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Slovenia under France’s shadow?

Friday 25 January 2008, by Barçin Yinanç

’France will not take decisions on Slovenia’s behalf,’ says Borut Grgic, director for the Institute For Strategic Studies in Slovenia. Slovenia is the new term president of the European Union. It is only natural that Slovenia and France cooperate closely, since the French will take on the presidency after Slovenia,’ he argues

Turkish officials are less concerned about France’s pending assumption of the European Union presidency than Slovenia’s current term, which began Jan. 1.

France, noted for its staunch objection to Turkey’s joining the bloc, will take over the mantle this summer. But its behind-the-scenes meddling with the current leadership may cause greater consternation to EU-aspiring Turks.

France will have to act in an objective manner when it takes up the presidency,” a Turkish diplomat said. “We are more worried about the fact that France might seek to influence Slovenia against Turkey.

The EU presidency rotates among member states every six months, and, for the sake of consistency, successive presidencies are supposed to cooperate closely. In the case of Slovenia and France, however, the cooperation is likely to be exceptionally intensive, since France has assigned 110 ambassadors to help Slovenia in those countries where it has no diplomatic missions.

It’s true that France will represent the Slovenian presidency, but that doesn’t mean France will take decisions on Slovenia’s behalf,” Borut Grgic, director of Slovenia’s Institute for Strategic Studies, said in a telephone interview with the Turkish Daily News. Slovenia has diplomatic missions in merely 50 of the world’s nearly 200 nations, Grgic said.

It’s absolutely normal that Slovenia and France should be in constant communication at the highest level: As current and incoming presidents, we coordinate our agendas,” said Grgic, whose name is often linked to the Slovenian foreign ministry.

Regarding the possible influence of France, one of the founding members of the 27-nation bloc, over Slovenia, which joined just a few years ago, Grgic quipped, “you’re under no influence, but you discuss issues with everybody.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s arrival on the European political scene, as well as questions certain member countries harbor about Turkey’s status, pose potential hurdles to Turkish accession hopes.
Grgic also believes that the slow pace of reform in Turkey further complicates Ankara’s bid to join the bloc.

It seems as if, today, the drive toward EU membership that existed before the elections has disappeared,” Grgic added. “It’s as if the government were also taking into consideration the new reality in Europe.
Evidence of this sea change is reflected in the itinerary of Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan, Turkey’s chief negotiator with the EU, who, nonetheless, spends most of his time nowadays in the Middle East.
The Slovenian academic remains unimpressed with the rhetoric of the ruling Justice and Development Party, which has repeatedly said it will continue to prioritize EU matters.
Although the government won a substantial majority, it is paralyzed in driving substantive policy vis-à-vis Europe,” Grgic said. “I don’t see anything substantial in Turkey, other than the Constitution debate.

Talks on energy to start during Slovenia Presidency

Slovenia views the prospect of Turkish membership favorably, Grgic said.
Actually, it’s not an issue, it’s not debated in public,” said Grgic, who noted that the Slovenian presidency will try to open at least one chapter on accession talks.
With energy being a big European priority, energy talks are likely to start during the Slovenian presidency, and this may play into Turkey’s hand, Grgic said.
Turkey links Europe and the energy rich Caspian and Middle East,” he said, “so opening talks in an area so important for Europe should resonate in a positive way.

Grgic said Slovenia will try to establish a more positive attitude toward Turkey-EU relations.
However, it will not let anything happen that will undermine the ratification of the Lisbon treaty,” said Grgic, who believes there is a link between enlargement issues and the Lisbon Treaty.
Slovenia, then, will seek to fine tune advancement of Turkish accession while avoiding the possibility that debate on the issue overshadows ratification of the Lisbon Treaty.
Slovenia against French proposal of Mediterranean Union
Slovenia on the other hand lends little credence to a French proposal for setting up a Mediterranean Union, which would link countries bordering the Mediterranean, with Turkey as the backbone.
Slovenia is in favor of a strong Mediterranean dimension for the EU,” Grgic said, but there are more questions than answers in the French proposal. There is also resilience among other members on the issue.

Slovene Prime Minister Janez Jansa criticized the French proposal last week while talking to the European parliament.
We do not need a duplication of institutions, or institutions that would compete with the EU, institutions that would cover part of the EU and part of the neighborhood,” said Jansa alluding directly to Sarkozy’s plan.

Slovenia might move on Cyprus after elections
Slovenia is likely to pay close attention to Cyprus, Grgic said.
There might be a marginal window of opportunity following the elections in (the Greek part of) Cyprus,” he noted. “We will have to engage the new administration fast, before it digs in its heels and takes an established position.

The EU presidency will try its best to make use of this window of opportunity, Grgic said.

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Source : Monday, January 21, 2008 TDN

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