23/03/2003 - Analysis
On 23rd March Slovenia is holding two simultaneous referenda on joining the European Union and on integrating NATO. On 27th February Slovenia amended its Constitution by Parliamentary vote to enable the transfer of part of State sovereignty over to the European Union after joining on 1st May 2004. These amendments restrict the referenda results on joining the EU and NATO.
Slovenia's candidature to the European Union
Slovenia, that was already extremely successful when it was part of former Yugoslavia, is also one of the most prosperous of the Central and Eastern European countries that is to join the EU. With a GDP per capita of 9,427$, the Slovenians lie far ahead of the Hungarians (5,263 $) or the Poles (4,750 %). The GDP's growth level has reached 3%, the budgetary deficit lies at 2.9% (versus 9% in Czechia), the foreign debt represents 40.5% of the GDP (versus 64% in Hungary). Only inflation remains high since it lay at 9.4% in 2002. Slovenia has a solid infrastructure and qualified workers who have contributed enormously to the country's economic development.
The country is confident in being able to "provide the European Union with its knowledge of the Balkans" according to Erwan Fouere, the European Commission's Ambassador in Slovenia. "With our experience we are able to contribute positively to the EU's role in the Balkans" stressed Foreign Secretary Dimitri Rupel, at the European Council in Copenhagen on 12th and 13th December 2002. Slovenians who are now reassured about their European future have turned once more in the direction of the Balkans. The alpine Republic's accession to the Union should complete the country's rupture from former Yugoslavia and enable it to establish more serene relations with its Southern neighbours.
According to a recent opinion poll by the Centre for Research on Public Opinion at the University of Ljubljana that was published in the newspaper Delo on 26th February, support for EU membership is increasingly high amongst the population: 64% of Slovenians are in favour of it, 8% are against and 28% say they have no opinion.
On Joining NATO
Although Slovenia is the only one of the seven States - invited to join the Atlantic Alliance during the Prague Summit on 17th and 18th November 2002 - to be organising a referendum on its membership, it is also the country where public opinion is least in favour of entering NATO. According to the latest opinion poll undertaken on the subject on 17th and 19th February and that was published by the Centre of Research of the University of Ljubljana, the level of the population's support for membership has dropped by 7 points since December, from 44% to 37%. The number of opponents to membership is also declining (36% - three points less) whilst those who are undecided have increased dramatically (+10 points) rising from 17% to 27%.
Over recent years support for NATO has dropped off regularly. In January 1997, according to an opinion poll undertaken by the Centre of Public Research for Communication at the Faculty for Social Science at the University, 61,3% of Slovenians said they were in favour of their country integrating the transatlantic organisation versus 21.5% who were against. But at present the Slovenians do not appear to believe that joining the Alliance is essential for their security or at least they do not feel as much need to be protected from Russia than the other countries in Central and Eastern Europe. Some experts suggest that Slovenia would have difficulty in defending itself from an attack and that it would be more in the country's interest to not to join the Atlantic Alliance and to negotiate a bilateral agreement with, on the one hand, its neighbours and on the other with NATO. Others, like the Rector of the University of Ljubljana, suggest the danger that membership represents: "Since the greatest threat right now is terrorism, joining NATO might increase the danger of an attack against Slovenia", Joze Mencinger recently declared.
In addition to this some criticise the Alliance because of the amount of time it took in intervening in the Kosovo war whilst others accuse it of the civilian deaths and the destruction caused by its attacks on former Yugoslavia. The cost of membership is also a source of debate. NATO is requesting from its future members to provide 2% of the GDP for defence, representing a considerable rise in the Slovenian defence budget that at present represents 1.7% of the GDP. Slovenian Parliament voted a law at the beginning of January to modernise the army and increase the national defence budget: over the next 10 years this should progress from 1.87% to 2.3% of the GDP.
Opinion polls demonstrate that opponents to NATO lie mostly in the 30-45 age group, are highly educated, live in towns and are politically close to the Social Democrat and Liberal movements. As for those in favour of integrating the Alliance, they mainly live in rural areas and are politically close to the conservative parties. For their part all of the Slovenian political parties support membership. "We should be aware that if NATO is rejected, Slovenia's security will deteriorate significantly" warned Foreign Secretary, Dimitri Rupel, adding "If we do not join these two organisations, it will be a step backwards. It will mean a weakening of Slovenia and will provide a chance to those who do not want us around". Recently the government launched a communication campaign on the subject using all available resources to inform the population. The government information service was provided with nearly 6 million euros to this effect. An internet site was also inaugurated when NATO's secretary general visited the country. The Slovenian authorities now fear that support for NATO will drop even more if there is an American intervention against Iraq.
Just three weeks before the referendum, Slovenia's entry into the EU seems settled. However its NATO membership is far less certain.