Prime Minister Janez Janša attended via video conference the 7th Delphi Economic Forum, which took place in Athens. It is the flagship event and annual conference of the organisation of the same name engaging leaders from different countries committed to deliver and promote innovative ideas for sustainable and competitive growth for Europe and the wider Eastern Mediterranean region.
This year’s conference is focused on how to build back better and more resilient societies following the pandemic crisis. The central questions will also include the reflection on beliefs in foreign policy, security and economic growth, and on how to better prepare for an ever changing and fast-paced world. In today’s discussion, the Prime Minister focused on current geostrategic issues related to the war in Ukraine.
The Prime Minister began by saying that the world changed on February 24, especially for us who live on the European continent. “We are not aware enough of how much these changes are affecting all of us and will affect our future. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union, we lived in a world where we believed that Europe would be united and democracy and market economy would spread across the continent; it would only take a decade or the next generation to build a world far away from the Cold War period,” the Prime Minister said and continued that such thinking made the EU or the Western part of the world and the Euro-Atlantic community neglect strategic responses to strategic challenges. “One of these strategic responses, which has been only half implemented, is the enlargement of the EU,” the Prime Minister said. He went on to say that enlargement has not been taken seriously in the recent period, not only with regard to the Western Balkans, but above all with regard to the Eastern neighbourhood. “Now we see that if the EU does not enlarge, something else will. Now we are paying the price,” he added.
According to him, the fate of the peaceful future of the European continent is currently being decided in Ukraine. “I was there in mid-March with my Polish and Czech counterparts and only when you go to Kyiv and see what’s really going on, when you feel the war, you can really make judgments on the determination and courage of the Ukrainians. The current events constitute the rebirth of the Ukrainian nation. We must do everything we can to help Ukraine. We must accelerate its membership in the EU, we must give it all possible help so that it can defend itself,” the Prime Minister stressed. He added that the words spoken by Josep Borrell during his visit to Kyiv are currently true, namely that the war would end when Ukraine is able to defend itself. “So we have to help refugees, we have to think about reconstruction after the war, but first we have to give all possible military aid, because only this can save lives and stop the war,” Prime Minister Janez Janša stated unequivocally.
The Prime Minister also said that Slovenia has voted for all the packages of sanctions against Russia. “We are also working with the European Commission on the sixth package of sanctions. We know what is the greatest problem. It is the dependency of the largest part of the EU on Russian energy products, in particular natural gas, oil and coal. Oil and coal are not really such a big problem, as they are easily replaced with other products, a greater problem is natural gas,” said the Prime Minister. He recalled that the entire EU is facing the dilemma highlighted by Mario Draghi. “We have two things on the table: on the one hand there are the lives of Ukrainians who are being killed, and on the other there is heating. So, are we prepared, for a short term, to sacrifice a part of our comfort and the economic price related to the sanctions regarding the Russian gas and thus stop the financing of the Russian military machine, or do we persist with the sanctions that are working in the long term but in the short term we still pay billions for Russian energy products, while the Kremlin uses this money to finance the Russian war machinery,” said the Prime Minister. He added that this is the main dilemma on the tables of all Member States and expressed his opinion that these dilemmas need to be resolved as soon as possible.
The Prime Minister was clear: “I don’t know if we are prepared to make these sacrifices, but we have to do this.” He added that the effect of the sanctions is asymmetrical. “Not all countries are in the same position. Whenever this happens in the EU, we need some time to coordinate ourselves. However, all the visits that followed our first visit in the middle of March – today, I think that the Austrian Chancellor is in Kyiv – and in particular the visit by the President of the European Parliament, the President of the European Commission and Mr Borrell, have shed more light on the developments and these insights of the people with the greatest responsibility in the EU will accelerate the negotiations for Ukraine’s accession to the EU, and the embargo on Russian gas is sure to arrive with lightning speed,” assessed Janez Janša.
With regard to the enlargement to the Western Balkans, the Prime Minister said that at the EU-Western Balkans Summit last October Slovenia proposed conclusions that envisaged a strict timeline for the Western Balkan enlargement by 2030. “Twenty countries agreed with this. However, this was not included in the final conclusions. We must decide on this in the next nine years. The Russian aggression against Ukraine highlights the need to find strategic answers to strategic questions,” said the Prime Minister and assessed that Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia should also be included in the same enlargement timeline and that accession procedures should be accelerated. “Of course, everything cannot be done overnight, but it is possible to do it in this decade. A real progress is also something that would help stabilise the Western Balkan region and the Eastern neighbourhood, but we must first stop the war in Ukraine with a strong military support on the one hand and effective sanctions that will help stop the Russian attacks on the other hand,” added the Prime Minister.
With regard to Ukrainian refugees Prime Minister Janša said that to date we have accepted all refugees arriving from Ukraine and that we are prepared to continue helping the neighbouring countries, namely Poland, Slovakia, Romania and Hungary, which are full of refugees from Ukraine. “We are collecting help for these countries and also for the people displaced within Ukraine. We must do this, of course. But our goal is to stop the war and the flow of refugees and to establish appropriate conditions for all fleeing people to be able to return to their homes as soon as possible. We have to focus on this,” said the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister also spoke about Slovenia’s membership of the Med7 Club, which following the joining of Slovenia and Croatia last year, became Med9. According to Prime Minister Janša, the Mediterranean is a joint responsibility of all. “We are pleased to have joined Med7 and are grateful for the support of other members. However, we do not only share with other members of the group the responsibility for the Mediterranean, but are also in a similar position with regard to development issues. Our views on how certain things should be dealt with in the EU are also similar. We also expressed similar views when we negotiated on the recovery and resilience fund and the amount of financial resources. I believe that living in a similar environment affects not only the search for solutions for climate and other challenges but also affects the specific approach when seeking common solutions within the EU,” said the Prime Minister.
At the end of the discussion, Prime Minister Janez Janša also spoke about the Dublin Convention on migration. Italy, namely, argues that it should not bear the full burden of migration. “Of course, the burden must be shared, and I think we are not far from reaching an agreement,” the Prime Minister said. He added that the major dispute in the past was over mandatory migrant quotas, “but now the pressure has balanced within the EU as the war in Ukraine and refugees from there flood Eastern and Central Europe, so the understanding of the problem is balanced as well.”
“Not only do I hope, but I also believe that this new situation will help us complete the procedures related to the EU acts for those that are still waiting,” said the Prime Minister, adding that we need to strengthen and enlarge the Schengen area “while doing everything we can to ensure that the EU member states sharing the EU’s external borders enter the Schengen area, take responsibility and strengthen the area. “I think that the dual situation we are in now does not benefit anyone,” concluded the Prime Minister.