He will be in the driving seat of the EU for the next six month. Dimitrij Rupel, minister for foreign affairs of Slovenia, tells Europolitics about the challenges and priorities his country faces before it takes over the EU Presidency.

Slovenia is the first country among those which joined the EU in 2004 to assume the Presidency of the Union. Is it a special responsibility?

The pressure is there. I can feel it. But certainly it is also an opportunity for Slovenia. We shall become more visible. It is good for Slovenia to be better known. Of course, it is an exercise: our political system has performed well so far but has not been put to such a test. So we have to see how we function under pressure from the EU. However, it is not a Slovenian Presidency, it is a European Presidency. There will be considerable pressure. A number of much more important countries than Slovenia expect us to work in their name. We can not lower standards. We can not afford to perform less well than our predecessors.

When will Slovenia ratify the Lisbon Treaty and how will you prepare its implementation?

First, the story of the treaty goes beyond the Portuguese or Slovenian Presidencies. A lot of work was done by our German friends. Slovenia will not have some specific or technical task to perform. We shall be trying to push the process as far as possible. We shall keep asking our friends throughout Europe to act as quickly as possible. We will set a good example: we plan to ratify in January.

What about establishing the European external service?

The external service will enter into force once the treaty has been ratified. But preparations are already going on. There are already some representatives not only of the Commission but also of the Council who are being appointed. For example, the representative to the African Union in Addis Ababa. It is evolving. We are very enthusiastic about the European diplomatic service because Slovenia has a very small diplomatic corps. We would like to see as much as possible of this new service put in place because then our citizens would enjoy a better service. It is an imminent and very important task that we should push as much as we can.

Turning to economic matters, Slovenia is facing high inflation (over 5%). Has it set a bad example for other countries which are working hard to join the eurozone?

We have inflation because of the rise in the price of food and energy. We have also produced a little bit of inflation ourselves...

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