EU Referendum helpfully brings despatches from our great capital which, for six months only, is a little place called Ljubljana (population 276,000) in the mountain Republic of Slovenia. From here the affairs of the EU presidency will be run for the next six months. Actually, that is not entirely true.
Slovenia, you may recall, was the first of the Socialist Federal Republics of Yugoslavia to flee the nest. There being only a minute Serbian population there the Serbs put up only a token resistance to its departure which resulting in some ten days of fighting after the declaration of independence in June 1991.
Since then it has made great strides towards being a normal democratic state and putting behind it its Communist past. Despite emerging as an independent entity for the first time in perhaps eight hundred years, the habit of being the subject of this or that Empire dies hard and in 2004 Slovenia allowed herself to be swallowed up by the European Union.
Having no tradition of or recent history of nationhood of its own, it is unsurprising, therefore, to discover that its diplomatic service is somewhat rudimentary. In the context of the EU, it probably only consists of a messenger boy with arms strong enough to bring the latest box of EU Laws from Brussels to Ljubljana as quick as he may.
Notwithstanding this, the rules are the rules and Buggins’ Turn being what it is Slovenia has the helm from today until the end of June when France, an altogether different kettle of fish, takes over.
And therein lies the rub. Having a diplomatic service and an international presence of negligible proportions (just the ticket for fronting up an empire of 490 million people), Slovenia has been forced to turn to one of the larger members of the EU to act as its mentor during the important period up to the coming into force, provided they can suppress all last resistance, of the EU Constitution, otherwise known as the Treaty of Lisbon.
And who better to choose than France, whose own presidency begins right after that of Slovenia? You really could not make it up.
Of course, for the sake of face, Slovenia insists it will be in the driving seat throughout. Dimitrij Rupel, the Foreign Minister, said that France and Slovenia were co-operating well:
“We have promised each other all the help we can offer.”
I’ll bet they have.
The reality is that when some Slovenian functionary asks “What do we do next?”, the smooth but haughty French official at his elbow is unlikely to say “Let’s ask the British”. Thus France will be able to dominate the EU’s agenda for a whole year instead of the usual six months and is in the position of being able to propose its very own pet projects as the ones which Slovenia might care to advance. France proposes, France disposes.
In return Slovenia will get every assistance in trying to bring to a resolution the thorny problem of Kosovo, one of the last bits of business arising out of the collapse of the former Yugoslavia, success with which would add considerable lustre to the tiny Slovenian crown and lots of influence in the Balkans for its new big chum France.
As to the thorny problem of the EU Constitution, Mr. Rupel (who is an alumnus of the UK’s University of Essex and is a sociologist) says that his country wants to ratify it as soon as possible and do everything it can to help others do so. The Eurocrats cannot wait to get their hands on the levers of power, real, raw power, for the first time, for that is what the new Constitution promises to give them: a large dose of unfettered and unaccountable power with which to shape the whole of Europe in their own image.
And who is it who will see themselves as primus inter pares in this cosy stitch up? The French, who have been handed on a plate the chance to run the EU de facto for a whole year in the run up to the Treaty coming into force. With a dynamic and feisty new President in Nicolas Sarkozy, France will want to ensure that when the time comes it is best placed to take advantage of the new dispensation. And for half that time it can do so without having to take any of the blame.