STA, 25 February 2019 - Finance Minister Andrej Bertoncelj told European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager in Ljubljana on Monday that Slovenia remained committed to the privatisation of Abanka. The pair also disused a potential lifting of management restrictions for the NLB bank before the state sells another 10%.
After Slovenia recently sold 65% in the country's largest bank, it is also in the process of privatising Abanka, the country's third biggest bank, by July this year as part of commitments made during the 2013 bank system bailout.
While there have been individual political calls in Slovenia for renegotiating the Abanka commitment, including from Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek, Bertoncelj told the commissioner the sale is progressing in an independent fashion and according to the timeline.
The minister said Slovenia had not asked for a postponement or cancellation of the sale.
Commenting on the situation, Vestager said Slovenia's commitments needed to be perceived in a comprehensive fashion and by considering the reasons why Slovenian banks had found themselves in trouble.
She acknowledged Abanka had met most of its commitments and was in much better shape, but added that negative experience with state meddling in corporate management had been a key reason for including the bank on the commitments list.
As regards NLB, the majority of which was sold in an IPO last autumn, Bertoncelj said the sale procedure for another 10% minus one share was proceeding in line with plans.
While the timeline envisages a sale by the end of this year, there is speculation that it will occur in mid-2019.
Vestager confirmed that talks were under way about the possibility of lifting all the remaining restrictions in the management of NLB - leasing services, factoring, the closure of branch offices, and above all the sale of NLB Vita, the bank's insurance subsidiary.
Vestager, who praised the NLB sale so far and the clear signal about plans to proceed, expressed satisfaction that Slovenia was proactive in the talks about the restrictions, but she would not comment further.
Bertoncelj already mentioned a few days ago in Brussels the idea of securing the lifting before the full execution of the sale in exchange for the state freezing its voting rights for the unsold 10%. He said the intention was securing the bank's development.
The Finance Ministry said today that it was proposing lifting the restrictions that presented the biggest burden for NLB's operations and were thereby also hurting the new private owners.
Bertoncelj added that the talks were complex and would take a while, meaning it was not possible to say whether the agreement with the Commission or the sale would occur first.
Meanwhile, the pair also discussed the European Commission's past changes and future reevaluation of rules governing state aid.
Bertoncelj said Slovenia supported changes towards a modernised system of state aid, strived for a further simplification of procedures and greater harmonisations with other EU policies, for instance cohesion policy.
While Vestager welcomed Slovenia's support, Bertencelj noted that Slovenia, having a centralised system for state aid, had no major problems in the transition to the new rules that gave more oversight competences to member states.
He pointed out that Slovenia was one of only five member states without any open claims for the return of illegal state aid.