Ministers outlined the priorities of the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the EU to parliamentary committees, in a series of meetings.
Slovenia holds the Presidency of the Council until the end of 2021. The hearings took place between 12 and 15 July.
On 12 July, Agriculture, Forestry and Food Minister Jože Podgoršek told the Fisheries Committee that the Presidency will strive to make fisheries and aquaculture sectors more sustainable. They will focus on small-scale coastal fisheries, the revision of the fisheries control system, as well as negotiations on fishing opportunities for 2022.
Fisheries Committee MEPs welcomed the announcement, urged the minister to move forward with the management plan for Atlantic Bluefin tuna and insisted that the Presidency should be firm when negotiating fishing deals with third countries (e.g., UK, Norway, Mauritania), to ensure equal conditions for EU fishers relative to third country operators.
Internal Market and Consumer Protection
On 12 July, Economic Development and Technology Minister Zdravko Počivalšek and Public Administration Minister Boštjan Koritnik highlighted in the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee the importance of the digital transition for the post-pandemic recovery and longer-term EU policy goals. They stressed that the Presidency will focus on the Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act as well as the Artificial Intelligence Act, key legislative files to ensure citizens’ trust in new technology, encourage digitalisation efforts, and create high standards for the digital economy.
Beyond these digital issues, the MEPs discussed with the two ministers the implementation of key internal market legislation, new product safety rules, customs control issues, the upcoming common charger proposal, construction products regulation and standardisation questions.
Transport and Tourism
On 13 July, Infrastructure Minister, Jernej Vrtovec, and Economic Development and Technology Minister, Zdravko Počivalšek, identified sustainability, resilience, e-mobility and alternative fuels, as well as the recovery of travel sector, as the main policy pillars of the Slovenian presidency in the transport sector. These issues will also be key to make the Green Deal and decarbonisation efforts a success.
Transport committee MEPs welcomed the focus on the decarbonisation of the transport sector, urging the Presidency to ensure technological neutrality in the green and digital transitions. Some MEPs asked for all efforts to be put into to promoting the rail sector, to review TEN-T rules and transport mobility package, to safeguard passengers’ and workers’ rights, invest more in the economic recovery of the tourism sector,and ensure better EU coordination on travel restrictions.
MEPs in the International Trade Committee focused on China, vaccines and trade, and Mercosur in their questions to Economic Development and Technology Minister, Zdravko Počivalšek on 13 July. Human rights and the rule of law are important elements in trade agreements, according to MEPs, reconfirming Parliament’s freeze on the ratification process of the China-EU Investment Agreement.
Arguing for a dialogue on a temporary suspension of vaccine patents, MEPs learned the Presidency would propose a compromise for negotiation at the WTO level. The Mercosur agreement needs strong environmental conditions, several MEPs emphasised, while the Minister responded that the non-implementation of the deal would negatively affect the EU’s geopolitical power.
Culture and Education
On 13 July, Education, Youth And Sports Minister Simona Kustec told the Culture and Education Committee that the Presidency will work to improve equal access to knowledge and training, something which has been exacerbated by the pandemic, by focusing on improving the digital skills of Europeans. She will also focus on fostering mobility among young volunteers. Culture Minister Vasko Simoniti will try to support the European film and audiovisual sectors as well as make sure that freedom of expression is upheld.
MEPs urged the Presidency to push more forcefully to make the European Education area a reality. On the New European Bauhaus, also highlighted by the ministers as a Presidency priority, MEPs said there was no dedicated funding to support the “ambitious plan”, as funds solely from the ‘Creative Europe’ would not be enough.
Agriculture and Rural Development
Completing the Common Agricultural Policy reform is one of the Slovenian Presidency’s top priorities, Agriculture, Forestry and Food Minister Jože Podgoršek told the Agriculture Committee on 13 July, hinting Council is planning to discuss it in October. The Presidency will also focus on the Farm to Fork strategy, long-term development of rural areas, market labelling, support of organic farming, and EU Forestry strategy. In the latter area, the Presidency is aiming to agree Council conclusions.
Agriculture MEPs welcomed the strong focus on resilience and rural areas and asked about the Presidency’s position on the use of genetically modified organisms and measures relating to the use of pesticides. Several MEPs raised concerns about imported products not respecting EU standards.
On 13 July, Development and EU Cohesion Policy Minister Zvonko Černač assured the Regional Development Committee that Slovenia will strive for a strong cohesion policy. The Presidency will prioritise the efficient implementation of NextGenerationEU and aim to ensure the swift adoption of national recovery and resilience plans.
MEPs quizzed Mr. Černač on several topics, including the European Cross-border mechanism, cooperation with the Western Balkans, the new programming period, and the rule of law. They urged the Presidency to maximise synergies between cohesion policy and recovery and resilience measures and called for the rapid adoption of the Brexit Adjustment Reserve.
Women’s Rights and Gender Equality
On 13 July, Janez Cigler Kralj, Minister of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, said the Presidency will focus on the impact of digitalisation and artificial intelligence (IA) on gender equality, to make sure technologies are inclusive for both men and women. He added that they will work on including a gender perspective in the EU budget, enhancing the fight against all forms of violence against women and girls, including online violence and harassment, and advancing the Pay Transparency Directive.
Worried by the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on women, MEPs urged the Presidency to better protect female workers in future crises and to halt the backlash against women’s rights in some EU countries. MEPs also pleaded for the unblocking of several files, such as the Women on Boards Directive, and for the ratification of the Istanbul Convention by all member states.
On 13 July, State Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Dr Stanislav Raščan told the Development Committee that the Presidency will help partner countries recover from the wide-ranging effects of the pandemic on education, gender equality, food security and hunger, education, and health. Additionally, they would continue advancing gender equality in European external action and push for the integration of water policy into all of the EU’s external policies.
In their replies, MEPs questioned what concrete measure the Minister would advocate for improving fair access to vaccines for developing countries. MEPs also expressed support to the Presidency’s commitment to pushing for the signature of the post-Cotonou partnership agreement with the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) region before the end of the year.
Economic and Monetary Affairs
On Tuesday 13 July, Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee asked Finance Minister Andrej Šircelj what the Presidency intend to do about unfinished EU projects that urgently need completion. These included the Banking Union, including a European Deposit Insurance Scheme (EDIS), the Capital Markets Union, with a focus on access of small and medium companies to finance, and ongoing work on non-performing loans.
Additionally, MEPs wanted to know about the next steps regarding Global Agreement on Corporate Taxation and Financial Transaction Tax, both files being blocked in the Council due to unanimity rule on tax issues. Finally, MEPs sought assurance that funds from national recovery plans will be properly spent throughout the EU and, with reference to growing debts and deficits in many member states, they said to expect a review of the Stability and Growth Pact.
Animal welfare during transport
On 14 July, Agriculture Minister Jože Podgoršek said there should be more efforts to ensure the proper implementation of current rules on animal transport and zero tolerance on animal welfare breaches. The Slovenian presidency will be looking forward for Commission’s impact assessment of current rules in this area, and their update by the end of 2023.
MEPs on the Committee of Inquiry on the Protection of Animals during Transport said that numerous hearings on this topic have revealed many shortages in the implementation of current animal transport rules, calling for a review of them and for the use of new funds from Common Agriculture Policy to equip vehicles with proper equipment to strengthen animal welfare. Many MEPs also stressed a need to ban the export of live animals to third countries, as member states do not have means to ensure proper control in countries of destination.
Environment, Public Health and Food Security
On 12 July, Health Minister Janez Poklukar told the Environment, Public Health and Food Security Committee that the presidency would promote the implementation of innovative solutions for resilient health systems and EU level cooperation. Two of the main priorities for the presidency are reducing health inequality and advancing towards a fully-fledged Health Union. MEPs had questions about cross-border research against cancer, the HERA incubator, a stronger EMA and ECDC and countering cyberattacks against these agencies.
On 14 July, Agriculture, Forestry and Food Minister Jože Podgoršek said the Presidency will emphasise work on consumer protection, traceability of products and indications of origin, as well as effective official control to ensure the food Europeans eat is safe. MEPs questioned him on a number of topics including the Council’s initial assessment of the forest strategy, the responsibility of the agriculture sector in the green transition, pesticides, loopholes in the new CAP deal, and the overexploitation of forests.
Later the same day, Environment Minister Andrej Vizjak told the committee that he will prioritise the implementation of the Fit For 2030 package and work towards a compromise that is fair and ensures that Europe’s economy continues to remain competitive. The minister also highlighted the COP26 in Glasgow on climate change and the COP15 on biodiversity where the presidency will work to achieve a global framework for climate action. MEPs questioned him on incentives to ensure the green transition, the old and new Emissions Trading System (ETS), the recovery of European nature, biodiversity, carbon sinks, and the battery regulation.
On 14 July, Slovenia will pay special attention to the Western Balkans, and its prosperity as a strategic interest for the EU, Foreign Minister Anže Logar told the Committee on Foreign Affairs. The enlargement process is a key priority, he said, adding that the EU should strive to include the region when discussing Europe’s future. The minister also highlighted the geopolitical dimension of the EU’s strategic autonomy, transatlantic partnership, connectivity and cyber security.
MEPs inquired about the political blockage between North Macedonia and Bulgaria, the worrying presence of Russia and China in the Western Balkans, as well as asking how the Presidency will achieve its goal of a stronger Euro-Atlantic perspective for the region.
Industry, Research and Energy
In the field of energy, infrastructure Minister Jernej Vrtovec told the Industry, Research and Energy Committee that the Presidency will try to create a more stable EU energy sector to prepare for a smooth, cost-effective and just energy transition. It will continue work on the Trans-European Networks for Energy (TEN-E regulation), and start negotiations with Parliament as soon as possible. The Presidency also intends to start working on the proposals of the "Fit for 55" package.
On digital issues, Public Administration Minister Boštjan Koritnik said that the Presidency will work on the roaming regulation and data governance act, starting negotiations with Parliament as soon as possible. Finding a general approach on the European Digital Identity regulation and the revision of the NIS directive is also high in their agenda.
On industrial policy, Economic Development and Technology Minister Zdravko Počivalšek said that the Presidency will focus on implementing the upcoming modernised European Industry Strategy, focusing in particular on the issues of resilience of the EU economy, an open strategic autonomy, and the twin digital and green transitions. The Presidency will also carefully monitor the implementation of the SME strategy, the minister said.
On research, Education, Science and Sport Minister Simona Kustec told MEPs that European partnerships, the European Research Area, international cooperation and gender equality will be presidency priorities. The Presidency will aim to conclude the legislative process on the joint undertaking for high performance computing, on the joint undertakings under Horizon Europe, and on the European Partnership on Metrology, she said.
Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs
On 1 September, Justice Minister Marjan Dikaučič announced to MEPs that he will focus on the protection of fundamental rights in relation to new digital technologies as well as on the ethical aspects of Artificial Intelligence. He will also comprehensively address the subject of child rights in both criminal and civil law, as well as raising awareness of the need to effectively combat hate speech and hate crimes. When it came to legislative files, Minister Dikaučič hoped for significant progress on e-evidence and for the start of negotiations on the e-codex file, a computerised system for communication in cross-border civil and criminal proceedings.
MEPs raised the question of the possible conclusion of Article 7 procedures against Poland and Hungary in the Council, as well as the completion of the appointment procedures for Slovenian delegated EPPO prosecutors.
On 2 September, Interior Minister Ales Hojs told MEPs the Presidency will work on the good functioning of the Schengen Area and the protection of the EU’s external border, as well as a comprehensive migration management and working to guarantee a high level of internal EU security. On legislation, the completion of Eurodac reform and work on the return directive and the revision of the rules governing Europol were identified by Minister Hojs as among the presidency’s priorities.
MEP asked about possible progress on the pact on migration and asylum. They also queried him on the need to establish structural solidarity among member states in the distribution of refugees, the possible activation of the temporary protection directive, establishing humanitarian corridors and search and rescue at sea plans at EU level.
On 9 September, Justice Minister Marjan Dikaučič talked with MEPs about the challenges and opportunities related to the rapid development of new technologies, particularly from an ethical and human rights perspective. Mr Dikaučič also announced that a virtual conference on the fight against hate speech and hate crimes will be held on 28 October. Upcoming debates on the use of Artificial Intelligence are also high on the Presidency agenda. Among other issues, the Presidency will work to progress on the digitalisation of EU justice systems, child rights, and willcontinue dialogue on the rule of law and Article 7 proceedings.
Members quizzed Mr Dikaučič on the presidency’s role in the protection of journalists and of civil society, particularly in relation to so-called SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) and pleaded once again for the unblocking of the “Women on boards” directive in Council.
Please find here the video recordings of all meetings (select the appropriate date).