Right-wing populism has been on the rise in Europe since the turn of the century, anti-immigration and protectionist rhetoric has taken over the mainstream. The growing voice has often been translated into political power, with several European populist parties gaining widespread support – it has been a nervous period for the EU and its backers. However, the recent Slovenian election has slipped under the radar and signifies a potential change in the tide of the European political economy.
In a landmark victory for the brand-new Freedom Movement party – the party of former energy engineer Robert Golob. Leader of the sitting Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) Janez Janša was outvoted and no longer holds a position of power. He was a base template for any central European populist leader, equipped with the standard toolkit of anti-immigratory measures, a suppression of media, and an increasingly friendly relationship with Viktor Orban of Hungary. He had been successfully elected four times prior to this election, and despite gaining the most votes the SDS had ever done, it was not enough to overturn the mass support for Golob’s greens. The reason for this was the mass increase in turnout at the polls – a staggering increase from 52% in 2018 to 70% this year.
This is quite a victory for Golob due to the current European political climate, especially when looking at Slovenia’s neighbours. Both Austria and Croatia have liberal-conservative coalitions and Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi was a former EU banker. And the aforementioned Viktor Orban has made no secret of his oppressive agenda against those in the LGBTQ community, with further concerns over the security of abortion rights. This more vitriolic and nationalist populism is the one trending among European parliaments. Slovenia was a part of this collective of countries and has been shaped by these types of policies. For example, Janša was heavily involved with the ’Balkan non-papers’ affair – a controversy that fell under the radar and involved plans for redrawing Balkan borders. This involved the dissolution of Bosnia and Herzegovina among several other annexations. This concerned several EU and NATO members as it consequently added more unnecessary tension to an already unstable region of Europe
So, with the state of the Slovenian (and wider-European) status quo – what are the pillars of Golob’s Freedom Movement?
The first thing to emphasise would be their pillar of environmentalism. Slovenia has brought into wider European collaboration when it comes to climate change. Lesser developed economies within the EU are given permission to pollute more; however, the Freedom Movement wants to strive to be more proactive. The founder of the party Jure Leben mentioned their intentions to ban hydraulic fracking and the closure of the Velenje lignite mine (the only remaining operational mine in the country). Pessimists will be wary that Golob is the former executive of the state-owned energy company GEN energija; however, this shouldn’t be an issue if they continue on their pro-EU trajectory.
Secondly, the restoration of freedoms. Janša has regularly restricted the freedoms of the Slovenian people, this manifested backlash in the form of public protests in 2020. "Death to Janšism, freedom to the people" was the chosen slogan. Golob cleverly used the anti-government sentiments by framing the election as “a referendum on democracy”monopolising themselves as the party to bring about a more transparent running of the country. However, many correctly speculate that the rise of the SDS’s popularity was largely down to tactical voting, and those voting in favour of Golob were actually just voting against Janša.
Slovenia has chosen her future and the electorate has chosen to place their trust in Robert Golob and the Freedom Movement. With a coalition with other leftist parties expected, there is a cautious optimism surrounding the new path of a relatively insignificant European economy, led by an ambitious new party that has defied European political economy trends. Whether de facto progress is going to be made remains to be seen, however they have the mandate to reverse the Janša years and strive for a more open and collaborative Slovenia.