Today, Prime Minister Janez Janša participated in the “Government Beyond Recovery: Towards a Future-fit Public Sector” international conference, where he took part in the “Shaping Innovative and Inclusive Governments” panel discussion. Other participants who addressed the audience during this discussion included: OECD Secretary-General Mathias Cormann, EIPA Director-General Marco Ongaro and Slovenian Olympic medallist Petra Majdič.
In his opening address, the Prime Minister said that “we live in a time when we are combating the COVID-19 pandemic itself, while also ensuring recovery from it. The simultaneous discussions about the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and the recovery from the pandemic further underline the importance of a conference focussing on the public sector.”
“When discussing the COVID-19 pandemic, two things are important: preparedness for the situation and adaptability. After a year and a half of combating the pandemic, we now know our strengths in this situation and the weaknesses we suffered from in the beginning,” stressed Prime Minister Janša. He recalled that a WHO delegation visited Slovenia three years before the epidemic. “When we declared the epidemic and saw what recommendations the delegation had made, we established that if Slovenia and other Member States had fulfilled and implemented these WHO recommendations, Slovenia would have been well prepared for the challenge of the epidemic. But we missed this opportunity; we were not ready,” asserted the Prime Minister, who continued that some EU and OECD member states were very well prepared for the pandemic. “Some because they had experience of similar challenges in the past, and some because they were mature and took the WHO recommendations seriously,” said the Prime Minister, adding that the EU’s initial response to the epidemic was poor. “In the first weeks of the pandemic, Europe looked like the Middle Ages, chaos reigned. However, immediately after the first few weeks of the epidemic the EU realised that it had to improve its regional and continental approach in order to implement a joint response. The EU’s joint epidemic response that followed was a success story. The financial assistance for research carried out in Europe was very well coordinated so that vaccines, and now medications, could be developed as soon as possible, and there was also a harmonised response regarding the recovery, with some countries already drawing financial aid,” said the Prime Minister.
He also assessed that some OECD countries were more successful in managing and combating the epidemic than others. “The success of individual countries in tackling the epidemic also depended on the flexibility of their systems. The initial response of those countries with more flexible systems, where governments could adopt measures overnight, was quite successful, whereas those countries that were forced to go through the parliament to adopt stacks of measures were faced with the reality that their response was sometimes not timely,” said the Prime Minister. He then wondered about how we could ensure that our democracies would become more resilient to such challenges and found the answer in the digital transition. “If all the data during the first wave of the epidemic had been available online, our response could have been much better, much more timely, much more targeted,” the Prime Minister stated with certainty.
Prime Minister Janša also warned of another danger, namely that a serious cyberattack could occur simultaneously with an epidemic. “Everything that has happened during the pandemic is a wakeup call for us to realise we have to be better prepared for different situations and that we need to take warning signs seriously. We need to build capacities to make our public sector more resilient and better prepared for something that might happen, but we do not know exactly when and how it will happen,” the Prime Minister stressed, adding that this is also the lesson we have learnt from the pandemic – to be prepared for similar challenges in the future.
Prime Minister Janša then took part in a debate on trust, climate change and the EU’s response to common challenges.
On the subject of trust in governments and taking action, the Prime Minister said that governments change in the process of democracy and at elections, and that some of the knowledge gained is lost because of these changes. “These are the side effects of democracy,” the Prime Minister said. He pointed out, looking back, that certain countries in South Asia, with not-so-democratic systems, where presidents or prime ministers had made decisions about everything, were more effective in containing the spread of the virus during the first wave of the epidemic. “However, when we take a look at the second and third waves, the vaccines did not come from these countries, but from countries with a free market, freedom and democracy, and that is what we need to be aware of. These are the lessons we have learned from this situation. It is precisely because of these lessons that our response will be faster, more efficient and much more coordinated,” Prime Minister Janša said, adding that it is necessary to build capacities “that will make our public sector more flexible and more prepared for something that may happen, but we do not know exactly when and how it will happen.” According to him, trust in the Government and the public sector varies from country to country; in some places trust is high, in other places it is low. “What has surprised me negatively is the lack of trust in science. In the West, trust in science and knowledge is higher than in Central or Eastern Europe. And that was something new for me, because I did not expect it. Distrust of science can lead to other problems,” the Prime Minister stressed, adding that trust in science is so important that these issues will have to be addressed in the future.
Also as regards climate change and trust that governments will tackle climate change, Prime Minister Janša pointed out that half of the European population believes that governments can do something and that we are on the right track, while the other half is sceptical. “One of the reasons for this is also a lack of trust in science,” he said. In his opinion, the answer to climate change lies in innovation and clean energy technologies, because if we only deal with the consequences of climate change, then we will not solve the problem. Moreover, according to the Prime Minister, climate change has been going on forever. “The main question here is how modern civilisation contributes to this process. Opinions vary, but science is convinced that humanity has a 90% strategic impact on climate change. So, we can only deal with such changes globally,” the Prime Minister said and added that the main response and strategic answer to climate change is how to produce clean energy. In this regard, we are still without clear answers. “If we want to have only electric cars, for example, then we need batteries, and clearly we don’t have enough lithium on earth to make all the cars required. So we need to invent something new, we need to find something for the post-lithium period. This means that we have to invest heavily in this area of industry, technology, and innovation. The challenge for the public sector is how to provide sufficient resources for this to happen in the next 10 to 15 years. The political challenge, however, is how to ensure that enough money is invested in something that is not very visible to people at first, given that confidence in science is very low,” said the Prime Minister, adding that it is the EU that must be at the forefront of the fight against climate change.
Speaking of innovative measures to fight the epidemic, the Prime Minister referred to a series of measures taken by the Slovenian Government, while in the matter of realistic innovations related to the epidemic, he drew attention to the company Bia Separations, which has developed a technology for the purification of vaccines.
However, one of the major advantages of European integration, according to the Prime Minister, is the exchange of good practices. “Whatever problem you put forward, be it in the field of health, demography, innovation, technology, etc., there is at least one country within the EU that has already found a solution to this problem,” the Prime Minister pointed out. He added that we have also created many European institutions that help spread knowledge and good practices between countries, “but at the same time we create bureaucratic obstacles and barriers. Sometimes, by over-regulating, we also stifle the atmosphere of good practice.”
“For me personally, for the government I lead, and for the EU as a whole, the epidemic has made it clear that we need to be better prepared for the challenges ahead, and if we are to be prepared for the future challenges, we need to create a community that is innovation-friendly. Knowledge and information are not the problem, the problem is how to use that information and that knowledge. That is why we need to create an environment where both young and old people are taught the skills to use and assess information,” Prime Minister Janša concluded.