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Györkös Žnidar: We have to focus on pursuing common goals and promoting mutual trust 

On 15 May 2018, Minister of the Interior Vesna Györkös Žnidar and State Secretary Boštjan Šefic attended the Central European Security Conference held in Vienna. The participants discussed the role and significance of Central Europe in terms of security policy and European safety. 

The minister put forward the Slovenian view of security in the Central Europe region. She pointed out that changes in the area of security, defence, economy and environment, which we have been encountering recently, not just in Europe but worldwide, require that national security policies and national security systems should be adapted to the new reality. 

 

In the past years, Slovenia has been brought under strong pressure due to its geographical location and its responsibility to protect the external Schengen border. One of major challenges was the 2015 and 2016 migration crisis, with almost half a million migrants having transited through the territory of Slovenia on the Western Balkans route.  The migration crisis revealed the EU could not meet the challenge: “The EU external borders outside of Slovenia’s control have been insufficiently protected; as being porous, they do not prevent migrants who are not in need of protection, from entering the EU illegally.  The situation we are facing today jeopardises the fundamental concepts of the EU, since migrants are allowed to enter and move around within the EU, as well as to choose the state in which they apply for international protection. Asylum shopping should be prevented urgently. And asylum should not be automatically associated with entry into the EU.” 

 

The EU should immediately take a stance on free movement of migrants across several countries that are safe and able to provide adequate protection. According to the minister, the migration flow should be stopped at the external borders of the EU, so as to avoid situations where migrants enter the EU but then, in the event of a negative decision on their international protection application, cannot be returned due to an unfeasible return procedure. This is a major issue which needs to be tackled effectively by the EU as soon as possible:  “Europe should keep its borders open to those in need, but such a system should be sustainable in the long run.” The minister pointed out that migration and asylum have been closely related lately, although the two concepts are not interchangeable. “Asylum systems should not be used as a migration channel to enter the EU, as this reduces the capacity to help those persons who really need international protection,” said the minister. 

 

She stressed the migration crisis proved again that actions taken by individual countries are not sufficient and that the key is in regional cooperation. Slovenia can be proud of its successful efforts in this field. The country has a good history of cooperation with the Western Balkan states, with which it managed to build strong political and operational partnerships and trust. The results of good cooperation can be seen in the effective prevention and detection of criminal offences and organised crime. On the political level, the Brdo Process remains the key platform for addressing the key issues and needs of the region, which helps provide a rapid and effective response to security challenges. In this framework, two initiatives have been devised to promote closer cooperation in the Western Balkan region in the areas of internal security and fight against terrorism: the Western Balkans Counter Terrorism Initiative (WBCTi), addressing terrorism and violent extremism, and Integrative Internal Security Governance (IISG), addressing serious and organised crime and border management.  The minister called for immediate and concrete assistance to the Western Balkan states in order to help them respond effectively to migration challenges.

 

Another challenge the region is facing concerns the respect for commitments and the rule of law.  “As a lawyer, I find it unacceptable that a country does not keep to the internationally valid rules and does not stick to its commitments,” said the minister, pointing out Croatia’s view of the implementation of the arbitration award. In this context, the minister also mentioned continued internal border checks implemented by Austria. She said: “Despite a broad range of Slovenia’s measures ensuring that no threat is posed to the security of Austria or any other EU member state, Austria continues to pursue a policy that significantly interferes with the free movement of persons, one of the key freedoms of the European Union.”

 

The minister concluded that global challenges can only be tackled through cooperation, which must be aimed at pursuing common goals and promoting mutual trust: “An important element is compliance with international rules and our own commitments, as only in this way can we be a credible partner.”

 

The participants of the conference agreed the region is facing many challenges that have a direct or indirect impact on security. In this context, they pointed out energy supply, transport routes, attacks against information systems and similar. Several participants underlined the significance of cooperation, which should overcome differences between countries. Any integration, which is only possible on the basis of mutual trust, needs to take into account the differences between countries and seek synergies, where appropriate. One of the problems is a lack of open discussion on key challenges, which results in unilateral measures that often don’t produce expected effects. 

 

On the sidelines of the meeting, State Secretary Boštjan Šefic met with the State Secretary of the Austrian Ministry of the Interior, Karoline Edtstadler. They exchanged information concerning the current situation of migration in the two countries and in the region. They agreed progress in this area can only be achieved through cooperation and joint action.  

 

After the conference, the Slovenian delegation visited an exhibition entitled “The Poetry of Silence” at the Leopold Museum, which comprises 160 works by the Slovenian painter and printmaker Zoran Mušič.