Cerar coalition brings economic stability. Disenchantment with politics remains strong
From September 2014 to April 2018, Slovenia was governed by a center-left coalition led by Prime Minister Miro Cerar and his Modern Center Party (SMC). Despite some differences of opinion and infighting, the three-party coalition managed to stay together and bring some much-needed economic stability to a country that had stood at the brink of a financial crisis in 2013/14. The Cerar government benefited from a favorable political position. Divided into two right-wing and two left-wing parties rarely able to reach a consensus on goals and interests, the opposition was not effective in blocking legislation. At times, the government even managed to cooperate effectively with the opposition, which has been relatively rare in recent Slovenian politics. While the Cerar government partially regained the public trust it lost in 2015, when trust in government fell to the lowest levels found among citizens across OECD countries, disenchantment with politics and political institutions has remained high, and the three parties of the governing coalition continued to score poorly in public opinion polls.
Robust growth helps reduce unemployment. Modest tax reforms, but little privatization
In 2017, the recovery from the economic recession of 2008-2013 continued. The country’s robust economic growth helped reduce the fiscal deficit and resulted in a strong decline in unemployment. At the same time, however, the favorable short-term economic situation reduced the pressure to move on with policy reforms. Although Slovenia features the largest long-term sustainability gap of all EU members, the announced comprehensive health care reform has been postponed once more. The government presented in March 2016 its “White Book on Pensions” and achieved some consensus with social partners regarding pension reform, but has not committed itself to any concrete measures yet. The tax reform eventually adopted in summer 2016 has been more modest than initially announced, and minor changes announced by the minister of finance for 2017 were canceled. The promised privatization of Telekom Slovenije, the largest communication company in the country, fell victim to political opposition from within and outside the governing coalition. The same happened with the promised privatization of largest bank NLB, which was further postponed in May 2017.
Corruption remains a serious problem. Doubts about elite’s anti-corruption stance
The quality of democracy has continued to suffer from widespread corruption. While the Cerar government continued to implement the Anti-Corruption Action Plan adopted in January 2015, and the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption managed to upgrade its supervisor web platform and launch its successor Erar in July 2016, doubts about the political elite’s commitment to fight corruption were raised by two developments in particular. The first involved the intransparent management of a government project in which a second railway track was constructed between Divača and the port of Koper. The second involved investments by Magna, a Canadian-Austrian company that received large subsidies and unconditional support from the government for a plan to build a new car paint shop close to Maribor but failed manage things transparently and deliver on its promise of bringing several thousand new jobs to the region. The differences in opinions between the government and civil society organizations on the financial construction of the second railway track project resulted in a referendum being called, once again strengthening the power of direct democracy in Slovenia. Nonetheless, the project was not halted as turnout levels for the referendum were too low to render the vote binding and votes in favor of the government’s plan slightly outnumbered votes in opposition to the plan.
Corporatist tradition hampers strategic aims
Governance in Slovenia is marked by a strong corporatist tradition, which has had a mixed impact on the government’s strategic capacity. At the beginning of the Cerar government’s term, when the country’s economic problems were acute and visible, the unions accepted major reforms, which gave the government a chance to capitalize on the support of social partners. However, as economic stability and growth returned, the unions have become less willing to accept further compromise and have once again become more active in organizing strikes and have rejected new pay-related arrangements in the public sector. Slovenia’s strong corporatist tradition accounts in part for the lack of strategic planning in policymaking, as well as the government’s limited reliance on independent academic experts, a weak core executive, an increasingly politicized civil service and a largely symbolic use of RIA.
Minimal institutional reforms
Institutional reforms under the Cerar government have largely been confined to a reshuffling of ministerial portfolios at the beginning of the term and a strengthening of the Government Office for Development and European Cohesion Policy, the public body in charge of coordinating the use of EU funds. In addition, the Cerar government adopted a strategy for the development of public administration in April 2015 and a separate strategy for the development of local government in September 2016 but failed to implement any serious reforms. As a result, conflicts between municipalities and the national government have continued.