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What an election in Slovenia could mean for Europe

ROB SCHMITZ, HOST:

Much of the world's attention was on France last weekend, where Emmanuel Macron's reelection dominated headlines. But in the tiny alpine eastern European country of Slovenia, the party of Prime Minister Janez Jansa, a right-wing populist who is an outspoken supporter of former U.S. President Donald Trump, lost the national election to the environmentally-focused party of Robert Golob. He is now set to become prime minister.

Here to talk about what this might mean for Europe is Judy Dempsey, senior fellow at Carnegie Europe. Thanks for joining us, Judy.

JUDY DEMPSEY: Thank you very much for having me.

SCHMITZ: This was a big defeat for a three-term prime minister. What about Jansa were Slovenian voters rejecting?

DEMPSEY: Slovenian voters had enough. They had enough of the kind of creeping populism, a kind of creeping authoritarianism that used the democratic system to kind of consolidate Jansa's power. They got fed up of the corruption. They got fed up of trampling on the media. But they've had enough of this political figure. They want a change.

SCHMITZ: So Judy, can you tell us - what kind of mark has Janez Jansa left on Slovenia?

DEMPSEY: The mark he's left is twofold. One is the ability of a leader and his party to actually erode democratic values. And secondly, the mark he's left is one of disappointment by Slovenia and the EU's eastern neighbors like Ukraine, like Georgia, poor Belarus, who have looked to the European Union countries as models of reform, of democracy and of accountability. These very issues are the ones that Jansa has eroded, and now hopefully they're going to be overturned with the new government in place.

SCHMITZ: There was 70% voter turnout for this election, one of the highest in the country's history, and they delivered what, to many, was a surprise result. Why was this result so surprising, do you think?

DEMPSEY: The result was surprising because Robert Golob is a new face. He's the head of the Freedom Party. He set up - he comes from the Green movement. He set up this party only last January. He's a former company manager. He was a new face. He spoke plainly, quite charismatic, didn't hold out any promises, didn't make any threats. He was just saying we need a new beginning.

And the 70% was phenomenal. It's very gratifying. And the voters went for him and they just decided that not only did they have enough of Jansa, but this is very, very important to understand political dynamics in other parts of Europe. No matter what the European Union does, it's people power that matters on the national level.

SCHMITZ: And of course, Robert Golob was the opposition candidate for prime minister and he, of course, he will now be prime minister. What can we expect from him?

DEMPSEY: Practical politics - rolling back the kind of efforts that Jansa did to impose a kind of populist, authoritarian structure on Slovenia, becoming a much more positive player inside the European Union and in NATO and actually distancing Slovenia from the likes of the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and other populist leaders. Above all, size matters, and small countries do have a say. They do have voting rights inside the European Union. And I think what Golob wants to say, to tell his EU interlocutors, we're back. We want to be constructive, and we want to actually restore or repair the damage done to Slovenia's democracy.

SCHMITZ: That was Judy Dempsey, senior fellow at Carnegie Europe. Thanks a lot for joining us, Judy.

DEMPSEY: It was a real pleasure. Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.