EPP President Martens Address on Slovenian Independence Day
I remember very well how in that heated situation, the question of recognising or not recognising Slovenia’s and Croatia’s independence became a problem of existential importance: not only for the two countries concerned and for Yugoslavia, but also for the European Communities of that time. It was existential because the old coalitions of World War I – Germany and Austria vs. Britain and France – were threatening to return and undermine European integration. I was the Prime Minister of Belgium at that time, and like my colleagues in Bonn and Vienna, Helmut Kohl and Franz Vranitzky, I was convinced that two principles were of overriding importance: First, respecting the free will of the Slovenes and Croats and second, not letting the spectres of the past return and jeopardise everything Europeans had achieved in 40 years.
Of course, a negotiated solution to this crisis was everybody’s preference. Slovenes had already overwhelmingly opted for independence in December 1990. But the Milošević government in Belgrade would not accept separation, and in fact, many West Europeans were also unconvinced by the Slovenes’ and Croat’s aspirations. They felt that recognising these aspirations would set off a wave of nationalism whose centrifugal forces could even erode the European Communities. Some seriously believed that a country like Slovenia was too small to be sustainable as a state. And of course, some saw in all this the reawakened power ambition of a freshly united Germany.
Dear Slovene friends,
I know your country is going through a complex political crisis at the moment. But precisely in times like these, it is worthwhile to take a step back and look at the whole picture - to look at what Slovenia, what you have achieved in these 20 years since 1991. Slovenia joined the European Union in 2004, together with seven other formerly communist countries. But it was the first from former Yugoslavia. More importantly, it was the first of the post-communist member states to join the Eurozone. It has the highest per capita GDP of this group of countries, and has overtaken Greece and Portugal years ago. And it successfully held the EU presidency – still under the Nice Treaty – in 2008, as the first among the former Iron Curtain countries.
All this is proof that independent Slovenia has exceeded the wildest expectations of 1991. But what seems even more important to me is that, walking through Ljubljana today, and the political crisis notwithstanding, I see happy people. I see a nation at peace with itself and the rest of Europe. And I see a nation which can make an enormously important contribution to our common endeavour.
In that sense, let me conclude with the translation of an excerpt from the poem that became the national anthem of free Slovenia, by your nation’s greatest poet, France Prešeren :
God’s blessing on all nations
Who long and work for that bright day
When over earth’s habitations
No war, no strife shall hold its sway;
Who long to see that all men free
No more shall foes, but neighbours be
My dear Slovene friends, this text dates from the 1830s, but it represents the founding spirit of a united Europe! I would like to congratulate you again on the anniversary of the independence of your fine nation, and thank you for your attention.
Wilfried Martens, EPP President