Seeking the Political Balance for Urgent Decisions
The new government of Janez Janša has, immediately after their confirmation in the Parliament, come under alot of pressure from all possible sides. Apart from an enormous amount of work connected to stabilising public finances, tackling the consequences of the economic crisis, preparing the platform for new economic growth and job creation, it seems that they just did not succeed in avoiding some controversial and non-urgent political moves. It has quickly become apparent that the government seems to understand the volume of urgent decisions ahead, but more questionable is whether they will be able to agree on the nature of the problems and proper solutions.
Outrage from the opposition after the first cabinet meeting
Among the most exposed, the new government immediately dismissed the Director of the intelligence agency SOVA, Sebastjan Selan and appointed Damir Črnčec in his place. Aleš Gulič in the meantime, was dismissed as the Head of the Government Office for Religious Communities and replaced by Stane Baluh as Acting Head and Darijan Košir, the Head of the Government Communications Office, was replaced by Anže Logar as Acting Head. The change in the Communications Office is more than logical, but removing Aleš Gulič from the Office for Religious Communities is definitely not an urgent, anti-crisis action, especialy considering the new coalition announced that the Office will shortly be integrated into one of the newly formed Ministries.
The smallest cabinet ever facing some serious ‘re-organisation’ questions
The centre-right cabinet has 12 ministers with Janša as the Prime Minister - four from the main coalition partner, the Democrats (SDS) and two from each of the remaining partners, the Virant List, the People’s Party (SLS), the Pensioners’ Party (DeSUS) and New Slovenia (NSi). The most controversial decisons of the new coalition are connected to the reduction in the number of ministries and the reorganisation of parts of the ministries: the integration of the Culture Ministry into the new ‘super’ ministry for Education, Science, Culture and Sport; and moving prosecution from the Justice Ministry to the Ministry for Internal Affairs. It appears the integration of culture into the new ‘super’ ministry is final but the latest information indicates that the leading coalition party, SDS, is prepared to take a step back on the reorganisation of prosecution. The Executive Council of the senior coalition Democrats (SDS) agreed to keep the prosecution service under the auspices of the Justice Ministry. However, unless the prosecution service shows successful performance within a year, it will be moved to the Interior Ministry. The Interior Ministry is headed by Vinko Gorenak of SDS and the Justice Ministry by Senko Pličanič of the Virant List. From the initial response of the Virant List, it is clear that they are not very happy with this type of blackmail from the SDS side and so the outcome of this inter-coalition dispute is not yet clear. The planned transfer of the prosecution service had been harshly criticised by the opposition, who had asked the Constitutional Court to review the corresponding article in the Government Reform Act. The move was also opposed by the State Prosecutors’ Council and the Corruption Prevention Commission, while Pličanič announced he would strive to keep prosecution in the Justice Ministry, as he introduced himself as a candidate for a Minister in the Parliament in early February. Two weeks ago, the Virant List, which initially proposed merging the home and justice departments including the prosecution service, proposed changing the coalition agreement to retain prosecution as part of the Justice Ministry.
Crucial task: the balance between urgent austerity measures, social cohesion and stimulating growth
The new government quickly presented their plans for cost cutting in public finances. The optimistic goal of the new Finance Minister is to lower the budget deficit to 3% in 2012. It´s more than obvious that this cannot be achieved without cutting the volume of wages in the public sector. This can be done by lowering wages or laying off employees in the public state administration. This was very quickly questioned by public sector unions and also by the Head of the Government Fiscal Council, Marjan Senjur, who warned against extreme ‘meddling’ in the public sector. If the government wants to reduce some taxes it will need to increase others, he added. Although the public sector is the touchstone of the economy, it is the right target for reducing the budget deficit but only on the expenditure side, Senjur noted, adding that the income side of the budget is often disregarded.
Overdramatisation could be counter productive, the key is credibility
Commenting on the assessment of the government that Slovenia may run out of budget funds for the salaries of teachers and police officers in the last quarter of 2012, Senjur stressed that painting a dramatic picture of the situation may seem reasonable for the national public, but was counter-productive for the foreign public.He further said that there was no point criticising the cabinet’s fiscal policies of 2009 and 2010, as “the government of Borut Pahor did what it had to do and what it could”and Slovenia had negative economic growth only in 2009. The new government has more choice because Slovenia now has experience with the crisis and he also noted that it was crucial that the cabinet improve its credibility, which was damaged because the senior coalition Democrats (SDS) had undermined the main anti-crisis proposals of the previous government.
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