Slovenia takes over from Portugal as European Union president for the first half of 2008. It is the first of the member states that joined the bloc in 2004 to assume the rotating presidency.
It is seen as an opportunity to raise the national profile of the first and so far only republic from the former Yugoslavia to meet the EU’s membership criteria. The geographically confused tend to mix the country up with Slovakia. Slovenia is squeezed in between Italy, Austria and former-Yugoslavia neighbour Croatia.
The socialist federation of dictator Josip Broz Tito survived after him for 11 years. In 1991 Slovenia’s then president Milan Kucan proclaimed independence on behalf of the some two million Slovenes.
The Balkan wars were just beginning. The Yugoslav Army arrived in Lublijana. The Slovenes remained defiant, and in ten days the Serb forces had withdrawn. While armed conflict raged in Croatia and Bosnia, Slovenia set out to write its own economic success story. It also became a NATO member.
It met the criteria the EU established without difficulty, joining the wave of enlargement in 2004. It was the first of the new members to qualify for the euro. Then, with eight others, the Schengen pact. Now comes the presidency, approached with modesty yet confidence.
Dimitrij Rupel, the Foreign Minister, said: “Indeed it’s a challenge and a recognition for Slovenia. We hope that we can be as successful as other countries that have done this before.”
Foremost on Portugal’s foreign policy agenda heading the European Council was Africa. For Slovenia, the priority is the Western Balkans, notably seeking durable solutions for Kosovo.