Slovenian premier Janez Janša is hardly likely to make the shortlist of poster boys for EU integration. Yet thanks to the vagaries of the bloc’s six-month rotating EU Council presidency, the Future of Europe Conference, launched in May, will sit in his hands, and overactive Twitter account, from July until the end of the year.
For the moment, however, Janša is making all the right noises, perhaps in a bid to head off fears about whether his brand of Donald Trump–sympathising nationalism is incompatible with the Future of Europe project.
At an event early this month at Brdo castle, Janša revealed that his government will host a series of events on EU reform ahead of a summit in early September.
Meanwhile, President Borut Pahor, one of the most moderate of social democrats, struck a similarly positive tone by urging “those with conflicting views, and those that now do not even think about the EU’s future, do think about it and express their views.”
For a process that is intended primarily to bring the EU closer to its citizens, that sounds entirely reasonable.
Yet it would surprise no one if Janša takes a far less integrationist approach than his Portuguese predecessors and instead focuses on long-standing questions that are dear to Slovenia and its neighbours in central and eastern Europe: disputes over the Rule of Law Mechanism and EU enlargement in the Western Balkans.
While the likes of France and others may want to focus on greater cooperation towards a European health union or tax harmonisation, Janša’s alternative vision is almost certain to look at resolving outstanding problems.
The early signs of that lie in Janša’s plans to establish a European Institute on Constitutional Democracy, an idea backed by the chief members of the EU’s awkward squad, Hungary and Poland, that could replace the Venice Commission and adjudicate on disputes between Brussels and national capitals over rule-of-law issues.
The new organisation, whose blueprint Janša presented to Germany’s Angela Merkel, could sit alongside an “annual dialogue” on rule-of-law issues that Janša wants to establish between national governments. As one of Viktor Orbán’s closest allies, Janša’s institute is hardly likely to be as critical as the European Commission.
Similarly, Janša described enlargement of the EU as “a strategic answer to a lot of current challenges,” at a news conference with European Parliament President David Sassoli last week.
These are questions that have divided EU leaders for many years and that, presumably, means that few will thank Janša for bring them to the centre of debate.
However, much as Janša and co are viewed with scepticism in Brussels, the questions around the rule of law and enlargement are crucial to the EU’s future. The messenger may be unpopular, but his message can’t be simply wished away.
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Views are the author’s
[Edited by Josie Le Blond]