Almost fifteen years after Slovenia joined the European Union, Slovenian Socialists and democrats’ vision is clear: the Europe we want is fair and sustainable, prosperous and modern, based on solidarity and rule of law. Either we will have a Union tailored according to the needs of our citizens, or there will be no Union. In the end of February, the progressive leaders met in Ljubljana in the frame of our #EuropeTogether initiative to discuss with our citizens a progressive vision for the future of Europe. With European Commission first vice-president Frans Timmermans and Socialists Spitzenkandidat we discussed which direction Europe should take. We had an open dialogue with our citizens on their take of our common European future and we are ready to listen to frank and constructive comments. Right now, we are at a crucial moment in European history. I am particularly concerned about the return of nationalistic and even fascist rhetoric in our Union. Once again, there are political forces which advocate an agenda of chauvinism, nationalism and territorial revanchism. The very recent and unacceptable comments made by Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament, on Istria and Dalmatia as well as on Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, which we strongly condemned, echo this deeply unsettling development. Europe was built as a stronghold against nationalism, and we will not allow anyone to turn back the wheel of time. This is why Europe needs to change its course fundamentally.

Right now, we are at a crucial moment in European history. Once again, there are political forces which advocate an agenda of chauvinism, nationalism and territorial revanchism

In general, Slovenians are very supportive of the EU, although the image of the EU institutions is weakened. The trust was hampered when the president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker ignored the Arbitration Court ruling on the border between Slovenia and Croatia. We called on him several times to demand the implementation of the arbitration award from Croatia but he was dodging the responsibility. There are other issues Slovenes feel restless about, namely the longer cues at their borders and the failure of the efficient European management of migration. The country often felt isolated during the times of uncontrolled migrant routes over Slovenian territory. Austria threatened to close their borders and introduced border controls on its internal borders with Slovenia while the EU introduced systematic cheeks at its external Schengen borders in fear of returning foreign terrorist fighters, including for all EU citizens. This has a huge impact on Slovenian south border with Croatia, especially during the summer. Some nationalist and populist politicians used the situation to spread anti Brussels and anti-immigrant sentiments. Successfully! There is growing hate speech in the society that is very polarized, the voters’ apathy is there, the politics and the politicians are being severely discredited in that regard.

We cannot turn a blind eye to the obvious inefficient model our societies are based on

Still, the support for EU-membership is high, as the support for the Slovenian government is also relatively high. The biggest challenge for the upcoming elections will be low turnout. In Slovenia, which has been a member of the Union since 2004, participation in the previous elections was merely 24.5%, therefore we are trying hard to raise awareness and pursuing people to vote. I am strongly convinced these elections will be historic: we will either build Europe we need based on solidarity, openness, democracy, rule of law; or we will create more divisions, hate, fear, nationalisms and isolation.

We cannot turn a blind eye to the obvious inefficient model our societies are based on. We cannot expect to stop the spread of populism unless we fix the shortcomings of our societies: inequality, the lack of social and ecological sustainability and putting profit before people. Only when we offer a concrete plan, based on values of social democracy and driven by a wish for a fairer model, we can win the hearts and minds of all those who now buy cheap populist tricks.

The voice of change should reach as many people as possible and I am particularly proud that this change is being strengthened with our progressive voices in Slovenia.

Tanja Fajon is Member of the European Parliament and Vice-Chair of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats.