Slovenia could well go down in history as the most EU-optimistic candidate country, as Slovenes seemed to agree that the country had received a very good deal in the accession negotiations. For NATO the support was lower, but here one of the major turning points was the assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic.
Slovenians, the second nation to vote for European Union membership this year, have strongly supported the country’s integration into the Union. According to the unofficial results of the national electoral commission, 89.61% have said ‘Yes’. With this outcome, Slovenia could well go down in history as the most EU-optimistic candidate country. Malta, which held its EU referendum on March 8, also supported EU membership but with only 53.6% of Maltese in favor.
However, it would be wrong to believe that the outcome of the Slovenian EU referendum is only due to a very successful pre-referendum campaign. Previous opinion polls over the years have shown support for the EU among 60 to 70 percent of the population, with only one in five Slovenians undecided. Consequently, the success of the EU referendum was never in doubt. Instead, there were fears that people might vote against NATO membership, another issue on the ballot last Sunday.
Apparently taking into account the consistent level of public support for the EU, the Slovenian government decided to focus its attention on NATO to try and convince the public that membership in both organizations is complimentary, not exclusive. The slogan of the official campaign for the dual referendum was subsequently “at home in Europe, safe in NATO,” thus making it difficult to separate the two issues.
In reviewing the campaign, it seems that the Slovenian government counted on outside help to a large degree. The former Yugoslavian republic was bombarded almost daily with high-profile visits from Europe, including visits by EU President Romano Prodi and NATO Secretary General George Robertson.
For NATO – which got a 66.05% vote of support in the referendum – one of the major turning points was the assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. For many, this was an unpleasant wake-up call that served as a reminder of the unstable region Slovenians live in. Joining the EU and NATO meant leaving these troubles in the past.
As for the EU, Slovenes seemed to agree that the country had received a very good deal in the accession negotiations. The Slovenian Minister for European Affairs, Janez Potočnik, who is very popular among the people, is also praised for explaining EU affairs in a very clear manner.
Moreover, there was no real ‘No’ campaign against the EU as only one minor political party in the Parliament (the Nationalist Party that holds 4 seats in the 90-seat Parliament) is against Slovenia’s integration into the EU. Now and then some public figures argued that EU membership meant sacrificing a part of national sovereignty, a sensitive issue for a country with only a short period of independence. This argument never prevailed, though, partly because of the positive outcome of the accession negotiations and partly because Slovenes generally accept that adopting European laws and standards is good for the country. It must be noted that Slovenia has a relatively high standard of living, therefore the Slovenian people don’t expect many problems entering the common European market and facing down Western competition.