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What’s the entire buzz about EP’s Slovenian beekeeper?

Submitted by on 07 Jan 2019 – 12:02

Alojz Peterle has been one of the rising stars of the European People’s Party, representing Slovenia, serving as the president of the European Parliament’s all-party MEPs Against Cancer group. Government Gazette caught up with EP’s Slovenian beekeeper who demands stronger political will and the implementation of a concept of health in all policies.

Peterle shared with us some of his experiences in 2018 and his expectations for the New Year. His highest point this year — as expected — was the World Bee Day, when the Commission inched a step closer to Juncker’s pledge to save the bees.

What did you learn in 2018?

One of the big topics this year has been Artificial Intelligence (AI). Throughout discussions I’ve partaken in, it has become increasingly apparent to me that we must establish a unified approach to advances in the field, speaking in terms that incorporate both science and ethics. AI is presenting us with new horizons across society, especially in the field of health. Applications utilising AI are able to analyse data that help us understand prevention, treatment, and patient outcomes in new ways. Such progress is fascinating and exciting, but as our systems become more advanced, autonomous and human-like, we need to address complex questions regarding the definition and protection of personhood.

For example, I have heard some strange proposals that would give legal personality to robots. Additionally, there are questions regarding responsibility for AI technology, such as self-driving cars, if it malfunctions and causes harm. As this field progresses and becomes more integral to our daily lives, there will be challenging questions ahead.

Your high point of 2018?

The high point of this year was World Bee Day, which was celebrated for the first time on May 20th. This was a result of the hard work of the Slovenian Beekeeper’s Association and the Slovenian government to ask the UN to set aside a special day to acknowledge the important role that bees and other pollinators play in sustaining our ecosystem. This particular date was chosen because it is the birthday of Anton Janša, the pioneer of beekeeping and a Slovenian.

To see such global support for the protection and promotion of bees was a great encouragement as it showed international awareness regarding the importance of global cooperation on the issue is growing. As a beekeeper, I know that even the smallest bee can have a big sting on our society if its role as a pollinator is threatened.

Your low point of 2018?

This year, I had to say goodbye to a few dear friends because of cancer. As a cancer survivor, cancer is personal and also central to my work at the national and European levels. Chairing the Members Against Cancer group in the European Parliament has given me many opportunities to become aware of new technology and methods of treatment directly from global experts.

Yet, in spite of the advances we continue to make, we are not successfully addressing the disease in terms of prevention, treatment or cross-border cooperation. One in three European citizens will develop a form of cancer in their lives and on e-fourth of all deaths in the EU are due to cancer, two statistics which should drive us to act.

We have seen how pooling resources within the EU has been a great benefit to our societies and economies, we should now work to keep health understood as a resource as we continue working to eradicate cancer. More Europe will not be possible with more cancer.

Three words you would use to sum up the EU.

Peace, freedom and community.

What are your hopes and expectations for 2019?

I hope for a strong, pro-European majority in the European Parliament after the elections in May.

There is no other option than for the European project to continue and grow stronger. In the past year, we saw shifts in public opinion towards the ends of the political spectrum.

Our politics are becoming increasingly polarised and divided, and our capacity for constructive dialogue has been destroyed. In view of this, debates on the future of Europe are needed now more than ever to determine the common future we will share together.

If we want to decide on our tomorrow, we must begin by remembering our past.

I would like this process to continue gaining attention in 2019 and for the EU to rediscover its sense of a common good. More importantly, we must remember what this really means. It is what defines Europe and should be central to all we do.

Regarding the Western Balkans, I’d like to see the EU deliver on its promises for the regions and bring these countries closer to their European futures. Saying that we support the European perspective is not enough; we need to follow through with concrete initiatives. We have some unique opportunities now, including completing the visa-free travel for the citizens of Kosovo and to include the Western Balkans countries into the free mobile roaming zone of the EU.

These are two small gestures that will greatly benefit the citizens of these countries, demonstrating our commitment to the development of the region.

Additionally, I would like to see health higher on the political agenda of all European institutions. Health, especially with regard to prevention, should be understood as an economic category, as preventing an illness is a far lesser burden than treating it.