Minority coalition government; failure
From March 2020 to the end of the review period in January 2022, Slovenia was governed by a minority coalition government led by Prime Minister Janez Janša, president of the center-right Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS). The other political parties of the governing coalition included the liberal party of Miro Cerar (SMC), the New Slovenia – Christian Democrats (NSi) and the Democratic Party of Pensioners (DeSUS). The government relied on parliamentary support from the extreme right Slovenian National Party (SNS), and two deputies from the Hungarian and Italian minorities. The new government took office just one day after Slovenia declared COVID-19 an epidemic. While the governing parties and left-wing parties rarely cooperated before 2020, the political climate has deteriorated even further during the period under review. Relentless back-and-forth attacks between both sides, aided by a partisan media and civil society that are aligned on one side or the other, led to extreme polarization between the opposing blocks and the failure of the two sides to cooperate even on issues connected to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Strong emphasis on economic recovery; sharp rise in government debt
The global pandemic and associated lockdowns undermined economic growth, which Slovenia had enjoyed between 2014 and 2019, and led to a drop in GDP of more than 4.2% in 2020. The Janša government placed strong emphasis on economic recovery following the pandemic-induced economic decline in 2020, with GDP growth forecast to achieve 6.4% in 2021 and 4.2% in 2022. While the Janša government did not decide to sell any of the remaining state-owned companies, it did put additional emphasis on improving the efficiency of major state-funded infrastructure projects, and further expanding the list of projects funded by the government or EU recovery and cohesion funds. The economic downturn in 2020 raised unemployment levels (5.2% in 2020), but – with major incentives provided to support the labor market by the Janša government – unemployment rates did not fall dramatically and started to improve, reaching a record low of 3.8% in November 2021. But the coronavirus pandemic led to a substantial rise in public debt – due to the Janša government’s financing of anti-coronavirus measures – to almost 80% in 2020.
Expansion of social benefits; courts block labor-market measures
As for social policies, the remaining austerity measures dating back to 2012 were removed by the previous Šarec government, which also increased family benefits. The Janša government expanded social benefits even further, such as those aimed at assisting large families, and increased the annual allowance for pensioners. In January 2020, the minimum wage was increased to €700 per month. Under the Janša government, the Long-Term Care Act was finally adopted, after being prepared and discussed for almost two decades, although the exact amount of funding for long-term care has yet to be decided. The pandemic placed the entire healthcare system under substantial stress, but – after expanding the capacities of ICUs – the system managed to cope with the surge in admissions during the first four waves of the pandemic. Proposed by the Janša government, the National Assembly adopted minor changes to the Pension and Disability Insurance Act in September 2020. However, further changes, which would enable employers to dismiss employees who have met the conditions for retirement, met with resistance from trade unions and were subsequently blocked by the Constitutional Court. The Janša government adopted several additional financial assistance packages for pensioners during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The quality of democracy has suffered from widespread corruption and growing media polarization. Allegations of corruption have featured prominently in debates about the government’s COVID-19 response, especially during the first wave regarding the public procurement of personal protective equipment. Despite the adoption of a code of ethics for members of parliament, corruption scandals and the inability of the prosecution services to present strong cases, which would enable courts to convict major political players (e.g., Zoran Janković, mayor of Ljubljana), have confirmed doubts about the political elite’s commitment to fighting corruption. The growing polarization and even hostility within the media has infringed upon media independence and pluralism, and the quality of media reporting.
Strong corporatist tradition
Governance in Slovenia is marked by a strong corporatist tradition, which has had a mixed impact on the government’s strategic capacity. As economic stress increased with the global pandemic and political polarization managed to intrude into the non-governmental sector, trade unions have become less willing to cooperate with the center-right government. Slovenia’s strong corporatist tradition accounts in part for the lack of strategic planning and policymaking, the weakness of the core executive, an increasingly politicized civil service, and the largely symbolic use of RIAs. The Janša government established several expert groups tasked with preparing policy solutions. Several of these solutions (e.g., concerning de-bureaucratization and digitalization) have already been adopted inside amended normative framework. The Janša government also added in July 2021 a new minister to the government, a minister without a portfolio, who is responsible for advancing digital transformation. However, due to weak support in the parliament and the coronavirus crisis, the government failed to properly address much-needed institutional reforms.