After the two-day meeting of the European Council in Brussels, Prime Minister Janez Janša took part in a press conference, where he spoke about several discussions held by European leaders on current topics over the past two days.
“The discussion on COVID-19 was longer, more heated and more important in terms of exchanging information than originally planned, as the central and eastern parts of Europe are experiencing a wave of infections and some countries are severely affected, probably more than ever in this pandemic,” said the Prime Minister, who highlighted as important the correlation figure that emerged when comparing the situation in the member states. “There is a double correlation, namely between the number of infections and hospitalisations on the one hand and the vaccination coverage of the population by individual countries on the other, and the correlation between the vaccination coverage of people over 50 and the number of deaths. The fewer vaccinated people over 50 there are, the more there are deaths,” said Janez Janša, adding that some countries are on the verge of the collapse of the health care system. “Slovenia is helping, we have also helped Romania, for example,” said the Prime Minister.
As he went on to point out, the focus of the meeting was on the topic of energy prices and the lack of certain resources. “I reminded my colleagues that we had started a similar debate during our first Presidency of the Council of the EU in 2008, and some of the conclusions adopted in June 2008 were, in fact, very much in line with what we decided yesterday,” said the Prime Minister. He went on to say that “rising energy prices are also leading to a spiral of rising prices for other products and services, and from this point of view we can certainly expect this topic to be one of the central themes of the December summit. The Commission has also been charged with producing some additional data,” said the Prime Minister, recalling that it was a continuation of the old debate on how much this increase is affected by the commitment to our climate targets for a carbon-neutral Europe after 2050, as well as the programme of readiness for 55% net reduction by 2030. “We still haven’t got all the answers. The fact is that this is a classic phenomenon of rebalancing the global economy, where both the EU and the US – while China is doing it all the time – attempted to mitigate the effects of the pandemic by increasing the amount of money or funds in the market, which automatically leads to higher demand, while supply lags behind. We are not only facing an increase in energy prices, but also a shortage of many products and semi-products; prices are rising and more expensive transport also causes an increase in food prices, all of which is reflected in inflation,” said the Prime Minister. He recalled that the EU was once again facing up to problems it had already addressed in 2008. “We all hope and believe that we have learned enough from what followed at the time in terms of the financial and economic crisis to ensure that this time will be different, that these shocks and the rebalancing of the global economy and the European part of this process will not be a one-off shock with dramatic consequences affecting people’s well-being and causing a longer recession, but that this will be spread over a longer period and not affect the post-pandemic recovery,” the Prime Minister said.
He also emphasised that the approach of the European Commission in its action plan to tackle this problem has been confirmed, especially when it comes to the impact of rising energy prices on the well-being of the population. “Different countries will use different instruments. The fact is, however, that in view of the globally rising prices of raw materials, even all the tools proposed by the European Commission are not powerful enough to ensure that market prices remain unchanged. The EU is also constrained by European market rules, which are somewhat flexible but cannot be completely eliminated,” the Prime Minister said. He went on to say that there was also a lot of discussion about the extent to which nuclear energy can be a source of energy in this transitional period leading to a carbon-free Europe. “Calculations show that the transition cannot be carried out without nuclear energy,” the Prime Minister said, adding that “if we exclude nuclear energy from this process and these efforts, the only other option for transition energy is natural gas.” If we agree to that, we would also agree to 90% dependence of the EU on external factors, as we import 90% of natural gas and 97% of crude oil,” said the Prime Minister. “The share of renewable energy sources in the European energy balance over the next medium term will not be enough to compensate for carbon shortfall without the use of nuclear energy and this awareness has more or less prevailed, although for political reasons some member states oppose mentioning nuclear energy in this process, even though the same member states, being connected by the common energy market, are already using energy from European nuclear power plants,” the Prime Minister said. “This debate will continue, but the breakthrough was achieved when the Commission presented the measures and explicitly mentioned nuclear energy as a transitional energy source at this time,” the Prime Minister said, adding that a long discussion on this topic is also expected at the December summit, when the impact of price increases in the EU will be even more symmetrical.
The second longest debate today was on migration. “There is a dawning realisation here that the only way to tackle this problem is for the EU to secure its own borders first and foremost, both external and Schengen borders, and that sooner or later the two will have to be put on an equal footing. At the moment, three countries are waiting to be admitted to Schengen, they have fulfilled all the technical conditions and bear a large part of the responsibility for a safe Europe on their shoulders, but they are not yet formally in the Schengen area,” the Prime Minister Janez Janša said. “Slovenia has a Schengen border, but it does not have an external EU border, and we want this border to be moved between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina as soon as possible; we are also ready to help protect this border, and at more than just in a proportionate level,” the Prime Minister said.
Yesterday, European leaders also had a short discussion concerning Poland. According to the Prime Minister, the debate was much more subdued than the events in the European Parliament. “The key conclusion was that solutions should be sought together with Poland, not against Poland,” the Prime Minister said.
One of the most important parts of the European Council conclusions concerns the chapter on digital transformation. “We are almost at the final stage of harmonisation of the Digital Services and Digital Market Acts. Both acts are extremely important, some dilemmas remain open, but at the same time there is a fairly high degree of unanimity on what needs to be done,” the Prime Minister said. One of the outstanding issues is finding the right balance between the principle of openness of the digital market and the principle of security, because sometimes the two principles come into conflict and the right formulas need to be found to regulate this.
“Yesterday we also successfully coordinated a chapter on foreign relations, where, at our proposal, we gave our full support to the Belarusian opposition by supporting all political prisoners and by calling on the regime to put an end to this,” the Prime Minister said. He went on to say that trade had been one of the main topics of yesterday’s discussions, on which the debate was relatively brief. “The fact is that the EU is still a major global trading power and that the EU is the number one trading partner for 75 countries in the world, but it is also true that in some places our share is falling, such as in South America, so there was a great deal of discussion on how to speed up the harmonisation of trade agreements because different countries have different interests and this is to the detriment of all,” the Prime Minister added.
The Prime Minister also took questions from the press. On the question on Poland, he said that the majority agreed that if problems arise within the EU, there are procedures in place that should be conducted with as little politicisation as possible. “European law is primary where competences are delegated to the EU. Where competences are not devolved, however, it is a matter of national law and there are different interpretations,” the Prime Minister said. He went on to say that the Polish Prime Minister had outlined the situation in their judiciary, which had led to the problems. “This situation was presented in a rather dramatic way – corruption and nepotism among judges,” said the Prime Minister, adding that the European Parliament had adopted a resolution accusing the Polish Constitutional Court of being politically selected. “If this is the criterion from now on, Slovenia is next in line to open a debate on the political choice of Constitutional Court judges, because if the politically chosen Constitutional Court judges are illegitimate, we also have a major problem in Slovenia in this regard,” Prime Minister Janša explained.
On the energy price hikes and in connection with the green transition, the Prime Minister said that unlike what had happened in 2008 and 2009, when the rise in prices and the cost of living and the economic crisis removed the green transition from the agendas of all European institutions for a few years, it took until the recovery to put this problem back on the agenda, the overwhelming majority is in favour of this not happening, especially as one of the important reasons for the shocking increases in such a short space of time is the EU’s dependence on other countries when it comes to natural gas and when it comes to oil. “Speaking of strategic autonomy, it is clear that Europe will not achieve a real degree of strategic autonomy until it replaces these resources and eliminates this strategic energy dependence on outside factors,” the Prime Minister said and continued: “So, while the debate is different now, it is true that it is pretty clear that without the inclusion of nuclear energy, climate goals cannot be achieved and it does not add up, however you turn the numbers around.
“One topic that does not resonate in this respect but is crucial is innovation. To achieve the 2030 and 2050 climate goals, we need some technological breakthroughs that we do not have yet today. It is not possible to run all transport on electricity, which is what the plans are, if there is not enough lithium on earth to make all the batteries needed for everyone to drive on electric power,” the Prime Minister said, pointing out that we need a solution to replace lithium.
“The green transition at this time, when we are actually at the beginning of what we hope to be a very short energy crisis, must be seen as a solution and not as a problem; we must be aware of the reality of the situation and the limits, and it must be agreed that nuclear energy is to be included as a permitted and non-sanctioned source during this transition period,” Prime Minister Janša concluded.