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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 January 2008, 05:50 GMT
A new act running the EU circus
By Jonny Dymond
BBC News, Ljubljana

For the next six months Slovenia will be the EU's shop window
In the control gallery of Slovenian public television there is something close to controlled panic.

Minutes before a TV special on the EU presidency is due to begin recording, the closing titles are being typed up, the opening music has been mislaid and a guest from the Serbian capital, Belgrade, has failed to turn up.

Slovenia inherits the presidency from Portugal on 1 January.

Waiting patiently in the studio is Jelco Kacin, Slovenian Member of the European Parliament and "rapporteur" for Serbia.

Eventually the guest in Belgrade turns up, the titles are typed in and the music, well, that can be put in later.

Focus on Kosovo

The future of Kosovo is the focus of the programme and will be the focus of Slovenia's presidency.

The breakaway Serbian province, which has been under United Nations administration for the past seven years, is universally expected to declare independence some time in the next couple of months.

Slovenia map

Slovenia's job as holder of the presidency will be to guide and co-ordinate the EU's response.

"We want to make the Western Balkans stable and predictable, maybe even boring," says Mr Kacin.

"That's why we would like to fill the gap between Ljubljana and Thessaloniki [in Greece] with member states."

And Slovenia? Is that boring, I wonder?

"Since we are taking over the presidency in a few weeks I believe that we are boring enough that everybody is recognising Slovenia as a boring, predictable state."

As he says it, he almost comes close to cracking what looks like a smile.

Spotlessly clean

Ljubljana, Slovenia's capital, is, as everyone who has visited says, very beautiful.

Centre of Ljubljana
Slovenia's capital Ljubljana is prosperous and beautiful
The streets are spotlessly clean.

Prosperous Slovenes sip coffees in the charming central square under the shadow of well-preserved churches.

At night fairy lights strung from trees and around buildings make it look as if a Hollywood director has created the perfect Christmas town.

But Ljubljana has also reached the state that Mr Kacin wants for the Balkans: it is very boring.

Every country uses the EU presidency to double as a shop window - a way of advertising itself to the rest of the EU and beyond.

The French are reported to be spending more than 1m euros (750,000) a day on their presidency.

Big opportunity

The smaller the country, the greater the opportunity.

Slovenia's border with Italy
A couple celebrate the scrapping of Slovenia's border controls with Italy

So for tiny Slovenia (it's around half the size of Switzerland) the opportunity is a big one.

One of the exhibitions it is sponsoring in Brussels will be of the work of Joze Plecnik, the architect who transformed Ljubjlana and whom nobody outside Slovenia appears to have heard of.

As he walks along the capital's charming Plecnik-designed riverside, Andrej Hravsky, the President of the Slovenian Architectural Association, enthuses about both Plecnik and all things European.

Slovenia already uses the euro - "which you British do not appear to be keen on" - and has just scrapped borders with other EU members, joining what is known as the Schengen group.

But it will have to beef up the border with another one-time member of the Yugoslav federation, Croatia, which is outside the EU.

"We didn't know where the border with Croatia was," he says.

"But we always knew where the border was with Italy, because that was the border between East and West. Now the border is gone. History is being reversed."

It is not the only historical reversal.

Running the show

Holding the presidency of the EU does not mean Slovenia gets to tell other EU members, or the Commission, what to do. But the presidency does get a chance to guide and co-ordinate the EU's work.

Two years ago, Britain focused its energy on starting membership talks with Turkey. Last year, Germany resolved to complete negotiations on the reform treaty.

Expect nothing quite so ambitious from Slovenia.

Talk to a Brussels-based Slovenian diplomat and there is more than a hint of blind terror at the trials to come.

The talk is not so much of which grand project will be pursued as of how to ensure that nothing goes horribly wrong.

But it is worth pondering: for centuries Slovenia was nothing more than a province of the Austro-Hungarian empire, then a very junior partner in a Serb-dominated kingdom which then became a federation.

Now, with a little help from its friends, it gets to run the whole EU circus.

Dull old Europe still throws up a trick or two.

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