02 Sep 2019, 15:00 PM

1 September 2019 - Eligma is a Slovenian blockchain company that launched in 2018, and one aim of the firm is to make cryptocurrencies part of daily life, and thus of shopping. To this end it has produced Elipay, an infrastructure for accepting crypto payments (in Bitcoin Cash, ELI, Bitcoin and Ether) that ensures the merchant always receives settlement in the local fiat currency. It is this service that has drawn the attention of Roger Ver’s and the Swiss firm Pangea Blockchain Fund, which together will invest €4 million in the Slovenian start-up.

According to a press release, it is Elipay and the related app that have made Slovenia the leading country in the world with regard to the number of brick-and-mortar stores and service providers that accept both regular money and crypto. The investment is aimed at helping Elipay expand beyond its current markets of Slovenia and Croatia, where more than 430 businesses now accept crypto currencies on a daily basis.

Eligma CEO Dejan Roljic is quoted as saying: “The development of finance is going towards cash becoming a thing of the past. Among other things, this is because doing business with it is quite time-consuming and expensive. On the other hand, one of the main problems with cryptocurrencies is that the confirmation of transactions can take several minutes if not more, which is unacceptable in daily shopping. Eligma effectively solved this problem with Elipay, which enables instant crypto transactions; furthermore, the merchant receives settlement in local fiat and is thus safe from crypto volatility. This makes the use of cryptocurrencies quick and effective for daily use. We must not forget that cryptocurrencies were envisioned as the electronic cash of the future.“

Shopping with Elipay is said to be very easy: the buyer scans the purchase QR-code with a crypto wallet, selects the cryptocurrency they wish to use and confirms the transaction. The current list of Elipay locations can serve more than 20,000 users of the Elipay app, along with some 4 million users of the Wallet, with other crypto wallets expected to join the system soon. Users of Elipay can also  benefit by receiving Eligma (ELI) tokens with every purchase they make. The all-time high of the token was US$0.050306 on 5 September 2018, and it is currently trading at US$0.021759.

You can learn more about Eligma here, while all our blockchain stories are here

02 Sep 2019, 10:24 AM

STA, 30 August 2019 - Slovenia's economy expanded at an annual rate of 2.5% in the second quarter of the year in real terms, or by 2.6% when adjusted for season and working days. Both figures indicate a slow-down compared to the previous quarter.

The seasonally-adjusted quarter-on-quarter GDP growth ran at 0.2%, data released by the Statistics Office show. This too is a 0.4 percentage-point slow-down compared to the first quarter.

Revised data put the annual growth rate for the first quarter at 3.3% in real terms, 0.1 of a percentage point up from the previous estimate.

Seasonally adjusted annual growth in the second quarter was 0.9 percentage points slower than in the first quarter.

The Statistics Office noted the strong growth in exports and imports in the second quarter.

However, since imports grew at a faster pace than exports, this had a negative impact on GDP growth of 1.3 percentage points.

Addressing reporters in Ljubljana, Romana Korenič from the Statistics Office said that a slow-down was observed in all sectors, but she was not surprised by the 0.2% quarterly growth.

"I was much surprised by the strong external demand considering the situation in the European markets. Given the data in our trading partners I expected even slower pace of growth. Exports are extremely important for Slovenia," she said.

She added that exports were driven by industrial expenditure, whose growth in the second quarter outpaced that in the quarter before.

Exports increased by 9.4% and imports by 12.3%, the highest rates in a year and a half.

Domestic expenditure increased by 4.2% in the second quarter of 2019 due to stronger final consumption expenditure (+2.7%) and gross capital formation (3.5%).

The pace of growth was 1.5 percentage points faster than in the first quarter, but still 0.8 percentage points lower than the final quarter of 2018.

Household final consumption increased by 3.4%, 1.1 percentage points stronger growth than in the previous quarter, but 0.2 points slower than the quarter before.

Final government consumption expenditure increased by 1%, which is significantly less than in the previous quarters.

Gross capital formation expanded by 9.2%, with gross fixed capital formation increasing by 6.9%, which is a 3.1 percentage-point slow-down compared to the first quarter.

The increase in gross fixed capital formation was more prominent in construction (13.4%), while the increase in machinery and equipment (1.3%) was considerably lower than in the previous quarters.

After more than four years of continuous growth, gross fixed capital formation in transport equipment (mainly vehicles) decreased by 6.2%, while gross fixed capital formation in other machinery and equipment increased by 4%, a slow-down after more than two years of double-digit growth.

Changes in inventories had a positive impact on GDP growth; this time they contributed 0.6 of a percentage point.

The total number of people in employment in the second quarter of 2019 was 1,043,907, an increase of 2.6% y/y. Most new jobs were created in manufacturing, construction, transport, trade, and professional, scientific and technical activities.

The data will be an important indicator for the government economic forecaster IMAD, which will release its autumn forecast in the second half of September. It currently projects a 3.4% growth for this year.

IMAD noted that the annual rate of growth in the first half of the year was 2.9% in real terms, which means that despite the slow-down the rate remains high above EU average, seasonally adjusted at 1.3%.

IMAD also noted expanding domestic consumption, in particular household consumption, as the biggest contribution to growth.

"The growth in private consumption is rising even faster than we expected in spring, which we attribute to favourable trends in the labour market, the continuing high level of consumer confidence, as well as reduction of the tax burden on earnings," IMAD director Maja Bednaš commented.

The slow-down in investment in equipment and machinery is linked to a moderate growth in foreign demand, with IMAD noting that export orders have been slowing down since the second half of 2018.

This has not reflected in export growth yet because the slow-down in the international environment has been offset by accelerated exports in some product groups, such as pharmaceutical or medical products.

Pointing to dampened consumer and business confidence in Slovenia and the EU, coupled with the increased uncertainty and risks in the international environment, IMAD expects the outlook for the export economy to deteriorate later in the year.

"For next year, all international institutions project a slightly higher growth again for our leading trading partners, which we will take into consideration in the IMAD autumn forecast," Bednaš said.

Similarly, the central bank noted that the slow-down in Slovenia was due to the slow-down in the euro economy, while projecting slower rates of growth to continue for the same reason until the end of the year.

"Growth is still driven mainly by growth in merchandise exports and value added in industry, which has even been boosted compared to the first quarter," said Banka Slovenije.

The central bank also noted that the economic slow-down is already being reflected in the labour market with a slight slowdown in the growth in total employment and the nominal growth in average pay falling below 4% in May and June.

The Statistics Office also revised data for GDP growth in 2018, to 4.1% in real terms, which is a 0.4-percentage point downgrade from the February estimate, and a 0.7-percentage point drop from 2017.

GDP at current prices in 2018 amounted to EUR 45.755 billion, a 6.4% growth compared to 2017.

02 Sep 2019, 09:20 AM

STA, 30 August 2019 - Port operator Luka Koper posted revenue of EUR 120 million in the first half of the year, up 6% over the same period in 2018. Net profit declined by 28% to EUR 25 million, according to an earnings report released on Friday.

The bulk of the decline in profit is attributed to a damage claim worth over EUR 9 million. Without the one-off charge, profit would have contracted by only 8%, the company said.

The second major reason is an increase in labour costs of EUR 8.4 million due to the hiring of workers that had previously been sourced from port services companies.

The number of employees thus surged by 40% over the year before to 1,662.

At the same time, investments were almost four times higher than in the same period last year, at EUR 16.5 million, with several major investments completed and additional big-ticket items under construction, including a new ro-ro terminal, a parking garage and extension of pier 1.

Volume-wise, the port saw transshipments decline by a percent, as the car business continues to contract and instability in global trade continues, according to the company.

30 Aug 2019, 13:00 PM

STA, 29 August 2019 - While the volume of construction work in Slovenia in the first half of the year was up by 14% year-on-year, certain statistical indicators suggest the trend may reverse. Major builders expect the volume of business to be similar to last year's, but are cautious as they would like to see more stability in state investments.

The volume of construction work has increased, but the statistics on building permits suggests that the trend could reverse in the near future, as the number of permits has been dropping steadily over the past three years.

In the first half of 2019, the number of approved permits was down by 10% year-on-year, with the number of permits for residential buildings increasing, and the number of permits for non-residential buildings significantly dropping.

The latest business sentiment data for the sector show a deterioration both on the monthly and annual levels, but the indicator is still above the long-term average. Construction companies have decreased their prospects of hiring, while expectations related to orders are somewhat more optimistic.

Major builders such as Kolektor Koling, Kolektor CPG, CGP and Pomgrad have confirmed for the STA that they are cautious regarding future operations. They expect this year to be similar to last, and are ready for a potential cooling of the market.

They would like to see more stability on the market, including by the state embarking on major projects, especially in road infrastructure.

Kolektor Koling and Kolektor CPG say that there is demand for construction work and that this will be the case at least until the end of the year. They complain about the growth of costs and prices of input material and a shortage of qualified staff.

The members of the construction arm of the Kolektor conglomerate are currently building a new technological centre of the national grid operator ELES, upgrading the Rimske Toplice-Laško railway and reconstructing the railway infrastructure in the Croatian port of Rijeka.

For 2020, they expect the current rate of growth to be maintained, but are cautious about many risk factors, so they will constantly monitor the situation and be ready for a quick response to possible changes.

Kolektor Koling and Kolektor CPG admit that the construction sector in the country is highly dependent on public projects, such as the new Koper-Divača railway line, the Third Development Axis expressway and the second tube of the Karavanke tunnel.

"If the state stays true to its commitments and provides for a continuity of demand, then we can expect a stable and healthy growth also after 2020," they assessed.

The company CGP currently operates at full capacity, with its ongoing projects including a multi-storey car park in Koper, a high-end residential and hotel complex in Ljubljana and a Lidl logistics centre in Arja Vas, among others.

"We intend to end this year on a par with the previous year," said the company whose projects in the coming year include an Ikea shopping mall in Ljubljana and construction of apartments for the public Housing Fund.

"In the coming years we see a lack of projects mostly in the field of reconstruction and construction of public roads," CGP has told the STA, pointing a finger to the government.

Pomgrad is also operating at full capacity this year, with its ongoing projects including the upgrade of the Pesnica-Šentilj and Poljčane-Slovenska Bistrica rail sections and elderly homes near Ptuj and in Croatia's Osijek.

Together with GH Holding and VGP Drava Ptuj of Slovenia and the Croatian utility company Bikarac, they have signed a EUR 26.5 million deal to design and build a waste management centre for the city of Šibenik and its surroundings.

According to Pomgrad management board member Boris Sapač, the company expects to sign some more major contracts soon. But he complained about "public procurement procedures being too slow, which makes it hard to make plans".

The company has noticed a standstill in investment in state roads, which is something it does not welcome. "The volume of investment or tenders should be stable. This would also be good for road infrastructure, which is in a poor condition."

Sapač said that builders needed stable conditions instead of steep annual growth rates and deep falls. "This is why we are cautious optimists in our company. Excessive growths are not sustainable in our sector."

30 Aug 2019, 10:50 AM

STA, 29 August 2019 - The logistics group Intereuropa generated EUR 80.57 million in sales revenue in the first half of the year, slightly more than in the same period last year, while net profit was up by 14% to EUR 3.07 million, shows the unaudited report published on Thursday.

Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) were up 3% to EUR 7.07 million, and operating profit increased by 2% to EUR 6.84 million.

While the group increased net profit above all expectations, as it exceeded the plan by 25%, the amount of sales revenue was 5% below the plan.

This is mostly due to some of the planned one-off deals in the air, railway and road transport failing to materialise, the company says in the report, adding that revenues were up year-on-year only in the logistics solutions segment.

In the land transport segment, the group generated 52% of its total sales and generated EUR 42 million in sales revenue, which is 1% less year-on-year and 4% below the plans.

EBITDA were 7% above the plan, which Intereuropa attributes mostly to the received payment of a years-old claim based on a court settlement.

Labour costs in the first half of the year were up by 1% compared to the same period last year, with a growth of average labour costs per employee having the largest impact.

At the end of June, the group employed 1,359 workers, which is 32 more than at the end of last December. This is due to the direct hiring of some workers who had previously worked for the group through temping agencies.

The group's operating profit amounted to EUR 3.8 million, or 2% more than in the first half of 2018, while net financial debt of the group was down by 10% compared to the end of last year to EUR 53.9 million.

The core company Intereuropa, based in Koper, saw its sales revenue increase by 1% to EUR 57.14 million, while net profit surged by 30% to EUR 2.96 million.

The core company's EBITDA and operating profit were meanwhile down by 2% and 4% to EUR 4.95 million and EUR 2.79 million, respectively.

The report notes that EUR 691,000 in turnover with Intereuropa shares had been generated on the Ljubljana Stock Exchange (LJSE) in the first half of the year, which is more than 25% less year-on-year.

In the January-June period, the share lost 2.3% of its value on the LJSE.

29 Aug 2019, 14:14 PM

STA, 29 August 2019 - The London-based oil and gas exploration company Ascent Resources will demand EUR 50 million in damages from Slovenia for delays in obtaining a permit to develop the Petišovci gas field in the north-east of the country, news portal Litigation Finance Journal reports.

As the British company said in a release on Tuesday, it is preparing "legal claims for damages against the persistent delays in permitting relating to the further development of the tight gas reservoirs in the Petišovci gas field".

Ascent also insists on its appeal against the decision of the Slovenian Environment Agency (ARSO) requiring an environmental impact assessment for the re-stimulation of its producing wells.

In March, ARSO decided that an environmental impact assessment will have to be made to establish whether gas extraction with hydraulic fracturing has no damaging effects on the environment.

"This is definitely a procedure which will change the physical reality of the environment," said ARSO's decision, which was also upheld by the Environment Ministry.

Ascent is also exploring possibilities to further develop the Petišovci gas field without hydraulic stimulation.

According to its press release, it is reprocessing the Petišovci 3D seismic survey acquired in 2008-2009.

It is currently interpreting preliminary data volumes in preparation for a full evaluation of the new seismic volumes, with the final data expected by mid-September.

Its CEO John Buggenhagen said the company planned to work with its partners in Slovenia to also increase production through new conventional drilling opportunities.

Ascent and its Slovenian partner Geoenergo are moreover working on documents to secure an extension of the concession for Petišovci, which is valid until 2022.

All our stories on this issue can be found here

28 Aug 2019, 10:00 AM

STA, 27 August 2019 - Matjaž Merkan, the former boss of the US-owned company Weiler Abrasives, has been appointed new chief executive of Telekom Slovenije, to replace Rudolf Skobe, who quit the post in April.

Announcing the supervisory board's decision on Tuesday, chief supervisor Lidija Glavina said that the vetting commission had put forward Merkan based on interviews with three shortlisted candidates.

"Telekom Slovenije is a good company, operating in a fast-changing sector ... We believe the style of leadership and the vision presented by Mr Merkan will contribute to implementation of the goals and further development of Telekom Slovenije," Glavina said.

Merkan, who will assume his four-year term as CEO of Slovenia's leading telecommunications company on 16 September, said he was glad to be taking on the new challenge.

"I'm guided by good results and target achievement together with employees," he said, noting his 20-year leadership experience.

Merkan headed Weiler Abrasives, the maker of abrasives formerly known as SwatyComet, for just over six years until the end of March this year. He has been advisor to the company's management since.

Merkan, who holds a bachelor's degree in physics and a master's degree in economics, had earlier served for almost three years as a unit head at Swatycomet, and before that worked for lighting maker Siteco Sistemi and its precursor Elektrokovina Svetilke.

Noting his time with the company that was acquired by the US-based Weiler Corporation in 2015, he said that together with the team they implemented many innovations and aspired for business excellency.

He described Telekom Slovenije as an excellent company, a market leader introducing new products, services and trends in Slovenia and the broader region.

"I'm confident that it will retain its leading position in the future - including by expanding into new fields," he said, noting fast changes in the industry.

"Telekom Slovenije will need to become even more digitalised, advanced and agile. It's worth betting on the people who comprise the group and who have something to show for themselves even today," he added.

The appointment comes as the shareholders' meeting on Friday is due to appoint two new members of the supervisory board to replace Glavina and Ljubomir Rajšić.

The pair tendered their resignations in June. Rajšić's term ended on 18 June, while Glavina, the former CEO of Slovenian Sovereign Holding, will continue to serve until the shareholders' meeting.

According to unofficial information obtained by the business newspaper Finance, the candidates for the new supervisors are Barbara Cerovšek Zupančič and Igor Rozman.

The shareholders' meeting will also vote on the allocation of distributable profit for 2018. The proposal is to pay out a dividend of EUR 4.50 gross per share.

27 Aug 2019, 13:12 PM

STA, 27 August 2019 - There has been a noticeable trend lately in Slovenian information and communication technology (ICT) companies being acquired by foreign buyers, with the acquirers seeing the Slovenian companies as strong players with good potential.

The assessment comes from Nenad Šutanovac of the Association of Informatics and Telecommunications, who has told the STA that the market is getting interesting both in terms of potential targets and supply.

According to him, there are many reasons for the owners of Slovenian ICT companies willing to sell. "Some owners are, for example, older and they are thinking about whether to enter the market transformation or to sell the company instead."

Šutanovac explained that finding new markets is an increasingly important thing for such companies, which may be a tough task for some. "This is especially true for companies which did not have a well-developed sale network in the past."

He believes that strengthening sale strategies and synergies on new markets are the two key advantages brought by foreign ownership. "Of course, development also requires capital, which is lacking in Slovenia," he added.

The biggest ICT takeovers in Slovenia

Among the most important takeovers, Šutanovac singled out Hermes Plus, which merged at the end of the 1990s with the Austrian IT consulting, solutions and services provider S&T to get the name S&T Slovenija.

"This company was positioned well not only in Slovenia, but in the entire region," he said, also pointing to the sale of the software company Hermes Softlab to the Serbian group Comtrade in 2008.

Among the more recent acquisitions, he mentioned NIL, one of the largest IT suppliers, which was taken over in February by the Danish company Conscia, a leading European producer of ICT infrastructure and advanced ICT services.

As the Ljubljana-based NIL told the STA at the time, there would be no major changes in the company after the acquisition, and all jobs would remain in Slovenia.

Furthermore, the management software maker Infotehna has been acquired by Amplexor of Luxembourg to be renamed Amplexor Adriatic, while the US company Emphasys Software has acquired Halcom, a provider of banking software solutions.

Listing a few more examples, Šutanovac said that ICT companies in the country were also attractive to Slovenian companies from traditional industries, including the energy company Petrol and the industrial conglomerate Kolektor.

As of recently, Adacta Services Business, a leading Microsoft Dynamics, Qlik and Cornerstone partner in Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia, has been in ownership of BE-terna, a company owned by the German Deutsche Private Equity fund.

The transaction does not affect the part of business related to the development and implementation of solutions for insurance companies, which will stay under the wing of the parent company Adacta Holding.

According to Šutanovac, many companies see special potential in solutions for insurers and thus do not want to leave that market. "Opportunities for small companies in other fields are rather limited, so they tend to sell other segments."

He believes that even in the case when an ICT company is acquired by an equity fund, strategic development of the company is not necessarily threatened. "Funds too can look for compatibilities in the content, and not only for short-term profit."

Šutanovac expects that the trend is likely to continue, but he would like to see "domestic capital be stronger and the ICT sector get solidified by the merging of homegrown companies".

ICT job opportunities in Slovenia

According to him, the fate of the sector in Slovenia highly depends on the availability of staff, which have become pretty mobile in this field due to the globalisation of the ICT industry.

"What is more, the number of young graduates in Slovenia cannot meet the demand, and members of our association are looking for staff abroad, not only in the former Yugoslav republics, but also in Poland and Ukraine."

He added that Slovenia should focus on developing complex expertise and solutions and on innovation. "There is a lack of experts, but we have a high level of knowledge and high productivity and quality of software development."

27 Aug 2019, 10:30 AM

STA, 26 August 2019 - Infrastructure Minister Alenka Bratušek highlighted the need for Slovenia to remain at the cutting edge globally when it comes to the transition to clean energy, as she addressed the European Conference of the International Association of Energy Economics on Monday.

"Slovenia is among the best and we plan on keeping it this way," she said in reference to the country placing 6th among 125 countries in the World Energy Council's Energy Trilemma Index.

She said users will play a bigger role in energy generation in the future, as will smart grids. Public transportation will have to be strengthened and buildings insulated.

"Some of the measures are free, but in most cases the path to decarbonisation will be expensive. Financing of the transition should be the key issue," she said.

Bratušek also noted that in the transition to carbon-neutral energy sources, Slovenia will have to be mindful to keep energy accessible to all citizens.

The minister delivered the address at the 16th European Conference of the International Association of Energy Economics (IAEE), organised by the IAEE, the Ljubljana School of Economics and Business and the Slovenian Energy Economics Association.

Through Thursday, the conference will feature debates on smart solutions, the future of gas and gas infrastructure, and geopolitical issues, including relations with Russia.

All our stories on energy in Slovenia are here

25 Aug 2019, 16:26 PM

STA, 24 August 2019 - Having shortened the standard eight-hour workday by two hours, companies Donar and Plastika Skaza have prompted a debate on whether Slovenia should replace the 40-hour working week with a 30-hour one. Trade unions welcome the idea, although they are aware of certain restrictions, whereas employers warn of negative consequences.

In April 2018, Donar, a designer chair manufacturer, became the Slovenian pioneer in shortening the workday without lowering pay or paying lower social security contributions for their employees.

Its director Matej Feguš has told the STA the idea had been in the pipeline for quite some time before it was implemented.

"Having observed the work processes in the company for a while, we realised people worked efficiently for six hours at the most. The goal was to improve productivity, not with more hours but with better-quality work."

He says their employees now have more time for their families and and have fewer problems, so they are consequently more diligent at work. What is more, relations in the company, which now employs 18 workers, have improved.

However, Feguš admits the shorter workday sometimes means that not all the work is done in time, so the company now plans work processes more carefully.

Also, employees get easily used to their new rights, so when the need to work longer actually arises, they have to negotiate with them as if they had to work overtime.

But Feguš believes the greatest benefit of the six-hour workday is that after working for 40 years, people's total workload would be lower by 20%.

"So after 40 years, they could still be active and contribute to society instead of retiring and be lying at home at the expense of the public health fund."

Ferguš is thus rather disappointed that politics has not yet found a way to legislate a six-hour workday.

Donar's example was this year followed by Plastika Skaza, a much larger company with more than 300 employees and around 100 temps.

The Velenje-based producer of plastic kitchenware will phase in a six-hour workday in October, starting with the accounting service department.

The idea is to allow our employees to better balance their work and private life, Aleksandra Logar, human resources head at Plastika Skaza, told the STA in June.

Although the 40-hour week is the standard rule in Slovenia, labour legislation allows for a shorter, 36-hour, working week, if the employer and employees agree on it in a collective bargaining agreement.

But not all Slovenian employers are thrilled at the prospect of a shorter workday.

Lina Fratnik Andrić of the Slovenian Association of Employers (ZDS) writes in the Delodajalec magazine about Sweden's experience at an elderly home and a hospital.

While the nursing staff and surgeons improved the quality of services and felt happier, more staff had to be hired to do the same amount of work, so labour costs rose.

Fratnik Andrić also says that the 35-hour working week introduced in France several years ago has failed to result in a higher employment rate.

"On the contrary, the number of workers taking two jobs has increased, and the actual working week has remained at 39 hours," she explains.

She nevertheless admits that work processes have radically changed since the 40-hour week was introduced, so new forms of work will have to be put forward.

She believes working at home and flexible work arrangements are two options to facilitate a better balance between work and other life roles.

With automation on the one hand and work becoming ever more intense on the other, Slovenian trade unions have made a shorter workday one of their goals a while ago.

Lidija Jerkič, head of the ZSSS confederation, believes a shorter workday has a positive impact on efficiency and safety at work, as well as on social life and health.

Still, she is cautious, noting that a six-hour workday would not increase employment and reduce costs in all branches of industry.

"If you have a one-shift company, productivity would increase if they do the same amount of work as in eight hours without hiring new staff, and they will save on electricity and heating bills.

"But if you have a company working in four shifts, fixed costs will remain the same, while workers for an entire new shift would have to be hired, which would considerably raise labour costs although productivity would perhaps improve," says the trade unionist.

She explains that the unions proposed a 35-hour working week to employers in the metal and electronics industries ten years ago, "but the answer was simply no".

"Unfortunately, the debate is now going in a completely different direction. Despite the legislated full 40- or 36-hour workday, workday is in practice totally out of control. Many workers work more than the weekday, they put in more overtime than allowed under the law, and have no breaks or rest."

Meanwhile, the ministry in charge of labour says there has been no serious debate on the issue among the government, unions and employers.

Introducing a six-hour workday, if it is to increase productivity, depends primarily on the type of business and the manner in which work is organised, the ministry has told the STA.

25 Aug 2019, 14:29 PM

STA, 24 August 2019 - The International Agriculture and Food Fair AGRA opened in Gornja Radgona on Saturday, with Prime Minister Marjan Šarec saying that the event was of exceptional importance for Slovenia. He said that the issues in agriculture were solvable, but not overnight, adding that the sector must tackle new challenges.

 Šarec noted in his opening address that he and Agriculture Minister Aleksandra Pivec, coming from the countryside, were well aware what rural areas and Slovenian warmers were.

But the prime minister added that agriculture must focus on tackling new challenges, and get oriented towards digitalisation, modernisation of farms and simplification of work processes.

Šarec added that the government would continue to cooperate well with the Trade Union of Farmers as experts. "And we will always work for the good of Slovenian farmers, because this is our task."

He said that "if there will be no Slovenian farmers, there will be no Slovenian food, and consequently there will be no health. And if there is no health, there will be no Slovenia eventually."

According to the prime minister, Slovenian farmers must be ready for dialogue with the state and be aware that the issues that have piled up in the last 25 years cannot be resolved overnight. "But we have the will and energy."

The opening of the fair was also addressed by European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Phil Hogan, who said that AGRA was a very important event, providing farmers with the opportunity to present their products.

He commended the cooperation in agriculture between Slovenia and the Austrian state of Styria as an excellent example and congratulated Slovenia on being awarded the title of the European Region of Gastronomy for 2021.

According to Hogan, more discussions should be held about incentives for young farmers, modernisation of the Common Agricultural Policy, new tools, modern technologies and digitalisation, in order to make agriculture attractive to young people.

Effort should be made to maintain the balance, to have farmers who are not only smart, but who will be able to survive, otherwise farmers could get into trouble, he said, adding that farmers should be given respect they deserved.

Minister Pivec meanwhile noted that there was a frequent conflict between urban and rural areas, adding that national politics had been neglecting the latter.

The countryside and forests represent more than three-quarters of the Slovenian territory, which is why the countryside should be treated as the key element for the country's development, she added.

"There is no Slovenia without the countryside. This is what the political and other public liked to forget about in in the last twenty years."

According to Pivec, one of the main tasks is to raise the reputation of farmers and agriculture and provide conditions for their further existence and development in the light of modern challenges.

Barbara Eibinger-Miedl, the regional minister for economy, tourism, Europe, science and research of Austria's Styria, commended the good cooperation between Slovenia and Austria, including successful projects co-funded by the EU.

Pivec and Hogan held a press conference after the opening of the fair, commending its organisers and assessing yesterday's meeting of agriculture ministry delegations in Ptuj as successful.

The Slovenian minister noted that delegations from 15 ministries from EU member states and candidate countries had discussed a very important topic, which was also the common thread of the fair.

"We signed a joint declaration which commits us to cooperating and working together in creating and transferring knowledge to practice, in modernisation and technological advancement of agriculture," she said.

According to the minister, AGRA is one of the most important events in Europe for the promotion and meetings of various stakeholders in the agricultural and food sector. She called for participation in the creation of a new strategy for Slovenian agriculture.

Hogan too believes that it is important to talk to all stakeholders, and especially lend an ear to farmers, who should be recognised with playing an important role in the production of safe food.

The commissioner said that rural development was also important for Slovenia, emphasising the concept of smart villages, where Slovenia has assumed a leading role with a conference in 2018 in Bled.

Running until 28 August, the AGRA Fair of Agriculture and Food 2019 will focus on digitalisation, automation, new technology in farming and the agro-food sector, as well as generational renewal.

The slogan of the 57th international trade show, featuring 1,850 exhibitors from 32 countries, is The Fair of the New Generation, with the main focus on the digitalisation in agriculture, local food, and youth in agriculture.

Austria's Styria will feature as a partner region, while presentations will also be organised of Hungary, Croatia, North Macedonia, Poland, Bulgaria and Vietnam.

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