Interview for EUROPE-NYC Newsletter
New York, 24.9.2009 | interview
Slovenian President Discusses Future of EU at NYU Law
Journalist: Jeremy T. Bold
Our CEMS correspondent, Jeremy T. Bold, caught up with the president after his lecture to talk about Slovenia's recent experience adopting the Euro, American academic perspectives on Europe, and the pursuit of a common European identity.
One of the major events in recent Slovenian history was the adoption of the Euro at the beginning of 2007. There was some initial concern that this would cause a number of problems for the economy, yet the changeover seems to have gone quite well with very little inflation. Is the situation still stable, and what do you think helped that transition take place?
The situation is stable and people have, I think, accepted the Euro as their money, as their currency so in that sense things are good. It is also good that Slovenia is part of the Eurozone now at a time of recession because we have a sense of stability which is a result of the Euro and a common monetary policy in the Eurozone. The only problem which I see, but I think is not necessarily felt very strongly among the people, is the fact that since we do not have our own currency, we cannot use our own monetary mechanisms in the time of recession. It would be easier for us if we could devalue our currency and boost our exporting - we cannot do that now. And, of course, for a country which exports about 70 percent of its GDP, that is a major element of the setback in this situation. But that is more of theory because nobody is thinking about being anything else than a member of the Eurozone.
Do you feel that the EU is very helpful in handling monetary policy in this time of recession?
You see, when it comes to crisis measures - policy measures – undertaken during a time of crisis, we can follow the models that fit for the European Union countries. The fiscal stimulus was very much of the model which exists in Europe and there were such things as subsidizing shorter work hours and other things of this nature, which all belonged to the choice of policies in the time of crisis. We can follow the European efforts in general, and I think that has been well received. What really presents a problem is implementation because those types of measures have to be formulated quickly and implemented effectively, and there shouldn’t be any feeling that some could benefit where others did not. We have a problem on the level of implementation, I’m going to be honest. It’s not very easy to convince workers to accept that subsidizing these work hours is a temporary measure that of course will not last forever. So in implementation we have a problem, although everyone accepted these measures as necessary and as valid, partly because they were carried out in other European countries as well.
Obviously, I’m an American student in one of a number of European Studies programs in the United States. Do you think that it’s useful to have non-Europeans doing research on what are supposedly specifically European issues?
Absolutely. I think we should learn a lot from the American perspective of European legal issues. In Europe, I think it is generally understood that the United States has a very sophisticated legal system which is unique, which is different from most European legal systems, but which is of extremely high quality. So I think that our general conclusion is that Europe can only benefit from scholarly research and critique and also from the work of American practicing lawyers.
Is that the constitutional system that you’re speaking about?
No, I think in all areas of law. I think it’s very valuable to compare, let’s say, the function of commercial law or criminal law in the union area and the United States. And whatever happens in terms of legal debates in this context is useful.
The internationally-known Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek happens to be teaching a course here at NYU this semester.
I was not aware of that, but I’m very pleased.
In 1990, Žižek was a presidential candidate for Slovenia. Perhaps we can infer from this that there is some sort of a tradition of academia becoming involved in the political process in Slovenia?
This tradition is not very strong but in the immediate aftermath of our independence the involvement of people from academia in politics and diplomacy was very high. Slavoj Žižek was a very good example of a scholar and philosopher who was very influential in developing our political pluralism. He was a kind of ideologue of a major party, the Liberal Democrats, and he was able to articulate his ideas in terms of an ideological platform of a major party at the time. So he was very strongly involved in politics. It was quite natural that he was also a candidate for the post of the president, but he didn’t get many votes. Elections are a special exercise. It doesn’t depend only on the quality of the writing; you have to have other abilities and you have to convince people.
How do you think you made that transition, obviously very successfully?
Well you see I was a diplomat, I spent much time in New York, and I think people in Slovenia wanted to have someone who was new in some ways. I was seen as a new face on the Slovenian political scene, and I think that people really had a need to have a new candidate, and I think that that attracted them.
Obviously the academy might be receptive to idealistic and perhaps “ivory tower” sort of judgments about things. Do you feel like you were different in that regard?
I don’t think that “ivory tower” type of thinking has much sense nowadays. I think that that is not relevant at all. But I would like to draw your attention to a quote from Shakespeare who said that, ‘The world is a stage and the people are merely actors.’ So there are different roles that people play and, of course, it is about role-playing: as a politician you play a different role than as an academic.
Returning again to the Euro, do you feel that this is the most significant event in recent Slovenian history?
It was a significant economic and also psychological event because we had our own currency - the tolar - which has the same etymological base as the American dollar: talent in the Greek. So we had our own currency which was stable and of which we were quite proud. But then we understood that we had to integrate in Europe, so psychologically that transition was very significant. Euro means full integration into Europe, of course, that’s the psychology of that currency, and this goes much beyond economics. People have fully accepted it as our currency now and it also helped that the design of the coins includes some of our own symbols, our cultural symbols. I think that that helps because people have to relate to the money they use.
That probably goes back to what you were talking about in the lecture regarding developing a coherent identity for Europeans while maintaining some of that independence of member nations.
Absolutely, we are still very far from a coherent identity, but we have, I think, complementary individual identities, and the design of the Euro coins is a very good example of this situation.
Do you feel there are any European common identifiers, common symbols, that could pull together the unity of European nations to help found that coherent vision?
The Euro is such a symbol in the making. It is not yet that, but I think it could be a very powerful unifying symbol in due course.