With the beginning of 2008, the European Union is entering a new era. We have signed a new treaty, expanded the Eurozone and the Schengen area, and increased the number of employed people by 3.5 million. After the latest round of EU enlargement we also mark the first time that a new member is taking over the presidency of the Council of the EU.
Within the frame of the 18-month program of the presiding trio – Germany, Portugal and Slovenia – Slovenia has drafted its own six-month agenda, with several key objectives, which include: successful ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, progress in discussions on energy, and climate change policies, initiation of a new round of the Lisbon strategy dealing with economic growth and employment, further extension of the EU, its neighboring policies and the intercultural dialogue. In the past three years Slovenia went through intensive preparations for the presidency, so we are aware that the challenge is huge, but we are ready and prepared to face it.
The ratification of the Lisbon Treaty remains the primary political task. The signing of this treaty was a result of successful negotiations, which involved all the member states and proved they can work together efficiently in order to reach important common goals. In this process the EU Commission and the EU Parliament have had crucial roles. Compared with the present practice, the new treaty brings several new proposals when it comes to adopting decisions.
National parliaments and the European Parliament will play a more significant role and there will be more common policy in jurisdiction, interior affairs, environment, international crisis management and energy.
The new treaty also brings further democratization of the EU. Further steps for achieving better efficiency have been taken and the new EU Council will now use a qualified majority system for its decision-making.
Another important practice being introduced is the institution of a president of the Council of the EU who will be elected for a mandate of two-and-a-half years, with a possibility to run for a re-election. With the institution of the High Representative a new arrangement is also set to be implemented in the field of foreign and security policy, possibly finally providing an answer to the now famous question "Whom do I call when I want to speak to Europe?" posed by Henry Kissinger.
Slovenia will do its best to contribute to the successful ratification of the new treaty, which should be completed by the end of the year. Another big task will be to acquaint the EU citizens with the main ideas and intentions of the treaty and thus hopefully dispel lingering fears and doubts some may have had regarding the new vision of deepening within the EU structure. In relation to the international community the EU wants and intends to act as one united player, especially when tackling important issues concerning regional and global stability and security.
This practice will prove itself crucial, especially in our relations with important international partners such as China. We believe in developing good and constructive relations between the EU and China and base our confidence to do this successfully on the fact that since 1992, when diplomatic relations were established our bilateral relations have been friendly and have been strengthening continuously.
We have established many channels of regular cooperation and exchanged a number of visits on different levels, including governmental and provincial officials, businessmen, artists, scientists, students and others.
Although Slovenia and China are contrasting by size, our relations have been and are open in many directions. Slovenia is aware of China's growing international importance and pays genuine attention to its role in the modern world. Both of our countries have been witnessing successful development during the years of established relations. China has achieved remarkable results in its reform and opening up and will host the Olympic Games this year for the first time, while Slovenia has become a respected international player and holds the presidency of the Council of the EU for the first time.
In relation to China, our goal in the capacity of the EU presidency will be to search for a balanced approach in the fields of politics, economy and others and to fulfill the interests of both sides in the best possible way.
The main priorities are as follows: strengthening the established strategic dialogue mechanism; enhancing the framework of comprehensive bilateral relations; continuing to work with China when addressing major international issues; improving overall bilateral trade and investment relations; beginning the High-Level Economic and Trade Dialogue, cooperating with China when addressing energy and climate change issues; strengthening the mechanism of the Human Rights Dialogue and preparing for the 7th ASEM Summit and the Olympic Games.
We also intend to make further efforts in strengthening the knowledge and understanding of the EU among the Chinese people. With this in mind we plan to organize meetings and forums with Chinese students, which will be especially important since EU hosts the largest share of Chinese students studying abroad.
In April we intend to organize a social event called "Diplomats Running for Peace and Friendship" and we hope to attract many foreign and Chinese friends and, at the same time, mark the 100-day countdown to the Olympic Games.
Europe is also well known for its "wine culture", which, apart from drinking includes specific food and even social rituals which we would like to present to the Chinese public in the frame of the 27 EU member states and the EU Commission.
The EU and China are major trade partners. We have developed comprehensive cooperation in the field of science and technology, cultural exchange has been strengthening intensively and tourists from both countries now travel both ways much more frequently than they have in the past. All this proves that we are closely connected and as the bilateral relations between Slovenia and China are also very good, they will provide a solid foundation for further strengthening of the EU-China strategic partnership.
(China Daily January 30, 2008)