Slovenia joined EU 20 years to the day

Ljubljana, 1 May - Twenty years to the day, Slovenia joined the EU together with another nine countries in what has been the biggest round of EU enlargement to date. While support for the EU remains high in Slovenia, the sentiment in Europe has changed considerably over the past two decades.

Brussels, Belgium
The flags of Slovenia and the EU.
Photo: Thierry Monasse/STA
File photo

The EU is able to cope relatively well with the challenges of economic development, but security is a major challenge today, Anton Rop, the Slovenian prime minister in the early 2000s, said as he attended the Big Bang enlargement celebrations in the European Parliament last week.

As Pier Domenico Tortola from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands has told the STA, the EU is now a much more important political-economic bloc than 20 years ago.

However, due to its enlargement and the numerous crises that have hit it over the years, it is also less homogeneous, he says, adding that it would need more integration to be successful.

By joining the EU and NATO in 2004, Slovenia fulfilled the strategic foreign policy goals it set itself after it became independent in 1991.

Support for the EU remains high or above the EU average, and no Slovenian parliamentary party is Eurosceptic.

However, Slovenia's role in the EU is more limited than its size and resources would suggest, says analyst Marko Lovec from the Faculty of Social Sciences in Ljubljana.

He believes the reason is that, after initial enthusiasm in Slovenia, the country has not systematically invested in EU policy and capacity.

A reason for this is the Slovenian centre-left having seeing one party after another emerging and falling into oblivion.

These parties have been preoccupied with domestic issues and failed to engage constructively with EU political groups and themes, says Lovec.

Economic analysts meanwhile believe that Slovenia has made optimal use of the EU membership period for its development.

However, Bojan Ivanc of the Slovenian Chamber of Commerce and Industry says the other new members managed to grow much faster than Slovenia.

While Slovenia has advanced by two percentage points when it comes to a share of GDP per capita since 2004, progress in the other newcomers has been ten or more times higher.

It is true, however, that the Visegrad and especially the Baltic countries received more generous support from EU funds because they were less developed than Slovenia.

Nevertheless, Slovenia has also been a net beneficiary of European funds, receiving billions of euros from cohesion policy.

Cohesion Minister Aleksander Jevšek says that Slovenia is one of the most successful countries in drawing EU funds.

And only three years after joining the EU, Slovenia also introduced the euro, and is also a member of the Schengen zone.

More than 100,000 Slovenian pupils, students and teachers have been on exchange abroad under the Erasmus programme since 2004.

"Of course, EU membership is not only a package of benefits, it also brings obligations, particularly to protect the hard-won rights, values and freedoms," Prime Minister Robert Golob said in his anniversary message.

The main national event marking the 20th anniversary of membership will be held on 9 May on Europe Day in Europe Square in Nova Gorica on the border with Italy.

This was the site of the main ceremony when Slovenia joined the Union, which was attended by then PM Rop and then European Commission President, Italy's Romano Prodi.

This year's event will be addressed by PM Golob and European Commissioner Janez Lenarčič, the Slovenian member of the Commission.

© STA, 2024