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    Copyright: The following text is for personal information only. Any professional use or publication in written or electronic form is subject to an agreement with AIM, 17 rue Rebeval, F-75019 Paris, France

    SAT, 30 MAR 1996 18:12:13 GMT

    Slovenia & Europe

    CURVY ROAD ACROSS ITALIAN HILLS

    March 26, 1996

    There is no doubt that the main Slovenia's objective in all spheres is to join the European Union. At the very beginning this objective seemed much easier to attain than nowadays, five years after Slovenia had become an independent state. Despite the well known results achieved both in the sphere of the economy, and in the level of democratization of the society, which are major conditions for even starting to consider the possibility of joining the European Union, Slovenia is still where it used to be: standing in front of more or less closed doors which were at first wide open by majority of states-members of the EU, and then shut by a single move of Italy. All that introduced a great deal of nervousness into Slovene internal policy. A large portion of it (the opposition parties, of course) laid the blame for it on the government, but especially on foreign minister Zoran Thaler against whom it even submitted a proposal for interpellation.

    For the first time, Slovenia expressed its wish to join the European family on the very day it won independence, on June 25, 1991, when this objective was included in its Declaration on Independence. A year later, in June 1992, it officially informed the Council of Europe about it, at its meeting in Lisbon, and since then, not a month and lately, not a week, passes without Slovene authorities contacting representatives of various European states or agencies of the EU. The answer of the 14 states, members of the Union is clear: we have nothing against your joining the EU, because according to all your achievements you are one of the first candidates for full-fledged membership in the European Union, but we cannot do anything until Italy agrees to it, because the principle of concensus is in force in the Union.

    The Mistake of Raising False Hopes of the Italians

    Therefore nowadays, nobody in Slovenia checks how many steps have been made in the direction of Brussels, that is the EU, it is much more important what the Slovene authorities, or actually its ministry of foreign affairs is doing in respect to Italy. Opinions about the actions of some of the politicians towards the western neighbour in the past four years vary. Slovenia's former ambassador in Rome, Marko Kosin, who was called off from the duty, believed that it would not be bad to make a sign of good will concerning demands of the Italians and return a number of houses in Istria to the Italians who had lived in them before establishment of the socialist rule in former Yugoslavia, and then left them and went to Italy in fear of communism. While ambassador Kosin considered this to be a humane gesture towards elderly people who felt nostalgia for their former homes, Lojze Peterle, former foreign minister and president of Slovene Christian Democrats during his ministerial visit to the neighbouring Italy had already promised those houses and some other things, because "one should have understanding for difficulties of both nations which had both suffered, one under one and the other under the other totalitarian regime".

    President of the parliamentary committee for international relations, Borut Pahor, sees these gestures in a different light. "The main mistake in relations with Italy was made in 1992 and 1993 when the Slovene authorities agreed to make Italy believe that Slovenia was ready to give Italy everything it demanded, just in order it let it join Europe. Our state did not early enough and clearly enough reject Italian expectations that it would be given real estate of optants in Istria instead of financial obligations which Slovenia inherited as the only successor state of former SFRY pursuant the 1983 Roman Contract", said Pahor. Pahor's forecasts are probably correct, because it is rather interesting that Italy is actually more interested in useless, half demolished houses instead in money which Slovenia is regularly paying to a special bank account in Luxembourg and in this way fulfilling its obligations from the Roman Agreement, with the knowledge of the European Union.

    Slovenia as a Model for Croatia

    Where is the real answer concealed why the Italians are attributing greater significance to old houses than to money is a question which confused many people in Slovenia in the beginning of the Slovene-Italian entanglement. Two acknowledged connoisseurs of Italian circumstances offer answers to this question. Marko Kosin remembers a statement of former advisor and assistant foreign minister in Mr. Berlusconi's government, Livio Caputta, who wrote a few years ago: "It does not matter how many houses we will get, it matters only that we return to Istria!" Tone Poljsak, former journalist and diplomat who is nowadays president of the Slovene part of a mixed Italian-Slovene comittee for legal and ownership issues proceeds along the lines of Kosin's observations: "Their logic is quite simple: if they get 7 thousand real estate properties from Slovenia, they can expect 70 thousand from Croatia. And if they get just three thousand from Slovenia, they will get only 30 thousand in Croatia. I was present at talks when high Italian officials declared that several houses in Slovenia did not matter to them, but that it was important for them to create a model which could be applied elsewhere!"

    That is the reason why Tone Poljsak suggests that Slovenia and Croatia sign an agreement on joint approach to Italy. With consent of Italy, they could use and broaden the existing agreements in an acceptable manner. "Perhaps in the way we have applied the 1983 Roman Contract in former Yugoslavia, pursuant to which we enabled Italian citizens to use and inherit 179 real estate properties. We could deal in this way again. First we would enable Italian owners to use a symbolic number of real estate properties, and then pay back the rest of the debt to Italy. Namely, houses and apartments form just a small part of our and the Croat debt. Since Slovenia so far has no legal provisions for ownership of foreign citizens, after adoption of such laws, we would sign contracts with Italians who would be already using real estate properties, pursuant to which they would become their owners", Poljsak suggests.

    If not Directly, Let It Be Before Its Turn Comes

    No opinion has been reached yet in Slovenia which road should be taken in developing relations with the western neighbour which persistently refuses to give its consent for signing the association contract with the EU, as an inevitable step towards final joining of the Union. In a parliament debate about direction of Slovenia's foreign policy, all groups of parliamentary parties agreed that their joint objective was full-fledged membership in the Union, but that Slovenia could join it only with its head up, without humiliation and under equal conditions as all the other states waiting in line to be received in the EU. Adjustment to bilateral relations with one of the EU member states, that is to its demands from a candidate for membership, opens the possibility of a series of new situations which Austria could do to the Czeck Republic, Germany to Poland...

    That is why Slovene political leadership decided that if Slovenia does not manage to sign the association contract while Italy chairs the European Union, it would submit an official application for reception in the EU immediately afterwards, that is, while Ireland chairs the Union, and in this way show Europe, as minister Thaler recently declared, how deep the gap was between the de facto status of Slovenia as the best candidate for reception in the EU and the de jure situation in which it is unable to sign the association contract solely due to opposition of one of the members of the EU. So much for Thaler. His remaining at the post of foreign minister will depend largely on whether he will be able to convince deputies of the Slovene parliament that this plan is a good one. It the opposition succeeds in interpellation against him, we might as well expect that Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek himself will take over his job, because now, just half a year before the new parliamentary elections and during the difficult struggle of Slovenia for its penetration into Europe, hardly anybody could quickly enough take over this exceptionally responsible and difficult role.

    Janja Klasinc, AIM