Dear President Tonin, dear Matej,
Dear members of Nova Slovenija,
I am really happy to be here in person, so that we can celebrate together the 20thanniversary of your party.
I am also happy because I promised you, Matej, a few months ago, that I would come here to Ljubljana, and I like to keep my word. But what makes me even happier is that the situation finally allows people to travel and meet in real life, despite the virus being still with us. And I am a very traditional person when it comes to my contacts with people, no virtual reality can ever replace real-life situations. But for sure this is still not the time to let our guard down, so thank you dear Matej for the excellent work you have done to ensure that this event is taking place in the safest way possible.
What started as a health crisis quickly took on social, economic and political dimensions. And while we are waiting for a vaccine against COVID-19 to be developed, it is only hard work and determination on our part that will provide our citizens with the solutions they need to mitigate the negative consequences of the pandemic.
The recovery package “Next Generation EU” adopted in July is a first, crucial step in this direction. It is an unprecedented tool, both in terms of size and scope. And obviously it was not an easy deal to close. I know from my experience how difficult it is to reconcile the irreconcilable positions, and to reach a compromise that is acceptable to all and effective at the same time. But in the end, Europe chose unity and solidarity over individualistic interests, and achieved what seemed impossible at first sight.
We now have solid ground on which to rebuild our economies and healthcare systems.
But the work is only just beginning.
It is now up to Member States to come up with credible recovery and resilience plans in order to make good use of the enormous amount of money mobilised. As the EPP never ceases to say, every single euro spent must improve the situation of every single European, leaving no one behind.
Fortunately for the Slovenians, the huge task of the recovery program will rest on your shoulders and on the centre-right government you belong to.
You would most probably have preferred to return to power in different circumstances. And it must have taken a lot of courage to take on this responsibility in the middle of a pandemic of such great proportions. But then who else could manage such a crisis better than you? I am sure the Slovenian citizens feel reassured and safe with you at the helm of their country.
And rightly so. Because you represent what I advocated during the Zagreb congress: responsible popularism, as opposed to irresponsible populism. Instead of empty promises, you offer concrete solutions. Instead of slogans, you offer results.
And with a young, energetic and a convinced European leader like Matej Tonin, with a dynamic team and solid ideas, you are truly the best that Slovenia could hope for in those troubled times.
Especially as there is still much to be done.
But I am fully confident that you are up to the challenge. And it is not blind confidence. After only five months in power, you already have a solid track record to present. Minister Janez Cigler Kralj has put in place social policy measures which benefited 1,2 million Slovenes and eased the burden the pandemic has left behind. Minister Jernej Vrtovec is modernising the road and railway network, helping to reduce air pollution and improve connectivity. And with you, Matej, Slovenian soldiers have a minister who listens to them and recognises their role in protecting their country. If it wasn’t for their courage, the declaration of independence of 1991 would have remained just that, a declaration.
Slovenia, my friends, needs a strong Christian Democratic party no less now than it did 30 years ago, when Lojze Peterle became its first Prime minister. Your country needs responsible politicians, committed to an open and developing society, promoting human dignity, freedom, justice, solidarity and responsibility. It needs a party that chooses reason over instinct, dialogue over confrontation, bridges over walls. To put it simply – it needs you.
And Europe needs you, too. Soon Slovenia will be chairing its second Presidency of the Council of the EU. And I am absolutely convinced that you will bring honour to your region and show that, in Europe, there is no big or small, old or new, East or West. There is only bad or good. And we all know which side you are on.
Of course, COVID-19 appeared as an uninvited guest to ruin your plans, and it will without a doubt continue to steal the show during your presidency. Enhancing the EU resilience to a future pandemic, while dealing with the economic and social consequences of the current one, will surely require all your energy.
The coronavirus crisis, however, has not made all the other issues simply go away. On the contrary, it has made it even more urgent and compelling to build a stronger, more sustainable, competitive and a more closely connected Europe. Green transition, digital transformation and inclusive growth, are the path to follow, more than ever. And, more than ever, we need to strengthen the global role of the EU, in order to shape our world and our future, to anticipate events rather than to fall behind them.
On top of that, you also set yourself the goal of an ambitious policy towards the eastern and southern neighbourhood. As a South-Eastern European country, you are well placed to understand the strategic importance of both regions. Because a safer and a more stable neighbourhood means a safer and more stable Europe.
In order to lead a successful EU presidency, Prime minister Janša will need the help and support of each and everyone involved. It is about teamwork, not a solo performance.
And Nova Slovenija has all the skills, knowledge and experience necessary to contribute to this joint effort.
With your current President, Matej Tonin, an active member of our ministerial meetings, where he works closely with his fellow EPP defence ministers from all over Europe.
With your previous President, Ljudmila Novak, who now plays an important role in the European Parliament as a member of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, which has never been as topical as it is now.
And with your spiritual father, Lojze Peterle, who – with his experience as EPP Vice-President, MEP and member of the steering committee of the Convention on the Future of Europe (the only one from Central and Eastern Europe) – knows the EU most probably better than anyone else in Slovenia.
As I said this morning in Slovenian with a Polish accent probably:
Skupaj moramo tudi skrbeti za enotnost Evropske Unije, ko pride do zelo resnih mednarodnih izzivov. Kot večkrat pravi Matej Tonin: “Vsi smo dugačni, toda ni potrebe, da smo razdeljeni”. Slovenija, in osebno Matej kot vodja koalicijske stranke, podpredsednik vlade in Minister za obrambo, sta aktivna na področju varnosti v regiji in celotne Evrope. Dogodki v Belorusiji, nenehna agresivna politika Moskve vis-à-vis njenih sosed, predvsem Ukrajine, provokacije Turčije proti Grčiji in Cipru, in vedno slabše ozračje v odnosih med Kitajsko in Zahodom, vse to kaže na to, kako pomembni sta danes evropska solidarnost in zavezanost našim temeljnim vrednotam. Pred Slovenijo, in pred nami vsemi, so časi preizkusov. Vesel sem, da bo krmilo Slovenije in Evrope v rokah takšnih ljudi, kot so moji današnji gostitelji.
What you have to offer is your unwavering commitment to the values and beliefs that have made our political family the engine and steering wheel of European integration. Values and beliefs that have shaped all your thinking and political activity.
Just like you, I also believe in democracy and freedom. I believe in a strong and united Europe. I believe in responsibility and solidarity. I believe that the future is in the hands of those who dare to think ahead. Verjamem v Nova Slovenija!