“We have to give up some of our national sovereignty if we want a fiscal union.”
Balkan nation quickly became active player in EU, NATO, UN after independence
Slovenian Ambassador to the United States Roman Kirn told Qorvis Communications’ Focus Washington that the current economic crisis has made it clear that EU member states will have to give up more sovereignty to achieve a fiscal union.
“The level of integration that we have achieved is not sufficient to sustain the pressure on Europe,” Ambassador Kirn told interviewer Chuck Conconi. “So now in the EU there are great in-depth debates on how to secure this further progress. It’s not easy because at this stage, EU member states have to decide to give away more of their national sovereignty than they would be willing and able to do.”
The E.U. now faces the task of aligning its political ambitions with economic realities.
“The establishment of the euro was a political project,” Ambassador Kirn said. “What we are facing today is that economic realities are moving faster than the political one. When we created the euro, we stopped halfway. I used to say we had baked only half of the cake. Now we have to do the other half. The problem is that we have to do it under the circumstances of the world crisis, which has challenged the euro to the extent that these political differences came to the forefront.”
Slovenia is an enthusiastic participant in the E.U. and a strong proponent of further integration. Ambassador Kirn says that “secur[ing] a safe and prosperous Western Balkans” is a priority for his government, and expanding the European Union is a key to that security and prosperity.
“The area of security and progress is expanding,” he said. “We’re very happy for our neighbor in Croatia to join and we are certain that this process will continue in the future to embrace other countries of the former Yugoslavia.”
Is Slovenia willing to sacrifice some sovereignty for the sake of a more unified Europe? Yes, says Ambassador Kirn.
“We have to give up some of our national sovereignty if we want a fiscal union. We have to make a further step, but this does not mean that we will give up all of our sovereignty, but a part–in the financial sector. And this something that is ripe—or close to being ripe—for a decision to be taken on the level of all 27 EU member states.”
A Success Story
Slovenia has been a sovereign nation for only 22 years. In 1991, it became the first of the former Yugoslav republics to gain independence, following a four-year struggle and a Ten Day War that produced relatively little bloodshed. The European Union, the United States and other nations quickly recognized Slovenia’s independence, and the country immediately sought to integrate itself with Europe and take an active role in world affairs.
The country faced formidable challenges in breaking from Yugoslavia and charting its own course, and “the way we solved these challenges defines us as a success story,” says Ambassador Kirn.
“Just a few years after our independence, we were sitting in the Security Council as a non-permanent member at the UN, which was a striking achievement,” he said. “And only 16 years after our independence,…we were able to be in the presidency of the European Union. That is a huge achievement, which was preceded by other events,” such as membership in NATO and inclusion in the Schengen Area and the Euro Zone. Slovenia held the presidency of the European Union in 2008.
The Overlooked Europe
Ambassador Kirn is about to depart the U.S. after four years of service. He describes U.S.-Slovenian relations as excellent, and says his main objective was to bring Slovenia closer to the U.S.
“As National Geographic said when it visited Slovenia, ‘Slovenia is an ultimate example of overlooked Europe.’ I couldn’t agree more.”
But since Westinghouse built a nuclear power plant in Slovenia 30 years ago, the country has seen no major U.S. investment. Ambassador Kirn sees this as a missed opportunity for both countries.
Slovenia offers a highly skilled and educated workforce, low operating costs and a diversified economy—all fully within the European Union.
“Whoever goes to Slovenia…praises Slovenia for its beauty, its diversity and its safety,” says Ambassador Kirn.
Chuck Conconi: Welcome to Focus Washington. My guest today is Slovenian Ambassador to the United States since 2009 and is also Ambassador to Mexico. Ambassador Kirn, thank you for being here.
Ambassador Kirn: I appreciate it.
Conconi: Your nation achieved independence, I guess, only 22 years ago. What are the challenges you have faced during this period?
Ambassador Kirn: Well, we still say that Slovenia is a success story. Since we have gained our independence, 22 years of being apart from former Yugoslavia, you can imagine that at time there were numbers of challenges. The ways that we have solved these challenges define us as a success story–being that in the context of the Western Balkins or in the context of Central and Eastern Europe. Just a few years after our independence, we were sitting in the Security Council as a non-permanent member at the UN, which was a striking achievement—and only 16 years after our independence, which in fact, was a great event in our history—we were able to be in the presidency of the European Union. That is a huge—historically speaking, a huge—achievement that, of course, was preceded also with other events; membership in the EU, membership in NATO, we have assumed also Schengen Zone—that means that we have free travel within the European Union—and we have assumed the euro as our currency in 2007. So, the highlight of that was 2008, when we were in the presidency of the EU. That is a span of a long, fabulous achievement…
Conconi: …After a really complicated time in history.
Ambassador Kirn: It was complicated. It was very challenging. It was not easy. Nowadays it looks easy, but we used to say that the Western Balkans is not on the safe side yet and that’s what the new foreign policy is very much engaged in: a secure, safe and prosperous Western Balkans.
Conconi: You still feel like a buffer zone with the rest of Europe?
Ambassador Kirn: No it’s not a buffer zone. We are happy that [in the] next months—in a few days in fact—Croatia will join [the] European Union. So you see, the area of security and progress is expanding. We’re very happy for our neighbor in Croatia to join, and we are certain that this process will continue in the future to embrace also other countries of former Yugoslavia.
Conconi: Being one of the first to join the European Union, are you concerned on how the present euro crisis will affect your country?
Ambassador Kirn: You must be aware of one fact: The establishment of the euro was a political project. Now what we are facing today is that economic realities are moving faster than political one. When we created the euro, we stopped halfway. I used to say we had baked only half of the cake. Now we have to do the other half. The problem is that we have to do it now under the circumstances of the world crisis, which has challenged the euro to the extent that these political differences came to the forefront. The level of integration that we have achieved is not sufficient to sustain the pressure on Europe. So now in [the] European Union there are great in-depth debates [on] how to secure this further progress. It’s not easy because at this stage, EU member states have to decide to give away more of that national sovereignty than they would be willing and able to do.
Conconi: Well, but that is… that is of course an interesting…is… how will you balance having national sovereignty with a single currency? You sound like you have confidence in it.
Ambassador Kirn: I…I have confidence mostly. My government has confidence because we believe in [the] EU project. That’s the best thing that has ever happened to Europe. Now, of course, Slovenia is in a position that is forcefully in favor of strengthening further [the] European Union, and we are ready to give away some of our—some of our—national sovereignty. We have been doing that far into history. Now, the European Union is of a different type of integration that ensures the identity of its member states, ensures its security and prosperity. Yes, you are right; we have to give up some of our national sovereignty if we want a fiscal union. We have to make a further step, but this does not mean that we will give up all of our sovereignty, but a part–in [the] financial secto, yes. And this is something that is ripe, or close to being ripe, for [the] decision to be taken on the level of all 27 EU member states.
Conconi: One quick last question because we’re running out of time. How…what do you think Americans should know about Slovenia?
Ambassador Kirn: We have a great record of also, bilateral relations. We have excellent relations. Our main problem is lack of visibility identity. As National Geographic said when it visited Slovenia, “Slovenia is an ultimate example of overlooked Europe.” I couldn’t agree more. That’s our problem, that’s why my mission here in four years was how to bring Slovenia closer to [the] U.S. We need a “big bang” story with America. Our relations are good, but since we had Westinghouse, a nuclear power plant, over 30 years ago, we haven’t got any big U.S. investment that would attract attention of business community and also ordinary people to come to Slovenia, because whoever goes to Slovenia, I have all praising Slovenia for its beauty, for its diversity [and] for its safety. You know, [the] U.S. Ambassador is [the] only one in the world, I heard, who has no security. He just moves freely and walks freely, and that’s a great asset, you know, to go to the country where you can enjoy its natural beauties but having no fear for its own security.
Conconi: Ambassador Roman Kirn, thank you so much for spending time with us here today. I’m Chuck Conconi, and this has been Focus Washington.