Thursday , February 22 2024

Interview with H.E. the Ambassador of the Republic of Slovenia, Tamara Weingerl Požar

 

 

“EUMED9, of which both Greece and Slovenia form part, represents 45% of the EU population. We should therefore coordinate our positions in the EU and strengthen our voice in Brussels.”

 

 

GDL: During the 1990’s and 2000’s, Slovenia was often hailed as an exemplary case of a successful transition from a socialist country into a modern democracy. What has Slovenian diplomacy achieved so far?

TWP: Slovenia became formally independent on 25th June 1991. In the autumn of the same year, the process of international recognition of Slovenian Statehood commenced. Slovenia’s independence path was crowned with its acceptance to the United Nations in May 1992, to NATO in March 2004 and to the European Union in May 2004. Slovenia was the first new Member State to introduce the euro in January 2007, it was accepted into the Schengen area in December 2007 in the first group with other new Member States. Slovenia was also the first new Member State to hold the Presidency of the Council and the European Council in 2008, to be followed in 2021 with its second EU Council Presidency.

In 2024-2025, my country will sit on the UN Security Council for the second time in its young history. On this occasion, I wish to express my gratitude for the support Slovenia received at the elections on the 6th of June in New York. Our campaign allowed us to build stronger relationships and enhance our dialogue with respective countries around the globe.

GDL: Slovenia has achieved the reputation of a reliable and forward-looking Member of the European Union, which also manages to maintain stable relations with the critical actors of global politics and is a true supporter of multilateralism.

With over 23 years of professional experience on EU and international affairs, can you elaborate more on the main aspects of your foreign policy Your Excellency.

TWP: True, the European Union is Slovenia’s most important economic, development, political and legal environment. Our vision for the EU is not only focused on competitiveness and economic growth, but also aims at improving citizens’ quality of life and upward social convergence. The values promoted by the EU, like the rule of law, the rights of minorities, the preservation of cultural diversity and language equality are in our focus. Slovenia believes that equal rights of Member States, big or small, should always be respected, it advocates for solidarity and always strives for dialogue and compromises that lead to unity, recognising legitimate diversity.

Slovenia also fosters closer ties in its neighbourhood and is a staunch supporter of further enlargement of the EU and strengthening its Mediterranean ties. Transatlantic relations remain of key importance to Slovenia and within this, the relations with the United States, linked by the Slovenian community and successful cooperation in defence and nuclear energy matters. Slovenia is also promoting good economic and political relations with other countries in the world, in Asia, Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and the Gulf region, often through projects in the field of protection of the environment and beekeeping, as well as in science, digital and artificial intelligence.

Slovenia is particularly committed to multilateralism and the rule of law in international affairs, especially now that the fundamental principles and guarantees of the European security structure have been put under stress with the war in Ukraine.

It has been an advocate of the work of the International Criminal Court. Slovenia has worked closely with its partners to develop a new mechanism of international legal assistance, which led in May of this year to the adoption of the ‘The Convention on International Cooperation in the Investigation and Prosecution of Genocide, Crimes against Humanity, War Crimes and other International Crimes’. The so-called ‘Ljubljana-The Hague Convention’ was adopted at the Diplomatic Conference in Ljubljana. The Convention is a result of the Mutual Legal Assistance and Extradition Initiative, led by Slovenia, the Netherlands, Belgium, Argentina, Senegal and Mongolia and an extensive support of other countries gained since its start in 2011.

I am particularly pleased that Greece with its active and committed approach helped to achieve a successful result at the recent conference. The adoption of the convention is a landmark event that will help to deliver justice to victims of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes around the world.  Furthermore, in multilateral forums, Slovenia deals actively with issues such as human security, women’s and children’s rights, water supply and demining.

“The European Union is Slovenia’s most important economic, development, political and legal environment. Our vision for the EU is not only focused on competitiveness and economic growth, but also aims at improving citizens’ quality of life and upward social convergence.”

GDL: You have touched upon the Mediterranean. Could you elaborate on this dimension of the Slovenian foreign policy?

TWP: Slovenia is a Mediterranean country and above all active within the Union for the Mediterranean and the Adriatic-Ionian Initiative, but also very pleased that during the Athens Summit in September 2021, our country was accepted to EUMED9.

Slovenia’s Mediterranean dimension stems from the port of Koper, a connecting point between Central Europe and the Mediterranean. Hence, it is vital for my country to improve transport and energy connectivity and to ensure sustainable management of the Adriatic Sea and coastal areas. In particular, I wish to stress that in December 2023, Slovenia will take over from Turkey the two-year Presidency of the Barcelona Convention (Convention on the Protection of the Sea and Coasts of the Mediterranean) and will host the 23rd meeting of the Contracting Parties of the Convention (COP 23). The main priorities of the Slovenian Presidency will be related to the protected areas at sea, integrated management of the coastal zones and maritime spatial planning, updating contingency plans and adapting to climate change.

“Slovenia has worked closely with its partners to develop a new mechanism of international legal assistance, which led in May of this year to the adoption of the ‘The Convention on International Cooperation in the Investigation and Prosecution of Genocide, Crimes against Humanity, War Crimes and other International Crimes’. The so-called ‘Ljubljana-The Hague Convention’ was adopted at the Diplomatic Conference in Ljubljana.”

GDL: For over 30 years now, the bilateral relationship between Slovenia and Greece is growing on all levels. How can both countries strengthen their collaboration within the Mediterranean region?

TWP: On all the issues just mentioned, connectivity, cooperation between universities and research institutes, water and environment (protection of biodiversity), but also in tackling common challenges, such as migration and natural accidents, forest fires, of which both countries are very vulnerable. In particular, the critical issue of migration carries risks and responsibilities and should be tackled jointly.

EUMED9, of which both Greece and Slovenia form part, represents 45% of the EU population. We should therefore coordinate our positions in the EU and strengthen our voice in Brussels.

GDL: Both Slovenia and Greece have retained their geopolitical agenda of support for the development and integration of the States of the Western Balkans. Where do we stand now?

TWP: We have just celebrated the 20th anniversary of the historic EU-Western Balkans Summit, which took place in Thessaloniki. Slovenia highly values the Summit, as it gave new hope for the stabilisation of the region after years of wars, political instability and economic stagnation following the dissolution of Yugoslavia.

At this momentous junction in June 2023 the President, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of Slovenia issued a joint statement and my reply to your question mainly draws from this statement.

In the last 20 years, much has been achieved through cooperation. The Western Balkans has seen a general stability. The countries of the region today enjoy the benefits of a visa-free regime and the region has recorded steady economic progress since then. The EU is by far the biggest donor and investor in the region, as it naturally gravitates towards the Western Balkans and vice versa.

Slovenia has been a firm supporter of enlargement within the European Union. We have assisted our Western Balkans partners by lending our political backing and by supporting enlargement-related processes in the region. We have assisted in every way possible. This has been our long-term policy that will not change.

It is no secret, however, that many opportunities have been missed on both sides. It appears that the initial enthusiasm for reform in the Western Balkans has partly evaporated over the two decades and that, as a result, the light at the end of the tunnel indicating EU membership appears to be farther away than we had hoped it would be at this point.

Furthermore, the EU has been dealing with its own challenges, and the enlargement has not always been a priority. The European Union is now forced to deal with the consequences of the war in Ukraine, which has made us re-think our approach to the EU enlargement process in general.

Slovenia believes that the enlargement process is fundamentally a strategic choice, not only a technical exercise. Nevertheless, further enlargement must follow the fundamental vision of the European integration process, which is based on solidarity and the actual progress of candidate countries.

It is clear that Greece and Slovenia, one from the South the other from the North of the Western Balkans, share the interest for the stability of the region, as well as the in-depth knowledge and understanding of its complexities.

It is therefore my conviction and hope to be able to increase our efforts in support of the European path of the countries of the Western Balkans. Slovenia believes that the EU is objectively a very good choice for the region, but it is up to the Western Balkans countries to decide on their future.

“An important demonstration of the Mediterranean dimension of the Slovenian foreign policy is the hosting of the Euro-Mediterranean University (EMUNI) in Portorož. In a recent EMUNI competition for the Euro Mediterranean Innovation Camp, the winner with the best project on renewable energy was a Greek University Student.

Let me also use the opportunity and inform that an international call for the new Director of EMUNI is open, with 15th September as the deadline.”

GDL: You have served in Brussels for more than 11 years, representing Slovenia in the Council of the EU, as well as chairing COREPER 1 during the recent Slovenian EU Presidency. What is your view of the Greek diplomacy in representing Greek interests in Brussels?

TWP: My experience is very positive. I believe that Greek diplomacy is focused on key Greek political priorities and energetic in representing the Greek interests.

I appreciate that it always stresses the importance of solidarity among Member States and is open to seeking compromises. My cooperation with the Greek diplomats in Brussels was always very professional and collegial.

GDL: Your country is among the most export-oriented economies in the European Union. Where does the economic policy of your Government focus upon?

TWP: As you mentioned, Slovenian economy is an open economy, dependent on foreign trade. Its global market share (3.5% in 2019) had been growing until the Covid crisis. In 2019, Slovenian imports totalled 75.3% of the gross domestic product (GDP), while exports, at 83.7% of GDP, exceeded the EU average. After 2020, the export market share of goods on the world market declined and has so far not reached the pre-Covid numbers. Slovenia is thus aiming to boost further the internationalisation of our economy. Our goals are designed to ensure the long-term competitiveness and resilience of the Slovenian export economy and attract sustainability-oriented investment.

Compared to the EU, Slovenia stands out for its high share of medium-technologically demanding products, which are highly integrated into global value chains and thus most sensitive to fluctuations in foreign demand. Slovenian exports are more specialised in currently slower production markets (such as the road vehicle market). In the composition of Slovenian goods exports, energy-intensive products are taking an important share, which poses greater exposure of Slovenian exports during the energy crisis.

The geographical diversification of the Slovenian exports is also relatively modest, with 75% of total exports of goods and services generated in the EU markets, mainly in markets of the EU Member States close to Slovenia. It is therefore one of the main goals to further diversify exports and encourage more firms to export, especially SMEs, including to Greece. That is why we also support these companies on their internationalisation journey with EU funding.

It pleases me that in general Slovenia’s economic development, measured by gross domestic product per capita in purchasing power, in 2022 for the first time exceeded the highest level reached before the outbreak of the economic and financial crisis in 2008. GDP per capita in purchasing power reached 92% of the EU average in 2022, which is one percentage point above the 2008 peak.

“It is clear that Greece and Slovenia, one from the South the other from the North of the Western Balkans, share the interest for the stability of the region, as well as the in-depth knowledge and understanding of its complexities. It is therefore my conviction and hope to be able to increase our efforts in support of the European path of the countries of the Western Balkans.”

GDL: In which sectors of the economy could Slovenia and Greece concentrate upon to accelerate their collaboration?

TWP: In 2022 the trade between Slovenia and Greece amounted to 649 million EUR, an increase by 17% compared to 2021. Greece is a well-known touristic destination for Slovenians; however, I am happy that Greeks are also discovering Slovenia. According to the data of the Slovenian Statistical Authority, 12,490 tourists from Greece visited Slovenia in 2022, which is more than a 163% increase compared to 2021.

Economic relations between the two countries are good, with many unexplored possibilities. Potential for strengthening the cooperation among others exists in energy and environmental technologies (especially circular-economy), information and communication technologies, tourism, digitalization, agriculture and food processing industries, logistics and the pharmaceutical industry.

I strongly believe that the tourist and economic flows will further increase with newly-introduced direct Aegean flight between Ljubljana and Athens.

“I am pleased to announce that the Embassy of Slovenia and the University of Patra kicked off a project in May on awareness raising about the importance of beekeeping and nature reconstruction of a bee garden. This follows the efforts of Slovenia for the protection of bees worldwide.

Among others, my country proposed to establish the United Nations World Bee Day, which we celebrate each year on 20th May, and has up to now developed more than 300 projects worldwide.”

GDL: What initiatives should both countries undertake in order to bring our people closer to each other?

TWP: Firstly, Slovenians admire the natural beauties of Greece and about 60,000 of my compatriots visit Greece, in particular the islands, every year. The fondness of Slovenians for the Greek sea and sun and the Mediterranean cuisine is something that will definitely continue in the future and further bond the two peoples.

Secondly, we are connected through sports. Slovenia is a highly athletic nation and has even declared 23rd September as a ‘Slovenian Sports Day’ to raise the importance of physical activity. A number of Slovenian football players decided to make Greece their temporary home and play in first-division Greek clubs, among them three players for Panathinaikos. Sport is definitely an area that ties the two countries and will further bring our peoples together.

Thirdly, cooperation among universities and student exchanges offers further possibilities. On this, I am pleased to announce that the Embassy of Slovenia and the University of Patra kicked off a project in May on awareness raising about the importance of beekeeping and nature reconstruction of a bee garden.

This follows the efforts of Slovenia for the protection of bees worldwide. Among others, my country proposed to establish the United Nations World Bee Day, which we celebrate each year on 20th May, and has up to now developed more than 300 projects worldwide.

Lastly, Slovenians and Greeks are attached through a name, which holds a lot of symbolism for the Greeks – Kapodistrias. The ancestors of the first Governor of Greece, Count Ioannis Kapodistrias, came from Koper (Capodistria), one of the most important Slovenian cities with a large port ‘Luka Koper’, that happens to be my birthplace.

This historical connection provides for opportunities in particular through cooperation among universities in the historical studies of Kapodistrias and its heritage.

Incidentally, my featured photograph in this article was taken in Nafplio in July-August 2023 where I am standing by a plaque dedicated to Kapodistrias which was unveiled by the former Slovenian President and Prime Minister, Borut Pahor, on December 5th 2018.

 

Interview by Nicolas Boutsicos
Editor, Greek Diplomatic Life

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