23/03/2003 - D-7
"Slovenia: at home in Europe and secure within NATO" This is the Slovenian government's slogan to encourage the population to vote "yes" in the two referenda that will take place on 23rd March; the first concerns Slovenia's membership of the European Union and the second, the country's integration into NATO.
Just one week before the vote membership to the European Union appears to be a fact; two thirds of Slovenians are in favour according to all the opinion polls. On 6th March the President of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, travelled to Slovenia on a two day visit in the company of Günther Verheugen, European Commissioner for Enlargement. He stressed that the EU was not only a question of quotas and directives: "A united Europe is synonymous to peace, stability and democracy, a State of law and prosperity," reminding his audience that "by its entry into the EU Slovenia would witness a strengthening of both its sovereignty and its identity, and this alone by the Slovenian language's rise to the status of being an official European language." The European Commissioner added that the two referenda should be dissociated and that this was in no way a choice between the two organisations: "No-one should present you before a dilemma of either joining the EU or NATO, both organisations will contribute a different type of security," declared Günther Verheugen.
Although the Slovenian population mainly supports joining the EU both those in favour and against integrating NATO are almost neck and neck in all opinion polls just one week before the election. George Robertson, NATO secretary general, who is expected this week in Ljubljana, gave an interview on 4th March to the Slovenian press, who were invited to visit the Atlantic Alliance's HQ: "For Slovenia joining NATO comprises a unique opportunity", reminding them that "what NATO did for Slovenia during the Cold War years now enabled the country to achieve stable democracy and prosperity. If NATO had not existed you would not be able to speak freely with me here today," he stressed.
Public debates are on the increase across the country focussing on the necessity for or the interest in Slovenians joining the Atlantic Alliance. Many are voicing their opinion to conquer the population's reticence vis à vis NATO and to demonstrate that military neutrality does not comprise any real protection. "Neutrality is not a solution for Slovenia, let alone because of the country's geographical situation", declared George Robertson. Politicians are trying to show that in spite of the financial effort implied in joining the Atlantic Alliance, this is the best economic choice, since the country does have the means to ensure its own security.
The government, that is extremely involved in the campaign in favour of joining NATO, did not however choose to cover the walls with posters calling to vote "yes" in the referendum on 23rd March from a fear that "a traditional campaign might be assimilated to that of a product launch and finally might have the opposite effect to the one desired," according to Gregor Krajc, the government's campaign manager for the referendum.
Although the majority of analysts agree to believe that Slovenians will finally vote in favour of joining NATO many fear that military intervention in Iraq, that is very unpopular amongst the Slovenian population, especially if this without the UN's agreement, will only swell the ranks of the adversaries to integration. On 5th February Foreign Affairs minister, Dimitri Rupel, signed "the Vilnius Appeal" which supports the American policy towards Iraq on the part of the ten Eastern and Central European countries. Shortly after this Prime Minister Anton Rop distanced himself from the position adopted by his minister by stressing that Slovenia was in favour of continuing inspections and that war should only be the final resort. Mid February the Slovenian government also delayed the investigation into a request on the part of the USA for the transfer of military equipment via Slovenia.
On 6th March Prime Minister Anton Rop with Romano Prodi as his guest warned Slovenians about voting "no" to NATO. "If Slovenia rejects membership it will reduce its credibility, its position and its strength on the international scene." For his part the President of the European Commission emphasised that he would be extremely happy if the Slovenians said "yes" to the EU adding that a "yes" vote for NATO "would be an added extra." "We do not know what will happen to NATO within the next 10 to 15 years; developments will probably be necessary and in this case it would be better to be part of the movement rather than be on the outside of it," he concluded.