Slovenia and the European Union
Summary and Keywords
Despite having fought for their bare survival against hostile foreigners, after finally reaching their independence and international recognition in 1991/92, paradoxically, even before fully assuming statehood Slovenians were eager to engage in yet another international integration—the European Union. This historical and societal wager, rather than merely political elites’ driven perspective, dominates as the prevailing reason for pursuing EU membership; thus security assurance to a small geopolitically transit state, economic benefits of a larger common market in conditions of economic globalization, and cultural proximity of Slovenian to European society explain Slovenian general identity-related elements favoring membership in the EU. There is also a more immediate time-space related explanatory factor for this, namely, the collapsing of the socialist Yugoslavia starting by the end 1980s and a view of assuring the democratic political life and market-lead economy via integration with Western European countries rather than South Slavic nations or following other alternative scenarios like full liberalization with all partners’ strategy. Authors critically evaluate where and why during the effort of becoming an EU member state and performing excellently as one during the first four years, the state fell short of capability-building and/or seizing the opportunities of EU membership. As the latter has been most brutally exposed via the effects of the 2008–2014 economic and financial crisis, of key importance for Slovenians currently stands a self-reflection of its development strategy, enhancing competitiveness, and the state’s role within the European family of nations. The main challenge is how to overcome the small state hindrances and more effectively formulate and project national interest to the EU level; with that in mind, the central questions for Slovenians remain assurance of social security to citizens, upgrading economic union to face more effectively global challenges and inter-state solidarity, refreshing enlargement policy for the remaining Western Balkans non-member states and ensuring Slovenian participation in the group of core states leading the European integration.
Keywords: Slovenia, European Union, transition, Europeanization, development strategy, foreign policy, accession process, presidency to the Council of the EU, economic crisis, future membership challenges
The Republic of Slovenia is a 25-years-young and 20,000 km2-sized state, which is a couple of big families short of a population of two million. It is located in Central Europe, whereby the latter is understood as a geographic, historical, and political term. This ever “central” position in Europe’s space and time has determined the nature of Slovenian domestic identity and perception of foreign environment. Due to this fact, historians have labelled Slovenia as “the land between,” a region or space between two different worlds—an extension between Europe and its “periphery”—and exposed the uniqueness of Slovenians’ survival after so many centuries of foreign rule and cultural influence (Luthar, 2013). From vast and highly rich natural resources, such as biodiversity within the spectrum of the Alps-Karst-Pannonian and Mediterranean ecosystems to intangible capabilities, such as multi-civilizational rivalry and influence by Romanic, Germanic, Hungarian, and Balkan Slavic ethnicities and polities1; the country’s internal sources of identity have resulted in the constitutive values of geographic and human plurality in terms of diverse natural environment and multicultural coexistence. Multitudes of different external political flows historically permeating the territory of the Slovenian people, always as a part of larger and more powerful foreign states have, additionally, represented a strong external influence, shaping Slovenian values of peaceful coexistence. Paradoxically, despite having fought for their bare survival against hostile foreigners, after finally reaching their independence and international recognition in 1991/92, Slovenians chose exactly those values to represent the essence of their identity, reflected in their national anthem.2
Thus, the Slovenian core position towards Europe and the world has always been highly externally-driven, turning from cultural and political strife for survival against larger and stronger nations to trade openness, political cooperation, and rediscovering long-term (core) European influence on Slovenian society by and large (Troha et al., 2008) after assuring statehood. From this perspective, one has a bit less trouble understanding how it was possible that Slovenian membership in the EU had been set as a priority foreign policy goal already three months before the acceptance of the Slovenian constitution on June 25, 1991 and the proclamation of the Declaration of Independence of the Republic of Slovenia a day later.3
Slovenian integration into the EU was parallel to several transition processes; economic, political, and administrative. The state and its society were changing their operation from a socialist centrally planned economy to a market economy, from socialism to capitalism, and from communism to democratic political pluralism, from regional to national economic and administrative organization and management, from state/public ownership to private ownership, from predominantly national to international trade. These processes of top-down Europeanization had been taken into consideration via the Copenhagen accession criteria and have been conditioned by advising and monitoring from the European Commission. However, the 1990s additionally represent not only the nation-level transition of the post-communist area but the beginning of an on-going challenge of universal economic, political, and societal globalization. First, the trade-off on the one side between the necessary openness of a small export-oriented economy and top-down globalization (and first of all Europeanization), and on the other side, a multi-national population identity-autonomy prerequisite and risks to state sovereignty. Second, the will and capabilities of Slovenian society and state to upload their interests to the EU level of political processes have thus been the most salient features of Slovenian relation to the European integration project, highly reflected in the work of the research community.
The structure of the chapter is as follows. First, a short historical retrospective into the Slovenian transition from socialist Yugoslavia onto the path of EU integration is presented, which already received much attention from the political science research community and other disciplines during the Yugoslav times. Second, by showing the assessment of the country’s foreign policy alternatives regarding the EU integration with a pre-application cost-benefit analysis of the EU membership, the logic pursued during the accession negotiations is exposed, especially coming to terms with political conditionality of the individual (i.e., neighboring) EU member states. In its core part, the chapter turns to an overview of main debates reflected in academic research with respect to the relative position of Slovenia as an EU member state. The authors demonstrate this review in the form of Europeanization flows and effects, in terms of: 1) national identity (re)construction vis-à-vis Europe, 2) perception of economic modernization by legal harmonization in domains of various public policies, and 3) processes of democratization in the domestic political system and participation in EU political processes. Third, a critical assessment of the capability-building and national projection of interests is provided with a focus on the Slovenian presidency of the Council of the EU in the first half of 2008. The authors show how the latter was taken by researchers as a turning point in understanding the dramatic shift in Slovenian EU membership performance, from being a star pupil during the accession negotiations to nearly avoiding troika intervention in 2013, and even demonstrating elements of de-Europeanization. The chapter closes with the political science reflection on the results of the 10-year Slovenian EU membership and exposes the research community’s identification of current and future challenges of the EU.
From Socialist Yugoslavia to the Ups and Downs of the EU Membership
In the era of enhancing globalization, the question arose whether a strong trend towards economic integration is contradictory to simultaneous trends of political disintegration. Contrary to many beliefs, Svetličič (1993) has been arguing that economic integration and political disintegration are two sides of the same coin. It was therefore not a surprise to see political disintegration of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) and simultaneous formulation of the Slovenian goal to integrate into the EU. This foreign policy decision was already made before the Yugoslav break-up turned out so successfully (one might add even luckily) for Slovenia as a succession state.4 As shown in the introduction, it was a result of an ever-strong international interconnectedness of Slovenia to European political and economic flows and the latter was evident already within the SFRY. Slovenia was the most developed5 and the most Western markets oriented in foreign trade of all the Yugoslav Socialist Republics. Per capita social product was 2.2 times higher than the average for Yugoslavia (Potočnik et al., 1995, pp. 12–15). Its major trade partners were based in the European Community (EC) already in 1980, with 58% of Slovene exports headed towards developed countries, increasing to 68% in 1996.
Socialist Slovenia thus began implementing economic reforms already in 1965 when enterprises gained some autonomy by the abolishment of the Yugoslav federal monopoly over foreign trade of individual republics (Svetličič et al., 1994). Integration with European partners was enhanced also by foreign direct investments (FDI), which had been already initiated in 1967 when a quasi-equity joint ventures law was passed in SFRY.6 Several Slovene firms had also started to invest abroad in the early 1960s. Although this type of internationalization was more a form of system escape of firms’ activities (Svetličič et al., 1994) it still demonstrated a global orientation of Slovenian companies. Furthermore, the Yugoslav constitutional amendments from 1974 gave republics additional powers in their external relations (trade, scientific, cultural, sport, etc.) cooperation except for foreign policy, which Slovenia practiced to a large extent with its Western neighboring states and subnational units. Links to these subjects of international relations, either business or of subnational governance, were used during the process of gaining international recognition via so called para-foreign policy (Bojinović Fenko & Požgan, 2014, p. 57) or pre-state diplomacy (Jazbec 2011, p. 117) but this is not a widely researched issue yet.7
Thus, it was disagreements on Europeanization in terms of social and economic modernization (Wong, 2011, pp. 150–154) that came about to be the major factor in how Slovenians interpreted their independent political future, namely Europeanization in terms of democratization.8 Yugoslavia did hold a special Co-operation Agreement with the EC in 19809 but as the “Europe 1992” program set off intensively in the West after 1989, Yugoslavia started to renovate strategies for its collaboration with(in) the New Europe. Slovenia wanted to start negotiating an Association Agreement with the EC, whereas such a move was still too early for many other republics. The amendment to the last congress of the Yugoslav League of Communists in January 1990 by a Croatian delegate that Yugoslavia should become active within the European integration processes was refused. Since its efforts for democratization and decentralization were not accepted, the Slovene delegation left the congress. In the Federal Parliament of SFRY, Slovenia pushed for the adoption of a special unilateral declaration on approaching the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) in November 1989 which was later endorsed but never implemented because the EFTA did not wish to get bigger (Kajnč Lange, 2011, p. 193). Nevertheless, Yugoslavia filed the application for an Association Agreement with the EC in February 1990 but the EC was not interested in negotiation on that agreement (Repe, 2016, p. 361). In the spring of 1990, the government of Slovenia adopted special directives on how to adjust to “Europe 1992” (a White Book). All new laws were supposed to be verified with respect to acquis communautaire. Additionally, a special Co-ordinating Commission for “Europe 1992” was established to co-ordinate all EU-adjustment activities and a special Minister for European Issues was proposed (Svetličič, 1998, p. 25). Officially, EC membership became the strategic goal of Slovenian foreign policy in March 1991.
Despite the generally acknowledged factors of European orientation of Slovenia, namely political, economic, security, and cultural (Bučar & Brinar, 1994), researchers have, however, exposed a lack of critical evaluation of the European integration project on the side of the Slovenian government and society ever since the beginning of Slovenian efforts to get engaged with European integration.10 A so-called Euro-euphoria phase appeared almost as a replacement for the falling-apart communist ideology for the EC and was uncritically considered as the panacea for all the economic ills of the Slovene economy. Svetličič (1998) and Brinar & Svetličič (1999) for example argued early on that at least some theoretical alternatives to the EU membership do exist. Although they did not argue for non-membership, they did warn that although benefits seem to outweigh membership costs, the latter mainly are not accession-specific but transition-specific. Additionally, they exposed the fact that while transition countries had been following the EU, the latter itself was a moving target (Brinar & Svetličič, 1999). This was more popularly paraphrased by Slovenian economist Jože Mencinger (2004), by questioning about “Where are we actually going,” exposed at one of the “talks at the President of the Republic.”11 This perspective of catching up with the “ever closer union” remains highly relevant even today—this current debate will be examined in the end of the chapter. Another important early reflection on Slovenian EU integration was presented in the context of the trade-offs of a small state between regionalism and universalism as a general foreign policy strategy (Bučar, 1992) or more specifically in terms of foreign economic policy (Svetličič, 1991; Stare, 1993). Finally, the economic development argument proved to be decisive, namely that resisting integration and becoming an “outsider” carried the danger to turn into a less developed country—an extremely high cost, particularly for small countries (Svetličič, 1998).
In order to speed up its integration with Europe, along with the socio-economic and political Europeanization, reorganization of domestic governance and policy-making was also in motion immediately after Slovenian independence. After concluding the Co-operation Agreement with the EEC and filing for the beginning of negotiations of the Accession Agreement in 1993 (see Table 1; Government of Slovenia, 2009), the Slovenian Parliament in April 1996 endorsed Declarations on Relations with the EU, NATO, and neighboring countries. The latter gave normative ground for submission of application for the EU membership in 1996. The application for membership was followed by harsh pre-accession negotiations in which Italy12 and Austria blocked Slovenian accession to the EU via three demands: the “unresolved” position of the Italian minority and German speaking community in Slovenia, real estate ownership status of foreigners, and the safety standards of the Krško Nucelar Power Plant (Bojinović Fenko & Urlić, 2015, pp. 122–125). After four years of tough negotiations and the Slovenian acceptance of the “Spanish compromise” (non-discrimination of foreign property buyers),13 Slovenia signed the Association Agreement on June 10, 1996 which entered into force on July 15, 1997. In the same year, by the recommendation of the European Commission to the Council of Ministers (Agenda 2000), Slovenia became a part of the Luxembourg six group, with which the EU started negotiating membership (Svetličič, 1998, p. 12). Immediately after this, in December 1997 the Government Office for European Affairs was founded, headed by a European Minister without a portfolio to lead the Slovenia-EU negotiations including domestic horizontal inter-ministerial co-ordination (Kajnč Lange, 2011, p. 194).
In December 2002, accession negotiations were concluded and the Treaty of Accession to the EU signed on April 16, 2003. To confirm the government choice, a consultative referendum on EU accession was held on 23 March 2004, which received 89.64% support for EU membership (National Electoral Commission, 2009) and thus the state assumed membership on the first of May 2004. After also fulfilling all the Maastricht criteria, Slovenia became a member of the eurozone on the first of January 2007 as the first 2004-acceded member state. The introduction of the euro was, as a result of long and meticulous preparations, technically very smooth, meaning that Slovenia chose a “big bang” scenario of changeover from tolar to euro. A period of dual currency circulation was very short (from the first to the 14th of January 2007), during which people could still make payments using tolar banknotes and coins as well as the euro (European Commission, 2013).
In Table 1 below, we present a chronology of selected events relevant in the process of the Slovenian accession to the EU, including its membership participation within deeper EU integration structures (Economic and Monetary Union, Schengen Area) and the presidency to the Council of the EU, finishing with the 2013 Slovenian avoidance of troika bailout.
Table 1. Turning Points of the Slovenian EU Accession Process and Membership
5 April 1993
Signature of Co-operation Agreement with the EEC
1 September 1993
Entry into force of the Co-operation Agreement
Pre-accession negotiations end with Spanish compromise
10 June 1996
Signature of the Association Agreement and application for membership
15 July 1997
Entry into force of the Association Agreement
Foundation of the Government Office for European Affairs, headed by European Minister as the head of EU accession negotiation group
Accession strategy adopted by the Government
31 March 1998
Membership negotiations start
Conclusion of accession negotiations
16 April 2003
Signature of the Treaty of Accession to the EU
23 March 2004
Referendum on EU accession
1 May 2004
Entry into force of the EU Accession Agreement
1 January 2007
full participation in the Euro zone
12 December 2007
full participation in Schengen regime
1 January 1–30 June 2008
Presidency of the Council of the EU
Economic and fiscal problems nearly demanding troika intervention
The Slovenian path from Yugoslavia to EU integration, materialization of independence intertwined with strong (and rather uncritical) Europeanization values and expectations was—except for a short independence war after declaring independence—rather smooth. Initial decisions, even within SFRY, of the Slovenian government to integrate into the EC were taken without a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of EU membership, but being supported by favorable public opinion this was not “needed.” Epistemic community did, however, expose a slow development of a healthy measure of Euroskepticism.
Finally, the state assumed EU membership as a star pupil, performing top and fast on deeper integration into eurozone (2007) and Schengen Area (2007). EU accession in 2004 was followed by a four-year period of economic upturn (growth rates of GDP from 4% to over 6%).14 Convergence ended with economic crisis in the end of 2008 when Slovenia slid into financial and economic crisis (-8% negative GDP growth rate in 2009), among the deepest declines in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD; OECD, 2011, p. 18), starting recovery only in 2014 and picking up in 2015 with almost 3% growth rate. To enable this understanding, we turn to the substantive assessment of the cost-benefit analysis of Slovenian EU membership in the following part.
Strategies for Effective EU Membership via Different Views on Europeanization and its Directions
We have summarized a large amount of publications in the field of political science, including international economy and law, relating their foci to the Europeanization process, not necessarily directly via this conceptual tool. Four of the predominant research interests are: (3.1) the cross-loading path of Europeanization as national identity-building, (3.2) the downloading path of Europeanization as national adaptation, economic modernization, and the assessment of national economy performance capabilities, (3.3) Europeanization as political modernization via downloading legal rules and transferring EU policies to a domestic level including uploading national and other domestic actors’ preferences to the EU policy-making process, and (3.4) the Europeanization of Slovenian foreign policy.
Europeanization as National Identity-Building
Slovenian national identity as codified in the constitution reflects a high degree of international interdependence, as shown in the introduction. Thus, in defining itself via the first national foreign policy orientation in March 1991, the state opted for its newly established democratic values, high reference to respect of international law, and good neighborly (mainly) economic relations with former Yugoslav republics. However, the state made a strong shift “away from the Balkans” since the beginning of the Croatian and Bosnian independence wars in 1992 to strengthen not only its new national identity but also the international image of Slovenia as a stable democracy not engaged in the Balkan warfare (Bojinović Fenko, 2005). The state thus started to identify itself as a Western democratic (EU values respecting) society and geopolitically Central European country, even trying to officially collaborate with the Visegrád four states (Bojinović Fenko, 2005, p. 20). This foreign policy change was at the time not highly investigated in the research community, most likely because it felt natural to defend the newly-establishing identity via these measures on the grounds of high public support for independence and EU integration. The perception that geographic proximity and historical experience with the post-Yugoslav space had been endangering the new Slovenian position in the international community generally prevailed (Bojinović Fenko, 2005, p. 20). Leaving out self-identification on the basis of external foreign policy environment, researches have, however, been trying to understand Slovenian national identity as defined “from within” and pursued in international relations. Šabič and Brglez (2002) have investigated the interplay between the perception of smallness and the concept of national identity in the context of Slovenia’s integration into the EU. Based on the analysis of political discourse, the mass media, and public opinion in Slovenia they established that Slovenian identity was not often built on the self-perception of smallness, but rather on the idea of specialization for comparative advantages the state—albeit small—possesses (Šabič & Brglez, 2002).
Despite the fact that the neighborhood-armed conflicts ended in 1995, the Slovenian government had continued to pursue the “away from the Balkans” foreign policy strategy and made the second shift—“back to the Balkans”15—only in 1999 under external pressure by the EU and the USA. They had been conditioning Slovenian Euro-Atlantic integration by the state’s reengagement in the newly-founded international fora for post-conflict reconstruction and the transition of South Eastern Europe (Bojinović Fenko, 2005, pp. 20–22). “Back to the Balkans” in terms of the active foreign policy engagement of Slovenia via mediation between the Western Balkans and the EU, including strong promotion of Western Balkans states’ Euro-Atlantic integration, has, however, received thorough analysis (see Kajnč, 2011; Bojinović Fenko & Požgan, 2014; Bojinović Fenko & Šabič, 2014). After assuming EU membership, Kajnč (2011) investigated Slovenia’s search for a new foreign policy identity via the EU. She established how Slovenia is assuming new identity via its engagement in EU foreign policy, namely by becoming a donor state, positioning itself towards rising powers such as China and Russia and finally, how the main source of Slovenian foreign policy identity within the EU has become its knowledge and interconnectedness to the Western Balkans.
Europeanization as National Adaptation, Economic Modernization, and Economy Performance
As the cost-benefit ratio of EU membership was expected to positively outweigh this ratio in a case of non-membership, the researchers still put attention to best identifying the nature of the expected costs. They identified potential political and identity (cultural) loss on the one side but mainly economic costs on the other. Early on, Svetličič (1998) identified membership political costs relating to either the losing or sharing of hardly-gained sovereignty, policy autonomy, and monetary sovereignty. Economic costs of closing down inefficient industries were however understood by economists to be a dynamic benefit of integration (Svetličič, 1998, pp. 39–40), including other costs, such as the reduction of government revenues due to tariff reductions or the elimination of increased public spending (for joint institutions, including for security/defense). Although these costs looked high at first sight, they were deemed lower when compared to the first best alternative, which was either EFTA integration or the unilateral reduction of tariffs, meaning even more economic liberalization (Svetličič, 1998, pp. 39–40). Another pre-accession research focus was a trade-off between fast or postponed membership. The latter meant a membership until the state was actually prepared to assume all obligations of the acquis communautaire (formal part) and the implications of unrestricted competition in its market (actual readiness). It was established (Svetličič, 2000) and post festum evaluated (Svetličič & Udovič, 2009), that most external factors strongly supported fast integration into the EU (Bobek et al., 1996). Similarly, a fast track monetary integration was opted by Slovenia. The decision was taken to adopt the euro as early as possible because it was a part of restructuring and stabilizing the economy. The country began preparations for joining not only the EU but also the EMU with what is called the “landing phase” (Bole, 2010, p. 23), requiring changes in monetary policies, particularly due to the opening of the capital market. On February 1, 1999, the commitment that the legislative framework of Slovenia concerning free capital flows would be harmonized with the acquis communautaire before the date of the country’s accession to the EU came into force (Mencinger, 2016, p. 33).
It is essential to underline that expected effects of economic and monetary integration had already received high research attention before the Slovenian accession to the EU and EMU. Several strategies had been prepared like The Strategy for Economic Development: Approaching Europe Growth, Competitiveness, and Integration (in 1995).16 Its starting position was the preservation of the national identity and ecologically and socially sustainable development but also inclusion into the EU (see Potočnik et al., 1995, pp. 20–21). Parallel to that, the technology, research, and development strategy (1995) was developed, one on research and development and the other one on the more narrowly defined technology policy. Its basic objectives were to strengthen the competitiveness and growth of GDP, improve quality of life and environmentally sound (sustainable) development, strengthen the cultural identity of Slovenia, and finally promote the export of R&D services. EU membership was not yet at the center of these two strategies although it was implicitly included. It talked about approaching Europe, while the International Economic Relations Strategy (IERS) already had the subtitle, “From Associated to Full Membership” (1996) meaning that EU membership was the main objective. It was based on a computable general equilibrium approach (Potočnik & Majcen, 1996). The Competitiveness Strategy (1996) was based predominantly on industry studies and emphasizing imitation more in order to catch up with technology leaders and only then promote their own R&D capacities and innovation potential. In spite of references to all other strategies, all of these strategies have not been closely and organically interlinked and coordinated (see Ministry of Economic Affairs, 1996, p. 8, 11). The IERS was the natural follow-up of development strategy. Full membership in the EU was its major objective. International economic relations were regarded as a means for gradual catching up with the average level of economic development of the developed EU countries. Its objective was also to regain a part of the former Yugoslav markets, to increase considerably its presence on the American market, and in some countries of the former Soviet Union and the CEFTA markets,17 as well as in most prosperous newly industrialized developing countries and in the high purchasing power exporters of crude oil (Bobek et al., 1996, p. 10). An important and much discussed part of this strategy was the issue of FDI, both inward and outward, including Slovene multinationals. The basic premises of such a strategy for FDI was a friendly approach, the application of national treatment for foreign investors, and finally, positive stimulation of desired behavior of foreign investors. Outward investments and the creation of one’s own multinationals were considered instruments of restructuring the economy and an effort to “sail on the winds of globalization.”
After assuming membership, various aspects of development via economic integration have been studied, both with respect to regulative and redistributive EU policies. First, most attention has been put to economic development via the change of trade and investment flows either in comparative perspective of “new” (2004 enlargement) member states (Svetličič & Jaklič, 2007; Jaklič & Rojec, 2014; Damijan et al., 2015) or from the perspective of Slovenia as a transition economy integrating into the EU (Rojec, 1995; Svetličič & Rojec, 2003; Jaklič et al., 2009; Mrak & Rojec, 2013). Within this context, special attention has additionally been put to two economic sub-areas, namely a) services and innovation with respect to Lisbon strategy goals (e.g., Stare & Bučar, 2007; Bučar & Udovič, 2010; Di Meglio et al., 2012) and b) economic and monetary including financial integration (e.g., Mrak, 2005; Bole, 2010), especially after the economic and financial crisis of 2008 (Lavrač, 2010; Mrak, 2011).
Due to Slovenia being a net receiving state from the EU budget, two of the EU policies that featured highly in the interest of the research community were the redistributive policies, namely common agricultural policy (CAP) and cohesion policy.18 Slovenian agriculture is characterized by unfavorable natural and structural conditions, which explains its status of a net food importer and its relatively protectionist pre-accession agricultural policy. Researchers have thus focused on the CAP reforms (Lovec & Erjavec, 2013, 2015; Lovec, 2016); and on Slovenian performance within CAP. As for the latter, Lovec and Erjavec (2015) show that in the first three years after the accession to the EU, Slovenia continued its pre-accession, practically already CAP-compliant policy of direct payments in the form of payments per area and per head for specific production activity. In this period, Slovenia also began implementing a strong rural development policy, allocating the lion’s share of the funds to agri-environment measures and payments for farming in less favored areas (Erjavec at el., 2015). Researchers have been assessing absorption capacity of Slovenia already in the beginning of its membership (Mrak & Wostner, 2005), including an in-depth analysis of the legislation, administrative procedures, the functioning of this policy in domestic context, and its effectiveness especially with respect to economic development of enterprises (Bučar et al., 2007). As shown later by Wostner (2013) in a longitudinal study on 20-year EU funds absorption, Slovenian absorption of EU funds in the first years of membership was very effective—the state had been the first in this respect among 2004-acceded member states. A different aspect to cohesion policy has been taken by a policy analyst, Lajh (2009), who focused on the implementation of EU cohesion policy in Slovenia via a multi-level governance approach. The latter already brings us to the aspects of Europeanization as a tool for political democratization and participation in EU governance which we put in focus in the next section.
Europeanization as Political Modernization
Political scientists have been focusing on the Slovenian relation towards the EU with various research interests. While policy analysis, comparative politics students, and political theorists have initially focused on the research of the establishment of national political system in a sovereign Slovenia only later focusing also on EU public policies and EU political system, defense specialists and international relations experts have been studying the Slovenian foreign policy stance towards the European integration even before the independence and state recognition. On the one hand, the state had been looking into all options regarding security assurance, namely collective defense pact/security integration, neutral foreign policy, and even demilitarization. After the latter had been put aside due to a 10 day independence war, integration strategy prevailed for security (Grizold, 1996) and economic and political identity reasons (as explained above). The pre-accession period was largely researched in the context of EU enlargement policy with strong focus on the accession negotiations and cost-benefit political and economic analysis of membership for Slovenia as illustrated above (e.g., Potočnik et al., 2007). Thus, we highlight here political science research after Slovenia assumed EU membership, exposing mainly publications in English language. Scientists themselves have focused on this perspective as a research problem, namely how well the Slovenian epistemic community dealing with European integration has integrated itself into the European research networks (Fink-Hafner, 2010) and also how much the learning of the EU affairs has become included in Slovenian primary, secondary, and tertiary education (Bojinović Fenko, 2014).19
One of the issues which received a lot of interest in political science was the Slovenian referendum on the accession to the EU in late March 2004, just a good month before the membership was assumed. Either it was directly analyzed as an independent variable (e.g., Bernik & Uhan, 2005; Krašovec & Lajh, 2005), or it was understood as only one of the factors explaining the Slovenian general public’s uncritical or government supportive attitude towards the EU integration (as mentioned above). A strong interest of political scientists has also been on the changes that EU membership brings for the national political system with three focuses, namely a) the representation system, with the role and organization of political parties and interest groups; b) the domestic-EU levels intertwining in the phases of formulation and implementation of EU public policies; and c) political processes in the EU in general (citizenship, political culture).
With respect to a) Krašovec and Lajh (2008) have verified the links between democratization and Europeanization of party politics in Slovenia, establishing that there are no significant substantial influences of Europeanization processes on Slovenian (parliamentary) parties but merely some organizational changes have occurred because of the presence of the EU environment. This has not changed recently, as Krašovec and Deželan (2015) expose enduring low level of Slovenian political parties Europeanization by analyzing their election manifestos. Some research attention was given to the case of Euroskepticism in Slovenia, originating only from very weak political parties (Krašovec & Kustec Lipicer, 2008). Studies have also investigated Europeanization of interest groups in Slovenia (Fink Hafner et al., 2015) in the context of political-cultural change.
There is an abundance of research, centered on b) the domestic and EU level political system interplay, including the level of local governance. Even before EU accession negotiations started, Bibič (1996) has been questioning the preparedness of Slovenia’s political society for the challenges of Europeanization. The first European Parliament elections for Slovenian citizens have featured high in expert publications but also in some scientific analyses (e.g., Lukšič & Pikalo, 2005). Later, researchers have focused on the role of a national parliament in ensuring democratic control in European affairs over national government (Fink-Hafner, 2008), on post-accession politicization of national EU policy coordination (Fink-Hafner, 2014) and on the Europeanization of Slovenian public administration (Kajnč Lange & Svetličič, 2009; Bačlija, 2016). Comparative politics has offered research on links between political transition and democratization on the one side and Europeanization on the latter not only in Slovenia but also in South East Europe (Fink-Hafner & Lajh, 2012). Recently, a comprehensive analysis of EU public policies seen from a national (Slovenian and Croatian comparative) perspective is offered in an edited book by Lajh and Petak (2015). Local level of governance has received attention via eclectic approaches, urban management of EU cities (Bačlija Brajnik, 2013), cross-border cooperation in the EU (Banjac, 2012), and international co-operation of European subnational regions (Bučar, 1995).
As for the focus on general political processes in the EU, European political culture in terms of common elements of national political cultures in Europe have been investigated (Toplak, 2008) and much has been researched on European citizenship in terms of possible (re)integration of migrants (Žagar, 2008), in comparison of Slovenian and European citizenship regime (Deželan, 2014) and with respect to civic education via analyzing European symbolism in Slovenian citizenship education textbooks (Banjac & Pušnik, 2015).
In a broader context, scientists have also thoroughly investigated legal aspects of EU political and economic integration for Slovenia. To illustrate, we have chosen some publications to show the variety of lawyers’ European integration foci: comparison between American former Yugoslav and EU judicial federalism (Accetto, 2007), EU law and policies in the perspective of legal practices (Bohinc, 2012), European company law (Rajgelj, 2007), fundamental freedoms and rights overlap in Court of Justice case law (Trstenjak & Beysen, 2013), understanding of protection of workers’ rights of state owned companies as a potential illegal state aid (Hojnik, 2015), and development of so-called transnational law in the Kadi case (Avbelj, 2014).
Europeanization of Slovenian Foreign Policy (Within the EU External Action)
Pre-membership foreign policy analysis application to Slovenia was rather scarce with some notable exceptions (e.g., Bučar & Brinar, 1994; Bučar, 1995; Petrič, 1996; Bučar, 1999a; Jazbec, 2001); the main focus here was not on the changes of foreign policy-making or substance due to the EU membership but rather the limitation of the Slovenian foreign policy process and outcome due to its characteristics of small and new state and position of small power in the international system. Later on, research has focused also on Slovenian foreign policy within the EU context, namely its geographic proximity and historical context to the Balkans. The latter had initially been understood as an obstacle to newly formed democratic, developed, and stable national identity but eventually turned around into a comparative advantage for an active foreign policy of mediation between the EU and the Western Balkans (see Bojinović Fenko, 2005; Bojinović Fenko & Požgan, 2014; Bojinović Fenko & Šabič, 2014). Smallness as a foreign policy and a domestic and external factor has been taken into consideration by Zupančič and Hribernik (2011), when explaining Slovenian contribution to the EU’s normative power. There have been scarce analyses of direct application of Europeanization as a concept to Slovenian foreign policy. A thorough analysis of downloading and uploading Europeanization paths in the cases of Slovenian participation within the structures of Common Foreign and Security Policy was performed by Kajnč Lange (2011). She took under investigation Slovenian positioning in the international trade and development cooperation, policy formation towards China and Russia, and Slovenian efforts to bring the Western Balkans back to the top of the EU agenda. If in 2013, researchers had found proofs mainly of one-way (downloading) Europeanization (Bunič & Šabič, 2013), and in 2015, they had established that the economic and financial crisis had resulted in de-Europeanization in some Slovenian foreign policy actions in terms of disrespecting the normative (value-based) framework of the EU the state had previously highly praised (Bojinović Fenko & Lovec, 2015).
Despite the fact that Slovenia as a small state possesses a rather weak position in the CFSP and CSDP of the EU, the researchers have still focused on understanding Slovenian opportunities with these EU policies and evaluating its performance in EU external action. Some researchers have been focusing on the latter per se, without necessarily looking for direct implications of the EU foreign policy for Slovenian foreign policy-making. The first comprehensive study of the historical institutional development of European foreign policy was conducted in 2008 with the application of the latter to the cases of EU external action in South Eastern Europe (Kajnč Lange, 2008). A prominent feature of EU foreign policy focus for Slovenian researchers has actually been South Eastern Europe and later the Western Balkans due to Slovenian foreign policy specialization for this geopolitical area. The issues researched were: prevention of armed conflicts in Europe (Zupančič, 2010), civilian crisis managing via EULEX Kosovo (Malešič 2015), analysis of the EU eastern enlargement of 2004 (Lovec, 2012; Lovec, 2014), and enlargement to the Western Balkans (Šabič et al., 2010) and parliamentarization in Kosovo via multi-stakeholder partnerships including the EU and its member state parliaments (Roter & Bojinović Fenko, 2015).
Slovenian independent research foci on EU external action pertain to a variety of EU foreign policy instruments, specific issue-area and geographic focuses, namely EU neighborhood policy from the perspective of region-building in the Mediterranean (Bojinović Fenko, 2012), civilian crisis management of the EU (Malešič, 2011) and in Slovenia vis-a-vis the EU membership (Prezelj, 2012), member state activities in EU missions (Juvan & Vuga Beršnak, 2015), European cyber security (Svete, 2012), and the role of research cooperation in the instruments of EU development cooperation (Bučar, 2012).
From Star Pupil to De-Europeanization; Slovenian Capability Assessment in the EU
Ever since Slovenia became an EU member state, its primary concern was its position of net recipient state from the EU budget (Mrak & Wostner, 2005). The position of economic and social modernization via EU cohesion funds was thus central to those who had been assessing the state’s capabilities to seize opportunities from EU membership. They however proved that the general public’s perception of under-performance of Slovenia in the absorption of EU funds was false as during the first couple of years of membership Slovenia performed the best among all member states (Wostner, 2013). However, as the state assumed presidency of the Council of the EU in the first half of 2008, only a year after assuming the euro, many researchers refocused their attention to the performance of Slovenia as part of a first time trio presidency and up to then the second smallest20 EU presiding state.
The challenge for Slovenian EU presidency was deemed to be in several aspects, summarized in Table 2.
Table 2. Summary of Research Foci Related to Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the EU
leadership capabilities of a new (2004-enlargement) member state
Jazbec & Zajc (2008)
small state capability of individual chairing due to rotating Presidency;
Kajnč Lange (2009)
public administration competences;
Kajnč Lange & Svetličič (2010)
diplomats’ perspective on the implementation of presidency
justification of the “trio team presidency system in terms of coherence and consistency in EU policies, not only by carrying out the programme but also by keeping the trio’s priorities high on the agenda”
Kajnč Lange (2009, 89)
low ambitions in agenda setting and presidency execution in terms of “playing safe” and at least retaining Europeanness
lack of public support,
Western Balkans agenda
Slovenia had already started on its presidency preparations in January 2005, deciding for the so-called Brussels-based presidency. Kajnč Lange and Svetličič (2010) report on the adjustments in organizational structure in the capital: merging working fields, having one person in charge of several domains, and entrusting the staff with preliminary experience of the field to handle the tasks at hand. Major problems of the Slovenian presidency have been the human-resources deficit and intra- and inter-ministerial/departmental cooperation, “suffocating” hierarchical relations within ministries and the experts’ lack of basic knowledge in related fields add to the above all human capital problems. It was a lack of “soft” skills (communication, negotiations, rhetoric, informal networking, etc.) that Slovenia’s public administration does not profit from its smallness, which should enable greater efficiency (Kajnč Lange & Svetličič, 2010). Nevertheless, Slovenia still needed external assistance to cover certain areas of EU policies where it was understaffed. This assistance mostly came from the General Secretariat of the Council and the European Commission (Kajnč Lange & Svetličič, 2010).
The analysis of the substance of the presidency obviously centered around the assessment of the success of its five priorities:21 “While the first three priorities were largely from part of an inherited agenda and promoting intercultural dialogue was more of a symbolic effort, the focus on the Western Balkans was a true Slovenian priority” (Kajnč Lange, 2009, p. 89). Pro-European orientation and honest-broker behavior helped Slovenia gain the trust of other actors and resulted in the adoption of several dossiers that had been long open. Domestic observers have assessed the role of the state as having acted as a good presidency (Klemenčič, 2007; Lenarčič, 2007; Šter, 2008), in most cases focusing on reaching agreements rather than pursuing its own interests.
As the first years of Slovenian EU membership have mainly focused on the Council of the EU presidency, first comprehensive assessments of EU membership have been published only around the 10-year membership anniversary.22 Researchers have focused on the analysis of suboptimal performance according to the national interest defined as belief in the benefits of widespread domestic ownership in the economy (Burger & Kunčič, 2014). Authors establish that the state lost many economic opportunities, as “it was late in adjusting to global trends, including the utilization of the benefits of European integration, internationalization and relocation of industries, and late reaction to the crisis and shifting centers of economic growth to Asia, despite many early warnings of experts” (Svetličič et al., 2014). Others have evaluated the impact of EU membership on economic welfare, institutional quality, and relative power capability of Slovenia confronting dominant liberal institutional and an alternative critical realist explanation (Lovec & Crnčec, 2014). Via an empirical analysis of various indicators that measure the impact of integration they proved “increased pressures on the Slovenian economy, mixed and contradictory influence on the development of Slovenian institutions and increased EU dependence of Slovenia, thus supporting the critical realist approach.” Two works assess contradictory sources of power of the state, namely hard and soft power capabilities. As for the first, Zupančič (2014) shows lack of Slovenian ambition within CSDP of the EU, viewed as alternative to already more developed structures of NATO. Bojinović Fenko and Požgan (2017, forthcoming) on the other hand analyze Slovenian soft power capabilities, indicating underdeveloped cultural diplomacy within the Erasmus student exchange program and other missed opportunities due to sector-isolated and incoherent implementation of Slovenian branding.
The most recent evaluation of EU membership performance arose as a response to European economic and financial crisis which hit Slovenia very strongly, resulting in close avoidance of troika intervention. Obviously, economic and financial analyses of diminished performance within the EU market and globally prevail, focusing on Slovenian state financial and monetary measures (Lavrač, 2010) and multinational companies’ responses (Svetličič & Jaklič, 2013). Nevertheless, EU-level measures are also under microscope, for example, the reforms of eurozone structures (Mrak, 2011). Financial crises which started in 2008, and revealed many deficiencies of the euro, set off the debates about whether being outside the eurozone, keeping the tolar, would be better. The real appreciation, as a result of the crises, led to a loss of competitiveness, adversely affecting export performance and causing rising current account imbalances, the burst of real estate bubbles and a financial sector crisis and sharply increased budget deficits and worsened debt indicators. Among negative implications of euro adoption like increased inflations and prices and inflation-controlling measures, losing instruments of monetary and exchange rate policy, access to the lender of last resort, were highlighted. However soaring inflation after euro introduction in 2007 and 2008 was only modestly a result of euro introduction (assessed officially only at the 0.3% level; see UMAR, 2008, p. 11). The chosen way towards the euro adoption in Slovenia was, broadly speaking, the right one although the euro crises revealed many of its deficiencies steaming already from the theory of optimal currency area. Mencinger thinks that the euro is a political project without firm economic basis, becoming a kind of European “brotherhood and unity,” with no predicted exit ways. Members are not willing to abandon the area although it is better in crises to be outside the euro area, having access to printing money and applying devaluation and inflation. Nevertheless, the euro does not hurt Slovenia because Slovenia belongs to the area of the German mark, that is, “North,” which creates surplus in the current account. Because of the smallness of the Slovene market, the euro would, in spite of having the tolar, performed most of the money functions, as did formerly the German mark (Mencinger, 2014). It can be concluded, that in spite of many costs of adopting the euro the benefits, including the political dimension, saving the member from imported inflation, currency speculations, and volatility of capital flows and access to supranational crises management outweigh costs. Nevertheless the debates about the viability of the euro in the future started also in Slovenia following the proposal by Krugman and Stiglitz.
The role of cooperation with BRICS in EU member states’ economic recovery (Tkalec & Svetličič, 2014) have also been evaluated concluding that this window of opportunity for exiting the crisis was not utilized as it should be. Non-economic based views of the crisis, on the other hand, have found evidence of de-Europeanization of Slovenian foreign policy; the Slovenian foreign policy-making process has in parts become disengaged from the EU level and the Slovenian foreign policy in substance departed from the EU normative framework; for example in the case of Slovenia’s vote of abstention on the Palestinian observer status in the UN GA in November 2012, which was related with the USA’s financial rescue of the high state budget deficit and as another example in the case of Slovenian veto on the Council of the EU proposed sanctions in the form of a visa blacklist of individuals allegedly related to Belarus’s undemocratic regime and accused of human rights violations, where one of the listed names was related to a highly valuable Slovenian company’s business deal (Bojinović Fenko & Lovec, 2015).
Conclusion via Open Debates on the Future Challenges of Slovenia in the EU
This chapter has analyzed how a newborn Slovenian state, lacking any other historically existing statehood features but people managed to turn the everlasting draught of international flows and influences over its territory into an advantage which it makes its current profile within the EU. Authors have critically evaluated where and why during this effort the state fell short of capability-building and/or successful implementation to seize the opportunities of EU membership. As the latter has been most brutally exposed via the effects of 2008–2014 economic and financial crisis, the aim is to conclude with political science understanding of core future challenges of Slovenian society and state within the EU integration.
A crucial point which came out of the post-crisis evaluations was the position that solidarity and austerity are not mutually exclusive, but have to be made complementary. Slovenian society and government have very negatively reacted to unequal treatment of some EU member states by the European Commission or EU structures in general, preferring big member states over small and developed over less developed (e.g., the Greek bailout, Luxleaks, budgetary problems of France, or the possibility of Brexit even before the June 2016 British referendum vote). This goes in line with the findings of Lovec and Crnčec (2014) on the mixed to negative impacts of EU integration on the Slovenian market, institutions, and power position.
The EU should thus assure that … the respect of its rules is assured and it is clear when they are binding on all EU Member States, irrespective of their size or de facto influence. Of key importance for Slovenians are rules on the social security of individuals and inter-state solidarity, which should not be abused.
(Bojinović Fenko, 2016, p. 205)
Along these lines, the Slovenian government in 2015 declared to support all policies aimed at economic growth and employment that assure the sustainable development of society and individuals. For example, Slovenia believes that further implementation of Strategy Europe 2020 and the European Semester would lead to greater economic growth and competitiveness, while at the same time improving the labor market conditions and social welfare of Slovenian citizens. Similarly, the state will highly promote strengthening the EMU under the condition that it includes the strengthening of its social dimension (Bojinović Fenko, 2016, p. 206).
We have seen from the effects of the economic crisis that even very immediate positive effects of EU membership on individuals cannot outweigh the negative perception of EU/national-level incompetence or slow responsiveness in governance. Despite the fact that Slovenians cherish mobility (no/less border controls), cheaper mobile calls, and improved consumer rights as main EU benefits, their otherwise positive assessment of the EU dropped immensely following the crisis (Bojinović Fenko, 2016, p. 201). It thus seems obvious that the future challenge for the national government and EU structures is to keep striving for de facto policy effects and also their efficient communication to the citizens. Some of the crucial unaccomplished EU issues for Slovenian society are: high standards of food safety, an EU-wide universal access to public health, measures favorable to small and medium size enterprises, the development of common EU curricula, the enlargement to the Western Balkans (Bojinović Fenko, 2016, pp. 207–208), and effective and just management of EU external border as exposed during the migration crisis; they mark the essence of EU policy concerns to be addressed in the immediate future.
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(1.) For illustration, we offer this piece of an individual citizen’s perspective: the Slovenian-born father of one of the authors, who died two years ago, had been living in Slovenian territory for all his life. However, he changed citizenship seven times: born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire (until 1918), occupied by Italy (during the First World War), he entered the Kingdom of Slovenes, Croats, and Serbs in 1919 (soon to be reshaped into the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenians), replaced by the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1929, taken over by German/Italian occupation in 1941, expelled to the Independent State of Croatia (a Nazi puppet state), settling in 1945 in the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY), and from 1991 in the Republic of Slovenia.
(2.) “God’s blessing on all nations, Who long and work for that bright day, When o’er earth’s habitations No war, no strife shall hold its sway; Who long to see That all men free No more shall foes, but neighbors be.” Official title: “A Toast (Zdravljica),” written by the Slovenian poet France Prešeren in 1844, translated by Janko Lavrin (Government of Slovenia, 2016).
(3.) This goal was formulated within the Slovenian foreign policy strategy and endorsed by the National Assembly of the Socialist Republic of Slovenia on March 26, 1991 (Bojinović Fenko, & Požgan, 2014, p. 57).
(4.) After declaring independence on June 25, 1991 Slovenia faced a 10 day independence war against the Yugoslav People’s Army from June into July of that year, which was brokered by the EC. Slovenia gained international recognition on January 15, 1992 (see more in Bojinović Fenko & Šabič, 2014, pp. 48–49).
(5.) Slovenian per capita income in 1993 was the highest among all Central European countries, almost twice that of Hungary (the second highest among CEEs), the closest to EU lower income members like Greece (59% of the EU average) with 6,490 USD (Slovenia) compared to 7,390 USD (Greece) (World Bank, 1995, p. 162).
(7.) On the capability-building for the establishment of official diplomatic relations of the Republic of Slovenia see Brglez (1996) and Bučar (2014). A notable exception to under-researched para-diplomacy is a work by Jazbec (2011) on conceptualizing this phenomenon via the case study of Slovenia.
(9.) This was a sui generis preferential agreement concluded for an unlimited period of time. Before that Yugoslavia had a non-preferential agreement signed in 1970 which expired in 1973, tacitly extended until 1980 (see Brinar, 1996 for details).
(11.) “Talks at the President of the Republic about the Future of Slovenia” was a series of 10 events from October 2003 to December 2005 that then-president Janez Drnovšek organized for the expert public and academia to express their views on Slovenian (soon to be) assumed membership in the EU. More on the talks is available only in Slovenian language at this website: http://www.prihodnost-slovenije.si/.
(13.) On the other hand, the period of bilateral political conditionality contributed to the development of a more critical stance of Slovenian expert public and civil society towards the EU. For example, Euroskepticism started to appear in the form of slogans, such as “EU yes, but not at any price.”
(14.) Slovenian GDP per capita in 2004 in purchasing power standards amounted to 87% of the EU-28 average. Its value in 2008 stood at 91% of the EU-28 average. After 2008, it was in decline for two years. From 2010 onwards, economic development of Slovenia has remained at 84% of the EU-28 average (Svetin, Primožič, Kozmelj, & Repovž-Grabnar, 2014, pp. 34, 36).
(15.) The “away from the Balkans” state foreign policy strategy was, however, not reflected as much in economic cooperation with the region. Although Slovenia was able to compensate for the loss of the Yugoslav internal market by expanding foreign trade with other countries, particularly the EU, in less than two years, the post-Yugoslav market remained a rather important part of foreign trade after independence; its share was increasing after 1993, assuming 16% in total Slovene export in 1995 (Kumar et al., 2002, p. 22). Also, FDI in former Yugoslavia played a dominant role in Slovenian outward internationalization, assuming at all times over 50% of all outward investments of Slovenia during the 1994–2000 period; initially the share was over 60% but gradually decreased (Svetličič & Jaklič, 2001, p. 183).
(16.) This overall strategy is further elaborated on in series of area strategies like the technology policy (1995), the resolution on the strategy of energy consumption and supply (1996), the Slovenia trade development strategy (July 1996), the small scale industry development strategy (July 1996), and the agricultural strategy (May 1994).
(17.) Slovenia became a CEFTA member on January 1, 1996.
(18.) Other EU policies have been investigated but either in minor extent, for example youth policy (Banjac, 2014), human rights, and especially minority protection (Roter, 2009), or they fall outside the reach of narrow political science interest more to sociology (e.g., social policy).
(19.) To illustrate the latter, we expose data on the absolute numbers of higher education undergraduate, master’s, and PhD theses in the field of European Studies at the largest Social Sciences institution in Slovenia, namely the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana. The latter has been offering the only undergraduate and PhD program on European Studies in Slovenia since 2005 and one of two at the master’s level. From January 2004 to December 2015, there had been 199 bachelor’s theses, 71 master’s theses, and 16 PhD theses defended on the subject within the domain of European Studies within various undergraduate programs (from policy analysis to international relations, cultural studies, sociology, and political theory; Jože Goričar Central Social Sciences Library database, 2015).
(20.) Apart from Luxembourg, which shared the presidency with the Netherlands, Slovenia at the time was the smallest country to have presided the Council of the EU.
(21.) (1) The future of the Union and timely entry into the force of the Lisbon Treaty; (2) the successful launch of the new Lisbon Strategy cycle; (3) making a step forward in addressing climate/energy issues; (4) strengthening the European perspective on the Western Balkans; and (5) promoting dialogue between cultures, beliefs, and traditions in the context of the European Year of Intercultural Dialogue.