From Friends to Strangers and Back - Understanding Slovenian Foreign Policy towards the Western Balkans
At the beginning of the dissolution of Yugoslavia, Slovenia formed an alliance with Croatia at the 14th Congress of the Yugoslav League of Communists in January 1989 to advocate for complete independence. A realization of its small size and the necessity of an open economy paradoxically lead Slovenia to engage with yet another international integration, the EU, even before declaring independence or reaching international recognition. Until the end of the century, Slovenia focused on the Euro-Atlantic integration and built its foreign policy strategy on distancing itself from the war-waging Balkans.
The EU Accession Process: Coming Back to the Western Balkans
During the process of EU accession, Slovenia has clearly indicated that its foreign policy interests towards the Western Balkans have changed. This has manifested in Slovenian endeavors regarding transitional trade agreements with countries in the region, while developing a policy focused on aid programs for the war-torn region. Slovenia has gradually become active in the economic, political, and security forums in the region, and the Western Balkans was for the first time after the dissolution of Yugoslavia recognized as a top priority in the 1999 Declaration. The momentum continued during the Slovenian Presidency of the Council in the first half of 2008, but the ongoing conflict with Croatia and the complexity of the stabilization process have led to a less-uniformed policy towards the region.
Even before the Presidency, Slovenia defended its stronger role of the EU in the stabilization of the region on many occasions. Parallel to this, member states expected that Slovenia would act as a bridge between the EU and the Western Balkans, with which a sense of responsibility has grown. Slovenia's leadership priorities regarding the Western Balkans were well known, namely: 1) Bringing each country of the Western Balkans a step closer to the EU; 2) Maintaining dialogue with Serbia and sign the Stabilization and Association Agreement. During the Presidency, Slovenia acknowledged the aggravating circumstances that have arisen surrounding Macedonia, bilateral disputes, and the recognition of Kosovo as independent from Serbia. For that reason, Slovenia focused on raising awareness on the importance of bringing Western Balkan countries closer to the EU, maintaining the process on the EU agenda, and avoid risking the promotion of bilateral issues or sentiment against the majority will of the EU member states.
Life after the Brijuni-Brdo process-What Now?
Slovenian foreign policy activities striving towards bringing the Western Balkans closer to the EU did not end in 2008. On the contrary, on the 20th of March 2010, Slovenia and Croatia organized an important regional conference entitled the Brijuni-Brdo process, where eight countries would gather and talk in informal matter regarding the EU integration process, regional cooperation, and conflict resolution. The process, which at first looked as a platform for Slovenian and Croatian influence in the region, proved to be a very successful joint venture where countries discussed issues from radicalization and terrorism to the rule of law and the youth. The next big opportunity for deepening the EU engagement in the Western Balkans is slated for 2021, when Slovenia will again preside over the Council. But this time they can count on Croatia, an important partner in the region, for the same amount of help.