We do not need a declaration, we need a strategy!

The main problem with the Declaration on the Republic of Slovenia’s Foreign Policy is that Slovenia does not need it. This article analyses the background to the draft Declaration, as well as its purpose and significance for the foreign policy implementation process. Moreover, it demonstrates why the draft inadequately defines Slovene foreign policy objectives and consequently does not steer those implementing it towards the realisation of these objectives. This is why a strategy is required, one that will include political guidelines, be the subject of public debate and include experts in the preparation of the draft.

  1. WHY THE DECLARATION (NOW)?

Since 1991, when the then Assembly accepted the Basic Strategy of Slovene Foreign Policy, followed by the Declaration on Foreign Policy adopted by the National Assembly in 1999, a pattern has formed, according to which the document adopted by the National Assembly guides the country’s foreign policy.

The Declaration adopted in 1999 was primarily directed towards achieving membership of Euro-Atlantic organisations and was therefore time-limited. After a decade of membership, it is time for a new document.

In fact, it has been time for a new document for more than a decade. Then why now? This is not the first attempt to write a declaration since 2004. This process has continued at least since 2008, but for the first time the draft Declaration has come quite a distance. To achieve this, certain favourable circumstances had to be in place. Among them are the almost endangered status of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which, due to continuous cuts in the foreign policy budget (which generally remain unnoticed and are not a subject of protests), certain obvious failures and lapses resulting from disregard of the ministry (like the affair with the commissioner) and the aimless wandering of the ministry in foreign policy projects (between candidacies and presidencies), make it difficult to justify budgetary spending in these hard times, as well as the need to show the added value of foreign policy for exiting the crisis (economic diplomacy as the panacea for Slovene foreign policy). Moreover, the roles of individuals should not be neglected. Milan Brglez, the president of the National Assembly, is an expert in the field of international relations and foreign policy.

  1. WHERE DOES THE DECLARATION COME FROM?

The draft Declaration was prepared by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs after a rather lengthy process of internal consultation. It will be adopted by the National Assembly, which means the draft is also subject to public debate. The draft reflects the inclusive nature of its formation; amongst numerous general objectives and priorities can be found elements from most sectors of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The section of the document on objectives and priority fields and regions includes sixteen points. For instance, the last point states: “active participation in selected management areas of globalisation, sustainable development, energy and the consequences of climate change, with an emphasis on the Alpine and Adriatic environment, issues connected with waters and forests, food security and European infrastructure networks”. Even development assistance and European affairs, which were traditionally neglected, have been included in the draft (regarding the first matter, development assistance in sub-Saharan Africa has been increased and the entire second paragraph is dedicated to the second matter, even though it involves foreign policy in its narrowest sense).

The draft does not reflect policy guidelines and expert judgment. Foreign policy is a continuation of domestic policy.

Ideology has a minimum presence in the draft. This might include the geopolitical placement as defined in the draft: “The Republic of Slovenia is a Central European country between Western and South-Eastern Europe. Slovenia is also a Mediterranean and maritime country”. However, the mere fact that the geopolitical placement in the document is a kind of euphemism for identity suggests the avoidance of ideology; it is more concerned with ideological balance (see the section on human rights). The general nature and abundance of objectives also indicate the absence of policy guidelines while the document was being written. Consequently, the draft has a potentially broad appeal and has good prospects of being adopted by the National Assembly. This is one of the main motivations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs but it caused the author of the draft (the minister or the government) to lose the advantage of directing the discussion on the objectives and interests of the Republic of Slovenia in the international community. The absence of policy direction and ambitions for a discussion on the objectives and interests also entails the absence of the need for a structured involvement of experts in the draft formation.

In brief, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs favours the adoption of the Declaration which is in its own interests, and current conditions for its adoption by the National Assembly are favourable.

  1. WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF THE DECLARATION?

To summarise the draft Declaration, its purpose is to define foreign policy objectives, priority fields and regions of foreign policy, and to identify key elements for its implementation. In accordance with the established absence of political direction in the part of the draft referring to objectives and priorities, there are numerous processes (preservation, enhancement, increase, support in various areas of foreign policy) and few objectives: placement at the heart of the EU, comprehensive regulation of succession-related questions and protection of the interests of Slovene minorities. All other objectives are generally set as foreign policy processes.

The Declaration of 1999 “declared” the identity of the Slovenes and their objectives. Identity in international relations was established (upgraded) with principles and values. It set clear foreign policy objectives whose realisation was not a moving target. This draft is different. Instead of objectives and priorities, its involved processes show who the Slovenes are and what they do (two striking examples are the “enhancement of political, economic and cultural ties with Central European countries and of Central European regional connections” and the “enhancement of transatlantic cooperation based on common values ​​and mutual interests, especially with the main transatlantic ally, the United States of America”). The draft thus presents an image of the international identity developed and consolidated over a period of fifteen years since the previous declaration. At the same time, the draft Declaration uses the objectives from all sectors of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to legitimise the further activity of the ministry with new (procedural) emphasis (supporting the economy with instruments of economic diplomacy, dividing transition experience), instead of justifying the activity of all its departments with regard to achieving the set objectives.

Compared to the Declaration of 1999, a new feature is the identification of key elements for the implementation of foreign policy (ensuring budget appropriations, quality diplomacy, professionalism, involvement in international diplomacy through presence abroad). These elements seem obvious, but in light of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ years of political vegetation they are very much needed to raise awareness among those who make the decisions regarding the ministry’s budget.

Thus, the real purpose of the declaration is to put foreign policy back into the domain of public policies and to legitimise the ministry’s activity. In the absence of specific priority objectives, the Declaration remains at the level of processes that (further) allow each leadership of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs a wide freedom of choice regarding how it operates.

  1. WHAT TO EXPECT AFTER THE ADOPTION OF THE DECLARATION?

After the National Assembly’s adoption of the Declaration, the government will probably approve a strategy for its implementation and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs the implementation plan. This will outline a more specific path for the ministry’s activities. It is hard to say how specific this path will be, but it is equally difficult to predict in which direction it will go. The draft is very general and allows numerous possibilities of realisation.

Before the adoption of the strategy, the government is not obliged to hold a public debate or a discussion in the National Assembly. Consequently, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will be the one to determine its tasks, based on the Declaration confirming its previous work. There will be no debate on the objectives and interests behind these tasks. The importance of the Declaration thus lies in legitimising the work of the ministry and in maintaining the status quo, which is actually one of the reasons for writing the Declaration.

  1. IS A DECLARATION ON FOREIGN POLICY NECESSARY?

A declaration that confirms the status quo, avoids discussion of objectives and interests and fails to highlight firm objectives and priorities is a declaration which the Republic of Slovenia (in contrast to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) does not need.

Slovene foreign policy requires a strategy reflecting public debates which discuss in depth and, when necessary, even adapt the international identity of Slovenia, set clear objectives of foreign policy and outline the path for their realisation. All this requires political commitment.

National Assembly delegates have the opportunity to embark on a serious discussion about who Slovenes are, what they want and how they are going to achieve it as a country. This means merging the Declaration and the strategy into one (unified) document to be confirmed by the National Assembly. This gives room for more public debate, but it also means more work and another delay in the adoption of the document. At the same time, this also constitutes an opportunity for serious and thorough discussion on Slovene foreign policy and its objectives, which should result in a legitimate and goal-oriented foreign policy. A policy whose preservation will be worth protesting for.

 

This article is part of the discussions on Meta’s List about the Republic of Slovenia’s Declaration on Foreign Policy:

– Foreign policy in the Internet age (Matic Bitenc)

– The Declaration on Foreign Policy is a declaration on the EU and on human security (Adriana Dvoršak)

– Foreign policy that serves its own purpose (Marko Bucik)

– Three reasons why I cannot accept the Declaration on Foreign Policy (Marko Lovec)

 

Title photo: stokpic via Pixabay.

 

Translated by: Sarah Humar.

 

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