‘The fall of the last domino’: an overview of Levica’s departure from the government in Slovenia

A protest rally against further privatizing state-owned companies. Luka Mesec speaks at Prešeren Square. Ljubljana, Slovenia June 11, 2015. Source: Delo.si

The last couple of months have been turbulent for The Left party (in Slovenian, Levica). Firstly, the Left failed to cross the threshold in the EU parliamentary election. Even the fact that their candidate, Violeta Tomić, was also the Spitzenkandidat for the Party of the European Left did not help. And secondly and more importantly, its partnership with the minority government officially ended. Even if this outcome was expected for some months, Prime Minister Marjan Šarec never explicitly claimed that his political party LMŠ (Lista Marjana Šarca) or the other of coalition partners (SD, SMC, SAB and DeSUS) wanted Levica to withdraw cooperation. In the last few weeks, however, the resentment and accusations from government representatives against Levica had escalated. In fact, it had been obvious that Levica was a thorn in their side from the start. But let us tell the story of Levica’s participation in the coalition from the very beginning.

The initial relations between the government and Levica could be considered positive, except in relation to the Prime Minister’s staffing decisions, when he appointed Damir Črnčec, a well known anti-immigration and racist commentator on Twitter, who once also happened to be a close associate of the SDS and its leader Janez Janša. In spite of this, one of the first and most important tasks of Levica’s policy related to raising the minimum wage. Thanks to their proposal, this was indeed achieved: the minimum wage rose from 638€ to 667€. By 2020, this amount will increase to 700€.

Nevertheless, relations quickly deteriorated in the first half of 2019. The coordinator for the party, Luka Mesec, revealed on 20th of June in a press statement that Levica wanted to carry out at least four of the projects agreed on with the government before the summer: ‘These are changes to the health services act to prevent privatisation of healthcare from the inside, indexation of the minimum hourly rate for students with the minimum wage, regulation of real estate agencies, and transfer of apartments from the Bank Assets Management Company (DUTB) to the national Housing Fund.’ According to Mesec, ‘nothing has been happening in these fields.’ In July, Mesec publicly expressed concerns about Šarec’s government for its ‘shift towards right-wing, neoliberal and authoritarian tendencies’.

Bitter-sweet honeymoon: the government’s neoliberal turn

As a result, the summer period was marked with uncertainity. Levica felt betrayed and dissatisfied with the fact that out of the thirteen projects identified in the cooperation agreement with the government this year, only one had been approved – a new law on real estate brokerage. Levica decided to give the government one more chance, but it set an ultimatum: the abolition of supplementary health insurance had to be adopted and implemented later this year.

But before that could happen, another decision from the government caused a stir: the abolition of special social benefits for low-income earners and those on welfare who do voluntary work. While the Left, already upset by the proposed 132 million euro tax reform, which mostly rewards the highest 5% of earners in the country, threatened to withdraw its support from the minority government, Šarec insisted that ‘the government remained welfare-oriented’. He claimed that these special social benefits had come too close to the minimum wage and that abolition will encourage people to take a full-time job, although Levica and other NGOs proved otherwise. In early October, the parliamentary Labour Committee, after a thirteen-hour session, voted in favour of the government proposal which abolished the aformentioned benefit. In practice this meant that 16 million euros could be taken from poor employees and poor volunteers. That decision was considered to be the beginning of the end of the cooperation between Levica and the government. Fortunately, on 5th of November, the National Council (i.e. the upper chamber of parliament), vetoed the legislation and on the 13th of November, the Ministry decided not to insist on abolishing the work allowance.

The resolution on the abolition of supplementary private health insurance, which has been a politically very delicate topic for the last 16 years, caused even greater upheaval. All other previous attempts to pass the legislation were stopped by lobbies as soon as the legal solution was drafted. Levica’s proposal was the first ever to even reach the National Assembly. At the meeting of Health and Finance Committees, on 6th of November, the coalition and the right-wing jointly and with sneaky maneuvers rejected the financial part of the Levica’s proposal. After the coalition parties announced that they will file amendments, the Health Committee postponed consideration of the proposal until further notice. Meanwhile, the decision-making process in the Finance Committee was cut short, as members ran out of time.

With this decision, the chance of abolishing supplementary health insurance and finding a fair and adequate way of financing health care in Slovenia was gone. Before the hearings in the committees, activists and MPs raised more than 11.000 signatures in favour for the abolition.

Levica’s proposal:

  • was 90% aligned with the coalition,
  • would bring more money into health care. Last year the insurance companies that collect supplementary health  insurance paid 477 million euros for medical services. Instead, the proposal envisaged 566 million into the system
  • would significantly improve the economy of the system, as more than 50 million euros (paid each year for supplementary insurance) remains in the insurance companies in the form of profit
  • would reduce administrative costs in healthcare, as hospitals now have to bill three different insurance companies, while the proposal argues for one
  • would guarantee a universal and unconditional right to healthcare for all.

Additionally, according to Levica’s calculations, a pensioner with a 500€ retirement pension and a manager with a 10,000€ salary would no longer pay the same amount for supplementary insurance, but would contribute in accordance with their abilities, leaving the pensioner having to pay 30€ less and the manager 20€ more than now. Such a method of financing would make 95% of people better off – practically all senior citizens, the vast majority of the self-employed, and essentially, everybody with monthly incomes less than 5200€.

The government decided quite the opposite: instead of eliminating supplementary health insurance, they offered their own proposal, where everything remained the same: a pensioner with a 500€ retirement pension would continue to pay the same amount as a manager with a 5,000€ salary. They call this ‘mandatory flat rate tax’.

Back to the opposition 2

Levica came to conclusion that the deal with the government was finally off. As expected, the rhetoric other coalition representatives assumed towards Levic, with the exception of SD, was growing increasingly hostile. Šarec previously even accused Levica of extortion, and criticized them for not wanting to assume functions and responsibilities. One of the most absurd statements is his comparison of Levica’s political action with baking donuts: ‘If you’ve ever fried donuts, you know how to keep your kitchen closed and warm. However, if someone walks in every five minutes, the donuts will not come out right. It’s about the same with these projects.’ After Levica’s departure, he emphasized that ‘the coalition didn’t end cooperation with Levica, but Levica ended cooperation with the coalition’.

Levica is now once again ‘fully’ in opposition, surrounded by right-wing nationalistic political parties (SDS, SNS and NSi). The government is now three seats short of a parliamentary majority, but it is certain that it will be supported by two, Italian and Hungarian, national minority representatives. Nevertheless, Šarec needs one more vote for the majority in parliament. He will approach either SNS or NSi. The former is the more likely option as their leader Zmago Jelinčič actively supported some of the government’s decisions in the past. Jelinčič has already confirmed several weeks ago that his party would approve the state budget for 2020 if Levica left the government. Interestingly, NSi, in fact, joined the talks in order to become the sixth coalition party after the elections back in the 2018, but withdrew from these very quickly. After this, a project partnership was reached between five parties and Levica, thus ground was prepared for the first minority government in the history of Slovenia.

The economic crisis is long over, but as it turned out, the government has decided to increase social inequalities rather than reduce them. The coalition suffered a blow and this might be fatal in the near future. According to recent surveys, (17th of November) popular support for the government has dropped significantly – due in part to the employment of Šarec’s alleged mistress, which caused a political scandal – and with the loss of Levica it will probably fall even further.

This is all grist for the right-wing mill, more specifically SDS. Since it is the second most popular political party, it may try to regain power. But the consequences of the departure of Levica will be felt not only by the citizens, but also by the government. Unfortunately, they lost momentum to end the neoliberal agenda of previous governments. Or was the agreement with Levica a dead letter as soon as it was signed? One might wonder if they ever had any intention of keeping to it.

Indeed, as Mesec commented, ‘the last domino fell’. The consequences and responsibility for this are for the government to bear, as it hobbles along in parliamentary minority and tries to further delegitimise the demands raised by the Left. Whether or not the move to leave the government will increase or decrease Levica’s electoral standing, it reflects the party’s integrity and courage. Levica established itself on the political scene, matured and it is constantly learning from mistakes. Its struggle–for the welfare state, for environmental, labor, human and social rights, and for equality–continues in a different capacity: in opposition.

Adin Crnkić is currently an unemployed independent researcher.

 

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