Slovenia takes over EU Council Presidency amidst wave of criticism

2 July 2021

Slovenia took over the rotating six-month Presidency of the Council of the EU from Portugal this Thursday. For Slovenia, this is the second Presidency since the country’s accession to the EU and comes at a delicate moment. 

Lately, the country’s controversial head of government Janez Janša has caused some serious controversy. He recently obstructed the work of the new European Public Prosecutor’s Office by blocking the deployment of two Slovenian prosecutors. In addition, he is accused of undermining press freedom in Slovenia, while he also is under scrutiny for his very close ties with Hungary’s right-wing populist Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán. Janša managed to already cause frictions during the first hours of his country’s presidency, after he complained that “communist judges had infiltrated the judiciary” during a Commission visit to Ljubljana. Commission President von der Leyen condemned his remarks, while Vice-President Frans Timmermans refused to participate in the group photo.

Despite all this, Slovenia has set an ambitious programme for its presidency, and presented four main priorities under the slogan “Together. Resilient. Europe.” Firstly, the country wants to make the EU more resilient to crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Secondly, it is seeking compromises in the long-running dispute over EU asylum reform and wants to push for faster progress in EU accession talks with the Balkan countries. Thirdly, Slovenia intends to focus on the dialogue with EU citizens through the Conference on the Future of Europe. Finally, it announced that it plans to further promote the “European way of life” and the Rule of Law in the EU. 

Regarding the EU’s resilience and recovery from the pandemic, Slovenia intends to accelerate the construction of a “European Health Union” and wants to enhance the EU’s strategic autonomy, especially regarding medicinal products. When it comes to the EU’s neighbourhood policy, Slovenia also aims to host an EU-Western Balkans Summit in autumn. 

Slovenia is also preparing itself to face serious challenges. 

First, Slovenia is the first Presidency that has the ambition of tackling the new Artificial Intelligence framework presented by the Commission in April, and will have the difficult task of taking the first steps of bringing the EU27 to a common position. 

Another serious challenge will be finding common ground on the debate on a waiver of intellectual property rights related to COVID-19 vaccines. The EU institutions are divided on this issue, as the European Parliament supports a waiver, while the Commission and the Council oppose it. On the Member States level, some countries like Italy and France signalled that they could be open to such a step, while Germany has firmly rejected it so far.

The ratification of the EU-China investment deal is also a major challenge for the Presidency, especially in the current tense geopolitical context. The ratification process has been delayed due to the European Parliament’s freezing of the legislative process in response to Beijing sanctioning several of its members last month. 

Finally, in the field of energy transition and green finance, Slovenia is also facing serious hurdles. It is currently up for debate whether nuclear power and natural gas shall be included in the EU’s list of climate-friendly activities, which would benefit from additional investements. Moreover, Mr. Janša’s Government will also have the talk of handling the Council’s initial assessments of the Commission’s forthcoming “Fit for 55” climate and energy package. 

After the successful Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the EU, the Slovenian presidency has already gotten off to a shaky start and faces a series of complicated files. It remains to be seen if the country will successfully address these challenges before France takes over the rotating Presidency at the beginning of 2022.