Slovenia Vows to Remain Part of Core After Europe's Reboot

(Bloomberg) -- Slovenia will do everything it can to remain in the fast lane of the European Union as the world’s largest trading bloc begins discussing further integration, Prime Minister Miro Cerar said.

The debate over deeper integration among the EU’s members is intensifying following the election of French President Emmanuel Macron. That may lead to more concrete proposals after Germany’s elections next month that his ally Chancellor Angela Merkel is expected to win. Issues include how to safeguard the euro zone against a repeat of the Greece-led debt crisis, as well as ways to deal with countries such as Poland and Hungary, which have drawn criticism for backsliding on the bloc’s democratic values.

Slovenia Vows to Remain Part of Core After Europe's Reboot

Cerar, whose country joined the euro area in 2007, said that early proposals for a potential common budget and a single finance minister among countries using the common currency “must be discussed more thoroughly.” Other issues including Brexit, the aftermath of the Greek debt crisis, youth unemployment and further EU expansion must also be addressed, he said in an interview on Wednesday. The debate may push countries resistant to deeper ties to accelerate “toward tighter integration within the EU,” he said.

“A multi-speed Europe is already a reality,” Cerar, 53, said at his office in the Balkan state’s capital Ljubljana. “We need to be in step with the most integrated part of EU, and this is our commitment.” 

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said last week that his country, also a euro-area member, must become part of the most-integrated group of EU states, the first leader among the bloc’s largest ex-communist economies to definitively pick a side in the core-or-periphery divide.

Slovenia Vows to Remain Part of Core After Europe's Reboot

Cerar also delivered a warning to Poland’s government, which has collided with the European Commission over its efforts to reduce judicial independence and and is the subject of the EU’s first-ever probe into whether a member is upholding the bloc’s democratic values. Slovenia, a country of 2.1 million that joined the 28-member trading bloc along with Poland and eight other mostly ex-communist states in 2004, would support punishing countries who flout the EU’s values to bring them back in line, the prime minister said.

“We are seeing some processes in Poland that are endangering the rule of law,” he said. “If somebody would seriously endanger the rule of law in Europe, then Slovenia would support sanctions if they were needed.”

While the U.K. and the rest of the EU are spending most of their time still hammering out the details of the separation following last year’s referendum to leave the trading bloc, Slovenia is among the most fervent advocates of further EU expansion into its own backyard, the Western Balkans. Slovenia was the first former Yugoslav nation to enter the bloc, followed by Croatia in 2013. All the other ex-Yugoslav nations hope to do so in the future.

If western Balkan countries “aren’t gradually accepted, we will lose them in some way and that would be a great hit for Europe’s unity,” Cerar said.