Bled Strategic Forum: Could be more visionary and should host the European Commission

As a fresh civil servant, I have few privileges. One of them is attending conferences related to my work. And this time I got the chance to attend a conference organised by the “Bled Strategic Forum” in the lovely resort of Bled in Slovenia. Mainly located in the nice hotel Golf under the title “European Union 2020: Enlarging and Integrating” the conference promised some quite lively conversations. Ahtisaari was supposed to be there, along with the Serbian Foreign Minister and the Prime Minister of Kosovo.

The Slovenian media were full of the details of the conference, but not because of the debates so much, but because of the bilateral meetings that both the Prime Minister Janša and the Foreign Minister Rupel had on the side of the event. The key one was with the Croatian Primer Minister Sanader – a meeting judged as historic by some and hypocritical by others. Why? Because recent weeks have brought a supposedly major breakthrough in the relations among the two countries. From a complete standstill the two countries supposedly move towards a settlement of all border and sea conflicts. That this could happen just few weeks before the Croation national elections take place and months before Slovenia takes over the EU Presidency is at least a bit suspicious. But of course, it could play in favour of both Prime Ministers politically. Anyway, to the conference itself.

I only joined the panel on Monday afternoon, entitled “The Future of the EU Integration Process”. There was an impressive list of speakers throughout the conference (the programme here), mostly from the Balkan countries. And so was true for the panel I attended. Kinga Göncz, (Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Hungary), Dimitrij Rupel (Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Slovenia), Aleksandr Vondra (Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs of the Czech Republic), Giuliano Amato (Minister of the Interior of the Italian Republic), Doris Pack (Member of the European Parliament) and Andrew Duff (Member of the European Parliament) were all there on time, under the control of Antonio Missiroli from the European Policy Centre. Off we went into a 2 hours odyssey.

Rupel was mostly focusing on his catch-phrase “revitalizing the Thessaloniki agenda” for the countries of the Balkans. To me it sounded empty, simply take an agenda you had before and claim you want to change it…And the EU is full of agendas already. So, here comes Doris Pack and gives him hard time, saying that there cannot be any exceptions (refering to Rupel’s soft words for Serbia) and the process of enlargement to the Balkans has a clear roadmap and clear conditions. On the other hand you had Andrew Duff and Giuliano Amato mostly speaking about the Reform Treaty and how those more pro-European in the EU of 27, should perhaps stay ambitious and push for more. Duff was even suggesting a special declaration of these countries, aspiring for a renewed reform round. Amato was entertaining and was, along with most of the panel, dismissing the positions of Poland and UK as ridiculous and non-European. Sure, Vondra was against, heavily in line with his President Klaus. Forgot what the point of MRs Göncz was. Sure, she listed all the possible priorities for the future, everything from enlargement to Lisbon, research and development and energy. So you can’t blame her.

But there were two main points where I got confused. And then I close this entry.

1. There was absolutely no discussion on a possible future model of the EU or a new method of working, as the title would perhaps lead to believe. Except for bits on “multispeed” Europe and more enlargement, nothing at all. Oh, don’t tell me this is all you have?! No referendums, Reform Treaty is basically a done deal and we want to stop constutionalizing afterwards…

2. Strangely enough there were two MEPs present on the panel (Duff was in Slovenia anyway, supporting the campaign of Gaspari for President). There wasn’t a single representative of the European Commission present at the event. It might be a coincidence, but I think it was not. I would rather say that the Slovenian government was advised by some very intergovernmental people, who think only national governments should have a say on the future of the EU.

Content-wise the debate on the EU was very week. Promising endless Enlargements and a bit of Energy Policy with modest institutional reforms just isn’t bold enough. How can you then expect people to follow and support the EU?

But hasn’t this been the reality of EU politics for a while now?

P.S.: I really wonder what the Slovenian media will write about the content of the debates. I guess the form was so impressive that no one will really bother…

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