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After 10 Years of in the Union and after the European Electons: More Europe, More Slovenia?

by David Brown

May should have been a month for Slovenia to focus on Europe, promotng its european identity and the positive effects of 10 years of membership. It was a month book ended by events related
to its inclusion in Europe. At one end, the 10th anniversary of Slovenia's accession to the European Union (E.U.), and at the other, the European Parliament election on the 25th. The unusually mild
and sunny weather this spring along with the abating of the sovereign debt crisis also make this a perfect moment to refect on Slovenia's 10 years as part of the E.U. Though the government is
making an effort to celebrate integration, this sentiment is not shared by all.
Slovenia entered during the E.U.'s single largest expansion; an expansion that primarily incorporated eastern and central European states. It was the frst of the formerly socialist states to
enter the monetary union three years later, in 2007. Today it is still the only ex-Yugoslavian state in Schengen and the monetary union, though Croatia is on course to join the Schengen regime next year, in 2015. At the tme of accession, Slovenia was considered a model transiton country, the brightest example of post-socialist states embracing the free market more completely than before.
Its economic development under Yugoslavia and the experience of a creeping liberalization of the economy from the late 1970s had already given it a good start in the process of meeting E.U.
membership standards. Of course, to varying degrees, this is true for all of the republics of Yugoslavia, since the capitalist market was always present, but until the liberalizations imposed by
the IMF after the crisis years of the 1970s, the federal state was the final mediator in the market and the capital-labour relations.
But since 2007, a year before the global financial crisis hit, Slovenia has experienced economic decline and significant instability in government. It is now looking for its third government in as
many years. Since the collapse of Bohrut Pahor's Social Democrat led government in 2011, the coalitions have been beset by unpopularity and corruption scandals, and internal conflict. Janez
Janša's government came after Pahor's, but only following a protracted scramble to form a majority. Janša himself was by then implicated in a corruption scandal around the purchase of
weapons. His government fell afer less than a year during unprecedented protests across the country (not necessarily targeting Janša) and when further corruption allegatons emerged. The
latest collapse was triggered more by the self-interest of Ljubljana's Mayor Zoran Janković. He challenged and beat incumbent Prime Minister Alenka Bratušek for the presidency of the Pozitvna
Slovenija (Positve Slovenia – PS) at the party congress in April when the government was otherwise relatvely stable. Bratušek, with the backing of the coaliton partners declared herself
unable to govern without full support of her own party, and promptly resigned.
It is impossible to claim that this recent instability is itself a product of E.U. membership. A more direct cause is the economic crisis. The crisis is much bigger than Slovenia and than the E.U., but
has its roots in the kind of economic development that was expected of aspiring member-states.
Though it initally led to a boom in constructon, and economic growth, the growth was debt based. This was partcularly felt in the banking and constructon industries in Slovenia. When the
global credit crunch occurred following the Wall Street collapse in 2008, it became impossible to pay the loans with new contracts or to service debts through further credits. It spelled the end for
the largest constructon companies, such as Vegrad, and lef many foreign workers (many from ex-Yugoslavia) with unpaid wages and expired work permits, since inital work-permits were company
property. While the constructon industry collapsed and some of the workers lef without ever getng their money, the banks faired beter thanks to the bail out. Regardless of these individual
instances of economic boom and bust, the trend in Slovenia has been towards rising unemployment, stagnation and emigration.
Yet, the light was again visible at the end of the economic tunnel; stability was achieved in the fnancial markets and on Slovenian government Bonds through the successful transfer of toxic
loans clogging the banking system to the government managed Bank Asset Management Corporaton (BAMC – the “bad bank”) at a cost of over three billion in public money. But while this
has created stability in the markets, it has been unpopular in the society, partcularly as these measures were accompanied by deep cuts in public spending.
Beyond the economic impact, mobility has been another tangible change through accession. The internally opened borders have enabled a greater mobility of the populaton. The opportunites of
exchange ofered by the ERASMUS programme, for example, is one that has facilitated important academic exchanges. But here too, it is a queston just how open this has made the common
space? While the natonal borders within the E.U., at least within the Schengen states, have lost much of their signifcance beyond crude natonalist nostalgia, the economic and politcal borders
have remained and even proliferated. E.U. citzens moving to Slovenia, for example, have access to the labour market, but must prove a monthly income equivalent to the cost of living, around €230, if they want to apply for residency. Proof of health-care is another requirement that can be limiting, since not everyone will be able to aford private insurance or take health-care with them
from their home country. The health system thus remains largely inaccessible for lower income foreigners, who also have to agree not to apply for fnancial welfare from Slovenia. This has also
afected the local populaton. The drive towards a private economy, and private insttutons of welfare, has added personal economic situaton, to the criterion for access.
The Erasure has has also remained an outstanding issue for Slovenia and Europe. This year the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) came to a decision in a major case of the Erased of
Slovenia, 25,6711 people who lost their residency status and rights following Slovenia's independence in 1991. The judgment in Kurić and Others v. Slovenia gave just satsfacton to the
plaintfs, awarding financial compensation for the period of the Erasure. This put further pressure on the Slovenian state to implement the general compensation scheme for the Erased, as
mandated in a ECHR decision in 2013. These negotatons around the compensaton scheme have yet to conclude as the ofer from the state has not had a positve recepton among the Erased. The
Erasure happened well before accession but is a product of the formaton of the naton in which certain categories of people were systematcally excluded. The issue of the Erased is largely
ignored, and media coverage remains very limited. Yet it has been a defning failure of Slovenia's transiton and the conditons created for E.U. integraton. Sadly, this year has been punctuated by
the deaths of two leading actvists in the struggle of the Erased. Alexander Todoroviċ commited suicide in February and Stojan Bubanja succumbed to cancer in April.
If there is one single indicator of the E.U.'s depth of tracton, it is surely electons on the European level. But even here, the signs are not promising. Slovenia didn't have the lowest partcipaton rate
in this round of European Parliament elections, an honour that went to Slovakia with 13%, but it 1 This is the ofcial number given by the Ministry of the Interior of Slovenia.
did set its own record low of 24%. Most of the votes went to the conservatve Democratc party and the Slovenian Natonal party. The constant decline in partcipaton refects a trend across
Europe, though this year's European wide partcipaton rate, 43.1%; is the same as in 2009. The large victories of Far-right, Eurosceptc partes, such as UK Independence Party (UKip), the Front
Natonal in France and Nova Slovenija, not to menton borderline fascists such as Hungary's Joobik Party and Croata's Party of Rights, likely benefted from the level of disenfranchisement felt across
Europe. Rather than suggestng this is a sign of rising fascism however, it is more likely a protest vote. People in Slovenia, as across Europe, either stayed at home or selected a vote against the
E.U. Conservatve and natonalist partes are always going to beneft from this.
Though it appears hard to commend Slovenia's integraton into the E.U., the idea of reversing the process and strengthening natonal sovereignty hardly ofers a progressive alternatve. Returning
to a strong naton-state is to be expected from the right, yet it is also gaining tracton with the lef.
New partes, such as Solidarity and Initiative for Democratic Socialism (IDS) have advocated various proposals that amount to 'Less Europe, More Slovenia'. Yet it is a queston of how much this can
help prevent crisis in the future. Moreover, it ignores the infuence of non-state actors, such as financial institutions. Such strengthening of the state would likely only isolate the economy from
investment as well as limitng the movement and perspectve of the citzens.
If the picture seems generally bleak, then the recent protests in Slovenia, the vstaja, along with other movements across Europe, ofer a dose of hope. The protest movement brought a level of
popular mobilizaton that put a bright spotlight on the legacy of the transiton and the failure to translate the economic growth afer independence into general social wealth and perspectve.
Many of these social movements are looking at and are creatng a Europe from below. They are highly mobile, ignoring politcal borders and sharing their experiences and ideas through common
projects, meetngs and actons. But they are also documentng the limitatons and problems of the current confguraton of the E.U. The vstaja, though it was largely a domestc protest, at its core it
was a struggle over the quality of everyday life. In this it was a common struggle despite local partcularites.
Vstaja was of course never artculated as a struggle about the kind of common Europe people want. But along with the uprisings in Turkey and recently in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and organized
protests, such as the demonstratons in Brussels in the middle of May, vstaja is an example of the desire to fnd ways to live beter. So while May in Slovenia, in the end, has said more about the
limitatons of the current insttutonal European project, the idea of a social and common European space is clearly stll alive and being worked on in diferent ways.


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