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Minister Rupel passes the Presidency of the EU Council on to the French Foreign Minister Kouchner

A ceremony on the occasion of the assumption of the Presidency of the EU Council by France took place in Nova Gorica, Trg Evrope (Europe Square) this afternoon. The Presidency will pass from Slovenia to France today at midnight. In the square, which also witnessed Slovenia's EU accession on 1 May 2004, the President of the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council and Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel passed the symbolic baton which he received six months ago from the Portuguese Minister, Luis Amado, on to his successor, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.

In the square, on the Slovenian side of the symbol marking the spot which once divided Gorica from Nova Gorica, the Slovenian Foreign Minister was the first to address the audience with the following words:

Dear Minister Kouchner,

I would like to express my appreciation that your numerous obligations have not prevented you from finding the time to join us for this short meeting, which is, on the one hand, a symbolic hand over of the EU Council Presidency to France, and on the other a substantive overview of the work we have done together during the past six months and of the obligations that we pass on to you as the new President of GAERC. I would like to add two more thanks, which are of a more substantive nature.

Firstly, I would like to thank France for the assistance provided to us during our Presidency. Slovenia is a small country and its diplomatic network is not very extensive; we are also a young state and a new member of the Union, without extensive experience in demanding projects such as the EU Presidency.

With its experience and diplomatic network, France has firmly supported us throughout our EU Presidency. You have placed at our disposal 108 diplomatic missions in countries where Slovenia has no missions of its own, and we could count on the discreet but essential support of the French diplomatic corps at all times, which has certainly helped our Presidency to be successful.

Secondly, I would like to thank you, Dear Bernard, for your friendship and cooperation, on which I could count at all times and which was an immense support particularly in the crucial moments, of which there were quite a few during this Presidency.

The European Union that you are to preside over now is a healthy institution. It was created with a view to preventing Europeans from fighting a third world war and laying waste to the old continent. It has done a great job, as it has spread the zone of peace, cooperation, and development throughout the continent.

The Lisbon Treaty has opened up new opportunities for the EU to successfully continue its mission. The outcome of the Irish referendum was a sign for all of us that we have been unable to sufficiently convey to the population our endeavours regarding a common future; we must take it seriously. I would like to add that more than 50 years ago the citizens of the founding Member States would not have been able to understand the bold steps taken by the countries that gave the initiative for integration, either.

Much has happened during the Slovenian Presidency. I will devote a few words to just one issue, which is particularly important to me – the European perspective for the Western Balkans. I would like to recommend this issue to you, as I know that you are familiar with it and that you have devoted a considerable part of your life to it.

Together we have achieved much. I believe I can safely say that only a few small steps separate us from the end of the Yugoslav crisis. We owe these steps particularly to the people that live there. They have the right to the same life as we enjoy in the European Union.

I wanted this ceremony to be held in a symbolic place, a square once divided by a wall that is no longer there. Bringing down walls, opening doors and windows of opportunity was, is, and will be the EU's policy. Dear Bernard, Dear President of the General Affairs and External Relations Council, I have the honour to hand over to you the symbolic baton that I received six months ago from our Portuguese colleague Amado. I am sure that it is in the right hands. I wish you every success in your work.

The two ministers were also welcomed by the Mayor of Nova Gorica, Mirko Brulc, and the Mayor of Gorica, Ettore Romoli.


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Date: 30.06.2008