By Jeremiah J. Baronberg

September 2021

On July 1, Slovenia assumed the presidency of the Council of the European Union, which rotates among EU member states every six months. Fulfilled by the country’s national government, the presidency serves as the co-legislator of the EU legislature together with the European Parliament. The presidency chairs meetings of the Council, determines agendas, sets work programs, and facilitates dialogue with other EU institutions. Together with the European Parliament, the Council amends and approves proposals of the European Commission, which holds legislative initiative.

Slovenia is basing its 2021 presidency on four priorities under the slogan, “Together. Resilient. Europe.” Its aims focus on:

  • Reinforcing resilience against pandemics and cyberattacks, while prioritizing green and digital initiatives to mitigate consequences of COVID-19.
  • Facilitating Europe-wide debate on what the EU should look like and how it can best meet its citizens’ expectations through the Conference on the Future of Europe.
  • Strengthening the rule of law as a common European value—while emphasizing human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression.
  • Strengthening Transatlantic relations in close cooperation with the U.S. and NATO to guarantee the EU’s position in the international community and facilitate the common interests of EU member states. Special attention to be devoted to the Western Balkans as part of the EU enlargement process, while prioritizing economic recovery, green and digital transition, cyber resilience, and connectivity, including hosting the EU–Western Balkans Summit in Fall 2021.

To this end and to facilitate debate on the EU’s future, Slovenia organized and hosted the 16th annual Bled Strategic Forum in September. EU high representatives, heads of government and state, Members of EU Parliament, and representatives of the European Investment Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, World Tourism Organization, and civil society as well as Google, Microsoft, and Facebook all participated in the Bled Strategic Forum.

In addition to its strong focus on integration of the Western Balkans region, the forum’s primary discussion topics were:

  • Post-epidemic recovery
  • Green and digital transformation
  • Economic recovery and tourism
  • Cyber resilience and digitalization
  • Climate change responses
  • Transatlantic cooperation
  • Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific
  • Challenges of the Eastern Partnership countries
  • Stability of the Mediterranean, including joint management of the Adriatic Sea

Regarding EU integration of the Western Balkans, President of the European Council Charles Michel said that the future of the EU is inconceivable without the Western Balkans, while European Commissioner for Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi described the bloc’s substantive economic and investment proposals for the region. “We are proposing roughly one-third of GDP of the whole region to invest, almost €30 billion for the entire region to come and deliver in the next four to five years foundational change on the ground for the people and economy – to link up capitals with highways and railways, phase out coal, bring in renewable energy, invest in SMEs, create attractive investment climate, bring broadband internet,” he said.

Following the forum, EU integration was also atop German Chancellor Merkel's farewell trip to Balkans, saying that the six Western Balkan states should join the European Union, but that “they have a ‘long way’ to go before entering the bloc.” The countries—Montenegro and Serbia (most advanced in their EU accession talks), Albania and North Macedonia (awaiting official opening of accession talks), and Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo (potential candidate countries) are at different stages of the accession process.

Slovenia’s presidency closes at the end of 2021, after which France will assume the role for the first half of 2022.