Key Challenges

Political polarization increasing; corruption undermining public trust
Once famous for its consensual policy style, Slovenia has been subject to growing political polarization since the June 2018 early elections, which further tightened following the formation of the Janša government in March 2020. After the resignation of Prime Minister Šarec in January 2020, one of the main goals of the center-left minority coalition, to prevent arch-rival Janez Janša from taking office again, failed. Supporters of the left-wing parties concentrated their anger on the two “traitors,” the centrist SMC and DeSUS parties, which had decided against early parliamentary elections and agreed to join a new coalition government with Janša as prime minister. The extreme polarization between the two camps that followed has had a considerable impact especially on the media, making the defense of media freedoms and pluralism in Slovenia a major challenge. Polarization has had mostly negative effects on the functioning of supervisory institutions (e.g., the Court of Audit and Commission for the Prevention of Corruption), in the appointment of Constitutional Court justices, the selection and promotion of civil servants, and in daily policymaking. Overcoming such political polarization is essential to reducing the public disenchantment with politics and politicians that has beset Slovenia for some time. Regaining public trust in political institutions and political elites will also require taking a tougher stance on corruption, and re-establishing trust in both media professionalism and the judiciary.
Pressing need for structural reform; EU recovery funds offer opportunity
Both the effects of the economic downturn in 2020, which was the result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the subsequent rapid rebound in the second half of 2020 and beginning of 2021 (which came at the expense of spiraling public debt) are reminders that economic activity cannot be taken for granted and that the need for structural reform remains strong. Without major pension and healthcare reforms, demographic trends, most notably population aging, are likely to result in substantial fiscal pressures in the medium to long run. Adopting substantial healthcare reform, particularly in the failing public healthcare sector, saddled by corruption and the negative consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, should be a clear policy priority in the short term. In order to strengthen the economy, the government should intervene less (whether formally or informally) in state-owned companies and implement a strategy to privatize the remaining state-owned enterprises, starting with Telekom Slovenije. Whoever wins the next parliamentary election in spring 2022 should continue to improve the management of major state-funded infrastructure projects, and make effective use of available post-COVID-19 EU recovery and cohesion funds. In addition, the next government should continue to overhaul the sometimes-rigid tax system in order to help economic recovery and bring some relief to taxpayers.
Enhancing strategic capacity
Achieving these goals could be facilitated by a number of changes to Slovenia’s policymaking process. The government should make greater use of expert advice, strengthen strategic planning, limit the politicization of the civil service and greatly improve the RIA system. Such changes would make it easier for the government to plan and act on a long-term basis; overcome resistance from and obstacles presented by special interest groups, which often hinder or even disable governmental activity; and win public acceptance for much-needed reforms. Neglected for far too long, institutional reform deserves a more prominent place on the political agenda.

Party Polarization

Polarization increasing; immediate attacks
on new government;
hung parliament
hampers policymaking
Historically, party polarization has been very high in Slovenia and presents a major obstacle for policymaking, and the COVID-19 pandemic and the change of government in March 2020 only made polarization worse. Political parties are divided into two parliamentary blocs: a center-left bloc of six parties and a center-right bloc of three parties. These two blocs rarely cooperate. However, in March 2020, after the previous prime minister, Šarec, resigned, two members of the center-left bloc (Modern Center Party, SMC; Democratic Party of Pensioners of Slovenia, DeSUS) decided to form a government with two members of the center-right bloc (Slovenian Democratic Party, SDS; New Slovenia – Christian Democrats, NSi). This led to attacks on the government from the other four center-left parties, as well as some sections of the media and civil society, which started even before government took office. The extreme polarization between the four new coalition parties and four remaining center-left opposition parties resulted in the failure of the two sides to cooperate even on issues connected to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pressure on the two center-left coalition parties – which had defied the traditional lines of party polarization and enabled the formation of the new government in March 2020 under the leadership of SDS president Janša – slowly pushed the DeSUS out of the coalition and cost the SMC half of their members of parliament, who crossed to the opposition side. In turn, this resulted in a hung parliament, with the government unable to govern efficiently and the opposition unable to replace the ineffective government. (Score: 3)
European Parliament/Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs 2021: MISSION REPORT following the LIBE ad hoc delegation to Slovenia.

Alenka Krasovec/Damjan Laijh 2021: Slovenia: Tilting the Balance? In: Verheugen, Günter/Vodicka, Karel/Brusis, Martin (Hrsg.): Demokratie im postkommunistischen EU-Raum. Wiesbaden: Springer, pp. 165-166, 168
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