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EU enlargement, migration and rule of law - Janez Janša gives his take

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By Efi Koutsokosta
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EU enlargement, migration and rule of law - Janez Janša gives his take
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EU leaders have just had a one-day summit at Brdo Castle in Slovenia to discuss EU enlargement and the six remaining Western Balkan countries. Brussels wants to be a key player in the region and has reaffirmed its commitment to the six countries, but has so far not given any clear enlargement deadlines. The prime minister of Slovenia, Janez Janša, gave us his insight into EU enlargement and rising challenges within the bloc.

Do you see any risk of the EU losing its credibility if countries that are aligning with EU membership criteria are not allowed into the club?

Janez Janša, Prime Minister of Slovenia:

"Yes, of course, this risk is evident, but since a few years ago, the enlargement, as it was decided in the Thessaloniki Summit 2003, where the EU membership was granted for the countries of the Western Balkans, is coming (back) again on the agenda. I think that we are slowly gaining momentum again, but it's still... It's still a long way to go. But you know, after a long battle, we succeeded to put the word enlargement in the declaration. Now that there is a consensus of the 27 member states that enlargement is (back) on the table again, we are not able to negotiate a 10-year timeline for the process, but we are not giving up yet."

There are rising tensions in the region, in several Western Balkans countries, do you think that the EU bears some responsibility for this because the citizens are losing hope of one day joining the bloc?

Janez Janša, Prime Minister of Slovenia:

"The region, the Western Balkans or the Balkans, this is the region which has been from known history the region of tensions. If you argue, for instance, about the borders, borders are still important in the Western Balkans, then I don't see any good solution which could be taken by consensus in the region and also in Europe. But the solution for such problems is that we are making borders less important and with EU membership, the borders are less important."

But this is still far from happening, at least for the moment.

Janez Janša, Prime Minister of Slovenia:

"It depends..."

Are you worried that if the EU doesn't change course or if it doesn't give any specific timeline or deadline for enlargement, these countries will turn more towards Russia or China?

Janez Janša, Prime Minister of Slovenia:

"The European Union is the biggest investor in the region. It's very important they appreciate it. But in those areas, we have competitors. There is also, as you said, China, Russia and Turkey. They are also coming with investment and they are not conditioning this. We are conditioning this with European standards, rule of law, reforms and that is OK if there is a light at the end of the tunnel. But if the EU membership perspective is not granted, then I think we will start to lose this competition, the competition battle. So it's very clear..."

Are you saying there is a real risk there?

Janez Janša, Prime Minister of Slovenia:

"There is one, there is only one big advantage on our side and this is EU membership."

EU defence and migration are high on the agenda again. Afghanistan was a watershed moment and the High-level Resettlement Forum dedicated to the situation in Afghanistan has just taken place.Should the EU make concrete pledges to Afghans so they can legally migrate to Europe, Afghans in need to legally migrate to Europe?

Janez Janša, Prime Minister of Slovenia:

"No."

Shouldn't the EU live up to its humanitarian values?

Janez Janša, Prime Minister of Slovenia:

"Afghans in need, I think, were part of this category and are already in Europe. Some of them are in the United States. But for all others who want to immigrate to Europe because of economic reasons, not because they were part of the NATO missions and so on, and they are not endangered, I think that we have to use the normal procedures. If they fulfill the criteria, yes, and if they don't, no, no so-called humanitarian corridors, no. The European Union will not repeat the mistake some member countries made in 2015 after the war in Syria."

Do you think that Germany make a mistake back in 2015?

Janez Janša, Prime Minister of Slovenia:

"I think Germany made a mistake. Imagine, Slovenia is a country of two and something million people and within a few weeks of 2015, half a million made it across the country. Our border collapsed and the borders of some other countries also collapsed. So it's not only the final phase of the consequences, it's also the process and the path and so on. If you remember the campaign for Brexit, you know, all those columns crossing Croatia, Slovenia were used for those who advocated for Brexit."

They "were used", as you say. Maybe it's part of the propaganda, the political propaganda in some parts of Europe.

Janez Janša, Prime Minister of Slovenia:

"You know, it's difficult if you see thousands of military men, you know, young men, militarily able men crossing the border without families, without women, children and taking them all as refugees. You know, this is not going on, you are not able to sell this."

There are different approaches within the bloc when it comes to humanitarian values. Some member states insist that they want to defend the rule of law and some other states, especially eastern member states, have a different opinion on that, but they signed up to the treaties that very clearly describe what these values are. What is your feeling on that? How sustainable is this?

Janez Janša, Prime Minister of Slovenia:

"There's what's written in the treaty and then there is the political use or abuse of the term rule of law. So we have a European charter, a charter of human rights, but in political language, especially in the European Parliament, everyone can add to this list whatever he or she wants. So it's a politically abused term and used for political battle."

But aren't freedom of the press and judicial independence part of the rule of law?

Janez Janša, Prime Minister of Slovenia:

"No. The freedom of speech, which includes also the freedom of media and the independence of the judiciary is not only the value, it's part of the system, not only of the European Union, but it's part of the Constitutional system of every single member state. If this is not the case, you are not able to become a member of the European Union."

Do you feel like Slovenia, Hungary and Poland are being politically attacked?

Janez Janša, Prime Minister of Slovenia:

"Well, if you collect the majority in the European Parliament and this is the political majority, you can name and blame any country. So I don't think this is very good. The European Parliament is a place for political debates and also for political conflicts. But it's not the same with the European Commission and the European Council. According to the treaty, the European Commission should stay out of political battles, which is, which was the case until the Juncker Commission and then this changed. I think that this is close to breaking the rule of law because the Commission has to be an honest broker, so dealing with the issues..."

Is it not doing this?

Janez Janša, Prime Minister of Slovenia:

"Not in all cases. For instance, Věra Jourová is, in my opinion, issuing statements that are a clear violation of the treaty. But she's supported by the European press."

Can you still shape European policies with the people who you think are attacking your approach to democracy?

Janez Janša, Prime Minister of Slovenia:

"I think that the European Union will survive if we are able to combine those two levels of the democratic decisions. One is on a national level and the second one is on the European level. Sometimes there are clashes there, which is understandable because this is the first time we are doing this."

To watch the full interview of Janez Janša, click on the media player above.