Second Rail Referendum Held, Work to Start Soon on Koper-Divača Line

By , 14 May 2018, 08:50 AM News
Second Rail Referendum Held, Work to Start Soon on Koper-Divača Line Wikimedia - Stan Dalone CC by 2.0

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STA, 13 May 2018 - Voters upheld the law governing the financing of the railway upgrade between the Koper port and the inland hub Divača in the repeat referendum on Sunday. The government will try to immediately kick-start the project, but the initiator of the referendum plans to appeal the result yet again in order to delay the law until after the election. 

The opponents of the government-sponsored law failed to convince enough voters to meet the quorum requirement, while narrowly winning the vote itself, according to near-final results.

It was clear that Vili Kovačič, the initiator of the referendum, had lost after turnout stood at 14.96%, the third lowest in referendum history in Slovenia, with more than 99% of the votes counted.

Unlike in the first rail referendum last year, the no camp won the vote narrowly, with 50.1% voting against the law, but the result is inconsequential because the requirement that at least 20% of the electorate votes against a law to defeat it was not satisfied.

Infrastructure Ministry State Secretary Jure Leben said the government planed to set the EUR 1bn Divača-Koper rail expansion project into motion "before the election."

The government will "propose to the [EU] Commission this evening to meet this week", to secure the EU funding. "We'll do everything to unfreeze these funds so that any future government may responsibly pursue the project with all available financing sources," he said.

The Commission has so far released EUR 44m for preparatory works, which are already being drawn by the Slovenian Infrastructure Agency, another EUR 109 has been suspended until the law takes effect.

Leben said talks with Hungary, whose proposed role as a financier of the project was one of the reasons for the referendum, would also continue as soon as possible.

"I'll inform the Hungarian side in the morning what the situation in Slovenia is," he said.

Outgoing Prime Minister Miro Cerar, who resigned after the Supreme Court annulled the original referendum triggering an early election, said "we now got the green light to build the second rail track under this law".

Both he and Infrastructure Minister Peter Gašperšič regretted that there had to be a second vote on the law. "Sadly we're losing time that could be better spent on implementing the project," Gašperšič noted. He hopes that new complaints will be rejected.

But Kovačič said today's vote had not been any fairer than the first, which was annulled after he successfully complained to the Supreme Court because the government had used almost EUR 97,000 in public funds to finance its yes campaign.

He plans to challenge the referendum result yet again "because the law is clearly stacked against the citizens" and expects his appeal will delay the entry into effect of the law well into July, making it impossible for the government to start the project.

"This has been my goal," he stressed.

Workers' representatives at Luka Koper, the Koper port operator, as well as the boss of railway operator Slovenske Železnice, Dušan Mes, called for the works on the project to start without delay.

Mes told the STA that the existing railway between Koper and Divača is close to capacity. "Port as well as railway customers expect that works on the second rail track will get under way, because their business plans in the coming years depend on it."

Meanwhile, the head of the works' council at Luka Koper, Mirko Slosar said the next government should address the law's shortcomings, especially those pertaining to Luka Koper. He nevertheless hopes the works on the project will get under way as soon as possible.

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