Paradoxically, the crisis caused by COVID caused a turn in relations between the two countries.
The Ambassador of Slovenia in Croatia, H.E. Vojislav Šuc, stated for Diplomacy&Commerce that the crisis caused by the COVID19 pandemic showed that the two countries are ready for fast cooperation and that relations are becoming more intense and better in all segments. Aside from the current crisis that will eventually end, it is in Slovenia’s interest for Croatia to become a part of the Schengen area. The same applies to the introduction of Euro, Šuc adds.
1. For us all, the year 2020 was certainly not as we planned it. The COVID 19 pandemic made us adapt to new rules of life. As an experienced diplomat, how do you see the global situation and the condition in the world now, while the pandemic is in progress, but also after it is over? What are the greatest challenges of mankind today?
The pandemic taught us that cooperation and solidarity between countries is of extreme importance for overcoming crises such this one, primarily cooperation with neighbours and the region, among EU members and wider, on a global level.
COVID will undoubtedly leave a mark and it will affect our lives in the future, we will live in a different way. We will pay more attention to values we took for granted until yesterday, and this primarily refers to safety in the broadest sense of this word. By this I refer to the resilience of our health systems, the resilience of our economies, protection of strategic segments of our society. The pandemic, for example, has shown that as much as 80% of EU’s need for medical protective equipment depends on external manufacturers. That urgently needs to change. In addition to that threat, climate change and nuclear disarmament continue to dominate the top of humanity’s list of challenges.
2. Slovenia, like other European countries, is keeping track of the situation and we adapt our measures accordingly. Current numbers are increasing in Slovenia but also in all other countries. How is the official Ljubljana facing the pandemic and do you think that there will be a new lockdown (closing of borders, limiting of movement…)? To what extent do the countries continue to turn “to themselves”, and how much do they adapt with others?
Slovenia has declared an epidemic again due to the large increase in the number of cases of infection. If we talk about the order of priority of the measures taken by the government, the protection of life comes first, followed by health, followed by the economy. We have introduced the mandatory wearing of masks outdoors, restrictions on crossing between regions, restrictions on movement at night. We hope that these measures will be effective and that we will successfully reduce the numbers. Slovenia discusses and consults with other countries on a daily basis.
At the beginning of the epidemic, we saw that the EU’s reaction was very slow, that’s why the countries relied heavily on their own forces and coped differently according to their capabilities. There wasn’t even the expected solidarity among members. Now that the second wave has struck us, this cannot and will not happen. As you can see, the EU is intensively harmonizing a common approach to testing, closing of the regions, strategy for introduction of a vaccine, and the vaccination itself.
3. How do you see the cooperation between Slovenia and Croatia during the pandemic?
Croatia and Slovenia did a great job with this. I would like to emphasize the successful coordination between countries in the return of Slovenian and Croatian citizens from abroad immediately after the crisis, the opening of corridors for the transport of goods so that economic flows do not stop completely, ensuring the crossing of thousands of workers employed on both sides of the border, daily solving of problems of the population in the border region, etc. In all this, the states had a foothold in the epidemiological data that were then, as they are today, exchanged between the Croatian and Slovenian public health institutes. Recovery will require even stronger cooperation to pull our economies out of the crisis and shift to a green and digital agenda.
4. How do you rate the development of political relations between the two countries and do you see the open issues being resolved soon?
Paradoxically, the crisis caused by COVID caused a turn in relations between the two countries. We have established an intense dialogue on all levels for resolving crisis situations, presidents of the states meet regularly, as do the prime ministers and ministers. Total trade and exchange of services was worth more than 6 billion euros last year, which is more than the trade exchange between Slovenia and the rest of the Balkans. This year, Slovenian tourists realized 7.6 million overnight stays on the Adriatic, which is less than last year for well-known reasons, but this is the smallest drop of all the foreign tourists.
There are a few more open bilateral issues, but this relaxation of relations, if we can call it that, is creating the much needed atmosphere of trust, and if the political will exists, we will find a way to resolve these issues.
5. What is official Ljubljana’s position when it comes to admission of Croatia to Schengen and the introduction of euro?
It is in Slovenia’s interest for Croatia to become a part of the Schengen area, when member countries will estimate that all the standards have been met for supervision of the Schengen border. The same applies to the introduction of euro. In principle, the position of the Slovenian Government is that it is necessary to round up the Schengen and the EURO as well with the remaining EU member states, Romania and Bulgaria.
6. It seems that the migrant crisis is not toning down, even though the colder weather is approaching. What is Slovenia’s take on the solution to this problem, and what does it stand for as a principle within the EU?
The migrant crisis is really not toning down. Slovenia already recorded over 12,500 illegal crossings of the state border this year. On a global level, we believe that the phenomenon of migration needs to be approached holistically, while addressing countries of origin, countries of transit and countries of reception. Slovenia considers cooperation with countries surrounding the EU, e.g. countries of the Middle East, Central Asia, Northern Africa, to be very significant, and we attach special importance to cooperation with the countries of the Western Balkans. On the other hand, over the past decades, developed countries of the West haven’t managed to find the right concept for integration, a manner to include these people mentally, emotionally and even creatively in all the structures of the society. Today’s events in Western societies are greatly defined precisely by this gap.
The Pact on Migration and Asylum that was recently published by the European Commission is a good base and it paves the path for a final agreement between member countries on how to prevent illegal and regulate legal migrations in Europe. And Slovenia is committed to allowing the countries to decide on their own, on a voluntary basis, how to contribute to joint efforts in combating migratory pressure.
7. The situation in the region, where Slovenia has an impact, does not seem to be stabilizing at all. Official Zagreb raises the issue of the position of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina. How do you see this issue and how much strength and desire does the EU have to open or finally close another problem in the Balkans?
BiH is a country that lags the most on the European path. If they want to reduce the development gap, they will have to make a turn – from Dayton BiH to European BiH. The only way for BiH is the European Union and it is necessary to change their mindset in that direction. Without adapting to EU standards, there will be no progress. And the only way to leave the status quo is to start with reforms. I am convinced that many other issues related to the functioning of the state will be resolved along the way. The EU must deal with these problems, because the stability and development of BiH also means stability in the countries of the Western Balkans, the future members of the EU.
8. The burning issue of the region are the relations between Belgrade and Pristina. Slovenia has recognized the independent Kosovo, but negotiations on “normalization of relations” are slow. How do you see the end of these negotiations and how important is it for the region that they end as soon as possible?
It’s true, the negotiations are progressing slowly, but they are progressing. Both sides need to show more trust, and then also more courage and boldness to take the necessary steps to accept a compromise solution. In international politics, it often happens that many solutions that were, for example, completely unacceptable until yesterday, suddenly become acceptable with a new political dynamics and a change of climate. The dialogue has intensified now, the EU is active, and its Special Representative Lajčak is doing a good job. I hope that we will see the results.
9. Slovenia will be chairing the EU Council in the second half of 2021, according to the rotating presidency model. What will be the priorities of your presidency and what will you focus on?
That’s right, Slovenia will be taking the presidency of the EU Council in the second half of 2021, for the second time. The focus of our presidency will be placed on four theme areas. The first is the strengthening of resilience of the European Union. By this we mean improving the EU’s crisis management system so that, in the future, the EU is ready to respond quickly to various crisis situations, such as pandemics, cyber-attacks, and larger illegal migration flows. The second area is the economic renewal of the EU in the direction of the development of green technologies, digitalization, circular economy, sustainable development. In this segment, special attention will be paid to so-called water diplomacy. Third and fourth area include the strengthening of the rule of law in the EU and EU’s position as guarantor for good cooperation in the region and worldwide. Special emphasis will be placed on the Western Balkans, in terms of development and economic progress and in terms of approaching the EU.