#EU2019 – In Slovenia, it’s Liberals against the EPP

The campaign for the European elections is unfolding in the shadow of cycling and local politicking. [ANTONIO BAT/EPA]

In Slovenia, the main story these days is not the European Parliament election campaign. It’s Italy and cycling.

That is because one Slovenian could soon triumph in the Giro d’Italia cycling race. Primož Roglič is currently in the lead and stands a good chance at crossing the finish line first in Verona.

There is no sweeter revenge for the recent comments made by the European Parliament President, Italy’s Antonio Tajani, that Istria, a peninsula shared by Slovenia and Croatia, is part of Italy

The campaign for the European elections is therefore unfolding in the shadow of cycling and local politicking.

Slovenia is governed by a five-member coalition: four liberal parties (ALDE members) and the Social Democrats (S&D).

Five years ago, ALDE leader Guy Verhofstadt came to Ljubljana to persuade the liberals to have one joint list for the European elections and avoid the dispersal of votes. He did not succeed.

It is the same scenario this year, only without Verhofstad, and it’s all about supremacy in the country of two million people, which joined the EU in 2004.

The Pensioners’ Party DeSUS (one of the four ALDE members) have one MEP and are unlikely to repeat this feat in the new Parliament. But they are a key factor in internal politics and that is enough for them.

The leading party in the coalition, LMŠ (ALDE) of Prime Minister Marjan Šarec, has decided to turn its back on two other liberal parties (SMC and SAB) in order to confirm its leading position and establish itself as the ‘master’ of the liberal camp.

Polls say they were right, as SMC and SAB are unlikely to cross the electoral threshold. But LMŠ, according to surveys, wins only one MEP of a total of eight. Conversely, a joint list of all three liberal parties would have been likely to win three MEPs.

But the LMŠ has a long-term plan to take control of the liberal scene because this almost certainly guarantees power: liberals have ruled Slovenia for 20 out of the 29 years of its independence.

The discord among the liberals allows the leading opposition party, the conservative SDS (EPP) of two-time prime minister Janez Janša – which has a joint list with SLS (EPP) – to confirm its position as the country’s strongest party, as was the case in the national elections last year.

It can bring the EPP two, perhaps even three, MEPs. Had they managed to form a joint list with NSi, also EPP, they might have even won four MEPs. But here too, the issue of leadership has torpedoed the idea.

In part because of that split, the opportunity arises for the far-right SNS to win one MEP and enter the Parliament for the first time, in which case it will boost the number of MEPs in Matteo Salvini and Marine Le Pen’s future group.

European topics? Not really

Slovenia is a member of Schengen and the eurozone, it survived the financial crisis and has turned around its economy (the growth rate for this year is forecast at 3.4%). Citizens are largely not interested in European elections: the turnout is predicted to be around 25%.

And even that depends on the weather. If Sunday (26 May) is sunny, most Slovenians will traditionally spend it in the mountains and it is very difficult to expect them to return home before polling stations close.

SDS expectedly supports the EPP’s lead candidate, Manfred Weber: “This model strengthens the degree of democracy when it comes to choosing the leadership of the Commission,” the party said.

Social Democrats support Frans Timmermans and the radically left Levica backs its candidate, Slovenia’s own Violeta Tomič.

When it comes to the long-term EU budget, all parties advocate for no change in Cohesion policy and rural development funding (Slovenia has had great success in drawing those funds).

But Social Democrats will seek more money for climate change, Levica wants a Green New Deal, while EPP members are looking for more money for security, because of migration.

Parties have not publicly discussed the candidate for the next Slovenian Commissioner but the name of Janez Potočnik has been doing the rounds. He served as a Commissioner in the two Barroso Commissions.

Due to tensions in the five-party coalition, the process of naming a candidate may get bogged down. Potočnik could be a compromise solution, unlike outgoing transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc.

More information on Slovenia in the country briefing.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic and Sam Morgan]

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