Debates: Understanding the unique political and economic challenges facing Slovenia in the wake of Brexit helps to shed light on the types of conversations taking place across Europe about the future of the EU.
A Britain Stronger In Europe campaigner (left) stands next to a Vote Leave campaigner outside Parsons Green Tube station in London, June 20, 2016. Photo: Reuters
The turmoil in the European Union following the British vote on leaving the Union is affecting every part of the continent. But it is particularly sensitive for small EU countries like Slovenia that were part of its recent waves of expansion.
Slovenia is a Central European nation of slightly more than 2 million people and originally one of the major success stories of the “new Europe.” It joined the EU in 2004, thus fulfilling the main promise of the country’s post-Yugoslav development. It was subsequently hit hard by the 2008 crisis, which generated Eurosceptic attitudes in some segments of society and caused a serious blow to the optimism of the previous decade.
The refugee crisis has demonstrated better than anything before the rift between the “old” and “new” Europe. The current uncertainty in the wake of the Brexit vote on how Europe should move ahead with its common future is also posing serious questions about sovereignty and nationalism.
Unlike other countries of the “new Europe,” Slovenia distinguishes itself by a consistent policy of maintaining good relations with Russia. That makes the current economic, political and social choices facing Slovenia especially difficult.
Ahead of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Slovenia on July 30, Russia Direct asked local experts within the country for their views on the Slovenian approach to post-Brexit Europe.
Also read: "Is Europe coming apart at the seams?"
Anton Bebler, professor of Social Sciences at the University of Ljubljana, president of the Slovenian Euro-Atlantic Society
Some people say that Brexit is terrible, that it amounts to nearly a catastrophe and there is a danger of the EU falling apart. My position is different and there are experts that share my view: what has happened has its own logic. Great Britain has always, from the very beginning, viewed very critically the model of cooperation that has been implemented in the EU. Britain has many times resisted the attempts to turn the EU into some super-state, a real federation. Their decision to leave the EU reflects this distancing.
This position of countering federalization is not exclusively British. Some other countries and segments of public opinion in the EU share this position. It is also evident in countries like Norway and Switzerland, which are part of Europe but not part of the EU.
Of course, the Brexit vote is a serious thing for the EU, and its consequences will depend on whether the Union will be able to correctly understand the reasons behind it and change respectively.
We in Slovenia speak for close cooperation within the EU, for improving the methods of cooperation, but not for a federalization. How is our attitude different today from that of Poland, Romania and Bulgaria?
We have the experience of the disintegration of Yugoslavia. It fell apart partly for the same reasons that stand behind the EU crisis: internal heterogeneity - political, economic, cultural etc. But the degree of heterogeneity in the EU is greater than what had been the case in Yugoslavia. Thus any attempt to turn such a heterogeneous entity into a federation is doomed to fail. Moreover, such attempts are harmful. It is much better to gradually improve relations pragmatically, step by step, but not turn this into any sort of super-state.
Dr. Klemen Groselj, independent international relations expert, researcher at the Economics Ministry of Slovenia
Brexit was quite a huge shock. Nobody expected that it would happen. The idea of the EU was always portrayed in Slovenia as a strategically important project. Brexit was a reverse project, something that was not expected by Slovenia – neither by the politicians, nor by the public.
I don’t expect any heavy economic impact of Brexit on Slovenia, but there will be a political one. The question becomes: Is Slovenia capable of being part of the most unified core of the European Union?
The president of the republic, Borut Pahor, is a federalist, who believes in the federalization of Europe. The government is more cautious. The political consensus is that Slovenia should be part of the most integrated part of the EU, but there are questions to be addressed in domestic politics if we are trying to be there.
At the political level, we are for more Europe, not less Europe. But are we capable of delivering more Europe in Slovenia? One thing is a wish, the other is a reality.
The Slovenian political idea is not to be part of the Visegrad Four (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia). We want to be part of the group of Germany, Austria and other members of the strongest alliance. We don’t like to be part of the Eastern Europe club.
Dr. Andrej Stopar, editor-in-chief at Slovenian National Radio
I do not perceive Brexit as a catastrophe, but it is not a good sign. It shows that the idea of the EU is good, but we are incapable of realizing it well. As it was the case with Communism, good ideas are not necessarily successfully implemented. It is very important now which way and how it will go further.
I think the level of mistrust is high enough to seriously doubt that the EU would be able to integrate further. Member states have pretty divergent interests. What we perceive as sovereignty and what Russia perceives as sovereignty are two different things, but there are great old countries – Germany, France, and Italy is now rejoining the club – who would not give up more of their sovereignty.
Slovenia is clearly interested in being an EU member - but in a way that not much would change and the status quo would be preserved. The current political system of the EU is satisfactory for Slovenia. Only the president Borut Pahor speaks in favor of the EU turning into a federation. All the others would not want to see further integration, because it would strengthen nationalists and the question of sovereignty would re-emerge.
I think the small countries are in a similar situation: they want to be EU members, but they don’t want further integration, because the issue of national sovereignty and identity is very sensitive for them.