Cerar’s Paris Meeting

I took the documents once again so I could search one more time. I knew that I had overlooked something, that I had missed something. Once again, I read a series of messages from the recent Paris meeting on the Western Balkans. However, the lost thing was not in those messages, but in a separate dialogue that took place between the host, French President Francois Hollande and Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar. They discussed Europe after the British referendum and Slovenia’s place in this new era. However, neither Hollande’s choice of interlocutors, nor the expressed views, nor a choice of the city where the dialogue would take place were random.

That’s why I have to go back a couple of weeks before that, almost two months before the aforementioned meeting, as well as to possibly one of the most influential woman in French politics, former minister and now the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the French National Assembly, Elisabeth Guigou. In mid-May, in Paris “Le Monde”, she published an article with a proposal that France and Germany, regardless of the outcome of the British referendum, prepare a new reflection on the future of the European Union together. It was obvious that Mrs. Guigou represented key government positions. It is worth to summarize them, not only for the understanding of the importance of Cerar’s Paris meeting, but also to see the order of political views, as well as shared opinion of the French and German foreign ministers, Jean-Marc Ayrault and Frank-Walter Steinmeier, published after the results of the referendum were known.

The chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee redefined the French-Germany alliance, which should be based on two types of power, German economy and French diplomatic and military power, with the understanding on the division of sovereignty and more solidarity. She defined the alliance even more precisely, as a plan of the two countries based on three principles, competitiveness, security and connecting of people, in accordance with the three principles of the EU, which are solidarity, sharing of sovereignty and common values.
Afterwards, the ministers of foreign affairs, Ayrault and Steinmeier, only continue in their article with the thesis that the European Union offers a unique and unmistakable framework for achieving freedom, prosperity and security, that their states share a common destiny and common values, adding the estimation that, within the EU, member states vary according to their ambitions when it comes to the European integration project. The two of them are convinced that the EU is necessary today more than ever before, because it can provide adequate common answers to changing international environment.
Therefore, they propose the commitment of their countries to a common vision of Europe as a security union based on solidarity and mutual assistance among countries in the common security and defence policy.
Furthermore, they propose joint European asylum and migration policy in response to unilateral national responses to migration challenges, which make the European challenges of the new century.
A third set of proposals relates to the completion of economic and monetary union while strengthening economic convergence and social justice.

I cite the texts of three influential European politicians just to confirm that the February meeting of the foreign ministers of Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, the signatory states of the original European agreement, was not a coincidence. It was, and we can tell that today, a beginning of almost formal thinking on more binding connection of the most connected part of the European Union.

Today, this is a crucial political issue for Slovenia as well. Are we able to achieve a major new agreement on our country’s place in a connected European core? The plebiscite held in 1990 was not just a decision on disassociation from Yugoslavia, but also on membership in the European Union. A referendum held in 2003 was a mere confirmation of the plebiscite decision. Today, we shall need a new kind of agreement on place of Slovenia in a closely connected European core.
After the Great Britain’s exit, great economic crisis and seeking of solutions for migrants, there are different concepts of further development of the European Union. However, precisely due to the upcoming presidential elections in France, problems in the Netherlands and the beginning of euroscepticism in Slovenia, it is more or less obvious that the solutions will have to be firstly sought in the existing agreements, and only after that in the institutional changes. This is confirmed by the two mentioned texts, by Mrs. Guigou and Ayrault and Steinmeier, that the most developed part of Europe will connect more closely.

Paris and Berlin axis is politically and economically crucial for Slovenia. The possible collapse of this central axis would mean the soft start of the disassociation of the European Union to the borders of nation states. Even then, in not the best of circumstances, we would have to decide whether we shall have closer cooperation with Germany and its close countries or with countries of the Visegrad group or another group of countries. That is why it is so important that we reach an agreement today on our own, so it would not be determined by the others later.

Now we can go back to the content of the Paris meeting of the Slovenian prime minister, Dr Cerar and French president Hollande. The meeting was not accidental. Now I can add that it was one of the most important meetings. Primarily because of the two messages.

The first one, actually more of an assessment, that Slovenia, as a member of the euro and Schengen area, is able to monitor the values of the founding states of the European Union. Therefore, it is seen as a state in the most firm core of the European states. As well as the second message, that Slovenia is simultaneously, in this closest connected group of European countries, a country which may have a mediation role with both a group of Visegrad countries, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland, as well as with the countries of the Western Balkans. The latter is particularly important for Hollande.

The countries of the region will pay a high price of the results of the British referendum. The full membership of these countries in the European Union has been again withdrawn from the agendas of decision-making. The implications of this gradual time distancing were firstly assessed by the German chancellor Merkel. Almost exactly two years ago, and almost surprisingly, she took part in the meeting of heads of states and prime ministers of the countries of the region, held in Dubrovnik. Her then reassurance that all of these countries have a European perspective was not a new thing. Key novelty was in something else. In her assessment that the citizens of the countries in the region cannot live only on political promises, that they need, above else, specific economic projects. She then announced that the EU would invest in large infrastructure projects almost 12 billion euros. At the same time, she invited the leaders of the individual countries to prepare themselves, or even better, together, proposals, plans and projects. This was the beginning of the Berlin process, new economic and development movement of the region, the Balkans new deal. Two months later, a meeting in Berlin followed. Heads of governments presented individual plans and joint investments. It was a time of optimism and mutual cooperation. And then, primarily because of the migrant crisis to which Europe did not find the answer, everything stopped more or less.

The French president wants to give a truly new running start to the Berlin process. Also, as a type of compensation in order to mitigate the effects of time indeterminacy of the full membership of the countries of the region. Hollande’s assessment that Slovenia has its mediation role in Berlin process, that is, the process of European support in the development and the investment of the countries of the Western Balkans, is a chance that should be used.

Cerar’s Paris meeting was important. Primarily because of the message on the place of Slovenia among the closest connected European countries. Consultations with the presidents of parliamentary parties, called by president Borut Pahor a few days ago, and above all the consent of the participants, make the first step towards verification of this such crucial decision for the country.