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Interview for News behind the News

New Delhi, 8.2.2010  |  interview

Face to Face Interview with H. E. Dr. Danilo Türk, President of the Republic of Slovenia

Journalists: B.I. Saini and Harjit Singh

The President of the Republic of Slovenia, Dr. Danilo Türk, has called for concrete steps to enhance trade and investment between India and Slovenia. The Slovenian President, who came to New Delhi to attend a Conference on Sustainable Development, also called on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and discussed the steps the two countries should take to increase economic cooperation. In an interview with Asia News Agency, Dr. Türk said that he proposes to send a high-level business delegation to New Delhi led by his Prime Minister later this year to discuss the issue and identify specific areas where they can enhance cooperation. Dr. Türk said areas such as chemical industry, pharmaceuticals and hydropower plants are promising areas of cooperation. He said that Slovenia had been a traditional supplier of turbines for India’s hydropower plants when it was part of Yugoslavia.

Strongly favouring reforms in the United Nations and its sister institutions, the Slovenian leader supported India’s demand for a permanent seat in an expanded Security Council, but not necessarily with veto power.

The Slovenian President had a word of praise for the Indian economy – growing at a rate next only to China, leaving the West far behind. He disclosed how everyone was talking about India’s success story when he was in Davos recently to attend the international economic summit. He, however, said the West was not afraid of India’s growing economy; rather it viewed it as an opportunity for partnership. In this context, he called for early conclusion of a Free Trade Agreement between the EU and India so that the benefits of economic growth are mutually harnessed.

While talking about India’s success story as an emerging economic power, he had a word of advice. He said the policies should be drawn up in a way that the vast numbers of poor people who have remained untouched by the economic growth also benefit.

The Slovenian President ruled out the possibility of recurrence of the Cold War, which ended after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. He said the US and the West viewed Russia as a partner in maintaining international peace. He gave an example of how without the cooperation of Russia and countries of the region such as India, China and Turkey, it would not be possible to deal with the threat to international peace and terrorism emanating from Afghanistan.

The Slovenian President recognized the role played by India in lobbying on behalf of the developing countries at Copenhagen and floating a ginger group called BASIC to extract an honourable deal in terms of transfer of technology and financing to switch over to green technologies in the new international framework on climate change that would succeed the Kyoto Agreement.

The Slovenian leader recognized that India has a successful and ambitious programme of peaceful uses of nuclear energy and said the way India is combining its nuclear energy with solar energy and hydropower to meet its growing energy needs can become a role model for other countries.

India has completed 60 years as a Republic and we are looking at some of the challenges, one of which is lack of involvement of the growing middle class in the governance of the county. Excellency, what are the challenges being faced in your country?

I think, in Europe in general and in Slovenia in particular, we understand the greatness of India’s decision to introduce democracy immediately after independence. That in itself was a great historic decision – one of the greatest historic decisions of the 20th century. And since then, India has been a very important testing ground for all problems of democracy. Democracy is a process, which is constantly evolving; there are new issues arising in every period. To come directly to the question of challenges today, I would say the kind of challenges you mentioned are not unique to India because as people become consumers, they become busier with the economic issues and their role as citizens becomes somewhat weaker. They tend to look at the world and politics through the lens of consumers and that is sometimes expressed in less commitment to the political process, less interest, less involvement, less participation in elections and so forth. But, this does not mean that these people are, as a result, less critical.

I think the world today, Europe included, has to be very serious about this problem, about this distraction of middle class voters, and the matter has to be given very serious attention. What needs to be done depends on the specific problems of a country concerned. The parties have to offer answers to the questions this part of the electorate is posing. I, of course, do not know the situation in India so as to make any suggestion, but the only thing I can say is that in Europe, we also see similar problems and our effort is to offer solutions to the issues to motivate middle class voters.

While the world has been changing quite a lot since the Second World War, the United Nations has not kept pace with that. Excellency, what are your views on reforming the United Nations and its sister organisations?

I am very much in favour of reforms but, as we all know, first of all, reforming international institutions is exceedingly difficult as they are defined by international treaties. The Governments who have to decide on reforms are normally very cautious about reforms. They usually agree to reform only in the case of real and acute need. Such a need is unfortunately not felt when it comes to the United Nations. So, the UN is really lagging behind as far as reforms are concerned. I would like to give one example, probably the more dramatic one, of the UN Security Council. I have been among those who have advocated since Slovenia’s independence that we as a new country in Europe are in favour of reforming the UN Security Council so as to better reflect realities of the world today. And that includes new permanent members, including India as a new permanent member. I think that we should have a serious discussion about new permanent members and to the question whether they should or should not have right to veto. I think veto is not essential. For permanent membership, the more important element is permanence because the key issue is to empower the countries that can really make a difference in security issues. The reform is long overdue, and there are many other reforms in the UN, which are also needed.

India has been a victim of terrorism for quite sometime now and your country has also come through a lot of fire before its independence. Excellency, what are your views on that?

Fortunately, Slovenia did not suffer any terrorist attacks and we are very lucky and fortunate. We do understand, however, that terrorism is a global phenomenon nowadays. Terrorist attacks can happen in any part of the world. However, we also understand there are countries on the first frontline of these attacks. India is such a country. I think this is very well understood. The question is what kind of strategy the international community has. I think the exchange of information and cooperation among security agencies of Governments is essential and needs to be global. There are also good reasons for regional cooperation. Slovenia is involved with the European Union, as a member of the European Union in EU networks. We also participate in the United Nations. But, all this seems to be insufficient. I would favour a global convention on fighting terrorism – a comprehensive convention in addition to specific conventions that have already been concluded. The new convention should cover different aspects such as combating terrorist activities and also terrorist financing. So, I think that in addition to the legislation that we have at the international level, we also need to have a comprehensive convention.

India and Slovenia have been friends in the international sphere. But, trade between the two countries is not much to write home about. Excellency, you think some steps should be taken by both to increase trade?

Absolutely. During my visit to New Delhi, I met with the Prime Minister and we discussed what steps to take. I hope for another visit from Slovenia to India before the end of this year. That visit would be led by our Prime Minister accompanied by a business delegation to strengthen ties in various areas. We already have certain areas, which are well developed, for example cooperation in chemical industries and pharmaceuticals. We have developed cooperation quite well. We have very promising cooperation in the area of construction of turbines for hydroelectric plants. India and Slovenia have a lot of expertise and in fact as part of Yugoslavia, Slovenia had been supplying hydroelectric plants and turbines to India in the past. So, there are areas of cooperation, which need to be restored and reignited, if you could put it this way. And then, we also need to look at other new fields of cooperation. There is International Institute of Public Enterprises, which is based in Ljubljana and where India is an active and leading member and we can provide space and access and a platform for high level discussions on issues dealing with the European Union. I would like to mention that Slovenia is a Member of the European Union and much of our economic cooperation is linked to that. We are favouring an early conclusion of a Free Trade Agreement between the European Union and India. India is a very large economy and the European Union is also a large economy. I think the Free Trade Agreement will allow for cooperation in such areas as investment in addition to trade and services and possibly intellectual property, which would help a lot in strengthening economic cooperation between the European Union as a whole and India. I think all that would benefit the development process in India.

Excellency, with Russia overcoming some of its teething problems, do you think there is danger of a new Cold War emerging again?

I believe that danger does not exist. I think those in the European Union and Russia, we all understand the need for partnership. Between the United States and Russia, we have seen rather positive developments in the last year. I think reset button is on and unlike in computers, relations among major powers resetting may take longer than resetting a computer at home. But, at this time of resetting those relations, I remain optimistic about this relationship. And, I think the key to future relationship is partnership. We have to promote partnership and it does not take much in imagination to come to very practical conclusions: Think about Afghanistan, how the situation in Afghanistan can ever become normal without partnership. Partnership means involving a number of countries including Russia, including the United States, including India, for example, China, Iran, and Turkey. We, in this area of history, have very good and strong partnerships. In all the countries I have listed. I don’t see any benefit from non-partnership. I think the task for the international community and diplomats is to have a lot of imagination and courage to design proper mechanisms, which would allow partnership to be practical.

In the South Asian context, India is the biggest country, it is a regional power, an emerging economic power; it is growing at the fastest rate next only to China. Indians are making big name. An Indian musician has won two Grammy awards; an Indian has won a Nobel Prize. There are a lot of Indians in the Obama Administration. Even President Obama is afraid and telling his people, please do go for Maths and Science, otherwise India and China would overtake you and last week he warned companies of tax cuts if they take American jobs outside to countries like India. In that background, Excellency, what opinion do you have about India as an emerging economic power?

I was in Davos last week and everybody was talking about India in extremely positive terms. I think a good thing that has happened is the fear, which is less nowadays, and the countries in the West are seeing India as an opportunity as a partner. Of course, it is not difficult to come to that conclusion because the West has a rather low growth rate right now whereas India has retained a high growth rate and this calls for partnership. To come back to the Free Trade Agreement, I think that is one of the important mechanisms for the European Union. But, I would like to add another point which, I think, has to become more central in this discussion: and that is the recognition that the first task for India is to look at removing poverty. India is a huge economy, its future is successful, and it is very good in information technology high-tech and so on. But, India still has the enormous task of poverty eradication and that should legitimately be accepted as priority number one. So, when we talk, for example, of partnership with India in such areas as combating climate change, we have to understand that combating climate change has a cost and that cost in India is measured against the primary task of lifting people out of poverty. So, all the solutions have to be designed keeping that in mind, and this framework for combating climate change has to be seen as something that would also benefit development of India. Of course, new technologies and new energy resources are there, but at the same time, not at the cost that would diminish the task of India continuing to bring its people out of poverty. Of course, this is difficult to calculate and to balance against other needs that exist, but a clearer recognition of that priority is critical for success in the area of climate change. I think this basic principle applies to other areas of partnership as well.

Your Excellency has come to India to attend a Conference on Sustainable Development. In that context, India is playing a very important role. It formed, what could be termed a caucus called BASIC of four countries to fight for a better deal for the developing countries. And in Copenhagen, BASIC became so important that President Obama chose to storm into a hotel room where BASIC leaders were holding a meeting, to seek their cooperation. So, in that context, India is mobilizing developing countries. What is your opinion on the current debate on climate change, particularly enhancing financial flows and technology access to the developing countries because that is the main area of dispute?

First of all, Copenhagen was an accomplishment in a certain sense and it produced a basic accord, which continues to be valid. Of course, it was much less than expected but it produced a result with which we have to work. That is point No. 1. Point Number 2, as you said, it became very clear that the negotiations can succeed only if the legitimate needs of the countries that you mentioned are fully taken into account. And that should be one of the guiding lessons and is also one of the reasons that I came to New Delhi because I presume the current Conference is very well-timed. It is the beginning of the year, which would produce further significant, if possible, decisive progress. Now, what that progress would exactly be, it is very difficult to say, but it is important that the kick-off happens now and that it happens in New Delhi. That, I think, is very significant.

You asked specific questions about technology and development, and of course, finance. That part was addressed in Copenhagen as well, there is to be the financing facility for developing countries in the areas such as mitigation of consequences of climate change and we have discussed it further. But, I think, we need a much more comprehensive approach, which, I hope, would be developed this year, which would include also business – the business sector – so as to allow a very precise identification of what development needs are and what development costs of technology are, because businesses in the developed world need to know what the price of carbon market may be for their plans. In the developing world, it would be necessary to figure out which technologies are the most appropriate from development point of view. And, of course, the second aspect is to see what needs to be financed internationally. And here we have to be very careful because it would be wrong if an impression is created that the new forms of financing are actually decreasing the official development assistance, something like taking money from the official development assistance and putting it into another pocket. We have to avoid that. And to achieve that, we need negotiations. What exactly will be the structure of the agenda that is something, which needs to be defined early.

I would also like to say, in addition to everything I have discussed, there is the question of peaceful uses of nuclear energy. I think it would be necessary to understand the growing need for nuclear energy, for peaceful uses of nuclear energy. I think India can be very helpful in that regard as well. India has had a very successful nuclear programme for a long time and I think the way India will combine nuclear energy with solar energy, hydropower and other renewable energies will be useful for the rest of the world. I think the Indian model in that regard has to be developed and made known to the world. That, I think, will be significant. I am saying this not only in the context of energy needs but also confidence-building because we have in the area of nuclear energy too much tension arising from lack of confidence. I would not suggest any names of states, but that is a problem and if we have more inputs in terms of peaceful uses and more examples of successful peaceful uses, international inspections and all that, that I think helps in the global design of energy policies.
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