SAT, 31 MAR 2001 18:51:48 GMT
Slovenia and the European Union
Abolishment of Equality
Hardly four years have gone by since the latest amendment of Slovenian
Constitution when at the initiative of Rome and Brussels, European
officials decided that the latest intervention was not sufficient;
therefore, it was suggested to Ljubljana to further amend its
Constitution and the parliamentarian bodies promptly ratified this
proposal initialed by the government of Janez Drnovsek
AIM Ljubljana, March 28, 2001
Until the month of July Sweden chairs the European Union; that was the
reason why Swedish foreign minister visited Ljubljana and handed in an
unexpected demand to her hosts - that before becoming an official and
equal member of the Union Slovenia amend its legislature that regulates
real-estate turnover for foreigners (only those from the countries of
the EU, of course). Therefore, Slovenia needs to abolish the principle
of reciprocity and re-write not only its laws but also Article 68 of the
Constitution which defines real-estate turnover in Slovenia.
The news would not have been anything special if only four years ago
Slovenian administration had not been forced to amend its laws and the
Constitution after strong pressure had been exerted on it from Rome and
Brussels, with sharp rhetoric in the parliament. Until then Slovenian
Constitution had limited sale of real estate to foreigners, in other
words - completely prevented them from buying land.
"Foreigners may achieve property right to real-estate pursuant the
requirements determined by law. Foreigners may not acquire the property
right to land, except in case of inheritance and reciprocity condition".
And the reciprocity condition meant that Slovenia would act to newcomers
from EU countries equally as other states to its citizens. Therefore, if
in some country a Slovenian citizen can inherit property, according to
the principle of reciprocity the same shall be permitted to a citizen of
that country. Such and similar laws in the states founded on the
territory of former SFR Yugoslavia were one of the reasons for the rush
of the people to acquire more than one citizenship, because the very
acquisition of dual or multiple citizenship ensured the achievement of
individual rights. That was the only way people could ensure inheritance
of real estate in the once brotherly republics, among which not a single
legal link had remained intact after the wars they had fought. The
exception were those who possessed real-estate in Slovenia since the
times before the new laws were passed; they still freely use and dispose
of their property.
Such a solution did not suit some citizens of the EU. These were
primarily "esulis" and "optants", former inhabitants of the parts of
Slovenia (and Croatia) who after 1945 were forced to choose their
citizenship. Majority of them chose to be Italian citizens and
consequently were forced to leave their homes, on the basis of peace
agreement between Italy and Yugoslavia. The territories where they
happened to be became part of Yugoslavia after the war and nowadays they
are part of Slovenia and Croatia. After dissolution of Yugoslavia former
inhabitants wished that the newly founded states leave their communist
past behind and give them back their pre-war property. They once had to
abandon or sell their estates dirt cheap; now they want them back, and
if that is not possible (and it is not, because the rights of the new
owners were protected by contracts once signed by Italy and Yugoslavia)
they demanded that they at least be allowed to buy their former estates.
The pressure of the "esulis" and their organisations shook up the
political Right in Italy, it shook up Italian government, and Italian
government shook up Brussels; Brussels pulled the brakes and
negotiations on associated membership of Slovenia in the EU were
interrupted for three long years!
During that three-year interruption, Italy pressured Slovenia and almost
won a significant diplomatic victory. That is when Lojze Peterle in the
capacity of foreign minister of Slovenia signed the Oglej agreement the
fourth article of which prescribed the right of priority sale of
real-estate to the citizens of Italy on the whole territory of Slovenia!
In other words, the Italians had the right not only to a hundred odd
estates in the narrow strip of littoral (where they once lived), but the
Italians could count on about seven thousand estates in the region which
extends all the way to Postojna which is hardly 50 kilometres away from
Ljubljana, and even more. In this way Slovenia has practically swallowed
a revision not only of the Osim but also of the Paris Peace Agreement.
By a clever formulation of the Oglej agreement Italy made it clear that
it by no means wishes to limit return of property of its citizens just
to Zone B (half of the once controversial territory around Trieste) but
that it has aspirations to the whole territory Slovenia, that is, at
least to the province of Primorska which was liberated during the Second
World War from Italian occupation and later annexed to Yugoslavia.
To make things even more interesting, thanks to the skill of diplomats
of Tito's Yugoslavia that part of property was paid in full to Italy
while settling war indemnity. In other words, had Slovenian government
supported Peterle's decision and ratified "Oglej agreement" it would
have taken it upon itself to amend its Constitution at an emergency
procedure (before definitely signing the contract on associated
membership in the European Union), to make a list of property of the
Italians in Slovenia and pass a moratorium on turnover of that property.
This agreement was, however, rejected by Slovenian government.
A somewhat more rightful diplomatic solution of the controversy was then
brought to Ljubljana by Javier Solana; in honour of the state he comes
from the 13th Annex of the Contract on Associated Membership of Slovenia
in the EU was popularly called the "Spanish compromise". The essence of
the compromise was Slovenia's agreement to open its real-estate market
to all the citizens of the EU (regardless of its possible acceptance
into membership) in three years time, while in the meantime real-estate
could be purchased by all the former "inhabitants of Slovenia" who had
lived on its territory for at least three years, "optants" inclusive.
Rome and Brussels were both satisfied.
That is why the wonder is nowadays even greater - how is it possible
that neither European diplomats nor their Slovenian partners once and
for all determined four years ago how laws and the Constitution should
be formulated? It turned out that it is controversial that even after
"European adjustment” the formulation on "reciprocity" was preserved in
Slovenian Constitution. Until now this has not seemed controversial to
anybody, since reciprocity is part of the practice applied in
international relations. "Until recently not even the best informed
suspected that it would be necessary to amend the Constitution again in
connection with sale of real-estate to foreigners", reports the appalled
reporter of Delo daily from Brussels after the statement of Swedish
Why has reciprocity suddenly become a problem? Some states (like
Denmark) managed to procure for themselves a different treatment in
Brussels from the one offered to its new members. Denamrk has preserved
strict bans of real-estate sale in the bordering region in order to
prevent that land from becoming easy prey for rich Germans who would
gladly buy weekend cottages in Denmark. In this context, if the
paragraph on "reciprocity" were accepted in case of Slovenia at the
moment it is received in the EU, it would mean that the states such as
Denmark would have reason to feel "discriminated", because their
citizens would not be allowed to buy real-estate in Slovenia (just like
Slovenians in Denmark).
The shock after the visit of the Swedish Minister was short-lived; and
then Drnovsek's government took the law into its own hands and decided
to react responsibly and expeditiously. It bravely proposed a new
amendment of the already amended Article 68 of the Constitution.
Minister of European Affairs, Igor Bavcar, and the head of the team for
negotiations with the EU Janez Potocnik proposed that parliamentarian
committees ratify the government proposal ("in the interest of joining
the EU") which was done very shortly after that.
There is a lesson in this story; on rare occasions are relations between
states so transparent. Once we would have called such relations a
protectorate, vassalage or, more mildly put, limitation of sovereignty.
Historians and economists studied them mostly on the examples of former
African and Latin-American colonies. Nowadays such relations of
inequality are mostly concealed and invisible, packed into the laws that
regulate market economy, standardisation rules, opened communications
and norms that need to be cut according to “European standards”. This is
practically an unprecedented case of a group of privileged states so
clearly and even formally demanding from another state to agree to
inequality and abolishing protective measures such as reciprocity; and
moreover that state agrees to meet the demanded conditions quickly and
without a discussion. “Independence is the function of size” warned late
Dr. Aleksandar Bajt before Slovenia had won independence. He was beaten
up in Tivoli for that statement. The beating, however, has not silenced
him, and only nowadays is it obvious how right he was. Ten years after
Slovenia had become independent, Slovenian politicians still sing
praises to independence, while on the other hand there is nothing easier
for them than to change the highest legal act and laws of this state,
whenever any of the members of the European Union pleases.