20 years of Slovenia in the EU – Ana Bojinović Fenko

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Photo de Luka E sur Unsplash 20 years of Slovenia in the EU - Ana Bojinović Fenko

Photo de Luka E sur Unsplash

Every Monday, a member of the international academic association ‘UACES’ will address a current topic linked to their research on euradio.


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Ana Bojinović Fenko, you are professor of international relations at the University of Ljubljana. Tell us what you were doing when Slovenia joined the European Union on the 1st of May 2004?

I was already at the University of Ljubljana, 23 years old and just graduated in Political Science with a major in International Relations at the Faculty of Social Sciences. Only fourteen days before the 1st of May 2004 I defended my Bachelor Thesis with the title: “Western Balkans as an opportunity for Slovenia as a member of the EU”. I was quite enthusiastic to be finishing my studies in this field, which was much focused on the EU accession process of Slovenia at this time when it was successfully finalised and when the accession Treaty came into force.


So what were your expectations for the future at that moment in your life?

My expectations as a future Master student were mostly focused on how to seize the new opportunities offered by the EU market and other EU integration instruments. I remember I applied for a master’s in European integration in Nice, in a programme ran by the Centre International de Formation Européenne, and I almost moved to France!

But finally, despite being accepted to the programme, I decided to stay in Ljubljana, where I was offered an employment in scientific research. In October 2004 I started a job as a Junior Researcher, which led directly from the Master to PhD studies in International Relations.

And I could feel the expected opportunities brought by EU membership very quickly, as the Centre of International Relations where I was employed got engaged in concrete international projects, especially those funded by the European Union. We were mostly analysing economic and political effects of EU enlargement for the EU but also for small states such as Slovenia. One specific feature, for example, was the effect of transition periods that were negotiated by some of the new Member States – for Slovenia this was a period imposed by Austria and Germany for opening their job market. In these research projects, the most important feature for Slovenian foreign policy was focusing on the future EU enlargement towards the Western Balkan countries.


So you were seizing the opportunities right from the beginning.
How do you look back today at these two decades?

Both personally and professionally I am very satisfied with Slovenian membership. It should be noted though that Slovenia as a society, economy and state did not only profit from EU membership. There were also hard times, for instance the specific period of the economic and financial crisis, when the state was on the very verge of bailout, but then the government managed to avoid international intervention into domestic finance.

Still, I consider the EU political community brings much more positive effects to Slovenia compared to if the state had not become an EU member. In my assessment, the ultimate positive effect for Slovenia – a former communist state – is the internalisation of European values into Slovenian society. This effect was very visible in 2020–2022 period, a moment when the government started several political manoeuvres of de-democratisation, disrespect of human rights and rule of law. Not only political opposition and organized civil society but also the Slovenian people in general opposed en masse such a move away from EU values and in the election managed to change the leading party and the government.


So there’s definitely more than economic benefits to EU membership.

Yes, I think so. All of the challenges Slovenia is facing – economic, political, security, social or cultural effects of globalisation – would of course have been present regardless of its EU membership. But for a small state of only 2 million people in the centre of Europe, at the crossroads of four different cultures, I assess that these challenges are met much more effectively in a multilateral setting within the European institutions.

As the biggest opportunity for Slovenia, I see the possibility for our country to contribute to EU policies that respond to specific interests and expertise of Slovenian companies, civil society and state: a fair green transition on a global scale, safeguarding international peace and security, protection of human rights and application of humanitarian law in armed conflicts, and more particularly the integration of Western Balkan countries into the European Union.


The last issue may be one of the most pressing ones today. Thank you very much, Ana Bojinović Fenko, for your personal testimony. I recall you are professor of international relations at the University of Ljubljana. All the best for the next twenty years!