As the only member of the former Yugoslavia in the EU so far, it is no surprise that a top priority of Slovenia's presidential agenda will be the countries in the Western Balkans and their progress towards membership of the club. Not only does Slovenia share cultural and historical ties with the countries in the region, but they are also an important destination for Slovenian exports and investment. Ensuring their peace, stability and economic prosperity is therefore a priority for Ljubljana. Slovenia - the EU member state, which knows how difficult it is to move from Yugoslavia's past to the future - wants to act as a 'facilitator' between Brussels and the Western Balkan countries, Slovenia's Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel told Europolitics (see interview on p .).

Thessaloniki 'plus'

The Thessaloniki agenda - a policy framework for Western Balkans-EU cooperation adopted in 2003 clearly stating that the future of the region lies within the Union - is a buzzword of Slovenia's six-month plan for the region. Ljubljana says that it wants to "revive" it in order to generate more enthusiasm within the EU towards Balkan countries' membership. While the EU is officially committed to admitting them once they have met the necessary membership criteria, enthusiasm for this objective is flagging. It is becoming less and less of a priority for the current members already suffering from 'enlargement fatigue'.

The revival of the Thessaloniki agenda is also meant to stimulate the countries in the region still facing many political and economic problems. Slovenia's Presidency comes at an important juncture for their European integration momentum. Countries such as Serbia and Bosnia which, due to prolonged internal political problems, are lagging behind, are seeking new, tangible motivation for the necessary, but often politically difficult reforms.

Time for bold decisions

Slovenia wants to voice such a message at the informal meeting of EU foreign ministers (Gymnich) scheduled for 28-29 March in Brdo. This will bring together Union representatives and their Balkan counterparts. Discussion will focus on the progress achieved in recent years and ways to move beyond the current Thessaloniki agenda. Before then, the Commission is due to publish in early 2008 a communication indicating measures to be taken to "promote the course of the countries of the Western Balkans towards the EU". The paper will be discussed at the Gymnich meeting.

The ministers are also...

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