Party officials and experts to meet over exit strategy in March

Photo: STA

Brdo pri Kranju – Slovenia’s political representatives and experts will meet in the first half of March in a bid to find a common ground on the exit strategy and restructuring of healthcare needs in the wake of the Covid-19 epidemic, President Borut Pahor has announced.

Addressing reporters after hosting party leaders at Brdo estate on Wednesday, he said they agreed to hold such a discussion, even though ideas of a snap election were also on the table and there were some reservations about an agreement offered by the prime minister to parliamentary parties.

The meeting discussing the way out of the epidemic would be organised by Pahor and PM Janez Janša at Brdo with Pahor saying it should be held without a delay. All heads of parliamentary parties and deputy groups would be invited, along with experts.

If the meeting succeeds, similar debates could follow to discuss the post-epidemic recovery and Slovenia’s presidency of the Council of the EU.

“It’s not a negligible outcome of the meeting of the kind that we haven’t had for a while. I won’t say mountains were moved today. But an important step has been made, knowing we’re stronger together,” said Pahor.

Seven of the nine parties invited took part in today’s meeting with Pahor, who is trying to act as a broker to improve cross-partisan cooperation on the most vital issues, including the EU presidency spell later this year.

“Considering the poisonous political atmosphere [in the country], the debate was at a high level of political culture, it was inclusive and respectful, regardless of it being polemical at times,” said Pahor.

He regretted that the opposition Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ) and the Left failed to attend the meeting, but said he respected their decision, which proved cross-party dialogue could no longer be taken for granted.

Pahor said that signs of a rift should be taken very seriously and efforts should be made not to deepen the divisions.

Everyone in the meeting agreed that cooperation was a two-way road. “You cannot just expect others to trust you and understand your views. You too must be willing to make an effort to trust and work with those who have different political views,” said Pahor.

He believes Slovenia can exit the epidemic successfully, “gain a new impetus with a wise, prudent and well thought-through recovery strategy and boost its reputation as president of the Council of the EU”.

Janša was less upbeat about the meeting, describing it as useful, but adding it was hard to call it successful. He regretted it took so long for “at least a truncated” meeting of party heads.

He believes that after his government won a vote of confidence, time has come for dialogue, which he said was missing when it was needed the most.

Referring to his offer to all parliamentary parties and both minority MPs to sign an agreement on cooperation in addressing “fundamental development challenges” this year and next, Janša admitted there was little chance all parties would sign on.

He noted that unlike a similar offer in May last year, this time the agreement would not commit the opposition to anything, while it would allow their involvement in the search for answers to development questions. He hopes the opposition parties would reconsider the offer.

At the meeting planned for March, the government will present an exit strategy plan where the prime minister hopes for a higher level of consensus than that at the height of the coronavirus epidemic, “when a part of the radical opposition opposed all measures”.

Similarly, Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek, the leader of the coalition Modern Centre Party (SMC), argued that the biggest problem was a “radical rift and even hatred between individual parliamentary parties”.

He called for a consensus on joint action to defeat the health crisis, and following it up with cooperation for economic recovery, but said agreement would not be possible if a focus was on past mistakes.

Defence Minister Matej Tonin, the leader of New Slovenia (NSi), believes the meeting today was useful because it “can contribute greatly to defusing emotions […] Only if we sit at the same table we can understand each other. If we understand each other, conflicts will be smaller and results greater.”

Of the opposition parties, SocDem leader Tanja Fajon said she attended the meeting to bring attention to the government’s mistakes. She condemned “the hate speech, intolerance, the smearing of political rivals and lies”, including those spread by the ruling party.

“This is why I proposed an early election as the best way out,” she said, adding that her proposal was not met favourably.

She has no intention of signing any deal with the government, while she expects the government’s assurances that the experts would be involved in the efforts to manage the epidemic and that the draft national recovery and resilience plan be declassified.

Alenka Bratušek, speaking for the party carrying her name, said they did not believe the “honesty of the hand held out” by the prime minister, adding the SAB party’s proposals had not been heeded.

She urged Janša and the coalition to apologize to the people for the mistakes committed in the way they handled the epidemic.

Zmago Jelinčič, the leader of the opposition National Party (SNS), criticised the other opposition parties for not wanting to sign on to the agreement offered by Janša, and for “destroying the country out of bitter pain because Janez Janša is in power”.

The status of the Pensioners’ Party (DeSUS) remains unclear. The party leader Karl Erjavec was not available for comment, while Janša described his position as relatively unclear. It also remains open whether DeSUS member Jože Podgoršek will stay on as agriculture minister.