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Address by the President of the General Affairs and External Relations Council, Slovenian Foreign Minister Dr Dimitrij Rupel, before the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs


Dear Mr Chairman,
Distinguished Committee members,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my honour and pleasure today to present the priorities of the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the European Union and at the same time to be able to report on the most important decisions of this year's first General Affairs and External Relations Council meeting.


The Presidency priorities

Slovenia has proudly assumed the demanding task of EU Council Presidency. We are well aware of the responsibilities this entails, and therefore we have thoroughly prepared ourselves for this challenge.

The priorities of the six-month Slovenian Presidency Programme follow the 18-month Presidency Programme prepared in collaboration with the other two Trio countries, Germany and Portugal. We particularly appreciate the valuable assistance and contributions offered by the European institutions during the preparation period, and I am convinced that we will maintain successful cooperation and open dialogue in the future.

In its programme, the Slovenian Presidency outlined five main priority areas: the future of Europe and successful ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon, endorsement of the energy and climate change package, the launch of a new cycle of the Lisbon Strategy for Growth and Jobs, enlargement and the European Neighbourhood Policy (a European perspective for the Western Balkans), and intercultural dialogue.


The Future of Europe / Treaty of Lisbon

Firstly, I would like to point to the extraordinary endeavours of Germany and Portugal which led to an agreement on a new Treaty at the October Informal European Council. The process was completed in December with the signing of the Treaty in Lisbon and the proclamation of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. I believe that we all share the view on the importance of the new Treaty and Charter for all of us.

For the European Union, the reform Treaty represents an excellent basis for facing new challenges, which are in substance connected with globalisation. A new EU era lies ahead of us. Because of all the accomplishments brought by the new Treaty, it is in my view essential that it enter into force before the next European Parliament elections. Slovenia would like to be a model and an incentive for the remaining Member States to ratify the Treaty as soon as possible, and therefore this very day the National Assembly of the Republic of Slovenia is adopting the Act ratifying the Treaty of Lisbon. 


Lisbon Strategy

The Lisbon Strategy is going to be at the heart of the Spring European Council, as the year 2008 marks the start of a new three-year cycle and a new opportunity to give fresh impetus to reforms.

The results of the Lisbon Strategy are evident, so it has to be stressed that it is imperative to guarantee the continuity of the Lisbon Process and the implementation of reform programmes.


Climate and Energy Issues

A reliable and sustainable energy supply, and tackling climate change are in the interests of each and every European citizen, and the Presidency wishes to achieve as much progress as possible regarding the two dossiers at the European Council meetings in the first half of 2008.

The Slovenian Presidency welcomes the presentation of the climate and energy package by the European Commission. We are counting on a constructive approach and support in the Member States and the European Parliament so that the package can be adopted in the spring of 2009 at the latest.


Intercultural Dialogue

The year 2008 has been declared the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue, and at the same time the Euro-Mediterranean Year of Dialogue between Cultures. Cooperation between cultures and religions is going to be one of the priorities of the Slovenian EU Council Presidency, with special attention given to the issues of intercultural dialogue and interfaith cooperation in the Western Balkan region. As a contribution to the development of higher education in the Mediterranean basin, we are planning to establish a Euro-Mediterranean university in Piran.



External action

Slovenia will strive to enhance the role of EU foreign policy in the fields of security, development and economic relations. Let me enumerate but a few areas where the EU Council is going to be active during the Slovenian Presidency.


Enlargement and the Western Balkans

Slovenia strongly advocates further EU enlargement, as this process has proven itself as the best mechanism for the acceleration of internal reforms in Candidate Countries and among potential candidates, and for ensuring long-term stability in Europe. During the Slovenian Presidency, accession negotiations with Croatia and Turkey will continue, in line with the progress achieved in meeting the set criteria and respect of the acquis, assumed commitments and EU standards.

Stability in the Western Balkans contributes to the security and prosperity of the entire Union. We are aware that a large share of EU endeavours will be aimed at Kosovo, and we would not like to see crisis management overshadow the wider and more positive message concerning a concrete and clear European perspective that should be conveyed to the region at this moment. An agreement between Belgrade and Priština or a solution within the framework of the UN would certainly be an ideal scenario for the resolution of the Kosovo crisis, however it is obvious that, unfortunately, it will not be implemented. Kosovo is a European issue, and the Union has to be prepared to assume responsibility for its resolution. More than ever before, this is a test of the firmness and effectiveness of the EU Common Foreign Policy, which is based on unity, flexibility and solidarity among Member States.

A stable and successful Serbia, fully integrated into the European family, is important for the stability of the region. Therefore, the EU encourages Serbia to fulfil the conditions required for an early signing of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement and its accelerated EU integration. For this reason, the General Affairs and External Relations Council yesterday offered Serbia a political agreement foreseeing the revitalisation of political dialogue, commencement of visa liberalisation negotiations, partial liberalisation of trade relations, and cooperation in the field of education, with the EU wishing to enable more Serbian students to attend universities in the Member States. The European Union will also establish a special task force to monitor the process of Serbia's approaching the EU, promote the European idea in that country, and in collaboration with Serbian authorities and the International Tribunal in the Hague verify the fulfilment of the condition of Serbia's full cooperation with the ICTY.

We will strive to conclude the network of Stabilisation and Association Agreements and to enhance regional cooperation in various fields, e.g. participation in the SEE Energy Community. As regards concrete efforts to bring the EU closer to the people of the region, the Slovenian Presidency welcomes the Commission's intention to take a step forward in the visa dialogue with the countries of the region. Apart from that, the Commission is preparing a Communication in collaboration with the Council Presidency on possible measures to enhance the Thessaloniki Agenda, which will be published in March. The ministers of foreign affairs from the Member States will discuss all of this with our Western Balkan counterparts on the margins of the Gymnich meeting on 29 March in Slovenia.


European Neighbourhood Policy, the Euro-Mediterranean Process and Central Asia

Slovenia supports the European Neighbourhood Policy and will endeavour to further strengthen it within the unified, united and coherent policy framework, taking into consideration the principles of differentiation and individual approaches to partners within the ENP. Particular attention will be devoted to the Black Sea Synergy initiative.

The Barcelona Process has already come to be a fundamental and unique framework for dialogue and cooperation among the EU Member States and their Mediterranean partners. We believe that the Mediterranean and Eastern European partners should be actively involved in the dialogue on common challenges and problems.

One of important tasks of the Slovenian Presidency is further implementation of the EU Strategy for Central Asia in all priority areas, particularly in the regional aspect. The EU-Central Asia Ministerial Troika will be held in Turkmenistan on 9 and 10 April.

In recent months we have followed with interest the discussions on these topics in the European Parliament.


Regional affairs

The Slovenian Presidency will address the pressing topical international, security and political issues in which the European Union as a global player is expected to assume an active role. Let me mention a few.

MEPP (Gaza, Lebanon)

We are concerned about the recent events in Gaza, southern Israel and on the border with Gaza and Egypt. We are also concerned about the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the Gaza region. At yesterday's session of the General Affairs and External Relations Council, we called upon all parties to endeavour to open crossing points, and we have supported the initiatives of Egypt and the Arab League, and particularly the proposal of the Palestinian Authority to assume control of these points.

We believe that progress in solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be achieved through the start of negotiations on the final status after Annapolis. The Paris Donors Conference earmarked substantial funds from the international community to assist Palestinians. It is particularly important to actively involve all Arab countries in resolving the conflict. The EU will continue to support the Palestinians in the areas of security, institution building, good governance, civil society and economy, in close cooperation with Tony Blair, Special Envoy of the Quartet. As with previous presidencies, the Slovenian Presidency intends to do everything in its power to provide the EU, as the biggest donor of assistance to Palestinians, with an important role in the political process. We also count on the activities of the European Parliament in achieving this goal.

The Slovenian Presidency is concerned about the internal political blockage in Lebanon and repeated violent action. We support addressing this problem with dialogue and express our recognition to all who have strived very hard to achieve it. On the other hand, we call upon those who can exert influence on solving these problems to be constructive. We also call for the implementation of the relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council.


The Presidency is concerned about Iran's refusal to comply with the UN resolutions and calls on Iran to show full transparency and strengthen cooperation with the IAEA. It announces a firm commitment to find a diplomatic solution to Iran's nuclear issue and promote further debate on the possibility of introducing more stringent measures supported by the international community in a new UN resolution.


The Presidency firmly believes in dialogue and national reconciliation as preconditions for successful reforms in Iraq, and will try to secure the EU's further support of the Iraqi government in implementing the necessary reforms. The EU should also continue its efforts for improvement of the security situation in Iraq, and the extension of the EUJUST LEX Mission there will contribute significantly to this end. I look forward to the upcoming exchange of views with the European Parliament on the role of the Union in Iraq.


The EU attaches considerable importance to relations with Pakistan, fully supporting every sign of progress on the path towards reconciliation and lasting democracy in this country. The Union is willing to cooperate actively with Pakistan in achieving these objectives. The major challenge is the general election on 18 February, which must be free and fair, and carried out in an adequate security environment. Stability in Pakistan is one of the Union's key interests. The EU will certainly be present in the election process with a monitoring mission.


During recent months, the EU devoted considerable attention to Burma/Myanmar. Its response to the violent repression of peaceful protests in September was rapid and decisive – the December European Council adopted conclusions on Burma. We will strive for a more comprehensive political process, the return of UN Special Envoy Gambari, better access for international agencies and implementation of the recommendations of UN Special Rapporteur Pinheiro.



The first day of the Slovenian Presidency was marked by the serious situation in Kenya. The events following the December presidential elections have dealt a severe blow to the process of democratisation in Africa, where Kenya was regarded as a model by other countries. The EU supports the endeavours of the African Union and the Panel of Eminent African Personalities headed by the former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and encourages the parties to the conflict to initiate dialogue on outstanding issues, as the situation in Kenya cannot normalise until a political compromise has been reached, which will have the potential to bring about a lasting solution and reflect the will of the people.


The Darfur crisis is a crisis for the entire region. It has caused thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of refugees. With the official launching of the EUFOR CHAD - CAR military operation in Eastern Chad and North Eastern Central African Republic, the largest operation of this kind in its history, the EU is providing vitally important support for the stabilisation of this region.

This operation complements the endeavours of the UN and the African Union. At the beginning of this year, the mission of the African Union AMIS became part of the Joint United Nations / African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID). The challenges of deploying this mission are enormous. We must put more pressure on the Sudanese authorities to fully implement the commitments regarding the effective deployment of UNAMID.

The EU strongly supports the political process in Sudan, as we hope to bring the resistance movements back to the negotiating table.

Democratic Republic of Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo has seen decades of crisis and now faces a number of issues regarding its future. The democratic elections set up democratic institutions that are attempting to function despite the unstable general security situation and the humanitarian drama in the eastern part of the country. The EU has thus far contributed enormously to the guaranteeing of support for the peace process and democratisation of this country. Our activities have focused particularly on security sector reform, which is needed now more than ever, and therefore this issue will remain a priority in our work in DR Congo.

The Council welcomed the agreement reached at the conference on peace, security and development for the provinces of northern and southern Kivu, held at the end of last week in Goma. The conference brings hope that peace will finally prevail in this part of the country.


Strategic partnerships - summits

The Slovenian Presidency would like to further strengthen and diversify Trans-Atlantic relations; in this regard, we should mention the organisation of an EU-US summit in Slovenia, where we will strive to achieve progress in the already concluded agreements between the EU and the USA. As the first Slavic state at the helm of the EU, Slovenia will strive to accelerate progress in the development of an EU-Russia strategic partnership and to launch negotiations on a new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement. The EU-Russia Summit in Siberia will be held after the presidential election. The EU-LAC Summit in Lima, Peru, will address such challenges as poverty, inequality and sustainable development, environment, climate change and energy. The Union will also organise an EU-Japan summit in Tokyo.


European Security and Defence Policy

As regards the European Security and Defence Policy, key elements will include further strengthening of effective multilateralism and adequate development of civilian and military crisis management capabilities, as well as the optimisation of planning and decision-making. This year, two major operations, in Chad and Kosovo, will be a direct test of the Union's determination and readiness. The ESDP as an instrument of the European Foreign and Security Policy is very important, but perhaps it has not yet achieved sufficient visibility.


Human rights

Human rights remain an important element of the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy during the Slovenian Presidency. We will thus devote all necessary attention to both the implementation of guidelines and dialogue and consultations with third countries. The EU will also play a prominent role in the UN system for the protection and promotion of human rights, in this respect particularly in the Human Rights Council.  We will continue our endeavours to include human rights policies in other segments of the Common Foreign and Security Policy.

This concludes my presentation. I would like to point out once more that I greatly appreciate the Committee's activities and look forward to fruitful cooperation in the future.


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Date: 29.01.2008