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20 Dec 2018, 13:00 PM

STA, 19 December 2018 - The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) will examine the case brought by Slovenia against Croatia over the defunct bank Ljubljanska Banka (LB), the court said on Wednesday.

In the application lodged on 15 September 2016, Slovenia argues unfairness, a lack of impartiality and discrimination by Croatian courts in proceedings brought by LB to collect debts owed by Croatian companies.

The Strasbourg court said that the ECHR Chamber, which had been allocated the case, now relinquished jurisdiction in favour of the Grand Chamber, comprised of 17 judges.

Jurisdiction is relinquished to the Grand Chamber only exceptionally. Under Article 30 of the European Convention of Human Rights this may happen when a case raises a serious question affecting the interpretation of the Convention or its Protocols, or where the resolution of a question before the Chamber might have a result inconsistent with a judgement previously delivered by the Court.

A response by the Government Communication Office indicates that the Grand Chamber is to first decide on the admissibility of the inter-state case.

Slovenia's high representative for succession Ana Polak Petrič hailed the decision, but said that it did not come as a surprise and that given the weight of the arguments presented by Slovenia in the inter-state case "we believe the application needs to be examined by the Strasbourg court's Grand Chamber".

She told the STA that the decision meant that the case would be heard and that Slovenia would have an opportunity to set out its arguments, possibly even in an oral hearing.

Polak Petrič expects the procedure to take several years. "Inter-state cases take their time, considering broader aspects involved. Countries also take their time to present their arguments, and nor is the damage claim simple. It concerns 48 cases from the 1990s in which Ljubljanska Banka claimed debts in Croatian courts".

In the application, Slovenia alleges that Croatia's judicial and executive authorities have illegally prevented LB from recovering debt from Croatian companies incurred in the 1990s through their systematic and arbitrary conduct, thus violating European law originating in the European Convention of Human Rights.

On brining the case, the then Justice Minister Goran Kelmenčič explained that such conduct on the part of Croatia put Slovenia in an unfair and unenviable position, considering the country had to repay the savings deposits held by Croatian clients of the LB Zagreb branch under the 2014 ECHR judgement in the Ališić case.

On the other hand, he said that Croatia had done everything in its power over the past 25 years to prevent LB to collect debts owed by Croatian companies.

Klemenčič explained that LB was the biggest bank in the former Yugoslavia and that the Zagreb subsidiary had financed Croatian companies, enabling them to function and develop. "Loans from LB created positive effects on the Croatian economy."

Since the debtors (Croatian companies) after the break-up of Yugoslavia failed to settle their debts to LB stemming from loans and guarantees granted after 1980, LB and its Zagreb subsidiary launched enforcement proceedings before Croatian courts between 1991 and 1996.

There were more than 80 such proceedings, and they were worth millions, the minister stressed, adding that in 25 years LB had managed to enforce through Croatian courts only EUR 700,000.

Klemenčič said that the lawsuit contained proof that the "Croatian executive directly interfered with the functioning of the judiciary, prevented enforcements, while the judiciary in Croatia changed the case law and prevented LB from successfully enforcing their legitimate claims to Croatian companies".

In the wake of the 2014 ECHR judgement in the Ališić case, Slovenia examined 81 suits brought by LB in Croatia, finding that in 26 the cases the European Convention of Human Rights had been violated.

Polak Petrič said that since Slovenia lodged its application with the ECHR, the number of cases in which Slovenia detected direct violations of the Convention had increased from 26 to 48.

Court proceedings in Croatia are slowly coming to an end and every case in which the judgement becomes final is included in Slovenia's application in support of the case.

Polak Petrič said that the damages claimed by Slovenia from Croatia had increased from EUR 360m to EUR 430m.

The Slovenian government alleges multiple violations of Article 6 of the Convention with respect to the right to a fair trial, equality before the law, right to enforcement and trial within a reasonable time.

Slovenia also alleges violation of Protocol No. 1 to the Convention concerning peaceful enjoyment of possessions.

The Foreign Ministry also commented on the issue today for the STA, saying LB had only been able to secure a tiny fraction of the claims to Croatian companies.

Croatian courts on average needed more than 15 years to reach final decisions in the matter, while in some cases the procedures dragged on for more than 22 years, the ministry wrote.

Slovenia expects that following the decision on the LB savers, the ECHR will also find a just solution as regards the rights violations suffered by the bank, it added.

20 Dec 2018, 11:50 AM

STA, 19 December 2018 - MPs appointed economist Boštjan Vasle central bank governor in a 51:28 vote on Wednesday. Vasle, who will be the fifth governor, will succeed Boštjan Jazbec who left Banka Slovenije for a new job in April. Vasle needed to secure at least 46 votes in a secret ballot in the 90-strong legislature.

Vasle served as the director of the government's macroeconomic think-tank IMAD for eleven years. When he laid out his bid in a public presentation in early December, he stressed his commitment to have Banka Slovenije operate as an open institution.

He has called for effective coordination of policies as economic growth is about to cool off and for the EU banking union to be completed as soon as possible.

While he emerged as the surprise frontrunner for the post after it became clear that other candidates would not get an absolute majority in parliament, the outcome of the vote had been unclear until the very end.

In the debate before the vote, Vasle appeared to have secured the votes of MPs from the Modern Centre Party (SMC), Social Democrats (SD), Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB) and the Pensioners' Party (DeSUS), which have a total of 30 MPs between them.

SAB deputy Maša Kociper said that he had not been the party's first pick, but once economist Igor Masten was out of the game, the party had to choose among the others, with Vasle coming out as a very good candidate.

However, Vasle was not backed by the Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ), the biggest coalition party, whose deputy group head Brane Golubović said he had never been their pick.

Likewise, the Left, the minority government's partner in the opposition, refused to back the candidate whom Luka Mesec, the leader of the Left, described as an advocate of neoliberal policies.

According to Mesec, Vasle sees the world "through the eyes of a capitalist and not a worker". The party also said that he had failed to distance himself from the actions of previous governors.

"Two governors of the past ten years are to blame for the banking hole and its tackling just as much as the governments," Mesec said in reference to the 2013 bank bailout.

The conservative opposition, the SDS, New Slovenia (NSi) and the National Party (SNS) had not disclosed in the debate whether they would endorse Vasle or not.

Banka Slovenije has been without a governor since April, when the former boss, Boštjan Jazbec, left for a job on the EU's Single Resolution Board. The central bank has since been led by acting governor Primož Dolenc, who failed to get appointed full-fledged governor in October.

Vasle will become the fifth central bank governor, following in the footsteps of Jazbec, Marko Kranjec, Mitja Gaspari and France Arhar.

Boštjan Vasle, a 49-year old analyst who wants a systematic, long-term approach

STA, 19 December 2018 - Economist Boštjan Vasle, 49, is coming to Banka Slovenije as the fifth governor of the country's central bank, having led the government's macroeconomic forecaster IMAD for eleven years. He is considered an independent expert and has largely kept out of the public eye.

Vasle started his career at the Finance Ministry after graduating from the Ljubljana Faculty of Economics in 1994.

He earned a master's degree in monetary policy from the Central European University in Budapest in 1997 before getting a job at the Institute of Macroeconomic Analysis and Development (IMAD) as analyst in 2000.

In 2007, the Janez Janša cabinet appointed him IMAD director. He worked for IMAD until a month ago, when the Marjan Šarec government relieved him of his duties as acting director in a sign that he was a serious candidate for governor.

During his 18-year stint at IMAD, he briefly worked in 2006 for the Government Office for Development, which brought together several up-and-coming economists.

As IMAD director, Vasle has been involved in several key economic challenges, such as a programme to reduce inflation, Slovenia's eurozone integration and a programme of structural measures to address the recent economic crisis.

He has worked with all major decision-makers in Slovenia and with international institutions, such as the IMF, EU and European Central Bank. He is also a member of several expert boards in Slovenia and abroad.

The new governor is known for his systemic approach and communication with the public, which he also highlighted as a priority in running the central bank.

"Banka Slovenije must build its positions on expertise and present them publicly, not just within the eurozone, but also to the broader public, experts, politicians and the general public," he said when he presented his bid at Presidential Palace in early December.

He believes that as the supervisor of the banking sector, Banka Slovenije should not only monitor banks' operations but also work closely with other stakeholders in the sector.

Vasle also called for completing the EU's banking union and for the eurozone to reflect thoroughly on how to phase out unconventional monetary measures which had been needed to address the negative consequences of the recent crisis.

In his spare time, Vasle is an enthusiastic runner. "Running has been my most important sport over the past 30 years," he told a men's magazine a while ago.

He is trying to use some of his running experience at work. "If we treated economic problems as long-term challenges, our macroeconomic picture would definitely be better," he said at the time.

Vasle will replace Governor Boštjan Jazbec, who left for a high-profile job in the EU at the end of April, taking over from Vice Governor Primož Dolenc, who has led the central bank as acting governor in the meantime.

20 Dec 2018, 10:20 AM

STA, 19 December 2018 - Presenting Banka Slovenije's latest Macroeconomic Projections and Financial Stability Review publications, acting governor Primož Dolenc said on Wednesday that Slovenia's financial system was healthy. "Banks' profitability is currently very favourable, but some income risk exists in the mid-term," he told the press.

Dolenc, who called on banks to seek new sources of net interest and non-interest income, said the risk is compounded by a substantial share of the banks' profitability remaining the result of the easing of impairments and provisions.

Tomaž Košak of the central bank's financial stability and macro-prudential department illustrated that the banks generated EUR 422m in pre-tax net profit in the first nine months amid 3.6% year-on-year growth in net interest income. The easing of impairments and provisions contributed EUR 41m.

"Were the banks to form provisions at the level of the long-term average today and the provisions accounted for 23% of gross income, the profit would be halved to EUR 180m and return on capital would fall from 12% to 5%," he said.

Concerns about an overheating housing market

While general risks to the financial system have remaining similar to those in the middle of this year, they have increased somewhat on the housing market.

"We estimate that the prices on this market are growing today because supply is failing to keep up with demand, meaning it is not consequence of excessive bank lending," Dolenc said, while asserting the current developments were not a danger to the banking system, which was well capitalised and resistant to potential shocks.

Košak highlighted strong growth in real estate prices in the last two years in particular in Ljubljana, Koper and certain tourist centres. Housing prices went up by 10% last year and by 13.4% in the first half of this year, which is the biggest increase in the eurozone.

"We are currently not talking about overheating, but any further price increases will start leading to the market overheating," he said.

The growth of housing loans to households was moderate and stable this year and lending standards are relatively high.

This was the case with consumer loans though, which is why the central bank recommended in November that retail banks impose stricter conditions.

Meanwhile, the quality of banks' portfolios has also improved, with exposure to non-performing loans falling to 4.5% by September.

"Some banks are still dealing with exposure dating back to the crisis, which is why we stress the need for them to make use of the favourable business conditions to restructure their portfolios," Košak said.

18 Dec 2018, 14:28 PM

STA, 18 December 2018 - The number of jobs created in Slovenia increased to 885,700 in October with one in ten of the jobs filled by foreigners, fresh data from the Statistics Office show.

The number of people in employment in the country increased by 0.9% from November and by 3.2% on the same period a year ago.

More than half of those in jobs were men, their number rising by 0.8% from September to 486,600. The number of employed women rose by 1% to 399,000.

Manufacturing created most new jobs, the number of those employed there rising by 4.1% to over 8,000.

Almost 10% of all people in employment in Slovenia were foreigners. Their number rose by 19.5% in a year to 87,700. This is up 2% from September.

Most foreigner workers were from Bosnia-Herzegovina (42,600), Serbia (10,800), Croatia (7,500), Kosovo (7,100) and Macedonia (6,000).

Most were employed in the construction industry (23,400), manufacturing (20,300) and in transport and storage (14,800).

Related: 1 in 8 residents in Slovenia is an immigrant

18 Dec 2018, 10:20 AM

STA, 17 December 2018 - Swiss group Kuehne + Nagel inaugurated on Monday one of its largest pharmaceutical logistics centres near Ljubljana's international airport. The 88,000 square-metre complex, which was launched earlier in the autumn, has almost 38,000 square metres of warehouse space.

Kuehne + Nagel did not reveal which company it is servicing, but it is known this is Swiss multinational Novartis, for which this is the largest warehouse in Europe and one of the largest in the world.

The centre is designed for storing and distributing end products and materials for the pharmaceutical industry around the world. Drugs from it travel to 120 countries around the world, mostly by sea and land, but some also by air.

The centre is currently operating at some 70% of its capacity, but should be in full swing by the end of March.

As the Swiss logistics group expects further growth in Slovenia, it has already started building a new high-tech distribution centre nearby.

The centre will be built in three stages, with the first one encompassing some 4,500 square metres of warehouse areas.

Since it does not require controlled temperature and humidity, it is seen as less demanding than the pharmaceutical complex.

Borut Vrviščar, the CEO of Kuehne + Nagel Slovenija, did not want to disclose the value of the investments as he addressed reporters today.

But he did say the group's Slovenian subsidiary planned two-digit growth as well as growth in the number of employees.

There are currently 180 employees working in Brnik, but the figure is expected to rise to around 250 by the end of 2019.

Well-trained and motivated staff part of the appeal of Slovenia

Hansjoerg Rodi, regional manager at Kuehne + Nagel Europe, said that well-trained and motivated staff made Slovenia a good market for investments.

He explained Kuehne + Nagel had decided to invest in the Brnik facility because of a certain deal, but the group now saw new opportunities for growth in the pharmaceutical industry and in other areas, so it kept investing.

Meanwhile, Vrviščar said a new logistics centre Austria's Cargo-partner is building near Kuehne + Nagel's complex was no direct competition as the Austrians were involved in a different segment of the logistics industry.

However, he said they would all benefit from the Slovenian government building a rail link to Ljubljana's Jože Pučnik Airport.

Kuehne + Nagel's new facilities are built by Austria's developer Invest4See and then rented by the Swiss logistics group.

14 Dec 2018, 12:00 PM

STA, 13 December 2018 - Following a longer period of stable prices, several power and natural gas companies in Slovenia increased their prices this autumn in response to growing energy prices on foreign energy exchanges.

 

Wholesale energy prices on foreign markets have been growing for a while due to the economic and political situation and increasingly expensive CO2 emission coupons.

Monitoring energy prices in Slovenia, the Consumers' Association (ZPS) said some half a dozen companies had increased electricity prices and a dozen of them increased natural gas prices.

The uniform electricity tariff rose by an average 15%, the higher tariff by 12% and the lower one by more than 17%, according to the consumer watchdog.

The prices of natural gas for end-users have increased somewhat less, by an average 10%, ZPS data shows.

The electricity bill for households receiving power from Elektro Primorska's subsidiary E3 has been higher by an average EUR 2.50 or 4.9% since September.

E3, which said the Slovenian electricity market had been "very dynamic" since mid-2017, previously increased the electricity price a year ago, while it sets it on an individual basis for large business customers.

Prices depend on neighbouring countries

The company told the STA that electricity prices in Slovenia were largely under the influence of price trends in the neighbouring countries.

The price of electricity on the Hungarian HUPX power exchange rose by slightly less than 30% in the January-October period, peaking at EUR 64.30 per megawatt hour in September, "which was also a record value in the last ten years", it said.

Elektro Maribor's Energija Plus increased its electricity prices in October, by an average 5.9% for business customers and by 6.6% for households.

The distributor said that since September 2017, the price of megawatt hour of electricity on the European EEX energy exchange to be supplied in 2019 and 2020 had grown from EUR 30 to EUR 60. "This year alone, it rose by more than 45%."

While Gen-I is not planning a rise for households, RWE has not yet taken the final decision, but said electricity prices had been constantly rising across Europe over the past 18 months.

CO2 measures drive much of the increase in price

The company told the STA the prices on the German energy exchange had doubled to reach the highest level in five years, adding the main reason behind the trend was the changed rules governing trading in CO2 emission certificates.

As for natural gas, Energija Plus said the prices had been rising since September 2017, with a megawatt hour of natural gas for supply in 2019 rising from EUR 17 to more than EUR 24 over the past year.

Petrol and diesel prices in Slovenia have also been affected by prices on foreign markets, with administered prices of regular petrol and diesel reaching in October the highest level since June 2015 and November 2014, respectively.

The same month, diesel was more expensive than regular. However, since then, the prices have been dropping to reach the levels from the beginning of the year.

Meanwhile, a litre of heating oil has risen to reach an average EUR 0.965 in the third quarter of the year, up from an average EUR 0.768 in the same quarter in 2017.

14 Dec 2018, 10:23 AM

STA, 13 December 2018 - Natural gas will be a major part of energy supply in Slovenia in the future and domestic production would greatly increase the reliability of supply, heard participants of a Thursday's event dedicated to energy.

Noting that natural gas plays a generally positive role in the EU's energy transition to meet climate goals, Jurij Vertačnik of the Ministry of Infrastructure said that establishing competitive domestic production would be positive for the country, which currently relies almost exclusively on gas imports.

It is however true that the required infrastructure will have to be adapted for other energy sources in the future, which entails certain technical as well as regulatory challenges, he acknowledged.

Petišovci gas well a missed opportunity

There is a gas well at the Petišovci field in the north-east of the country, but its potential is not utilised, said Miha Valentinčič, the head of Geoenergo, the Slovenian partner of UK's Ascent Resources which is exploring the gas field.

According to him, there has been a lot of intentional deception with regards to the project since 2011 that has slowed down the project.

"We're trying to conclude as soon as possible the procedures that are under way, including obtaining the necessary permits to maintain current production and to connect to the Slovenian network," he said.

Part of the gas pumped out at the Petišovci field is sold to local industrial partners and the rest to Croatian energy company INA, which built a connection to the nearby Zebanec gas field last year.

Related: Slovenia's Environment vs British Capital, Corrupt Officials and Internet Trolls

The UK firm has been trying to get the permits for some time now and has been in conflict with the Slovenian authorities because of a review of the procedure to obtain the permit to use hydraulic stimulation at the Petišovci field.

According to Miloš Markič of the Geological Survey, low-volume and high-volume fracturing should be distinguished, with the former allowed in most countries and the latter prohibited in Europe due to the population density.

13 Dec 2018, 14:25 PM

STA, 13 December 2018 - The government raised on Thursday the daily allowance for self-employed artists on sick leave from 20 euro in 2018 to 21 euro, or 630 euro for 30 days, in 2019.

The government issued a decree setting the sick leave allowance for next year based on the law on the implementation of public interest in culture, the umbrella law for arts and culture.

The allowance is part of efforts by the Culture Ministry to improve freelancers' working conditions and financial standing, the Government Communication Office said in a press release after the government's weekly session.

NGOs representing freelance artists have been warning that more than half of self-employed artists do not earn the minimum wage, currently at 638 euro net.

Meanwhile, the poverty threshold in Slovenia was set at 636 euro a month in 2017, slightly up from the previous years.

Today's increase comes after the daily sick leave allowance stood at 20 euro in the 2014-2018 period, which translated into 600 euro for 30 days of sick leave.

The NGOs have been pointing out this is below the minimum wage, but under Slovenian law, sick leave compensation for the loss of income is set at 80% of the salary.

In determining the amount of the sick leave allowance, the government took into account the available budgetary funds and the poverty threshold.

11 Dec 2018, 12:00 PM

STA, 10 December 2018 - Slovenia exported EUR 2.88bn worth of goods in October, 10.5% more than in the same month a year ago. Merchandise imports rose by 19.2% to EUR 2.94bn, creating a trade deficit of EUR 59.3m.

Releasing fresh figures on Monday, the Statistics Office said the recorded values of exports and imports in October were the highest this year as well as in recent years.

The export-import ratio stood at 98%. The EUR 59.3m deficit was mostly due to increased imports from non-EU countries.

Almost 80% of Slovenia's merchandise trade was generated in the EU market; 78% of exports and 76.5% of imports.

Exports to EU member states rose by 12.5% year-on-year to EUR 2.25bn and imports from there increased by 13% to EUR 2.25bn, with a trade deficit of EUR 1.5m.

Exports to non-EU markets rose by 3.9% year-on-year to EUR 634.6m, whereas imports soared by 44.7% to EUR 692.3m, opening a deficit of EUR 57.8m.

In the first ten months of the year Slovenia's exports grew at an annual rate of 9.8% to EUR 25.8bn and imports increased by 11.7% to EUR 25.4bn.

External trade surplus in the ten month period amounted to EUR 390.1m and the export/import ratio was 101.5%.

The data and trends indicate that foreign trade's contribution to Slovenia's economic growth is set to decrease, with domestic components contributing more.

Industrial output keeps rising

STA, 10 December 2018 - Slovenia's industrial output in October was 2.5% above the September figure and 4% higher year-on-year, while in the first ten months of the year industry expanded by 6% year-on-year, fresh statistics show.

Between January and the end of October manufacturing output expanded by 6.5%; electricity, gas and steam supply industries recorded a 1.9% growth and mining and quarrying a 0.4% growth.

A report by the Statistics Office also shows growth in production regardless of technological complexity; output of high-tech goods increased the most, at the annual rate of 6.6%.

Capital goods production expanded by 13.6%, output of consumer goods grew by 3.7% and production of intermediate goods increased by 3.8% in the ten months of the year compared with the same period last year.

In October alone output increased the most in manufacturing, by 2.6% from the month before and by 4.4% year on year.

Production in electricity, gas and steam supply rose by 2% from the month before, but fell by 0.3% year-on-year, while mining and quarrying put out 3.2% less than a month ago and 13.1% more year-on-year.

Industrial turnover was 2.8% higher than the month before and 2.3% higher than in October 2017. The value of stocks of finished and unfinished products rose by 1.2% from September by 11.2% year-on-year.

10 Dec 2018, 12:00 PM

STA, 8 December 2018 - More than one billion passengers travelled by air in the EU last year, which is 7.3% more than the year before and 39% more than in 2009. The highest growth was recorded in Slovenia, where the number of passengers rose by 19.8% to 1.682 million, latest Eurostat data show.

Slovenia was followed by Luxembourg, Estonia, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic.

The Ljubljana Jože Pučnik Airport was listed as the 150th busiest airport with 1.682 million passengers, mostly travelling within the EU.

The busiest airport in the EU was London's Heathrow with 78 million passengers, followed by Paris's Charles de Gaulle with 69 million and Amsterdam's Schiphol with 68 million.

The UK recorded the highest number of passengers (265 million), followed by Germany (212 million) and Spain (210 million). Some 47% of the passengers flew within the EU and one in five passengers travelled within their own country.

A PDF of the report can be found here, while an interactive version of the full dataset it here

08 Dec 2018, 13:52 PM

December 8, 2018

The drama over Petišovci gas extraction permits and the British company Ascent Resources appears to be one of those classic tales of a conflict between one country’s sovereign right over its environmental protection standards and the profit-making interests of the international capital, backed by neoclassical economics’ arguments on the beneficial effects of any foreign direct investment on the local economies.

However, this textbook ideological conflict was given another spin by an army of internet trolls, who sent a series of harassing messages to Slovenian government officials, including the Minister of Environment, which resulted in strengthening the Minister’s police protection and an internal investigation into the procedures surrounding the issue of environmental permits by the Ministry’s environmental agency (ARSO). With the British Ambassador also involved in lobbying for the British firm, three Slovenian political parties have also demanded that her involvement be investigated.

The issue centres on fracking in Slovenia

Gas has been extracted at Petišovci, North East Slovenia, since the 1960s, first by state-owned enterprises, then in 2002 the concession was granted to Geoenergo d.o.o. whose equal shareholders are two state-owned firms, Petrol and Nafta Lendava. Initially, gas was being extracted under its own pressure, until, according to Gorazd Marinček, eco activist, the problematic method of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, was introduced in two wells around the year 2011.

At least since 2011, Geoenergo has been in a 25/75 Joint Venture Agreement with the Maltese firm Ascent Slovenia Limited, a subsidiary of a London based company Ascent Resources (established in 2004). Another subsidiary of Ascent Resources, Ascent Resources d.o.o. is also located at the same address in Lendava. According to a recent edition of RTV Slovenia’s Tarča (Target) the only income of the Ascent Resources comes from unrefined gas extraction from the two remaining operating wells in Petišovci. The chain of companies, according to Tarča, reported a loss of over EUR 2.5 million last year, while awaiting the ARSO environmental permit that would allow it to deepen the wells and boost production, as well as to “build a processing plant to treat the gas for injection into the Slovenian national gas network achieving the highest possible price” (source).

The joint venture applied for and also received the environmental permits in 2014. However, environmental NGO’s appealed to the Ministry of Environment, although their appeal was rejected, so they moved further to the administrative court, which confirmed procedural inconsistencies in the permit issuing process and returned the matter back to the starting point at ARSO. The process was repeated again with an appealed to the Ministry, then the administrative court, which rejected the appeal, so that the process in this second round has not yet been cancelled.

Pressure from British investors, and irregularities in the permit process

Meanwhile, the British side of the venture has been growing increasingly impatient. On February 15 2018, the CEO of the Ascent Resources, Colin Hutchinson, visited then Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar, and on July 4th representatives of the company met with the Economic Minster. However, in August, when the old government was leaving and new one hadn’t taken over yet, a meeting was arranged at the initiative of the British-Slovenian Chamber of Commerce. The invitations to all parties were dispatched by the Ministry's directorate, and, most problematically, the meeting was eventually attended by Nataša Petrovič, the director of the Environment and Nature Protection Office in charge of ARSO’s environmental permits.

Apparently, at this meeting, which, according to the Ministry was only of informative nature, promises were made to the Ascent Resources (AR) that the environmental permit would be ready before the end of September, which is what AR then announced to investors. At the end of October, however, the new Environmental Minister, Jure Leben, introduced an internal investigation into the possibility of any external pressures being exercised over the ministry’s officials in the process of issuing environmental permits. The investigation eventually confirmed irregularities in these procedures, which included the August meeting of Nataša Petrovič with the AR representatives. As Tarča reported: “the Office director has participated in the meeting and provided information on specific procedures, thereby raising doubts as to the autonomy and independence of the Office, and allowing public interpretations, harmful for the reputation of the Office and its officials.” Furthermore, no minutes of this August meeting exist nor has the lobbying contact been reported to the Corruption Prevention Commission.

Threats of legal action accompanied by hate mail

Also at the end of October, AR announced it would explore taking Slovenia to the EU Court after the company failed in its attempts to get a response from the Environment Agency on Jure Leben’s internal inquiry into the awarding of environmental permits.

Furthermore, the number of offensive messages sent to ARSO, presumably by enraged British shareholders, multiplied and also hit Minister Leben’s mailbox and Twitter account. The minister is currently under enhanced police protection while a criminal investigation into the source of messages is taking place.

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Insulting comments by what appear to be fake Facebook accounts even managed to find their way to our own website, trying to stir the fight under an article on the matter. Luckily, nobody took the bait.

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Let’s not forget that in America in 2016 “Russian actors organized both anti-Islam and pro-Islam protests in the same location at the same time on May 21, 2016, using separate Facebook pages operated from a so-called troll farm in St. Petersburg”. The whole mission costed about US $200. (Source)

The British Embassy connection

To complicate the situation a bit further, on November 13 the British Ambassador to Slovenia, Sophie Honey, paid a visit to the Environmental Minister Jure Leben, asking questions about the possible deadlines for environmental permits and also about the results of the internal investigation. HMA Honey appears to have been advocating for the Petišovci project at least since January 2017, when she visited the site of the project and met with the Slovenian and British partners.

At about the same time three extra-parliamentary parties, Solidarity, Pirates and the United Left, asked for an ethical assessment of the British Ambassador’s conduct, who they believed lobbied the previous government to accelerate the license award process.

As reported by Delo, the British Embassy in Ljubljana denied the allegations, and explained that HMA Sophie Honey did not in any way want to influence the Slovenian decision, but only highlighted the need for predictable deadlines in procedures for foreign investors, including for AR, with this being an important part of achieving the goals of increasing bilateral trade and investment between the states.

Furthermore the tree political parties stated that they saw AR’s attempt to take Slovenia to the EU Court, to overrule the Slovenian system, as a kind of threat, even if no other pressures were being applied.

Let’s not forget that the confidence of Slovenia’s environmental administration in dealing with pressures from foreign capital rose significantly just last month, when the French multinational Lafarge sued Slovenia over being denied a renewed environmental permit after years of burning banned petroleum coke in its cement plant in Trbovlje. Lafarge finally lost its case at the Slovenian Administrative court, and is currently shutting down its operations in Slovenia.

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