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Europe

Slovenia's Strong EU Presidency Sets Stage for Small Countries

Slovenia, the first former communist country to hold the rotating EU presidency, oversaw positive developments in the Balkans over the last six months. But the crisis of the Irish No vote overshadowed Slovenia's term.

A photo overlay of the EU and Slovenian flags

Slovenia hands the rotating EU presidency to France on July 1, 2008

At the beginning of the year, Slovenia set out to prove that a small country could successfully take on the European Union presidency.

Indeed, the recent EU member showed that "things wouldn't go disastrously wrong and that they could manage it effectively," said Jacki Davis from the European Policy Center, a leading think-tank in Brussels.

"I think they've done that and that's really the best one could have asked for," she said.

Kosovo Albanians display an Albanian flag while driving their car celebrating the upcoming independence of Kosovo in downtown Prishtina

Slovenia advocated for Kosovo, while still trying to keep Serbia on board

It may be a small country, but Slovenia tackled major issues during its six-month presidency, which it is set to hand over to France on July 1. Among them: Balkan diplomacy and the birth of the Kosovar state.

Drawing the Balkans closer to Europe

As a former Yugoslav state itself, it came as no huge surprise that Slovenia vehemently encouraged the EU not only to recognize Kosovo as an independent state but also to smooth the way for Serbia's future membership in the bloc.

After snap elections in Serbia, tensions relaxed a bit and the EU signed a Stabilization and Association Agreement with both Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina -- a major step toward EU membership for both countries.

As for Kosovo, Russian concerns prevented the EU from taking over the political supervision of the fledgling country, but the bloc continues to be integrally involved in the UN mission.

Slovenia "handled [Kosovo's independence] well, considering the initial qualms and divisions between EU member states or whether to recognize or not," said Davis.

Irish No a blow to EU leaders

A campaign bus in Dublin with the words 'No to Lisbon' on it

Slovenia wasn't blamed for the Irish No to the Lisbon Treaty

The second major issue dominating the Slovenian presidency was the Irish No vote in June on the bloc's Lisbon Treaty. Davis said the vote, which raised existential concerns over the bloc's future, "had to do with conditions in Ireland" and couldn't be blamed on Slovenia.

Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa said he regrets that he and the bloc's 26 other heads-of-state weren't able to sufficiently promote Europe to its residents.

"We need to change the negative attitude toward European institutions," he said. "We need a European identity."

MEP questions EU connection to the people

Jansa and his relatively small team managed to push through new laws on unified work times for EU institutions -- after 14 years of discussion on the matter. They also put in motion the first part of a common asylum law, founded a joint EU-Mediterranean university, and opened dialogue with Latin America on climate change, food production and energy security.

Slovenia's Prime Minister Janez Jansa

Jansa said a stronger European identity is needed

EU parliamentarian Jo Leinen, a member of Germany's Social Democratic Party, said that Slovenia and the rest of the EU states haven't recognized the people's true concerns.

"Food prices, energy prices, credit crisis, and high managers' salaries -- the people are worried about lots of things, but we either get around to them too late or just make half-hearted decisions," he said. "Europe has to be useful to the people, it has to protect the people, and then they will also support and follow us."

A Euro team at the next Euro?

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, on the other hand, praised the Slovenian presidency for its effectiveness -- a quality some observers in Brussels don't expect from its French successors.

"If all the member states applied the same principles [as Slovenia], the European Union would overcome many of its difficulties," said Barroso.

In his final speech as head of 27-member bloc, which coincided with the end of the European Soccer Championship, Jansa quipped that the EU should send its own soccer team to the next Euro.

Then at least the EU would get a little attention.

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