Reception by His Excellency the President of the Republic of Slovenia for the Diplomatic Corps at the start of the New Year
Brdo pri Kranju, 25. 1. 2022 | press release, speech
Photo: Daniel Novakovič/STA
Address by His Excellency the President of the Republic of Slovenia (Check against delivery):
Doyen of the Diplomatic Corps,
Allow me to wish you a warm welcome to this New Year's reception, which is adapted to the current situation. I very much hope that the pandemic will turn into a manageable endemic as soon as possible and that all of us together will start on the all-round recovery of our countries and the international community with optimism.
As is customary, I will address the most important issues.
First – with regard to the situation in Slovenia
I dare say that Slovenia will emerge from the health crisis as a winner. This means that, on the one hand, it has taken relatively appropriate measures to protect people's health and, on the other, it has ensured that the economy and public life as a whole are functioning optimally.
Such effective tackling of the epidemic will make it possible for Slovenia to be among the winners of the green and smart transition in the next decade.
This largely depends on this year's election super year. I am not only thinking of the outcome of the elections, but also of the tone and content of the debates that will shape general sentiment among people.
As far as I, as the President, know the sentiment of the people, policies that are moderate and directed towards a sustainable future may be rewarded.
Although the political divisions seem to be very strong, I believe that they do not run as deep among the people as it seems. However, I do not underestimate them.
If, contrary to my wishes and expectations, election campaigns are conducted in a very coarse and exclusionary manner, then there will be no room for dialogue about our common plan for a green and smart transition. In my view, it is therefore in the interest of the political parties that realistically count on running the country after the elections to soften the tone of the general debate before the elections and to spend the time leading up to the elections focusing on Slovenia's priorities after the elections.
The pandemic has led to questioning the trust in democratic institutions and their effective functioning everywhere in the world, including in democratic societies with a long tradition. Also in Slovenia. It is right that we are able to identify some of the temptations to limit the power of independent institutions under the guise of tackling a crisis. And it is wrong to label any action in times of crisis as an attack on democracy.
Democracy is also about the change of power. In Slovenia, this happened at the onset of the epidemic, which made it all more complicated.
However, I believe that Slovenia as a democratic country has passed the test of the change of power in difficult circumstances with relative maturity, and that this will become clear as more time passes.
I believe that Slovenia's democracy is sufficiently solid not to succumb to temptations, in times of crisis or otherwise. However, in times of recovery, efforts will have to be devoted to strengthening all fundamental democratic values and institutions throughout the democratic world.
In short, Slovenia is about to begin a new chapter, which could well prove to be a success story if there is enough political moderation, dialogue and willingness to cooperate.
Second – with regard to Slovenia's position in the international community
Thirty years ago, the Republic of Slovenia was recognised by the countries of the European Community, and before that by certain other European countries. In the coming days and weeks, we will be marking the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations with many of the countries that you represent.
Let me recall that Slovenia gained its independence the right way, the legal way, and took special care to resolve all issues peacefully, thereby strengthening its reputation in the international community, which is invaluable.
I consider Slovenia's international position to be good and favourable. Slovenia is a safe, democratic and progressive country.
It is a member of the European Union and NATO, and this largely defines its foreign policy profile. Slovenia is therefore an active, integral part of the Western world.
Since its diplomatic recognition 30 years ago, Slovenia has continuously worked for the peaceful settlement of all disputes, good neighbourliness, international cooperation and multilateralism.
This is one of the reasons why it has so many friends all over the world and is without a single opponent or enemy.
Third – with regard to relations with our neighbouring countries
Since the Prime Minister and I did not hold a reception last year because of the pandemic, let me today recall two landmark moments in our neighbourhood policy, both from 2020.
The first is the return of the Narodni dom cultural centre to the Slovenian community in Trieste. This was the event of the century. It was only possible because of the great trust between the two governments and presidents, and because of the sincere desire for the Slovenian and Italian communities in this part of Europe to live together in a European spirit.
Shaking hands with Italian president and my dear friend Mattarella in front of the two monuments to recent history was for me personally the most memorable moment of my entire political life. Although we said nothing, we said everything.
Last year, President Mattarella and I officially visited Nova Gorica and Gorizia together, in support of the European Capital of Culture 2025 project, which was launched under the slogan GO! Borderless 2025. This project is being implemented by Nova Gorica in close cooperation with the Italian Gorizia as a symbol of understanding and tolerance and a Europe without borders.
Another wonderful moment was the joint commemoration by Slovenians and Austrians of the 100th anniversary of the Carinthian plebiscite. This had never happened before, and it was also the event of the century. It was made particularly special by the apology in Slovenian by the Austrian President and my friend Van der Bellen to Carinthian Slovenians for the delay in exercising their rights under the Austrian State Treaty (1955).
In the spirit of good neighbourliness, I also consider the joint attendance with the Hungarian President and my friend Janos Áder at the celebration on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Association of Slovenians in Hungary one of the memorable events of the year. On the same day, Croatian President and my friend Zoran Milanović and I unveiled memorials to two poets and national awakeners in Ljubljana and Zagreb.
Slovenia supports Croatia joining the Schengen area. I also welcome the efforts of both governments to settle all outstanding issues, including the fishing regime, but on the key condition that the court of arbitration's ruling on the border between the two countries is respected.
I believe that never in 30 years have we had as good relations with all four neighbouring countries as in recent years. We need to build on this.
Fourth – with regard to the European Union
The European Union is facing many challenges. In the fight against the pandemic, the EU has taken some remarkable joint steps that were difficult to imagine in the past. It has effectively coordinated the procurement of vaccines, promptly established a recovery and growth fund and agreed on a common EU Digital COVID Certificate.
We want to see an even more effective and united EU. It is in Slovenia's interest to be involved in the most integrated part of the European Union.
Last year, on the initiative of President Mattarella and I, all the presidents of the EU Member States, together in a special letter on Europe Day, called on citizens to actively participate in the Conference on the Future of Europe.
Personally, I do not expect the Conference on the Future of Europe to be a watershed moment in the formulation of our joint plan for the EU's future. I believe that, at the right time and in the right way, a constitutional convention may be what is again needed in the coming years.
Slovenia held the Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the second half of the previous year. I share the opinion of the highest representatives of the European Union that it performed this task excellently under the challenging circumstances.
Fifth – with regard to the Western Balkans and European Union enlargement
EU enlargement to the Western Balkans is a top-priority geopolitical and security issue and in the vital interests of both the European Union and the Western Balkans partners.
We need a more active EU enlargement policy, alongside a more ambitious reform policy of the Western Balkans partners and the peaceful settlement of their disputes with each other.
The situation in the Western Balkans is deteriorating. I am most concerned about the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, particularly because of the blatant intention to redraw borders. Attempts to draw national borders based on the ethnical principle must be seen as extremely risky, endangering peace and security both in the region and Europe.
Last spring, in cooperation with Croatian President Milanović, I hosted the Brdo–Brijuni Process Summit here in Brdo, which confirmed the complexity of the situation and the need for faster enlargement of the European Union.
I consider the European Union-Western Balkans Summit, which took place in Slovenia in early October as part of the Slovenian Presidency, to be useful and much needed. I hope that the final declaration and the overall spirit of the meeting will ensure that EU enlargement to the Western Balkans will be among the European Commission's top priorities until this part of Europe is fully integrated into the European Union.
Unfortunately, the European Union has again missed the opportunity to start negotiations with the Republic of North Macedonia and the Republic of Albania. I sincerely wish that this important step would indeed take place as soon as possible.
Only a sincere and serious European perspective for the Western Balkans partners can guarantee peace, security and prosperity in this part of Europe.
Sixth – with regard to relations with the US, the Russian Federation and China
I want to make it very clear that the direction of our foreign and security policy is determined by our membership in the EU and NATO. The United States is our ally and partner.
Although the Russian Federation and China, both permanent members of the UN Security Council, are not Slovenia's military and political allies, we strive to have a sincere relationship with them both based on mutual respect and understanding.
At this point, I would like to stress in particular the need for a constructive and substantive dialogue between the West and the Russian Federation, in respect of which we and our political and military allies legitimately expect that any threat of use of force will be refrained from. Europe and the world need peace if we are to resolve the current pressing issues in the interests of all humankind.
Since the establishment of diplomatic relations with China, Slovenia has consistently upheld the One-China principle, which is also the policy of the European Union. However, a Taipei economic representative office would be welcome, as it is in most other EU Member States.
We also want good, orderly, sincere and, if possible, friendly relations with all the other countries around the globe.
Seventh – with regard to global challenges
All major challenges are global and can only be addressed effectively by working together. Whether it is the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change or the rapid development of science and technology and the conquest of space.
Even though we are defined by different historical circumstances and identities, fundamental principles of international cooperation are the same for all.
We have all committed ourselves to the shared understanding of values and principles through the membership of the United Nations, while Slovenia has also committed to it by joining the European Union, the Council of Europe, OSCE, OECD and other organisations.
It is very important that our actions are guided by the rule of law, fundamental human rights, and mutual respect and understanding. In particular, tolerance and dialogue are key.
Ensuring peace and security remains one of our most important tasks. Slovenia is committed to the peaceful resolution of all disputes. This is our identity.
Climate change and adaptation to it remain one of the greatest challenges. COP26, which the United Kingdom successfully hosted last November, brought some developments. But we still have a lot of work to do to adapt our way of life – from energy to food to the way we coexist with nature.
We cannot solve these issues unilaterally. This is why joint efforts to build trust in effective multilateralism based on the rule of law, in diplomacy and in the peaceful settlement of disputes are of such great importance.
Slovenia has again decided to announce its candidature for a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council in 2024 and 2025, thereby contributing to the strengthening of the UN's fundamental principles and all its common achievements. We were first a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council more than twenty years ago, in 1998 and 1999.
Please, convey again to your heads of state my best wishes for the beginning of the new year with my sincere hope of enhancing our mutual trust and cooperation for the benefit of the people we represent and the wider international community.
Photo: Daniel Novakovič/STA