Nations in Transit 2021 - Slovenia

/ 100
Democracy Percentage 80.95 / 100
Democracy Score 5.86 / 7
82 / 100 Consolidated Democracy
The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 1 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year. The Democracy Percentage, introduced in 2020, is a translation of the Democracy Score to the 0-100 scale, where 0 equals least democratic and 100 equals most democratic.

Score changes in 2021

  • Civil Society rating declined from 6.00 to 5.75 due to the government’s move to evict cultural groups from leased state property, pressure on police to tamp down on antigovernment protests, and use of crisis legislation to limit the public-interest role of environmental NGOs.
  • Independent Media rating declined from 5.50 to 5.25 due to the climate of hostility toward journalists fostered by Prime Minister Janez Janša, government efforts to interfere in the work of the state broadcaster and wire services, the use of SLAPPs by progovernment figures, and further consolidation of the media sector.

As a result, Slovenia’s Democracy Score declined from 5.93 to 5.86.

Executive Summary

By Marko Lovec

In early 2020, Slovenia’s center-left minority coalition government collapsed and was replaced by a new center-right coalition government led by Prime Minister Janez Janša of the Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS). Janša and SDS members attempted to interfere with independent institutions and launched verbal attacks on critical voices. They pressured independent media and civil society, including citizens participating in public protests triggered by a corruption scandal over the emergency purchase of medical equipment. Often, officials used the fight against COVID-19 as cover for their actions.

In January, after just a year and a half in office, Prime Minister Marjan Šarec of LMŠ (List of Marjan Šarec) resigned in a bid to shore up his minority government’s falling support by triggering snap parliamentary elections.1 Slovenian politics has been characterized by an unstable party system on the center-left and, on the center-right, the hegemonic role of SDS under its long-term leader Janez Janša, an antagonizing figure aligned with Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán and former U.S. president Donald Trump. In March, two partners from Šarec’s coalition (the Modern Center Party-SMC and the Pensioner’s Party-DeSUS) polling below the parliamentary threshold, along with the New Slovenia (NSi) party, joined the new coalition again led by Janša. The COVID-19 pandemic gave impetus to the formation of the new government.

In April, media reports alleging political interference by SMC leader and Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek (among others) in the emergency procurement of medical equipment triggered antigovernment public protests.2 Interior Minister Aleš Hojs of SDS, who resigned for failing to prevent what he termed a “politically motivated police investigation” of Počivalšek, kept his position after Janša failed to send his resignation to Parliament.3 In the summer, DeSUS leader and Agricultural Minister Aleksandra Pivec also faced allegations of receiving unjustified personal benefits, but she was replaced by Janša only after members of Parliament (MPs) from her own party threatened to withdraw their support for the government.4

In October, opposition parties (LMŠ, Social Democrats-SD under new leader Tanja Fajon, The Left, and Party of Alenka Bratušek-SAB) closed ranks to form the Constitutional Arch Coalition (KUL) and invited all coalition parties except SDS to join.5 The government faced declining support for failing to contain the spread of the pandemic into the country’s second wave, resulting in a high number of deaths, but blamed this outcome on the opposition, media, and protesters. In December, DeSUS, under new leader Karl Erjavec, renounced support for PM Janša, but the positions of the party’s MPs remained unclear at year’s end due to their fear of early elections. In a similar vein, most MPs from SMC, as well as NSi, while distancing themselves from and blocking some of the controversial actions by Janša’s SDS on foreign policy, media, and civil society, nevertheless continued to support the coalition.6

The Janša government’s hostility to civil society has been the source of particular controversy. Interior Minister Hojs interfered in police tactics, calling for an excessive response to antigovernment protests. Masked representatives of radical-right groups close to SDS organized parallel counterprotests that led to conflict with the antigovernment demonstrators.7 As part of its pandemic measures, the government set onerous new criteria for the participation of environmental nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in reviewing construction projects, which almost none of the NGOs could comply with, and it allowed construction projects to commence before all legal complaints from NGOs were processed.8 SDS ministers targeted individual NGOs—specifically, those active in the areas of human rights and migration—by cutting their funding, failing to extend their lease agreements on state-owned premises, and attempting to change their public financing.9

Upon coming to power, Janša and SDS members instantly engaged in verbal war with individual journalists and media perceived to be critical, including the public broadcaster RTV Slovenija.10 In the early summer, Culture Minister Vasko Simoniti of SDS proposed changes to the media law that envisioned stronger government control over the national Slovenian Press Agency (STA) and channeling a portion of RTV’s funding to private media companies, including media companies owned SDS members and business groups close to Viktor Orbán.11 The rest of the coalition blocked the proposal. Toward year’s end, the Government Communication Office, led by Uroš Urbanija of SDS, temporarily cut off funding to STA.12

The new government also took aim at Slovenia’s justice system. SDS MPs and Interior Minister Hojs used legislative and executive procedures to apply selective pressure on the police and individual investigators for politically motivated reasons. Several replacements were made in key police positions where party loyalty prevailed over competence.13 Similarly, politicization and, relatedly, the weak competence of judicial candidates resulted in failed attempts to elect new members to the Constitutional Court. In a letter, PM Janša urged the head of the state prosecution to act against antigovernment demonstrators for using slogans like “death to Janšism,” referring to Janša’s governance style.14

Emergency procurement of several hundred million euros’ worth of medical equipment posed a serious risk of corruption due to lack of transparency in the procurement procedures, personal interference by high-ranking officials and people close to coalition parties, and violations of various rules and standards.15 The government used the pandemic as an excuse for decisions made, and it rejected most of the direct accusations as fabrications made up by the media, political opposition, and “deep state” structures. Whistleblower Ivan Gale, who played a crucial role in revealing the scandal, lost his civil service job at the Commodity Reserves Agency and became a target himself of an investigation in October.16

COVID-19, as well as the government’s measures to address the pandemic, negatively impacted various vulnerable groups in Slovenia, including the elderly (as much as 10 percent of institutionalized elderly had died by the end of 2020),17 people with chronic disease, economically deprived groups, and others. Sweeping lockdowns that were applied indiscriminately over long periods of time negatively impacted citizens’ personal freedoms and mental health, often disproportionately vis-à-vis their effects. In their dealings with irregular immigrants, police were accused of constraining access to asylum procedures, legal support, and freedom of movement.18 The government repeatedly attempted to activate Article 37A of the Defense Act, which would give policing powers to the Slovenian Armed Forces and allow it to operate independently in a wide corridor along the border, but failed to secure the required two-thirds parliamentary majority. Yet, soldiers deployed along the border without official policing powers have already faced accusations of misconduct.19 Some SDS members argued that Slovenia should depart from the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention against domestic violence and violence against women, following the Polish example.20 Additionally, tensions between the country’s Roma population and the majority population increased in several communities.21

PM Janša’s SDS also extended its controversial actions into the area of foreign policy. It supported the Hungarian and Polish regimes’ position against the rule of law conditionality mechanism for European Union (EU) funding agreed upon by the European Council and European Parliament. Janša publicly congratulated Donald Trump on “winning” the 2020 U.S. presidential election (despite the latter’s officially certified loss) and quarreled on Twitter with members of U.S. President Joe Biden’s team as well as foreign politicians and journalists critical of his actions.22 SDS members, such as Foreign Minister Anže Logar, wrote letters to the European Commission, Council of Europe, and other international institutions rejecting reports claiming the decline of media freedom and rule of law in Slovenia, and criticizing the independent institutions and individuals who had prepared the reports.23

In the future, the departure of DeSUS from the governing coalition, and pressure on SMC MPs to do the same, poses a risk of greater political instability. Attempts by SDS to interfere with the judiciary, police, and other state institutions, as well as efforts to “discipline” independent media and civil society, could cause the country to backslide further in 2021, especially if the prolonged public health crisis turns into an economic and social crisis, thus contributing to an even more heated political climate.

National Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts
Considers the democratic character of the governmental system; and the independence, effectiveness, and accountability of the legislative and executive branches. 5.75 / 7.00
  • In Slovenia, the executive is effectively controlled by the legislative branch. Party instability on the center-left and, on the center-right, the hegemonic role of the Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS), under its divisive, long-term leader Janez Janša, have hindered the formation of more diverse and effective government coalitions drawing on broader political consensus.
  • In January 2020, Prime Minister Marjan Šarec announced his resignation after serving only a year and a half in office.24 This move reflected the political calculation that Šarec’s eponymous LMŠ party might improve its result in an early election. Šarec made this bet against the formation of an alternative government coalition based on pledges by his coalition partners in the 2018 election that they would refuse to enter a coalition with Janša’s SDS. Consequently, SDS, which won the 2018 parliamentary elections, was unable to form a coalition afterwards.
  • However, DeSUS and SMC, polling below the parliamentary threshold and now under new leadership (Aleksandra Pivec and Zdravko Počivalšek, respectively), decided to renege on their earlier pledges and join an alternative coalition formed by Janša’s SDS, along with the center-right New Slovenia (NSi) party. Formation of the new government (installed in March) was given impetus by the COVID-19 pandemic, which demanded an immediate government response.25 This new coalition drew a mixed public reaction with suspicions that the new DeSUS and SMC heads, along with members of Parliament (MPs) who feared elections, had entered the alternative coalition for personal or private interests. Corruption scandals that subsequently engulfed Pivec and Počivalšek (see “Corruption”) strengthened the public’s assumptions of government venality.
  • In May, two MPs left SMC to join the opposition LMŠ and Social Democrats (SD).26 Interior Minister Aleš Hojs of SDS resigned over his failure to prevent what he termed a politically motivated police investigation of SMC leader Počivalšek, but he kept his position after PM Janša failed to send his resignation to Parliament.27 During the summer, Pivec faced allegations of receiving unjustified benefits but was backed by Janša and replaced only after MPs from her own (DeSUS) party threatened to stop voting with the coalition.28
  • In October, the LMŠ, SAB, SD, and The Left formed the Constitutional Arch Coalition (KUL) and invited all coalition parties except SDS to join.29 KUL coalesced around the position of a “technical prime minister,” which was later offered to Karl Erjavec, who became the new president of DeSUS in December (Pivec had resigned in October). While DeSUS, under Erjavec, switched over to KUL, depriving the government of its parliamentary majority and its health minister, the MPs from DeSUS still openly speculated about their individual support for the new government.30 Moreover, MPs from NSi and SMC, while distancing themselves from and even blocking some of Janša’s controversial actions regarding the media, civil society, and foreign policy (such as congratulating Donald Trump for “winning” the 2020 U.S. presidential election), nevertheless continued to support his government.31 At year’s end, KUL announced that it would bring a vote of no confidence against the SDS-led government despite failing to secure sufficient support for the motion.32
  • In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the government chose not to declare a state of emergency but rather a state of epidemic. In the spring, government officials reacted swiftly by implementing effective but also indiscriminate and often disproportionate measures—like banning movement between municipalities—in order to fight the virus. The government, specifically SDS, attempted to constrain democratic deliberation over various issues unrelated to the fight against the pandemic—such as the right to referendum, the role of civil society organizations (CSOs), and social rights—by inserting them into emergency legislative packages. Officials exerted political control over expert institutions and bodies,33 and they used an authoritarian style of communication to blame all critical voices for the country’s death toll. In May, the government prematurely declared that it had contained the pandemic.34 Yet, in the second half of the year, with increasing viral spread and declining popular support,35 officials were harshly criticized for hesitating to act sooner and more effectively. Ultimately, this contributed to the fast spread of the virus and the need for an even more drastic and long-lasting lockdown, which, in turn, fed into further mistrust of the government’s extension of restrictive measures and declining public support. The government formally redeclared a state of epidemic in October, which remained in effect for the rest of the year.36
Electoral Process 1.00-7.00 pts
Examines national executive and legislative elections, the electoral framework, the functioning of multiparty systems, and popular participation in the political process. 6.50 / 7.00
  • Elections in Slovenia have historically been free and fair. No elections were held in 2020. In 2018, the Constitutional Court mandated changes to electoral laws to ensure that votes cast in different electoral districts would count equally. In the past several years, several attempts to modernize electoral laws failed.
  • Following the Constitutional Court’s 2018 decision on the need to accommodate constituencies to demographic changes and provide for more equal representation (with a deadline to implement the decision by December 2020), the Šarec government drafted a proposal to abandon electoral districts and introduce a preferential vote. In line with the proposal, the 11 electoral districts within each of the existing eight electoral units would be replaced by candidate lists at the level of the units. The preferential vote would be voluntary (i.e., voters could choose to cast a preference vote or not) and conditional: it would determine the position of a candidate on lists if the candidate received at least 4.5 percent of the total votes for the list. Other proposed changes included an increase in the quota for female candidates from 35 to 40 percent and the application of the zipper principle (candidate of gender X, followed by candidate of gender Y) for lists. Furthermore, elections for the two minority representatives within two additional voting units (for the Hungarian and the Italian national minorities within the 90-seat National Assembly) would be simplified. The new law would be applicable as of 2021.
  • However, in February, after PM Šarec’s resignation and before the formation of the new government, Parliament failed to secure the required two-thirds majority needed for the above proposal to pass. DeSUS and SDS opposed the proposal because it would have negative implications for their parliamentary representation.37 In line with existing electoral laws, the total share of votes that parties receive determines their number of parliamentary mandates, but the relative vote shares of candidates in electoral districts determines which candidates are actually elected, thus making electoral lists at the level of the districts an important party tool for determining who is elected.
  • The Janša government decided to draft its own proposal for changing the electoral laws. This draft envisioned only minor updates, such as changing the size of the smallest and largest districts, in order to depart from the status quo as little as possible while still complying with the Constitutional Court’s decision.38 Changing the boundaries of districts requires only a simple majority in Parliament.
  • At the end of the year, the opposition relaunched its previous proposal but again fell short of a two-thirds majority.39 If Slovenia’s electoral laws remain unchanged, any future elections could trigger a constitutional crisis, since the Constitutional Court’s deadline for implementing its mandate expired in December.
Civil Society 1.00-7.00 pts
Assesses the organizational capacity and financial sustainability of the civic sector; the legal and political environment in which it operates; the functioning of trade unions; interest group participation in the policy process; and the threat posed by antidemocratic extremist groups. 5.75 / 7.00
  • Slovenian civil society organizations (CSOs), while active and well-organized, have been struggling with a lack of stable and diversified sources of financing. Additionally, they face increasing government attempts to impose constraints and interfere with their work.
  • The formation of the new center-right coalition government in March 2020 was met by a wave of public protests. In April, the emergency medical equipment procurement scandal (see “Corruption”) triggered a new wave of protests, as SDS members of the government used the fight against COVID-19 as cover to interfere with independent institutions, the media, and civil society. Up to 10,000 people gathered on a weekly basis in the capital Ljubljana and other cities, sometimes demonstrating in cars or on bikes to comply with social distancing guidelines. Interior Minister Aleš Hojs of SDS interfered in police tactics to push for more restrictive measures against protestors, resulting in the excessive use of police capabilities.40 Among other concerns, police stopped and checked the identity of those indicating intent to join the protests. After the lifting of some of the COVID-related restrictions in the summer, individuals close to SDS, including representatives of radical-right movements, held counterprotests in parallel with antigovernment protests, triggering conflict.41 In October, due to the pandemic’s second wave in the country, protesters again faced restrictions specifically targeting their activities.42 By November, most of the mass demonstrations had ceased due to the pandemic as well as concerns over a violent confrontation that occurred between an extremist group called “Anonymous Slovenia” and the police, who deployed rubber bullets and tear gas.43 Critics argued that the government had provoked the confrontation, with Minister Hojs personally confronting protesters.44
  • As part of an emergency legislative package on COVID-19, Parliament passed new requirements for how environmental nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) may participate in construction permitting procedures, which most of the NGOs could not easily meet. Moreover, certain investment projects were allowed to begin before all legal procedures (such as complaints by NGOs) were processed, potentially causing irreparable damage.45 NGOs feared that the provisions would be extended beyond the period of the current crisis and become a general model for legislative acts in other areas. The Constitutional Court, which, following a complaint, took the provisions under consideration in July, temporarily suspended their implementation.46 In December, the rest of the governing coalition blocked an SDS proposal (part of another COVID-19 legislative package) to eliminate direct financing of NGOs through a public fund.47
  • In April, Uroš Urbanija, new director of the Government Communication Office, suspended financing for public campaigns by NGOs active in the areas of human rights and minority issues.48 In October, the Ministry of Culture, led by Vasko Simoniti of SDS, suspended lease agreements for several CSOs that had long rented state-owned premises in Ljubljana.49
  • In May, uniformed members of the paramilitary group Štajerska varda visited a police station in the town of Slovenska Bistrica to put pressure on officers who monitored activities in their nearby camp.50 In September, Parliament adopted opposition-sponsored changes to laws that would impose limits on the activities of such self-styled militias.51
  • In 2020, the Janša government replaced directors at some of Slovenia’s most important museums. Critics argue this was done in order to install people close to SDS and to shift the institutions in a more conservative and nationalist direction. The government also announced plans for a Museum of Slovene Independence, which critics described as a “propaganda institution.”52
Independent Media 1.00-7.00 pts
Examines the current state of press freedom, including libel laws, harassment of journalists, and editorial independence; the operation of a financially viable and independent private press; and the functioning of the public media. 5.25 / 7.00
  • The media in Slovenia experienced direct and indirect interference from politics in 2020. Journalists faced verbal attacks and a lack of protection from frivolous or punitive legal procedures. Additionally, outlets owned or controlled by political parties contributed to a polarized media environment.
  • Since his first day in power, PM Janša and his SDS engaged in a war with critical media. In March, Janša accused the public broadcasting service (RTV) of spreading lies and opined that it employed too many overpaid journalists. In May, he said of RTV, “An atmosphere of intolerance and hatred is being created by a small circle of female editors, having both family and capital connections with the pillars of the deep state.”53 He repeatedly called upon citizens to stop paying the obligatory contributions by which the public broadcasting service is financed.54 Throughout the year, SDS attempted to gain control over RTV via appointments to its supervisory board but faced blockades from the courts.55
  • Janša also took to social media to attack individual journalists, such as Blaž Zgaga, who accused the government of corruption or otherwise criticized it. In a letter to the Council of Europe, which had expressed concerns over declining media independence in Slovenia, the government argued that most of the country’s media were still under the influence of old communist structures.56 Throughout the year, international advocacy groups, like the European Federation of Journalists, were compelled to decry the verbal attacks on journalists.57 Janša, in turn, engaged in Twitter fights with foreign journalists and institutions over the media situation in Slovenia. Meanwhile, coalition partners distanced themselves from Janša’s controversial statements and actions.
  • As part of COVID-19 legislation, the government constrained access to print media.58 In July, Culture Minister Vasko Simoniti of SDS proposed a new media law that would enable the government to exert control over the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) and would channel part of RTV funding to private media companies, including those owned by SDS members and business groups close to Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán.59 Only a short period of time over the summer was set aside for public debate, but ultimately, the coalition partners declined to support the proposal in its given form.60 In December, the SDS-controlled Government Communication Office temporarily suspended funding of STA, arguing that the agency and its director, Draško Veselinovič, had failed to provide access to certain documents. The office refused to lift the suspension even after being called to do so by the rest of the coalition.61
  • In July, Hungary’s TV2, associated with the Orbán regime, bought the third-largest TV station in Slovenia, Planet TV, from the state-owned Telekom Slovenija.62 A new government-friendly editor was appointed to the news portal owned by Telekom Slovenija.
  • In May, the Supreme Court overturned a defamation lawsuit brought by Mojca Šetinc Pašek, an RTV journalist, after PM Janša called her and a colleage “prostitutes” on social media. The court said that the decision would violate Janša’s political freedoms.63 In September, journalists Primož Cirman, Vesna Vukovič, and Tomaž Modic, who had written extensively on tax evasion by Rok Snežič, the prime minister’s self-proclaimed tax adviser, faced 39 strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs).64
  • In May, the Supreme Court made a ruling that restricted access to prosecutorial documents and legal proceedings to certain eligible beneficiaries. Journalists and citizens lost rights previously granted by provisions of the Access to Public Information Act.65
Local Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts
Considers the decentralization of power; the responsibilities, election, and capacity of local governmental bodies; and the transparency and accountability of local authorities. 6.50 / 7.00
  • Local governments in Slovenia enjoy substantial autonomy. Some issues persist, such as insufficient financing, coordination failures, and conflicting competences due to the fragmentation and small size of individual municipalities. The regionalization process, stalled after 2008 and relaunched in 2019, again stalled in 2020 due to government turnover and COVID-19.
  • The pandemic, and government measures to fight it, substantially affected some municipalities more than others. People were barred from leaving their municipality amid the other constraints put in place in April and again in November, creating hardships in smaller municipalities without robust services. Elder care facilities in these municipalities complained that they faced a lack of staff and support to handle infections as outbreaks occurred.66 Municipalities that depend on cross-border transactions were also disproportionately affected by the government’s emergency measures.
  • In September, the minister for public administration and representatives of municipalities agreed on lump-sum payments from the state budget for the provision of public services at the municipal level for 2021 and 2022. Municipal representatives were satisfied with the deal, which included increases to the lump sum.67
Judicial Framework and Independence 1.00-7.00 pts
Assesses constitutional and human rights protections, judicial independence, the status of ethnic minority rights, guarantees of equality before the law, treatment of suspects and prisoners, and compliance with judicial decisions. 6.00 / 7.00
  • In 2020, government attempts to interfere with individual proceedings and the judiciary in general continued in Slovenia, and the transparency of proceedings remained a problem. While the public perception of judicial independence improved slightly, it nonetheless remains relatively low.
  • In response to the Constitutional Court’s ruling in April, which tasked the government with examining on a weekly basis whether its lockdown restrictions were still justified, PM Janša complied but declared that the tribunal was “the most politically biased so far.”68 Several attempts to elect new members to the Constitutional Court were scuttled, as candidates proposed by President Borut Pahor failed to acquire sufficient support in Parliament in June.69 In past years, the political horse-trading between parties (including Janša’s SDS) for support of their respective court candidates has negatively affected the competence of candidates overall and contributed to decision-making along partisan lines.
  • In February, during the short-lived LMŠ government, PM Šarec was accused of ordering the police to surveil political opponents. In July, many of the resulting accusations were proven false.70 Conversely, a parliamentary commission inquiry into these accusations revealed that SDS MP Žan Mahnič paid a visit to the police and National Investigation Bureau in February; this move was decried as an act of political pressure and meddling in the work of police, as Mahnič was mostly concerned with investigations that involved individuals related to SDS. Moreover, Mahnič openly threatened that police head Tatjana Bobnar would face consequences.71
  • When SDS took over, Bobnar was replaced immediately. Shortly thereafter, many other key police positions were replaced with individuals whose primary qualification was being close to SDS.72 Interior Minister Aleš Hojs in August ordered supervision of inquiries by the National Investigation Bureau involving individuals close to SDS or otherwise politically relevant for the party, including inquiries involving Hojs himself and the state secretary for the ministry, Franc Kangler.73
  • In May, Foreign Minister Anže Logar of SDS accompanied a report on the state of the justice system in Slovenia requested by the European Commission with an unusual cover letter in which he questioned the independence of the judiciary and called for equal standards to be applied to all member states vis-à-vis the EU rule-of-law agenda.74
  • In June, PM Janša wrote a letter to the head state prosecutor in which he accused state prosecution of failing to act according to the law and being politically biased. In particular, Janša was critical that prosecutors had not acted against protesters who bore “death to Janšism” slogans (referring to Janša’s governance style), which in his view were calls for his assassination.75 The government also blocked the nomination of new prosecutors, presumably for disapproving of individual candidates.76
  • In July, the media reported that police were, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, given instructions for handling migrants and asylum seekers that violated laws in these areas. Migrants were detained and denied the right to access legal advice so that they could be returned to the country from which they had entered Slovenia.77
  • According to the 2020 Eurobarometer, there were some improvements in the public perception of the judiciary in Slovenia, which placed twentieth in the EU (in 2019, Slovenia had placed twenty-second) with 40 percent of people trusting in the judiciary, up from 2019 by a couple of percentage points.78
Corruption 1.00-7.00 pts
Looks at public perceptions of corruption, the business interests of top policymakers, laws on financial disclosure and conflict of interest, and the efficacy of anticorruption initiatives. 5.25 / 7.00
  • High-level corruption is a systemic issue in Slovenia, related in large part to the state’s strong role in the economy, the country’s weak prosecution, and poor corporate governance. In past years, the politically weakened role of the Commission for Prevention of Corruption (CPC) has also contributed to the significant degree of corruption.
  • In April, a national scandal broke out over emergency medical equipment procurements related to the COVID-19 pandemic. These government tenders were entrusted to the Commodity Reserves Agency, an organization without proper experience in the matter. High government and party officials personally interfered with the procedures, which were nontransparent, resulting in tenders won by companies without track records as well as individuals close to the governing coalition. Additionally, these agreements were changed after being signed, and deliverables were often out of line with the agreed terms.79 In one of the deals, the company GenePlanet, linked to SDS, enjoyed preferential treatment based on personal interference by Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek. It provided the state with 220 ventilators that tuned out to be improper for their intended use.80 The police launched investigations of individuals involved (including Počivalšek) but faced political interference.81 In November, the CPC formally identified several suspected violations of anticorruption legislation, forwarding its findings to the Court of Audit and other judicial bodies.82
  • In October, Ivan Gale, a Commodity Reserves Agency employee and whistleblower who played a key role in exposing the medical equipment procurement affair, lost his job and faced legal procedures for allegedly making false accusations.83 Slovenia has not yet implemented the EU directive on protections for whistleblowers.84
  • In March, the Public Payments Administration temporarily halted publication of information on individual transactions from the state budget to individual private beneficiaries. This negatively affected transparency, the work of institutions such as the CPC, and public oversight.85
  • In July, Agricultural Minister Aleksandra Pivec faced accusations of using her position to secure unjustified personal benefits (such as family vacations) that she did not report. Moreover, those involved falsified documentation to cover the evidence.86 Although facing pressure from the public and MPs of her own DeSUS party, Pivec was backed by PM Janša and resisted resignation until October.
  • In February, Robert Šumi, an anticorruption expert, was nominated as the new head of the CPC, whose credibility subsequently started to improve.87 In October, a large parliamentary majority passed amendments to the Law on Integrity and Prevention of Corruption, which introduced minor fixes. The authorities of the CPC were now explicitly directed toward prevention and integrity (as opposed to prosecution). This turned the CPC into something of a “paper tiger,” though previously, its prosecution-related competencies had triggered legal controversies. The applicability of provisions on conflicts of interest were widened. At the same time, the value threshold for reporting gifts was raised.88 Overall, these amendments fell short of systemic issues, such as effective investigation and judicial procedures, management of state assets, public procurement, and protections for whistleblowers.
  • In June, MPs adopted a code of ethics, thus formally committing themselves to certain standards and fulfilling the promise Parliament made in 2014. Yet, it remains to be seen how the ethics code will be implemented in practice.89

Author: Marko Lovec is a Research Fellow and Associate Professor at University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Social Sciences.