Slovenia Marking Ten Years of EU Membership

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Besides Slovenia, the EU also welcomed on 1 May 2004 Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland and Slovakia. With the exception of Slovenia, Malta and Cyprus, the newcomers were part of the Eastern Bloc before the fall of the Iron Curtain.

The Slovenians almost unanimously endorsed the accession to the EU in a 2003 referendum, as almost 90% of the voters who cast their ballots said yes to EU membership. Joining the EU had been a national goal ever since Slovenia declared independence in 1991, enjoying consensual support in both politics and the public.

However, Slovenia's path towards the EU was not without obstacles. Neighbouring Italy made it a condition for Slovenia to sign the agreement on its associate EU membership on the issue of property left behind by the "optanti" – ethnic Italians who left Slovenia soon after WWII.

After months of efforts, the deadlock was eventually broken by the Solana compromise in 1995.

Brokered by then Spanish FM Javier Solana, the agreement signed in 1996 allowed all EU citizens who had lived in Slovenia for at least three years to buy real estate in Slovenia even before the country entered the EU.

Slovenia started EU membership negotiations with the EU in 1998 and closed them in late 2002, while the Accession Treaty was signed in 2003.

Since this was the first enlargement of the EU to the former Eastern Bloc countries, the old member states had some second thoughts especially about the inflow of cheap labour force from the east.

Headlined by Germany and Austria, certain countries limited the access to their labour markets for workers from the 2004 EU newcomers. Restrictions in some countries were in force for as many as seven years, including for Slovenia.

During the early years of EU membership, no significant outflow of labour force from Slovenia was recorded; Slovenians started emigrating in larger numbers only after the outbreak of the economic crisis in 2008.

In the first ten years of Slovenia's EU membership, the biggest events were the introduction of the euro at the beginning of 2007 and the lifting of border controls with the accession to the Schengen area at the end of the same year.

Another landmark event was Slovenia's presidency of the EU in the first half of 2008, the honour to have befell Slovenia as the first newcomer from the 2004 round of enlargement. The presidency was widely regarded as a success.

When it comes to finance and economy, the first years of EU membership for Slovenia were optimistic, although Slovenia was already receiving warnings from Brussels about the need to carry out structural reforms, pension reform in particular.

Slovenia's structural problems were brutally exposed by the outbreak of the financial and economic crisis in 2008, with the country sliding into recession and speculations spreading about the need for financial aid from the EU.

In 2008, Slovenia's GDP at purchasing power parity reached 91% of the EU average, while the share slid to 82% by 2012.

The biggest financial story in 2013 was the amount of non-performing assets in Slovenian banks, which was counted in billions of euros. In December, the government said the country would be able to fix the problem on its own, pouring some EUR 3.5bn into three biggest banks.

Slovenians remain rather optimistic about the future of the EU, though, according to a Eurobarometer survey carried out at the end of last year. On the other hand, they are among the most pessimistic nations regarding the economic situation in their own country.

Ten years on, the enthusiasm about EU membership has been dropping in Slovenia. According to a November survey, around half of Slovenians would vote again for EU membership, while a third would vote against.