Slovenia seemed to be a shining success story among transition countries and new members of the enlarged European Union. That was before the global financial crisis came. Ten years after the country has entered the union Slovenia is still trying to get out of financial turmoil which started with the global crisis in 2008. Despite that and despite the disappointment of many of Slovenian citizens, both the economy and the living standards are much better than they used to be before Slovenia joined EU.
On May 1st 2004 Slovenia reached its most important political goal since the nation’s independence in 1991. The young republic joined the European Union together with 9 other central and southeastern European states. Slovenians were the most prosperous among the transition nations. They were the first among the new member states to adopt the Euro as the national currency and to preside the Union. The brightest student in the class. But then the 2008 financial crisis came: in the aftermath of the global shakedown Slovenia’s financial and banking system nearly collapsed. Many deeply hidden structural problems suddenly became apparent.
Many Slovenians are disappointed, mostly by national politics but also with the European Union in general. The turnout at May’s elections for the European parliament was the second lowest in Europe with only 21 percent. Some populist media are pushing the message that Slovenians are worse off than they were before joining EU or even before the country’s independence.
This is simply not true. Eurostat figures show that gross domestic product (GDP) per capita on purchasing power parity grew by 27 percent since Slovenia joined the EU. It is a modest growth: with 17.300 Euros per capita Slovenian GDP reached 84 percent of the European average in 2003. The situation hasn’t changed: in 2012 the figure was still 84 percent. The median income however went up. Eurostat’s data show an increase of 37.8 percent between 2005 and 2012. According to the Statistical Office of the Republic of Slovenia (SURS) the average wage was one third higher in 2013 than it was the year before Slovenia joined the union.
Not only that. The industrial output went up by 41 percent from 22.6 to 31.9 billion Euros in the last ten years. The number of employees in these companies decreased by 14 percent since the crisis resulting in a higher unemployment rate. It means that the productivity of Slovenian industrial companies significantly improved in the last ten years. The exports soared from 11.2 billion euros in 2003 to 21.6 billion in 2013. The figures on exports and productivity clearly show that Slovenian industry remains to a large degree healthy, dynamic and competitive: the problems which triggered the crisis lie mostly in the financial system and low quality of public governance. By the way: employment in the public sector went up by 7 percent in the last 10 years.
The international comparisons clearly show that Slovenians have never enjoyed as good a standard of living as they do now. The United Nation’s Human Development Index puts Slovenia on 21st place – that’s above countries like Italy or UK. And the statistical data included in the index show a clear improvement in most areas. Heritage Foundation’s report on economic freedom ranks Slovenia among the moderate free economies. Yet it states that “Slovenia was first graded in the 1996 index, and its economic freedom has advanced since then by 12.3 percent, the most improvement among the advanced economies.”
Despite the crisis Slovenia has advanced significantly since entering EU. Yes, the growth was not as spectacular as in other, less prosperous new member states. But Slovenians are still enjoying a high standard of living – and despite all, it is getting better all the time. Many Slovenians have become disillusioned since the start of the financial and political turmoil and – provoked by the media – tend to believe that the country is getting poorer. But when they express their anger with the situation – they do it online with their latest iPhone.