No, there has not been a coup in No. 10 – Gordon Brown is still the tenant - but he is only in charge of our provincial government. The titular head of our supreme government is now Janez Janša, prime minister of Slovenia (seen below with Hans-Gert Pöttering last month), the man who will chair the European Council and whose ministers and officials will guide the EU's business for the first half of the year, until France takes over.
To celebrate Slovenia's elevation, its government – as is the custom – has commissioned a presidency logo (above) which, it proudly tells us, "resembles an oak leaf, which reflects the solid, persistent, dependable character of Slovenes, a people who are cool under pressure and thoughtful in their decisions." The oak wood, we are informed, "represents high quality, as for example when used in wine barrels" and, on the other hand, "the logo is a combination of five classical elements – Fire, Earth, Air, Water and Ether."
Fire, so the blurb tells us, "is represented by the yellow shooting star in the middle that recalls the stars in the flag of the European Union. It represents the dynamism and energy of a young, modern country looking to the future and eager to face challenges. The fact that the star is 'in the arms' of Mt Triglav (the mountain outline at the top – the real thing is pictured below left) means that the EU is in safe hands under Slovenian leadership.
That the logo looks more like a headless (and armless), extremely jaundiced dead frog surrounded by squiggles, perhaps reflects our own jaundice, but there you go. One man's symbolism is another man's squiggle. Overall, says the Slovenian government, the logo conveys openness, movement, ambition and a sense of natural harmony – so it is not a dead frog after all.
Anyhow, this year – in case you didn't know - is also the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue. Prime Minister Janez Janša warmly invites you to take part in events throughout Europe, to acknowledge Europe's cultural wealth, to listen to the message and to reflect on it. "If 2007 went down in history as the year of consensus," he says, "2008 should be remembered as the year of new impetus, new energy and synergy – si.nergy for Europe!"
If this is what "Europe" does to the brains of otherwise sensible (we assume) politicians, then the sooner the European Union is wrapped up for good the better – if for no other reason than to restore the mental health of its leaders.
However, in his debilitated mental state, Mr Janša heads the first former communist country to take charge of the EU, and his primary aim, according to The Times and others is the ending the "Yugoslav crisis" that led to its creation 16 years ago. This is the vexed question of the Kosovan declaration of independence and its putative application to join the EU. It will also have to deal with applications from Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina – and progress the tortured talks with Turkey over its membership.
The Times tells us that this country of two million people admits that it lacks the experience and personnel of bigger EU countries. It thus has been receiving advice and diplomatic support from France, the next in line for the presidency, leading to accusations that Sarkozy will control Europe's agenda for a full year. Others might ask, "what's new about that?"
Under Sarkozy's guidance, Slovenia will also be encouraging the other member states to ratify the EU
Conscious of the huge burden this imposes on such a small nation, Slovenia's bishops have sought divine intervention. They have composed a prayer for the presidency, asking the Virgin Mary to "inspire our politicians ... to make wise and honest decisions and care for the good of all."
There is a first time for everything, I suppose.