasted a long time? Italy is our second largest trading partner, we import billions of goods and food from it and you decide to close the border for freight traffic?! Columns immediately began to gather in front of the border on the Italian side and consequently, because on that basis, Croatia also closed the border, our southern border. This happened one day before we took over the Government of the Republic of Slovenia. So the first thing that Saturday in March was, that I called Italian Foreign Minister Luigi di Maio and we started working on the matter, in cooperation with the Minister of Infrastructure and the Interior.
DEMOKRACIJA: As a Minister of foreign affairs, have you ever been involved in the procurement of protective medical equipment? We know that practically all European countries have had problems with this…
LOGAR: Of course, we all did. I forwarded every offer I received, to those who dealt with it operationally. Therefore I would also like to thank my ministerial colleagues Zdravko Počivalšek and Matej Tonin, as they did an exceptional job of ensuring us, that we never ran out of protective medical equipment during the epidemic.
This entire affair, regarding the purchase of equipment, has an obvious political background. The one, who recorded the telephone conversation with the Minister of Economy, was probably not recording this for his own archive, but in agreement with someone. Later events convince us of this. In a country, where someone who has signed three contracts to buy protective medical equipment worth € 30 million, in two of which are later found serious infringements and the one who signs 8 annexes for € 40 million, is not in any way a whistle-blower or a fighter for the taxpayer euro.
However, I already have so much political experience, that the moment someone becomes an all-Slovenian media hero and fighter for justice, the moment groups are formed on social networks in support of him, the time he has unrestricted access to the media and every his statement is treated in the media like dry gold, then I know, it is not a self-made one.
DEMOKRACIJA: If you listen to some, it seems like this government is doing all the wrong things…
LOGAR: Yeah, you read Marjan Šarec’s Facebook blog. Didn’t he himself throw a rifle into the corn, on the eve of the COVID-19 epidemic? Look, if you look at things through the prism of negativism, sooner or later you become bitter. Bitterness, however, is never the right state of mind, to seek effective answers to the challenges of modern times. That’s right, some people see everything black today. It is wrong for the government, to accept restrictions on movement. Then it is wrong for the government, to release these restrictions. Firstly, it is wrong because we are supposedly late with measures to preserve tourism, but then it is not right to issue tourist vouchers only for accommodation, but not also for alcohol and cigars and nightclubs…
I think that the consequences of the COVID-19 epidemic have had some specific effects on humans. From the large crowd of Slovenes, the epidemic brought out all the best that they were hiding in themselves. Going beyond capacity limits, following instructions, self-preserving behaviour… From some, the opposite is true – disregard for restrictions and opposition to everything. Especially with the opposition politicians, it seems as if all the cloudy thoughts, that were growing during the quarantine, after the release of the measures, came to the fore with all their might. So it seems that today we have a society of hard-workers and nergs. In the sweat of their brows, the hard-workers saved Slovenia with superhuman efforts, while the nergs sought conspiracy, irregularities and criticized every decision of the government. Well, maybe this is also related to the fact, that some are no longer in power…
I am glad that most Slovenes are hard-workers. They have shown us the right way and they need to be listened to. Given what has been shown so far, I am firmly convinced that the coalition government of political parties SDS, SMC, NSi and DeSUS, together with Prime Minister Janez Janša, will listen to them, as much as possible.
DEMOKRACIJA: How do you view the response from the European Union at the outbreak of the epidemic? There is a general belief that the EU has given up on this, so that the members of the union had to find their own way.
LOGAR: The original feeling was definitely like that. In late March, when paid, packaged and already loaded fans, were taken from our plane in China, saying that someone else had paid them better, I called the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Mr. Borella and asked him about the leverage, available to the European Union in its relations with China, because such actions are indeed completely unacceptable. However, he only resignedly replied, that such a war for medical equipment was raging in China that, unfortunately, the EU could not do anything about it. These really were not the times to build more confidence in the EU.
Well, but then the countries self-organized, Slovenia joined the initiative for the so-called corona bonds, which brought new dynamics in the activities of the European Commission. The Commission’s latest proposals, on the Recovery Fund, are encouraging. Member States will have, until the end of June, to decide on a sufficiently robust and timely instrument, to provide them with sufficient resources, to restart the economy. This will restore citizens’ confidence in the EU’s reactionary power and capability.
DEMOKRACIJA: Former diplomat Dr. Božo Cerar wrote on Portal Plus, that COVID-19 did not only affect individuals and relations between us, but also actors in international politics. According to him, multilateralism has proved to be in crisis. Let me quote him: “International organizations were passive or played a more side role.” Do you agree with him?
LOGAR: The world is coming into a new era. For some time, it seems that multilateralism is seriously tested. The COVID-19 pandemic further exposed the weaknesses in the functioning of individual multilateral institutions and pointed out the consequences of the late decision of, for example, the World Health Organization on the global course of the pandemic and consequently on the world economy. In the world, there is a redistribution of power between individual key actors. Multilateralism is increasingly being replaced by multicentrism, which is very dangerous from the point of view of small countries. The international environment is becoming much more demanding and the price of wrong decisions in foreign policy is potentially significantly “higher”. The answers to the new challenges may not be what they have been so far. It will take a little more boldness and originality. Foreign policy is becoming different. Not as challenging as our proverbially juicy domestic political scene, but still much more dynamic.
DEMOKRACIJA: It is probably possible to agree with Dr. Cerar, that during the epidemic, the nation (Westphalian) state came to full expression, with its attributes such as sovereignty, territory and borders. Can we say, that Slovenians were very lucky, to get a government under the leadership of an experienced politician like Janez Janša, during this crisis?
LOGAR: Of course. I cannot imagine being led by an inexperienced politician and without a majority in parliament, during this period. Equally or even more dangerous, however, would be the situation, when elections would take place during this time. In short, the successfully completed COVID-19 epidemic is the result of the responsibility of the citizens of Slovenia, who took into account the measures of the Government of the Republic of Slovenia and the ability of this government to formulate and take appropriate measures, in a timely manner. This is acknowledged to us by all, the last one being publicly pointed out twice, is by the Italian Foreign Minister, during his visit to Slovenia.
DEMOKRACIJA: You have been in contact with many foreign ministers, since your government took office. Therefore is to say, bilateral diplomacy has been at the forefront in recent weeks. Mostly probably via Skype, Zoom and similar video applications…
LOGAR: Yes, and I hope that I will be able to breathe with full diplomatic lungs as soon as possible – in short, that I will also be able to meet my fellow ministers in person, at various international events. In diplomacy does not go without personal contact. This is basically the foundation of diplomacy. If you want to assert your interests and your views, you just have to prepare the right circumstances, to make it possible. But you can only do this, if you build mutual trust.
DEMOKRACIJA: You have achieved the opening of the border with Croatia, Hungary and Austria. However, we do not want the border with Italy to be opened quickly, probably due to the fact that this country was practically the European centre of the new coronavirus epidemic. What will be the further dynamics of border opening?
LOGAR: Personally, due to close contacts with Italy, I want the border to be opened as soon as possible. However, we must first and foremost keep in mind the health of our citizens. Therefore, until the NIJZ classifies Italy as a safe country, on the basis of an internationally recognized methodology, there will be no opening of the border. However, the situation in Italy is also improving rapidly, so I believe that this border will also be opened by 15 June. For other borders, the procedure is carried out on the same hoof – when the NIJZ announces that an individual country is included in the list of safe countries, we open the border with that country without any restrictions. However, if health indicators deteriorate, the border can be closed again immediately.
DEMOKRACIJA: Well, let’s touch also some “evergreen” topics. Is there anything new, regarding the implementation of the arbitration award, which determined the land and sea border between Slovenia and Croatia? In an interview with magazine Delo, you said, that you would try to solve this with the help of “silent diplomacy”…
LOGAR: So I better keep quiet about it. True? (laughter)
DEMOKRACIJA: On the anniversary of the signing of the Austrian State Treaty (signed on 15 May 1955 in the Belvedere Palace in Vienna), you called for the full implementation of Article 7 of the ADP, which deals with the protection of the Slovene minority in Austrian Carinthia and Styria. The National Council of Carinthia Slovenes is following with great concern, the discussion on the possible sale of the Carinthia “Posojilnica Bank”, which is considered to be one of the financial pillars of the minority, to some British fund. It should be added, that in October will be the 100th anniversary of the Carinthia plebiscite… The Slovene minority in Italy is finally expected to get back the “Narodni dom” in Trieste. Will the government be more active, in helping our compatriots abroad?
LOGAR: That’s right. Our compatriots abroad are one of the most important topics of our Foreign Ministry. As you know, I have already visited our compatriots in the “Porabje” region, I have met with representatives of the minority in Italy and I have also spoken to both foreign ministers about their situation. It is very important that all organizations abroad are coordinated to speak one language. This is the first condition for more effective action by the authorities of neighbouring countries. I also plan to meet my compatriots beyond our northern border shortly and I am also working closely with our Minister for Slovenes Abroad, Mrs. Helena Jaklisch.
DEMOKRACIJA: We are approaching the end of our conversation. We all know that our previous foreign ministers, despite our country’s membership in the EU and NATO, were incredibly internationalistically attached to the Russian Federation. Will you make our foreign policy more Euro-Atlantic again, after a long time?
LOGAR: If I say yes, the left-wing opposition will convene an extraordinary meeting of the Foreign Policy Committee again (laughs). The fact is that in the last decade, Slovenian foreign policy has been quite anemic and above all, susceptible to suggestions from outside, by those who just wanted to strengthen their influence in this part of Europe. I did not become a minister in order to continue such a “strategy”, but in order to achieve the goals of the declaration on foreign policy and the foreign policy strategy of the Republic of Slovenia, which was adopted during the Cerar’s government. In there it is written quite precisely in which direction we should (re)shape our foreign policy presence and in there transatlantic relations have a special weight.
DEMOKRACIJA: And for the end. After the official end of the epidemic, will there be any more time to prepare for the Slovenian presidency of the European Union, in the second half of year 2021?
LOGAR: Yes, this will now be one of the focuses of our work. The government will approve a new organizational scheme, modelled on that year of 2008. In short: the European Union is returning to the core of our foreign policy. And don’t worry, I will not advise the Prime Minister, not to address the European Parliament…
Anže Logar was born in year 1976 in Ljubljana. In 2000 he graduated from the Faculty of Economics in Ljubljana, in January 2006 he received his master’s degree from the Faculty of Postgraduate State and European Studies and in July 2016 his doctorate from the Faculty of Applied Social Studies. In year 2000, he joined SKB Bank and in January 2003 he left the position of Product Manager in the Marketing Department and joined the European Parliament. In both governments of Janez Janša, the Government of the Republic of Slovenia appointed him to be Director of the Office of the Government of the Republic of Slovenia for Communication and during the Slovenian Presidency of the EU Council he was the official spokesman of the Slovenian Presidency to the EU Council. Later, in the Directorate for Economic Diplomacy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he worked in the field of relations with the OECD in the title of Minister Plenipotentiary. In the years 2014–2018, he was an SDS deputy in the National Assembly of the Republic of Slovenia. During this time, he headed a commission of inquiry to identify those, responsible for abuses in the Slovenian banking system. In year 2018, he was re-elected as a Member of Parliament and he also chaired the Public Finance Oversight Committee. On 16 February year 2007, on Independence Day, then-Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus presented him with the Life Saving Cross, national award for his services in rescuing Lithuanian citizen Mantvydas Juozapavičius, from drowning in a Hungarian lake.