The Slovenian Presidency in full swing

Met dank overgenomen van Sloveens voorzitterschap Europese Unie 2e helft 2021, gepubliceerd op vrijdag 1 oktober 2021.

The first half of the Slovenian Presidency has been marked by a wide range of events in Europe and beyond. After three months of work, the first results are already visible, in particular in the areas of strengthening the EU’s resilience, recovery and strategic autonomy, making the EU more secure and engaged in the world, and the EU’s contribution to the Conference on the Future of Europe.

Despite the uncertain epidemiological situation, Slovenia has implemented all planned events and is successfully achieving the objectives of its priorities.

Resilience, recovery and strategic autonomy of the EU

The Slovenian Presidency has started to work intensely in one of the most important areas for the future of the EU - ensuring the EU’s recovery after the pandemic and strengthening its resilience to and preparedness for other similar health crises, cyberattacks and other threats.

In July, European affairs ministers supported the Presidency’s efforts for a more comprehensive approach to responding to crises, and the Presidency is working towards the adoption of the Council conclusions on strengthening resilience and crisis preparedness.

EU finance ministers have begun approving national recovery and resilience plans. So far, 18 of the submitted national recovery and resilience plans have been approved. A total of 16 countries can already access the Recovery and Resilience Facility funding. This funding will help speed up recovery and resilience, the green transition and digitalisation, boost innovation and make the economy more competitive, and consequently improve the quality of life in the EU. In September, the Council also adopted its position on the 2022 EU draft budget and approved the Brexit adjustment reserve for affected European regions and companies.

The pandemic has revealed the vulnerability of our health systems, making it a priority for the Presidency to build a more resilient European Health Union. European health agencies should be given more powers. After Portugal succeeded in obtaining a mandate from Member States to strengthen the role of the European Medicines Agency, in July the Slovenian Presidency successfully coordinated member states’ opinions on giving more powers to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and on a regulation on serious cross-border threats to health. This will ensure that the EU is better prepared for possible pandemics in the future and other major health crises, as agencies will be able to coordinate more effectively the exchange of information between countries and their actions.

In order to make the EU more resilient, we must increase its autonomy in strategic areas, including digitalisation. The Council has adopted a regulation on establishing the European High Performance Computing Joint Undertaking. This will make it possible for us to obtain more high-performance world-class supercomputers that will enable scientists to invent new materials and components and develop new medicines and therapies, for instance in the fight against cancer or Alzheimer’s disease. Moreover, supercomputers will also provide support to technological companies.

The Slovenian Presidency continues to consider and prepare compromise proposals for acts in the field of digitalisation, such as the Artificial Intelligence Act, the Digital Services Act, the Digital Markets Act, the ePrivacy Regulation and the European Digital Identity Regulation. We have also organised two international conferences, at which participants exchanged views on the regulation, funding and oversight of the use of artificial intelligence and on strengthening cybersecurity. Countries highlighted, in particular, the need to strengthen critical infrastructure for cyber defence, for additional funding and for enhanced mutual cooperation.

Intensive work is underway in the field of the environment and the Green Deal. In July, the Council and the European Parliament reached an agreement on amending the Aarhus Regulation, which aims to ensure access to environmental information, public participation in environmental decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters.

The Slovenian Presidency has also begun to consider the "Fit for 55" legislative package. First exchanges of views have already taken place at informal meetings of EU environment, energy and transport ministers, showing that Member States have different starting points and face different circumstances. During the Slovenian Presidency, we hope to achieve as much progress as possible on considering the package.

At the last trilogue meeting in July, the Slovenian Presidency succeeded in coordinating the legislative package on the reform of the common agricultural policy with the European Parliament. In addition, the ministers adopted conclusions on the action plan for the development of organic farming, which aims to achieve 25% of agricultural land under organic farming by 2030 and a significant increase in organic aquaculture.

The Slovenian Presidency concluded the negotiations with the European Parliament and the Commission on the amendment of the Official Controls Regulation. The new rules on the use of antibiotics in animal husbandry for all meat and meat products imported from third countries, which will be as strict as they are in the EU, increase consumer protection for European consumers.

Conference on the Future of Europe

In view of the many challenges the EU has faced in the last decade, there is a need, now more than ever, for a comprehensive debate on our common future. With the launch of the European Citizens’ Panel meetings, the Conference on the Future of Europe has entered a key phase of substantive discussions with citizens.

At its first session, the executive committee of the conference co-chaired by Slovenia decided to give a stronger voice to the regions and social partners. In early September, one of the central events of the Slovenian Presidency, the traditional 16th Bled Strategic Forum, was fully devoted to the future of Europe. In more than 20 debates with more than 170 panellists and speakers from around the world, the Forum offered strategic discussions on common challenges, from post-pandemic economic recovery, common values, combating misinformation, future engagement with citizens, decarbonisation of transport and climate neutrality to European defence, enlargement of the EU and cooperation with the Indo-Pacific region. In addition to the leaders of the Union countries and senior representatives of European institutions, international organisations and civil society, the debate also included the leaders and representatives of the Western Balkan partners.

A union of the European way of life, the rule of law and equal criteria for all

The rule of law is a priority of the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the EU and one of the central topics of the General Affairs Council. The Slovenian Presidency plans to work in this area especially in the second half of the Presidency. On the basis of the European Commission’s annual report, the Council of the EU will lead a traditional dialogue on the situation in relation to the rule of law in the EU and in individual Member States. Our goal is to strengthen the culture of the rule of law as one of the common European values throughout the EU.

A credible and secure European Union capable of ensuring security and stability in its neighbourhood

The EU promptly and uniformly responded to recent developments in Afghanistan. The Slovenian Presidency organised an extraordinary session of ministers of the interior, who unanimously adopted a joint statement on the EU’s common response to the situation in Afghanistan and on potential impact on the security and migration situation in the EU. The ministers advocated the stabilisation of the situation in the region, provision of humanitarian aid to the vulnerable, and offering support to third countries hosting large numbers of migrants and refugees. Concern for the security of the EU is of key importance for the Slovenian Presidency, so it is monitoring the situation in Afghanistan together with European agencies that prepare threat assessments and intensify cooperation with neighbouring countries in the field of migration.

The solution to the humanitarian crisis was also discussed by foreign ministers at an informal meeting in Slovenia; they agreed that dialogue with Afghan representatives after the Taliban seizure of power would depend on the fulfilment of five conditions.

The ministers of the interior also met in the framework of the EU Council crisis response mechanism, where they strongly condemned Belarus’ attempts to instrumentalise people for political purposes and expressed solidarity with the affected countries at the EU’s external border with Belarus. They supported additional financial, human resource and technical assistance and an increase in holding capacities. The Presidency, together with the European Commission and the agencies, is continuously and closely monitoring the situation.

At an informal meeting in Slovenia, ministers showed political will for gradual progress in formulating a common EU migration and asylum policy, especially on politically less sensitive legislative acts, such as the Eurodac regulation on the registration of persons entering the EU. Although the Member States’ on the pact still differ on the issues of accountability and solidarity, work on all legislative acts at the expert level continues intensively.

In order to strengthen security in the EU, we need to strengthen the cooperation of Europol, Eurojust, the European Public Prosecutor’s Office and Frontex with Interpol. In July, the EU Council therefore authorised the European Commission to negotiate on cooperation with Interpol in the areas of law enforcement and access to Interpol databases on stolen/lost documents.

One of the key priorities of the Slovenian Presidency is cooperation with Western Balkan partners. The Slovenian Presidency, among others, decisively contributed to the adoption of the Western Balkans declaration on ensuring sustainable labour market integration of young people. Partners from the region will receive EU funding to implement youth guarantee schemes, which will help around 31 million young people in the region with further schooling, work placements and first employment.

The Council adopted a seven-year funding programme for pre-accession assistance (IPA III) in the amount of almost 14.2 billion euro to be received by beneficiary countries (the Western Balkans and Turkey).

Slovenia is also working to reduce economic and development disparities between the EU and the Western Balkans. It is to host an EU-Western Balkans Summit on 6 October. This is the third joint meeting of EU and Western Balkan leaders since 2018, demonstrating the region’s special strategic importance to the EU. The summit is an opportunity for leaders to openly discuss current relations between the EU and the region and the possibilities for their further enhancement. Slovenia believes that the summit should be an opportunity for a clear message to the region about a common future in a united Europe, with the aim of realising the idea of the founding fathers of the European Union - a Europe that is united, whole, free and at peace with itself. The day before, on 5 October, EU heads of state or government will meet informally for dinner.