Slovenia in the EU and the issue of post-national democracy

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Slovenia in the EU and the issue of post-national democracy

Dimitrij Rupel, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Slovenia, addressed the third in the series of special EPC briefings Meet the new Member States. He spoke on “Slovenia in the EU and the issue of post national democracy.” A question and answer session followed. This is not an official record of the proceedings and specific remarks are not necessarily attributable.

Preserving the nation state in an enlarged EU

Mr Rupel made clear that Slovenia’s approach to EU membership is based on the supremacy of the nation state, coupled with a clear determination to ensure that smaller countries are considered the equal of larger members – including the use of positive discrimination to bring this about. The key to an enlarged EU was the preservation of cultural identities and the predominance of intergovernmentalism – something requiring the use of diversity management.

The Foreign Minister began by pointing out that many believed that failure to agree an “appropriate” solution for running an EU of at least 25 members would mean calamity – and the appropriate solution in their view involved less responsibility for national governments and more responsibility for common supranational bodies of the EU. The choice was certainly between more of the “communitarian” or more of the “intergovernmental” method, and that choice was closely linked with future status of the nation states.

The differences between the EU countries remained – for now – a fundamental feature of the EU’s functioning, and although the Member States were growing more equal, Member States were not relinquishing their differences.

Indeed, national governments had maintained most of their authority regarding cultural, economic and social policy, although most had transferred monetary sovereignty to an independent common non-political institution – the European Central Bank.

The Delors vision

The founding fathers had imagined that the European Community would be a federation of Member States, leading to a United States of Europe, and, until the collapse of the Berlin wall and the end of the Cold War in 1989, the then Commission President, Jacques Delors, had worked with that vision. The Delors approach was characterised by a belief that “Europeanism” was an answer to the dramatic devaluation – thanks to globalisation – of the instruments of national policy.

But EU integration as envisaged by the founding fathers was a different project from that of enlargement. Integration was a western project based on many economic and political assumptions, but expansion of the west towards the east was a project of the nineties.

The democratic deficit

Mr Rupel said the question now was one of proceeding with a federal or confederal European model, with more or less inter-governmentalism, and he warned that unless the democratic deficit is resolved, public complaints about the faceless Brussels bureaucracy would continue. Citizens had difficulty in identifying with impersonal bureaucrats, and national and ethnic identification was important for efficient governance.

The Yugoslav experience and the experience of other multi-ethnic communities bore witness to the fateful significance of consensual, proportional and majority decision-making. Slovenia took a relaxed view of democracy, stemming from liberation from under the Yugoslav system. Today, Slovenia was no longer burdened with the “Yugoslav problems” of national representation, although, like many other parts of Europe, it was confronted with occasional anti-global protests and blunt and radical criticism.

It seems, said Mr Rupel, as if integration processes have further intensified such criticism, w ith people concerned about “the export” of political authority outside the state borders. The increasing distance between the power centres and everyday, tangible problems, could lead to a serious challenge to the established system of parliamentary democracy.

Preserving national identity

Slovenia’s crucial question was whether the EU could be transformed into an effective multinational organization without removing national identities – the choice between a federation and a confederation. The biggest problem will be regulating relations in a multi-ethnic and multi-national community to move towards an “ever-closer union”, without it becoming the United States of Europe.

What was needed was diversity management – a rich tradition in Europe. Certainly the fundamental question remained how to resolve ethnic, religious and other differences and retain cultural diversity in an increasingly borderless world. Uncertainty about how to tackle the question is reflected in the Euro banknotes, said Mr Rupel. Their abstract designs, revealing no specific personality or location, implied a fundamental avoidance, maybe hesitation, inconclusiveness and incertitude.

The Slovenian vision

Mr Rupel then set out Slovenia’s specific views on Europe’s future:

  • The nation states must continue to remain the fundamental source and safeguard for the identity of any European nation. Attention must therefore focus on diversity management. Individual identities must remain protected from weakening and amalgamation in an enlarged Europe.
  • The areas of national life that must remain in the exclusive competence of Member States must be defined, certainly including language, culture, and education.
  • The balance between smaller and larger countries should include an element of positive discrimination.
  • The principle of subsidiarity is the foundation for diversity management and Slovenia wants a clearer delimitation or definition of competences between the EU and the Member States.
  • The EU Treaties are too complicated. Their simplification would contribute to making the functioning of the Union more understandable to EU citizens, thus contributing to greater transparency, bringing the Union closer to its citizens.
  • The role of national parliaments is crucial: any new EU Treaty should include a protocol obliging EU institutions to submit to national parliaments all the documents they need for effective control over European affairs, including EMU and the CFSP.
  • The balance of power between smaller and larger states should be kept, and the power of smaller states must not be reduced.
  • Slovenia must be integrated in all the stages of decision-making on Europe’s common future, including participation in the next intergovernmental conference with the rights of an EU Member State.
  • Slovenia would like the IGC to be convened no earlier than 2004. If it does start, in an extreme case, in 2003, it should by no means end earlier than 2004.

Discussion

Positive discrimination for smaller countries

Answering questions, Mr Rupel said he envisaged positive discrimination working to give smaller EU states greater representation than their size might warrant. For example, in Slovenia minorities groups are represented in the national Parliament with an agreed number of seats, regardless of how small their minority in the country is. Mr Rupel said that the Nice Treaty provisions already offered certain privileges for smaller Member States, which are not offered to the big ones. Positive discrimination could also mean a special commitment to ethnic minority groups and certain cultures.

Slovenian apathy towards EU and NATO

Asked about public apathy in Slovenia towards both EU and NATO membership, the Foreign minister said he thought support was about 56% for NATO mem bership, and a little higher for the EU. It was something the government was concerned about and it was clear that the closer membership of both organisations loomed, the more serious the nation became about the prospect. He said he hoped a government promotional campaign just underway would influence the figures.

Slovenia’s objectives for the Convention

Mr Rupel was very clear about what issues Slovenia wanted addressed in the current Convention discussions (which include Slovenian representation) on Europe’s future: “We are jealous of our culture and we want to advocate the survival of the nation state” he declared. Pressed on the balance between federalism and inter-governmentalism, he said Slovenia saw merit in both the “Community method” and the intergovernmental method, but he insisted there was no general readiness in Europe to see a change, which triggered the predominance of the Community method.

He said the Council of Ministers should be given an executive role – the executive branch of a “European government”. The European Parliament should be the expression of democratic will, with a built-in role for national Parliaments.

Promoting debate on the Convention in Slovenia

A Slovenian national public forum running in parallel with the work of the Convention was due to start work on 11 April. It would meet regularly or when deemed necessary to assess major issues on the convention agenda, bringing students, professors and others in civil society into the debate.

Slovenia and federalism

He said that most of the problems Slovenia has with the notion of a federal Europe stemmed from its past in a Yugoslav federal experiment: “We are aware of the problems that federations imply”. But he emphasised that was nothing inherently wrong with federations: the Yugoslav Federation fell apart not because it was a federation as such, but because it was a badly-managed federation. “A federation for me has some dangers built in – if this danger is well-controlled a federation can work very well.”

Finally, Mr Rupel insisted there was no prejudice against federations in Slovenia – just caution.

For more analyses see The European Policy Centre’s

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