Friday, November 17, 2006



Pocket president

Nov 16th 2006 | LJUBLJANA
From The Economist print edition

Slovenia eyes a rare moment of glory

RUNNING the European Union for six months is a big job, even for a large country. For a small one, it means a rare limelight—and a huge headache. In barely a year's time, and with fewer civil servants than in a big country's foreign ministry alone, Slovenia will be running the 4,000-odd meetings and eight ministerial get-togethers of the EU presidency. With a population of 2m it will be the smallest country (not counting Luxembourg, which in effect delegates its turn to France and Germany) to lead the EU, and the first ex-communist state to do so.


Never mind the agenda—admire the scenery

The aim, says Janez Jansa, the prime minister, “is to run it smoothly”. An official is blunter: “Just not screw it up”. Luckily, Slovenian officialdom is unusually efficient for an ex-communist country and already planning hard. The incumbent, Finland (population 5.3m), is helping. So are Germany and Portugal, which hold office in 2007.

But Slovenia hands over to France, which has notoriously poor ties to the ex-communist world. Janez Lenarcic, the minister for the EU presidency, points out hopefully that Slovenia is the only European country with a statue honouring Napoleon's soldiers. They briefly liberated the country from Habsburg rule, and let schools teach in Slovenian.

That language has not so far featured much in European diplomacy; there is a scramble to find enough interpreters and translators. The real difficulty, though, is not organisation but politics. Slovenia hopes to push EU expansion to other bits of ex-Yugoslavia such as Macedonia and neighbouring Croatia. But it is unclear where it will stand in the other big debate, between market-minded liberalisers, mainly in northern and eastern Europe, and the more dirigiste economies of the centre and south. The evidence so far is that Slovenes talk like Estonians, but act like Austrians. Mr Jansa has notably failed to push through a promised flat tax, privatisation and other reforms—the people, he says, just don't want that kind of thing. Others think his government is hobbled by its cronies.

By the standards of post-communist politics, Mr Jansa, a sardonic former dissident, is something of a class act; it is easy to imagine him chairing an EU summit. But besides him and Mr Lenarcic, talent is thin. The foreign minister, Dimitrij Rupel, is oddly abrasive for someone with two decades' diplomatic experience. Asked how other ministers will guide 26 EU colleagues through intricate topics like farm-subsidy reform, diplomats in Ljubljana sigh and roll their eyes.

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