In recent years, Europe has been turning its attention toward its towns and cities. Rightfully so, as approximately 80 percent of the Union's population currently lives in urban areas. A major push was given in 1986 when an independent not-for-profit organization called "Eurocities" was established. Eurocities serves as a mouthpiece for the interests of cities within the context of the European Union. Its membership is currently 80 cities in 19 countries.
The European Commission launched the URBAN Initiative in 1994. It was established to work towards the economic and social development of towns and cities in decline. It has two objectives: to encourage the use of innovative strategies of economic and social regeneration in declining urban areas, and to promote the dissemination of information on and experience in sustainable urban development in the EU. The Initiative is financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), founded in 1975 for use in disadvantaged areas.
All indications show that urban issues can only stand to become more prominent in the EU's agenda in the future. The European Union itself made a giant leap forward with regard to urban policy with its Agenda 2000 in May of 1998. The development of urban areas is discussed in the context of regional policies more than once in the document.
Agenda 2000 also contained the formal recommendation that negotiations be opened with Slovenia and certain other countries. Slovenia's accession process officially began in March of 1998 with the start of the formal negotiations for full membership, but in reality the process had been initiated soon after Slovene independence in 1991.
With Slovene membership in the EU, Slovene towns will all receive the benefits of the common market, enabling their products and workforce to compete throughout the Union. They will also be eligible for EU funding and other forms of assistance only open to Member States. Additionally, each city is feeling the accession process in its own idiosyncratic way. Ljubljana, the capital, is both enjoying the attention the accession process has brought as well as experiencing growing pains associated with its new role. The accession process has given declining Maribor, the country's second-largest city, a newfound sense of hope. But Koper most likely stands to gain the most, as EU accession will facilitate its cooperation with its neighbors as well as attract new business and investment.Ljubljana
In 1991, Ljubljana found itself thrust into the new role of national capital, having been merely a provincial capital for nearly 75 years. With independence, the government announced its intention to seek accession to the European Union, and as Slovenia's membership draws closer and closer, Ljubljana is taking steps to operate on the same level as other capitals of EU Member States.
Training its civil servants is probably the biggest step Ljubljana must take as it tries to catch up to other EU Member State capitals. In fall 1998, the Centre for European Studies, the government's Office for Local Self-Government and other partners organized the European School for Local Self-Government to train 30 participants from Ljubljana's municipal administration. Ljubljana mayor Viktorija Potočnik has agreed to have a total of 150 civil servants trained in the program.
In the program, students are introduced to such issues as development trends within European and Slovene self-government, organization of new municipalities, security and regionalism. Other topics include European structural funds and technical aid within the PHARE program. The training program also includes technical workshops.
Municipal civil servants also must be instructed in the protocol expected of them during state visits. Potočnik sees this as being of particular importance for the city's image.
In a 1998 interview with the daily newspaper Dnevnik, Potočnik expressed her concern that the capital, as well as other actors at the local level, had not been sufficiently involved in the accession process. "Certainly, Ljubljana isn't the only European city faced with such problems," she told Dnevnik. Earlier that year, Ljubljana participated as a member of Eurocities in a round table sponsored by the European Parliament. Most of the other participants shared the belief that their cities were not able to participate in the accession process.
Ljubljana has also been making itself more visible by playing host to important visitors and events. In 1997, the EU chose Ljubljana to be the Cultural Capital of Europe for the month of May. Last year's visits by the Pope and American President Bill Clinton garnered tremendous amounts of publicity for the city. Ljubljana was also the host of last month's Ninth Meeting of Parliamentary Speakers from EU candidate countries.Maribor
In the 1980s, Maribor was a major industrial center in what was then Yugoslavia. Today, the city is in sharp decline and is in search of a new purpose, to say nothing of new jobs. The major change EU accession will bring here is the fact that Maribor will no longer be in a border region. "I think that for every border region, the elimination of borders via EU accession represents new opportunities," Maribor mayor Boris Sovič said in an interview published last month in the government organ Evrobilten. One important problem associated with the elimination of the border, however, is the loss of duty-free shops.
The elimination of duty-free shops on Slovenia's borders has become a sticking point in the accession negotiations. In January of this year, the government finally decided that all duty-free shops would have to be transformed into normal shops by 1 January 2001, a move which gives Sovič pause. According to him, Slovenia would be best served closing the shops the instant the country gains accession to the Union and not a moment before. Sovič also expressed regret that the government took its decisions concerning the duty-free shops without consultations with the muncipalities and enterprises concerned.
In 1998, Maribor was chosen as the site of a conference of the EU's Committee of the Regions. The conference was co-organized with the Association of Municipalities and Towns of Slovenia (AMTS), an organization which represents more than 100 of the 192 municipalities in the country and more than two-thirds of the total population of 2 million. Mayor Sovič, who is also the chairman of AMTS, accepted an invitation extended at the conference by Slovene Minister of European Affairs Igor Bavčar to be involved in the negotiating process with regard to EU structural policy.
The industrial decline of Maribor has enabled tremendous progress in environmental clean-up in the surrounding area. The EU took note of Maribor's progress, recognizing the city, together with seven others in Central European applicant countries, with the "Cities towards EU Compliance Award" last year. The award was given for progress in meeting EU environmental standards. It is a particular accomplishment for Maribor, which was one of the most polluted areas of the former Yugoslavia in its industrial heyday.
A commentary in a recent issue of the daily Maribor newspaper Večer pointed out the fact that Maribor is home to some of the country's most talented young people and most popular athletes. A festival of visual communication was recently held in Maribor which reviewers said eclipsed a festival in Portorož, a resort town on the coast with a reputation for creativity. The commentary also pointed out a major recent invention made by a young Mariboran, as well as the city's successful handball and volleyball teams. The commentary compares Maribor today to Manchester in the 70s and early 80s and says that the city has much to learn from the example of its English cousin. Membership in the EU could be just the thing that Maribor needs to succeed.Koper
On the whole, it is the Adriatic port of Koper that stands to gain the most from EU accession. Koper was founded in 1957 as a Yugoslav attempt to recoup the loss of the port of Trieste (Trst) to Italy after the Second World War. At the time of Slovene independence in 1991, Koper was the same size as Trieste, but in the past decade Trieste’s turnover has fallen annually by about 5.5 million tons while Koper’s turnover has grown by 60 percent, to 8 million. Both Hungary and Austria use Koper as their main port, business is increasing with Bavaria, Slovakia and Poland, and EU accession will allow Koper to compete more fully on the European market.
Cooperation with Trieste is extensive. There are plans to construct a new railroad linking the two cities. Further, talks between Koper and Trieste were completed this past February concerning a plan to unify the ports of the two cities. The plan calls for shared administration of security issues, navigation and security against contamination, among other issues. Final approval rests, however, with the EU. This would be the first union of a port within a member state and a port in a state that is not yet an EU member. High-level discussions have begun, and the plan was on the agenda of the second meeting of the Accession Committee for Slovenia that was held this past March.
Situated in the Slovene region of Istria, Koper is also a prominent center of the wine industry. Slovenia passed a wine law which entered into force on 1 December 1997. The law enables the protection of wines' origins and quality and has already been harmonized with the appropriate EU legislation. Another prominent feature of the local agricultural economy is olives. Istria is the most northerly olive-growing region in Europe. Slovenia's Acquis requires legislation concerning olive growing and olive by-products, but as yet Slovene legislation in this area is lacking. Both the wine and olive growers should see benefits in the context of the European Union as their products will be made more available to a wider range of consumers, even as competition is increased.
Results released late last year of a poll conducted within Slovenia showed Slovene citizens’ approval of the bid for EU membership. When asked how they would vote in a referendum on Slovenia’s joining the EU, 66.5 percent answered "certainly in favor of" or "probably in favor of." Only 15.3 percent replied "certainly against" or "probably against." As compared to Slovenia’s enthusiasm, the citizens of the EU’s current Member States are unfortunately not so eager. The Eurobarometer, a public opinion poll of EU citizens, was released in mid-February and showed only 34 percent supporting (with 41 percent opposing) Slovenia’s membership placing it only above Romania and Turkey.
Be that as it may, Slovenia is pushing ahead with its goal, and even considering recent events (see recent Slovene news reviews), it would appear that Slovenia remains on track to be prepared for full membership by 2003. President Kučan has expressed optimism based on the fact that all political parties have affirmed their commitment to the European project. Igor Bavčar, Minister of European Affairs, has stated publicly that even with the recent government collapse Slovenia can meet its membership schedule. In order to do that, 76 new laws must be passed to harmonize Slovenia’s legal system with that of the EU. So far this year, the government has passed only 11.
Brian J Požun, 6 May 2000