Executive Summary

Journalist’s murder
reveals elite corruption
The murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová in February 2018 continued to impact political developments in 2019. Gradually, the unimaginable size of the corrupt network built by businessman Marian Kocner has been exposed. Public dissatisfaction with pervasive corruption led to Zuzana Čaputová’s victory in the presidential elections in March 2019. The candidate of the newly founded (2017) social-liberal and pro-European party Progressive Slovakia is the first female president of the Slovak Republic. Čaputová previously worked as a lawyer and activist for the NGO-watchdog VIA IURIS. Čaputová’s election victory suggests that a majority of Slovaks wanted a president that would stand for integrity and the rule of law.
Unambitious anti-corruption strategy; intimidation of
journalists continues
The government under Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini who had replaced the controversial long-standing Prime Minister Robert Fico after the murders of Kuciak and Kušnírová, has failed to strengthen democracy and the rule of law. The Pellegrini government has been slow to tackle corruption or improve integrity mechanisms. Instead of embracing the comprehensive recommendations proposed early on by the new initiative Chceme Veriť (We Want to Believe), which was launched by several leading NGOs (Fair-Play Alliance, VIA IURIS Slovak Governance Institute, Human Rights League, Open Society Foundation, Pontis Foundation and Stop Corruption foundation), the government has largely confined itself to updating its anti-corruption strategy in a routine manner. Robert Fico has continued as Smer-SD leader and was even nominated for the Constitutional Court. He has continued to criticize and intimidate journalists. Behind the scenes, he has forged alliances with opposition parties, including the far-right L’SNS, in order to advance controversial measures, such as the moratorium on the publication of opinion polls ahead of an election day, which would be one of the longest in the world, or short-term changes in party financing, which are clearly directed against the Smer-SD’s political competitors. In September 2019, parliament restored a right-to-reply for politicians. Originally introduced under the first government of Robert Fico in 2008, it had been abolished by the Radičová government in 2011 following domestic and international criticisms of the resulting intimidation of journalists.
Setbacks on economic, social policies; hospital reform torpedoed by former PM
The weakness of Pellegrini and the effectiveness of Fico’s backseat driving have also limited the government’s strategic capacity in the realm of economic and social policy. The government has largely ignored long-standing calls by the European Commission, the OECD and the IMF to change the tax mix by financing a reduction of the relatively high tax burden on labor through increases in real estate, excise and environmental taxes. In March 2019, the government, deviating from its own 2016 manifesto, stopped the automatic increase in the retirement age in line with life expectancy and fixed the retirement age at 64 years old. Put on the agenda by Fico and supported by trade unions, this move was strongly criticized for undermining the long-term sustainability of the pension system. Fico also succeeded in torpedoing a comprehensive hospital reform, which was supported by many experts as well as the parliamentary opposition. Approved by the cabinet after several months of discussion at the end of September 2019, it was eventually withdrawn from the parliament’s agenda.
Seeking distance from Visegrád states
In the foreign policy field, Prime Minister Pellegrini has continued to reposition Slovakia among the core group of EU member states, and distance Slovakia from some of the positions taken by Hungary and Poland. At the same time, however, coordination between the Visegrád countries has remained an important tool for taking visible positions within the European Union.
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