07 Dec 2019, 10:11 AM

The covers and editorials from leading weeklies of the Left and Right for the work-week ending Friday, 6 December

Mladina: Macron is right, NATO is brain dead

STA, 6 December 2019 - In its latest commentary, Mladina agrees with French President Emmanuel Macron's assessment that NATO is brain dead, as it has been proven by the acts of Turkey and the US. The weekly says this could actually be good news for those who already think that Slovenia has no business being a NATO member state.

"Of course Macron is right. What will be the next thing that NATO members, including Slovenia, will have to swallow," Grega Repovž, the editor-in-chief of the left-leaning weekly, wonders under the headline Of Course NATO is Dead!.

He notes that Slovenia, as a NATO member state, has apparently not been informed that "another member state will carry out ethnic cleansing of Kurds on the Syrian side of the Turkey-Syria border", adding that consulting other members is an obligation written down in the North Atlantic Treaty.

If no one but Macron is protesting, it is our obligation to conclude that NATO member states, including Slovenia, had been informed about Turkey's intentions and that they had decided to tolerate them. "Can we conclude that the US consulted other members when it decided to exit the international nuclear deal with Iran?".

Repovž argues that neither Turkey nor the US cared what other NATO members thought. "Why? Because they don't take it seriously. For the US and Turkey, NATO has been clinically dead long ago - and they don't care if they violated the alliance's rules."

This is why Macron's words should be taken seriously by those who actually believe in NATO and in its mission. It is about those, in fear of Trump's America and Erdogan's Turkey, are being "calculated in tolerating the usurping of international law and rules, and destroying any credibility in the long run".

Repovž also wonders how it will be possible for NATO members to point a finger at Russia for violating democratic standards or criticise China if they tolerate grave violations of these standards by their allies.

"NATO is brain dead - Turkey and the US have shown this with their actions, and Macron with words. Which could be good news for all those who already think that Slovenia has no business being in this organisation," concludes the commentary.

Demokracija: Govt cares more for state apparatus than citizens

STA, 5 December 2019 - Demokracija says in its latest commentary that the government of Marjan Šarec does not only have the pathological desire for full control and for suffocating the free business initiative with regulation, but that it, first and foremost, cares more for the state apparatus than citizens.

"Just take a look at the budget: nine tenths will go for wages, material costs, welfare and other transfers, and only a tenth for investments," says Jože Biščak, the editor-in-chief of the right-leaning weekly.

Investments are something all citizens not only certain groups of people benefit from, which should be the purpose of public financing, he adds under the headline Doors Without a Lock.

"But the government says that citizens have obligations towards it. Of course, this is not true. In modern societies, governments have obligations towards citizen, and they as executive bodies have the power to decide only in rare cases."

These are defence of the population (military), maintaining order and peace (police) and making unbiased rulings in disputes (judiciary). "Everything else is abuse of authority, as the government must serve to citizens and not vice versa."

According to Biščak, Šarec and "his comrades", which make up by far the worst government in independent Slovenia, have "brought their authoritarian perversions to the point where they actually threaten democracy and freedom."

Their measures are ranking from "fully subordinating" the National Security Council and the intelligence agency SOVA, to heavily fining "free gathering of people into village guards" and persecuting media and opposition leaders.

If stricter forms of punishment were used in socialism, more sophisticated measures are available in the digital era, which force an individual to lose any desire for freedom and let themselves be controlled by the state.

"It is not socialism as such anymore, but a perfidious form of progressive democracy, which calls itself democratic socialism, where the deep state has the desire to control literally everything with help from a mass of loyal bureaucrats."

According to Demokracija, citizens are becoming prisoners of modern-day government despots. "When you are terrorised and exploited by the government, which uses the most detestable methods in the process, you have nowhere to go. But then you know what you have to do."

All our posts in this series are here

06 Dec 2019, 15:30 PM

What follows is a weekly review of events involving Slovenia, as prepared by the STA.

If you’d like to keep up on the daily headlines then follow those here, or get all our stories in your feed on Facebook.

FRIDAY, 29 November
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenia's economy expanded by 2.3% at the annual level in the third quarter of the year or a seasonally adjusted 2%, the slowest rate in three years, as growth continued to decelerate in line with predictions, the Statistics Office said.
        LJUBLJANA - The National Assembly passed a mini pension reform, amendments to the pension and disability insurance act that will raise the pension base for men to equate it with women's and offer incentives to those who continue working after meeting retirement requirements.
        LJUBLJANA - Inspectors reported irregularities in the hiring practices at the Slovenian Intelligence and Security Agency (SOVA), in a case connected with the employment of a friend of Prime Minister Marjan Šarec. But Lidija Apohal Vučkovič, the chief inspector, said they were not of the kind that had been mentioned in the public and did not warrant action beyond guidance for the future.
        LJUBLJANA - The National Assembly passed amendments to the labour market regulation act that significantly increase the minimum monthly unemployment benefit while stiffening eligibility conditions across the board. The minimum benefit will be raised from EUR 350 to EUR 530 gross.
        LJUBLJANA - NLB, Slovenia's largest bank, posted a group net profit of EUR 162.2 million for the first nine months of 2019, up 2% over the same period last year. All banks within the group generated profit, with the parent company's profit rising by 21% to almost EUR 163 million.
        KOPER - Luka Koper, the operator of Slovenia's sole maritime port, reported its nine-month net profit drop by 29% year-on-year to EUR 34.5 million. Net sales revenue rose by 3% in the period to EUR 173.8 million.
        LJUBLJANA - Consumer prices in Slovenia grew at an annual rate of 1.4% in November, which is level with the month before. On the monthly level, prices grew by 0.1%. The annual inflation was driven by higher prices of services and goods, the Statistics Office said.

SATURDAY, 30 November
        MARIBOR - PM Marjan Šarec dismissed criticism about border security and said police were doing a fine job protecting the EU's external border, as he addressed a ceremony marking the 30th anniversary of Operation North, a police campaign which prevented a disputed rally that Serbian nationalists wanted to stage in Ljubljana.
        LJUBLJANA/KOPER - The police officer who was injured in the 2016 shooting at the Izola general hospital is suing the state for damages, media reported. He is still on a sick leave, while the damages he received from insurers did not cover his costs. He also wants compensation for physical and emotional pain.

SUNDAY, 1 December
        LJUBLJANA - President Borut Pahor commented on the latest row over the parliamentary report on the arbitration intelligence scandal in a televised interview, finding that while the report was useful for the country, its publication at the moment was not.
        MURSKA SOBOTA - The new religious leadership of the Slovenian protestant community formally took over as Leon Novak was installed bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church succeeding Geza Filo and Geza Erniša before him. Novak likened himself to the captain of a ship using the Bible as a navigational aid.
        LJUBLJANA - The Slovenian police recorded 14,066 illegal crossings of the border in the first ten months of the year, up 72% year-on-year, the latest statistics showed. The number of people who expressed the wish to stay in Slovenia was also up, from 3,952 to 4,441, but the figures show most people treat Slovenia as a transit country.
        LJUBLJANA - An idiosyncratic graphic novel that was originally released in instalments on Facebook won the Grand Prix for book of the year at the Slovenian Book Fair. "Vinjete Straholjubca" (The Bête Noire Vignettes) is a joint project by writer Eva Mahkovic and illustrator Eva Mlinar.

MONDAY, 2 December
        BELGRADE, Serbia - Foreign Minister Miro Cerar met his Serbian counterpart Ivica Dačić as he started an official two-day visit to Serbia dedicated to preparations for a joint 17 December government session. Cerar said Slovenia would make an effort for EU enlargement to the Western Balkans to be given a fresh impetus with the new European Commission.
        BRUSSELS, Belgium - Interior Minister Boštjan Poklukar told a session of the EU's Justice and Home Affairs Council that Slovenia advocated a comprehensive approach to migrations in the future EU migration and asylum policy. The underlying goal must be to reduce illegal migrations, he said.
        LJUBLJANA - The National Assembly overturned both vetoes the upper chamber imposed last week to block the state budget for 2020 and 2021, meaning the 2020 budget will start to be implemented on 1 January as planned. Prime Minister Marjan Šarec said common sense had prevailed.
        LJUBLJANA - Opposition Democrat (SDS) leader Janez Janša said he expected "an early election sooner or later" because the government coalition is running out of "candy" to distribute among voters, "which will cause big trouble". If fragmented, minority governments do not last long, Janša said.
TUESDAY, 3 December
        BELGRADE, Serbia - Foreign Minister Miro Cerar continued his official visit to Serbia by meeting President Aleksandar Vučić, who hailed Slovenia's active engagement in the Western Balkan Region. The pair discussed bilateral economic cooperation, succession to the former Yugoslavia and Slovenia's support for EU enlargement.
        LUXEMBOURG, Luxembourg - Slovenia, the European Commission and Croatia presented to the General Court of the European Union their arguments in a case related to a derogation enabling Croatia to use Teran as the name of a red wine protected by Slovenia. A ruling is expected by the end of next year.
        LJUBLJANA - A parliamentary commission inquiring into the prosecution of former Maribor Mayor Franc Kangler, which had been thwarted by the Constitutional Court, said it planned to file a criminal complaint against two judges at the court, Rajko Knez and judge Matej Accetto, arguing they had acted unlawfully and arbitrarily in decisions connected with the commission's work.
        LJUBLJANA - The results of Slovenian 15-year-olds in reading, scientific and mathematical literacy tests are above the OECD average, shows the recent PISA study. Compared to the previous such study, the students have come off as less accomplished in reading and science literacy though.
        LJUBLJANA - Turkish builder Cengiz announced it had won the contract to build the Slovenian section of the second tube of the Karavanke motorway tunnel, as the motorway company concluded talks with three bidders. The decision is yet to be confirmed by the DARS management.
        LJUBLJANA - The central bank warned that there were "substantial downside risks" in budgetary plans for 2020 and 2021 that the National Assembly confirmed in a revote. The risks "stem from a possible acceleration of the slowing of economic growth," it said.

WEDNESDAY, 4 December
        LONDON, UK - After attending a NATO summit in London, PM Marjan Šarec said he was happy that NATO leaders had again shown unity, solidarity and effort for democracy. While there were disagreements between some members states ahead of the meeting, he said everything had been settled during the discussion, which he described as constructive.
        LJUBLJANA - The migration crisis, security issues, EU enlargement, and nuclear waste management were discussed as President Borut Pahor met the presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina at the outset of an official two-day visit. Pahor said that Slovenia supported Bosnia and respected its results despite the numerous challenges it faced.
        BRUSSELS, Belgium - In the wake of last week's earthquake, Slovenia's European Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarčič left for Albania for his first official visit after taking over as EU commissioner. The visit was designed to assess the extent of aid the country needs after the quake.
        LJUBLJANA - Parliamentary Speaker Dejan Židan urged the government to declare a climate crisis in Slovenia to ensure the necessary resources for drawing up a comprehensive strategy to fight climate change. He based his appeal on conclusions reached at a climate change debate at the National Assembly last month.
        NAPLES, Italy - Environment Minister Simon Zajc called for cooperation among all countries in the Mediterranean at a Barcelona Convention ministerial. He urged joint efforts for sustainable development and preservation of natural resources.
THURSDAY, 5 December
        LJUBLJANA - Mercator's bankrupt Croatian owner Agrokor and the newly established Fortenova group, which has taken over Agrokor's assets, reported the Slovenian Economy Ministry led by Zdravko Počivalšek to the European Commission over his interference in the transfer of Slovenian retailer Mercator to Fortenova. Počivalšek said he had been merely striving to protect Slovenian suppliers under existing competition rules and had always been open about his intentions.
        LJUBLJANA - The government adopted a national strategy on the prevention of terrorism and violent extremism which lays the groundwork for a systemic approach to reducing Slovenia's vulnerability to terrorism and violent extremism. The strategy aims to prevent radicalisation, and protect residents against acts of terrorism and violent extremism.
        BRATISLAVA, Slovakia - Foreign Minister Miro Cerar reiterated his call for effective multilateralism at the 26th OSCE ministerial. He stressed the importance of OSCE for improving democratic processes.
        LJUBLJANA - The government revealed plans to invest EUR 5.6 billion in transport and transport infrastructure in 2020-2025. Under the plan, the funds will be spent on air and maritime transport, investments in and reconstruction of state roads and toll roads, modernisation of railways, sustainable measures and traffic control.
        LJUBLJANA - The Administrative Court decided that several documents pertaining to treatment of migrants and asylum seekers on the state border are public information, ordering the Interior Ministry and the police to disclose the documents.
        LJUBLJANA - The District Court of Koper initiated bankruptcy proceedings for Istrabenz, a once mighty financial holding, as the request of the Bank Assets Management Company (BAMC), its biggest creditor. The move is designed to give BAMC control of Istrabenz's remaining assets.

All our posts in this series are here

05 Dec 2019, 10:26 AM

STA, 4 December 2019 - The migration crisis, security issues, the European integration prospects of the Western Balkans and nuclear waste management issues were discussed as President Borut Pahor hosted the presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina as it started a two-day official visit to Slovenia on Wednesday.

After the official talks, a press conference in Ljubljana was held by Pahor and Presidency Chairman Željko Komšić, with the former noting that all three members of the presidency had visited for a second time, which Slovenia appreciated.

Pahor said that Slovenia was inclined with favour to Bosnia-Herzegovina and respected its results despite the numerous challenges it faced, adding that Slovenia had always been inclined to EU enlargement to the Western Balkans.

"As the enlargement process could lose its momentum, this region must respond wisely," he said, endorsing the regional trade cooperation initiative, sometimes called a "mini Schengen", which he sees as a tool for the region to become attractive once more to the EU, to "become a magnet".

Pahor did not forget to mention that trade between Slovenia and Bosnia-Herzegovina is constantly rising, reaching EUR 1.4 billion last year, and that more than 100 Slovenian companies in the country employ 15,000 people.

"This means that Slovenia enjoys trust in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and we want these relations to further improve."

Komšić said that he was glad that his country had a friend in Slovenia which understood what was going on in the country, adding that he was happy that Pahor supported the "mini Schengen" initiative as every cooperation was welcome.

He said that it had been stressed that the initiative was not a substitute or alternative to the EU accession of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the entire region, but a "recommendation to the European Commission" that the region was able to cooperate.

Komšić, who represents the Croatian ethnicity in the three-member presidency, said that there were some worrying topics though, including migrations, with thousands of west-bound migrants being stuck there.

He said that a joint effort should be made towards EU institutions to solve the problem at the source, adding that the current efforts were only a reaction. "The problem should be solved at the entry to Europe, in accordance with international conventions."

The issue was also discussed by Milorad Dodik, the Serb representative on the presidency, who noted at the press conference that the borders of the EU were being shut down and that migrants could remain stuck in Bosnia-Herzegovina and "cause problems".

"A difficult humanitarian crisis may erupt," said the former PM of Republika Srpska, "adding that "the EU is trying to donate money and steer policies, but we don't need money for migrants and we don't need migrants either".

A related issued was raised, as reporters asked the presidency about the plan to bring back 24 Bosnian citizens related to the former ISIS fighters in Syria, with Komšić noting that these were women and children returning to their families.

He said that "checks have been made" and that the procedure had been carried out in cooperation with partner security agencies so the "things are being kept under complete control".

Pahor said that he was happy with the agreement that security agencies exchange all information in order to prevent incidents which could trigger fear among citizens.

As Slovenia and Croatia are discussing where to deposit nuclear waste from the jointly-owned NEK power station in Krško, the presidency raised some issues with Croatia's plan to build its rad-waste repository near the border with Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Dodik said that "depositing nuclear waste at this location is unacceptable for us and we will continue with activities to this cause", adding that Croatia needed to understand the position of Bosnia regarding waste from Krško.

Presidency member Šefik Džaferović also addressed the press, saying that the most important question was what stance the new European Commission would take following North Macedonia and Albania failing to make progress in EU accession.

Džaferović said that the rejection should be emphasised as a serious issue. "This decision has surprised us but it hasn't discouraged us, as we want our European prospects to gain significant momentum.

"We need friends who will help us in this process, including within the EU, and Slovenia is our great friend," added the Bosniak representative in the Bosnia-Herzegovina presidency.

The presidency was also hosted by parliamentary Speaker Dejan Židan, with the main topic being the EU accession prospects of the Western Balkans, with the trio saying that their country's integration in the EU was the only option.

Komšić, Dodik and Džaferović also expressed the hope that the good cooperation at the parliamentary level would continue with the new term of the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia-Herzegovina and that a Slovenian-Bosnian friendship group would be established soon.

04 Dec 2019, 12:06 PM

STA, 3 December 2019 - The three-member presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina will pay an official visit to Slovenia on Wednesday and Thursday for talks with their host President Borut Pahor and the country's other top officials.

Chairman Željko Komšić and presidency members Šefik Džaferović and Milorad Dodik are visiting after being elected just over a year ago. The previous presidency visited Slovenia in March 2015.

Pahor's office sees the visit as a continuation of regular bilateral meetings at the highest political level, and an opportunity to reaffirm the traditional friendship between the two countries.

Pahor will receive the presidency with a guard of honour, after which the trio will lay a wreath at the Memorial to Victims of All Wars and open a Bench of Friendship with Pahor in Congress Square.

After talks at the Presidential Palace, the presidency will also meet National Assembly Speaker Dejan Židan and then Foreign Minister Miro Cerar.

On Wednesday, the presidency will also visit an exhibition that looks backs at the 20 years of demining efforts by the Slovenian-run ITF fund in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

A meeting with Prime Minister Marjan Šarec is scheduled for Thursday when the presidency and Pahor are also due to take part in an academic debate on constitutional issues in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The visit is expected to focus on a variety of topics, including ways to develop bilateral relations and economic cooperation, regional and multilateral cooperation and the implementation of the 2001 Yugoslavia succession treaty.

Bosnia-Herzegovina's reform process and its aspirations to join the EU are also expected to rank prominently, along with topical political and economic situation in the country.

Migration will be another major topic, in particular considering that between 6,000 and 8,000 migrants are estimated to be stranded in Bosnia-Herzegovina, most of them in the north-west of the country.

Due to a lack of accommodation facilities almost half of the migrants are roughing it out in the open or in abandoned buildings, which has been causing discontent among the migrants and the local population.

About 3,300 migrants are accommodated in five EU-funded temporary reception centres. The centre in Bihać is overcrowded and so is the nearby Vučjak refugee camp where migrants live in appalling conditions.

The European Parliament and the former European Commissioner for Migration and Home Affairs Dimitris Avramopoulos have called on the Bosnian authorities to move the migrants into appropriate reception centres to prevent a humanitarian disaster in the winter.

Bosnia-Herzegovina is also grappling with economic difficulties and high unemployment. The country has been trying to make headway in the process to join the EU and NATO.

The country submitted an application for EU membership three years ago, but the European Commission has merely issued an opinion on its application without giving it candidate status or making any recommendations to member states on the future course of action.

The biggest obstacle to membership of NATO, apart from meeting the alliance's requirements, is the opposition by the Serb entity and the Serbian member of the presidency Dodik, the former long-serving president of Republika Srpska.

Slovenia has been vocally supporting Bosnia-Herzegovina's aspirations to join the EU and NATO and the countries have good political and economic relations.

Bilateral merchandise trade rose to a record EUR 1.34 billion last year, amounting to nearly EUR 881 million in the first eight months of this year, Slovenia's exports accounting for EUR 521 million.

Slovenia is also a major investor in Bosnia-Herzegovina with more than a hundred companies there in majority Slovenian ownership.

Along with other successors to the former Yugoslavia, the countries are also engaged in the implementation of the succession agreement. Slovenia would like talks to start on division of the former federation's guarantees for the savings deposits.

Pahor met the new presidency in the Bosnian capital on 17 April when he attended the Sarajevo Business Forum at their invitation.

Miro Cerar made an official visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina in April 2017 as the first Slovenian prime minister since 2010.

The last Bosnian official to visit Slovenia was Foreign Minister Igor Crnadak in April 2018, while senior officials from the two countries meet regularly on the sidelines of multilateral meetings.

03 Dec 2019, 10:32 AM

STA, 2 December 2019 - Opposition Democrat (SDS) leader Janez Janša expects "an early election sooner or later" because the government coalition is running out of "sweets" to distribute among voters, "which will cause big trouble".

If fragmented, minority governments do not last long, Janša said as he commenced on political developments on the sidelines of an event marking the 30th anniversary of the DEMOS government.

"The DEMOS coalition did also not last long once it became a minority government," Janša drew a parallel with the events from three decades ago.

The current coalition will "keep the government alive for a while longer, but all they can do is harm", said Janša, whose SDS won the 2018 election but was unable to form a government because practically all parties rejected working with it.

"It's been somehow OK as long as sweets were distributed and debts accumulated for future generations to pay. But this 'rope' is getting shorter, which will cause big trouble."

Nevertheless, Janša does not expect an early election "very soon", saying voters were tired of elections and parties financially drained.

He believes the most plausible option will be finding "a temporary solution", yet sooner or later there will be an early election.

Asked whether his party could be the temporary solution, Janša said "the SDS is never a temporary solution".

Asked whether he was in talks with the coalition Modern Centre Party (SMC) to possibly form a new government, he said that his party had always been "willing to talk with all those who are willing to talk".

Janša moreover believes Prime Minister Marjan Šarec should have called a session of the National Security Council to discuss the latest escalation of tensions between the SOVA intelligence agency and the parliamentary oversight commission, as suggested by President Borut Pahor.

He said Šarec opting not to call the session was "a mistake", noting "this body is in charge of national security, not of the security of the prime minister". Janša also criticised the media for "not reacting" to Šarec's decision.

All our stories on Janez Janša are here

02 Dec 2019, 15:47 PM

Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minister, has made an election pledge to make it more difficult for EU citizens to enter the UK after Brexit, in the wake of a terrorist attack in London last Friday that has so far claimed two lives. The attack was carried out by a British citizen, born and raised in Stoke-on-Trent, and stopped by a group that included a Polish immigrant wielding a narwhal tusk that he obtained from the wall of a nearby fish market, in a scene that has since been viewed around the world.

After the incident the Conservative Party announced five changes to border rules, including a requirement for Europeans to submit to electronic clearance procedures before entering the UK. Under the proposal EU nationals would need to get clearance to visit the UK using a new Electronic Travel Authorisation, an online form intended “to screen arrivals and block threats from entering the UK,” similar to the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) scheme used in America.

However, EU nationals should not feel singled out in having their freedom curtailed in this manner, as Prime Minister Johnson's Brexit plans would also see UK citizens lose freedom of movement to the EU 27 as well as more red tape when they choose to leave the British Isles, thus reducing their opportunities for travel, work, study and more, with the poorest being hit hardest by the changes.

02 Dec 2019, 12:15 PM

STA, 1 December 2019 - The Slovenian police recorded 14,066 illegal crossings of the border in the first ten months of the year, which is almost 72% more than in the same period of 2018. The largest groups of migrants came from Pakistan, Algeria and Afghanistan.

August was the month with the highest number of illegal crossings of the border since the 2016 mass migrations, whereupon the number of monthly crossings started dropping as the weather started to deteriorate.

The number of people who expressed the wish to stay in Slovenia was also up. Some 4,441 expressed the intention to seek international protection on contact with the police, up from 3,952 in the year before.

But the statistics show most people treat Slovenia as a transit country, with many who submit formal requests leaving the country before their cases are heard.

Of the over 4,400 who expressed their intention to seek asylum, only 3,350 eventually did so and the vast majority of cases were suspended because people had left, presumably to other EU countries.

The actual number of asylum seekers staying in Slovenia is thus low relative to the overall number of migrants, show figures by the Government Office for the Support and Integration of Migrants.

On 28 November there were 335 persons in asylum centres awaiting the processing of their requests for international protection and 697 residing in Slovenia who have already been granted international protection

All figures below are from official police and Interior Ministry data.

Illegal crossings in January-October, by citizenship

               2018         2019
Pakistan      2,531        3,777
Algeria         832        1,752
Afghanistan     956        1,519
Morocco         343        1,112
Bangladesh      172        1,090
Syria           620          754
Iraq            466          694
Turkey          221          618
Iran            684          604
Croatia         274          301
Other         1,087        1,845
TOTAL          8186       14,066

Illegal crossings and requests for asylum in 2018,
first ten months of 2019

Month             Crossings      Asylum requests
               2018    2019        2018     2019
January         248     319         172      205
February        210     326         223      216
March           210   1,075         129      356
April           644   1,389         274      334
May           1,286   1,306         365      404
June          1,043   1,266         267      287
July          1,119   1,793         287      387
August        1,152   2,379         381      388
September       999   1,988         256      356
October       1,275   2,225         201      417
November        722                 170
December        358                 150
Total Jan-Oct 8,186  14,066

Persons returned to Slovenian police and persons returned
to foreign authorities by Slovenian police, Jan-Oct

              Returned to          Returned to
            Slovenian police   foreign authorities
Country        2018    2019        2018     2019
Italy           343     235          59       68
Austria          29      77          16       13
Croatia           8      25       3,906    9,653
Hungary          18       5           5        2
Airport         150     211          30       25
Total           548     553       4,016    9,761

Number of requests for asylum and their status in 2018,
first ten months of 2019

                                   2018     2019
Requests                          2,875    3,350
Requests for repeat procedure        40       25
Repeat procedure                     27       47
Solved cases                      2,886    3,234
Asylum granted                      102       62
Asylum denied                       135      102
Procedure suspended               2,372    2,792
Dismissed requests                  277      278
Permanent move                       40        0
Relocation                           21        0
30 Nov 2019, 12:11 PM

The covers and editorials from leading weeklies of the Left and Right for the work-week ending Friday, 29 November

Mladina: Hopeful about abolition of top-up health insurance

STA, 29 November 2019 - The left-wing weekly Mladina says in its latest editorial that Wednesday's endorsement of legislation that would effectively introduce a fully-fledged single-payer system of health insurance by the parliamentary Health Committee is crucial. Slovenia has never been this close to abolishing top-up-health insurance, says editor-in-chief Grega Repovž.

When the coalition Social Democrats (SD) announced they would present their own proposal at the committee, introducing a solidarity-based system of payment although somewhat different than the one tabled by the opposition Left, this seemed like a diversion, given that three other coalition parties are not in favour of such a system.

But then after a whole day of uncertainty, an ad hoc coalition was formed among those parties, the SD, Marjan Šarec Party (LMŠ), Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB), and the Modern Centre Party (SMC), and the opposition Left and National Party (SNS).

This secured enough votes to endorse the Left's proposal, which was amended by the LMŠ and coalition, and thus put it on the agenda of the National Assembly. As expected, the opposition Democrats (SDS), New Slovenia (NSi) and Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) voted against.

"We should remember that for next time, when the three parties talk about problems in health, because the legislative proposal (that was endorsed) is now so watered-down that it is only about whether insurers will continue to take EUR 60 million a year from insurants or the money will be spent in public healthcare," Repovž says.

"We've never been this close to having that money returned to healthcare. But we should not get overly excited yet. The insurers' lobby is really strong. But at least now we know who is on which side," concludes the commentary They Can Make It.

Demokracija: Attacks PM Šarec over holiday rentals

STA, 28 November 2019 - The right-wing weekly Demokracija delivers a scathing attack on Prime Minister Marjan Šarec in the latest editorial headlined Šarec Is Mad, Stop Him!, in response to his suggesting limiting holiday rentals.

Referring to the comments made by Šarec as part of the efforts to tackle the Slovenian housing crisis, Demokracija editor-in-chief Jože Biščak writes that he "is afraid because almost no one, and in particular no mainstream media, reacted strongly to Marjan Šarec's idea to time limit holiday rentals of flats".

"The prime minister would set down by law to whom and when you can rent out your flat. To put it otherwise: the government would assume the right to have your private property at its disposal ... It is not just madness, it is outright insanity owing to a complete lack of ability to govern."

Biščak likens the proposal to limitations imposed by the former Communist regime in the country, asserting that the very thought of such a flagrant interference in private property should send all alarm bells ringing.

"This is no longer democracy, it is a road to tyranny, perfidiously wrapped up in some kind of social justice, and it is all directed at a socialist utopia in which the state can take care of everything."

Biščak agrees that high prices make housing ever less affordable, in particular in big cities, and that rental housing especially is in short supply, the reason for which he says is demand outstripping supply.

He blames the state, which he says is meddling in the market with central planning measures; the legislative and executive branches are passing detrimental laws and the bureaucracy imposes ludicrous demands.

"The only solution is consistently respecting the law of the free market and capitalism," Biščak says, calling on people to raise their voice.

All our posts in this series are here

30 Nov 2019, 09:26 AM

What follows is a weekly review of events involving Slovenia, as prepared by the STA.

If you’d like to keep up on the daily headlines then follow those here, or get all our stories in your feed on Facebook.

FRIDAY, 22 November
        LJUBLJANA - MPs passed the budget acts for 2020 and 2021 in a 49:41 vote in was the first major test for the minority government after it lost the support of the Left. The populist National Party (SNS) and both minority MPs provided the missing votes. The budget implementation bill was vetoed on 28 November, requiring a parliamentary revote.
        LJUBLJANA - A special social benefit for those on welfare who are low-income earners or do voluntary work will continue to be paid out, as the National Assembly failed to override the upper chamber veto of a government proposal scraping the bonus.
        LJUBLJANA - MPs unanimously confirmed the minimum hourly rate for student work from EUR 4.13 to EUR 4.56 net, overturning a veto imposed by the National Council last month.
        LJUBLJANA - The National Assembly passed changes to the VAT act lowering the VAT rate for books and other publications from 9.5% to 5% as of 2020.
        LJUBLJANA - MPs passed amendments to provide effective legal remedy against infringements in public contracting procedures, speed up procedures and improve the independence of the National Review Commission.
        LJUBLJANA - The National Assembly overrode the upper chamber's veto against a bill that will allow the holders of subordinated bank liabilities wiped out in the 2013 bank bailout to sue for damages. However, the law will not be implemented just yet as the central bank is planning to challenge it at the Constitutional Court.
        BRDO PRI KRANJU - The Slovenian-Turkish intergovernmental commission urged closer economic cooperation to further increase bilateral trade as it met in Slovenia. The two countries expect their merchandise trade to top one billion euro if the current positive trends continue.
        LJUBLJANA - Insurance group Sava reported a net profit of EUR 37.7 million for the first nine months of the year, a 29.3% year-on-year increase driven by high premium growth and improved cost-efficiency.

SATURDAY, 23 November
        NOVO MESTO - Slovenian police confiscated seven pieces of what were possible replicas of weapons from 41 members of a self-styled militia known as the Štajerska Guard on the border with Croatia near the town of Krško. Its members said they were protecting the border against illegal migrants.
        NOVI SAD, Serbia - Slovenian President Borut Pahor attended a youth forum of the Western Balkans with his Serbian and North Macedonian counterparts, Aleksandar Vučić and Stevo Pendarovski, expressing support in his address to enlargement of the EU to the Western Balkans.
        LJUBLJANA - Dnevnik reported that Ivo Vajgl, a former MEP and foreign minister, had left the Pensioners' Party (DeSUS), where tensions continue to increase ahead of the party's election congress in January. "There is no room in DeSUS for me any longer," he said.
        LJUBLJANA - Beanpole, a Russian historical drama directed by Kantemir Balagov, was declared the best film of the 30th Ljubljana International Film Festival (LIFFe).

SUNDAY, 24 November
        LJUBLJANA - The opposition Democrats (SDS) returned to the top of party rankings for the first time since January in a poll aired by POP TV. The SDS polled at 15.4%, down from 15.7% in October, whereas the ruling Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ) lost two points to 13.8%. The coalition SocDems returned to third place with a four-point gain to 9.5%, and the opposition Left added over a point and a half to 8.8%.
        BLEIBURG, Austria - The National Council of Carinthian Slovenians (NSKS), an umbrella organisation of the Slovenian minority in Austria, marked its 70th anniversary, with Slovenian PM Marjan Šarec saying that although divided by borders in the past, "we are all part of one nation" now symbolically and de facto united in the EU.
        WISLA, Poland - Slovenia's Anže Lanišek placed second at the first individual event of the new, 41st Ski Jumping World Cup season in Poland's Wisla, only a day after the Slovenian team placed fourth in the team event.

MONDAY, 25 November
        PARIS, France - The UNESCO conference general unanimously decided that the first UNESCO-sponsored international centre for artificial intelligence will be seated in Slovenia's capital Ljubljana. Slovenia plans to formally establish the International Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence (IRCAI) early next year.
        LJUBLJANA - The SOVA intelligence agency reported opposition New Slovenia (NSi) leader Matej Tonin to law enforcement for having disclosed intelligence as the chair of the parliamentary commission overseeing intelligence services in a report on the border arbitration with Croatia. Tonin accused PM Marjan Šarec's camp of trying to discredit him and the commission, while Šarec argued it was the commission that was being abused.
        LJUBLJANA - Former central bank governor Boštjan Jazbec told the parliamentary inquiry examining potential wrongdoing at the Bank Assets Management Company that banks should have been bailed out before 2012 rather than in 2013. In this way, the erasure of junior bondholders, which he believes was in line with constitution, may not have have happened.

TUESDAY, 26 November
        LJUBLJANA - The government adopted legislative amendments designed to crack-down on the activity of self-styled village guards and militias patrolling the border with the intention of stopping illegal migrants. The amendments will be fast-tracked
        LJUBLJANA - Prime Minister Marjan Šarec visited the Government Office for the Support and Integration of Migrants and the appertaining asylum centre in the Ljubljana Vič borough, praising their efforts.
        BRDO PRI KRANJU - The SPIRIT investment promotion agency honoured top foreign investors in the country. Electricity meter maker Iskraemeco was named the best among big companies, ventilation company Systemair won the award in the long-term presence category, and maker of LED traffic displays Swarco Lea got the smart products and services development award.
        STRASBOURG, France - The European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) elected Slovenian MEP Tanja Fajon (S&D/SD) the chair of a special task force for the Schengen Area. She announced she would strive to restore importance and reputation to the idea, and restore full life to the area without borders.
        LJUBLJANA - Environment Minister Simon Zajc said new legislation in the making would prioritise the environment over creditors in case a company goes into receivership. The damage it has caused needs to be cleaned up, which is usually a long and expensive effort, he said.
        LJUBLJANA - Parliament passed a bill providing more funds for arts and culture to facilitate its development. The field will get an additional EUR 122.6 million for investments in 2021-2027, or an average EUR 17.5 million a year, in addition from what its gets in annual state budgets.

WEDNESDAY, 27 November
        STRASBOURG, France - Janez Lenarčič, the European commissioner for crisis management, said he was a European commissioner but he would not forget he was from Slovenia, as he spoke to the press after Ursula von der Leyen's Commission was endorsed by the European Parliament. Slovenia's eight MEPs, all of whom voted for the new Commission, said it was time the new team got down to work.
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenian Speaker Dejan Židan announced after a meeting with the president of the regional parliament of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Piero Mauro Zanin, that the Slovenian minority would get back Narodni Dom, a Trieste cultural centre of huge historical importance, in July 2020, 100 years after the building was burnt down by Fascists.
        LJUBLJANA - The most senior bodies of the coalition Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) cleared two contenders to challenge Karl Erjavec for the presidency of the party at the January congress, Agriculture Minister Aleksandra Pivec and jurist Borut Stražišar, ending speculations that their bids would be thwarted to ensure Erjavec is re-elected.
        LJUBLJANA - The parliamentary Health Committee surprisingly endorsed legislation that would effectively end the current system of compulsory and supplementary health insurance as of 2021 in favour of a fully-fledged single-payer system. The bill folds the current lump sum, roughly EUR 29 per month, into the existing compulsory payments.
        LJUBLJANA - The parliamentary Finance Committee urged the central bank to reconsider the recently imposed curbs on consumer lending, an appeal that came at a session called by all five coalition parties after the central bank said consumer loans would pose a risk to the banking system if left unchecked.
        LJUBLJANA - Peter Jenko took over as the new director general of the Financial Administration (FURS) for a five-year term. He announced one of his goals would be to change the tax procedure act so that the names of major tax evaders could be made public.
        LJUBLJANA - The Slovenian retail group Mercator said it posted EUR 6.21 million in net profit in the first nine months of the year, down 30.3% year on year. Mercator said the results were not fully comparable because of a change in accounting standards and last year's sale of a shopping centre and land in Serbia.
        LJUBLJANA - Abanka, Slovenia's third largest bank which was privatised in June, said it generated a net profit of EUR 42.5 million in the first nine months of 2019, a 20% year-on-year drop.
        STRASBOURG, France - God Exists, Her Name Is Petrunya, a film by Macedonia's Teona Strugar Mitevska that involves Slovenian co-producer Vertigo, won the 2019 LUX Film Prize, given out by the European Parliament.
        LJUBLJANA - The Slovenian Handball Association sacked the head coach of the men's national handball team, Veselin Vujović, who was appointed in 2015 and led Slovenia to bronze at the 2017 Worlds. The team's recent period was marked by unconvincing performances and tensions, also because Vujović verbally abused a Slovenian player during a club game.

THURSDAY, 28 November
        LJUBLJANA - Prime Minister Marjan Šarec turned down a request by President Borut Pahor to convene a session of the National Security Council due to ongoing disputes between SOVA and the parliamentary body which conducts oversight of the intelligence and security agency. Šarec said he did not want to politicise the situation and said Pahor's request came "too late".
        LJUBLJANA - Simona Leskovar was relieved of her duties as a Foreign Ministry state secretary, unofficially in order to become Slovenia's ambassador in London. Her successor is Matej Marn, the ministry's director general for the common foreign and security policy.
        LJUBLJANA - The government allocated EUR 40,000 for emergency humanitarian aid for migrants on the Western Balkan route, and EUR 50,000 for the Sahel region in Sub-Saharan Africa. The Foreign Ministry said that the number of migrants on the East-Mediterranean route travelling to Europe via the Western Balkans doubled since 2017 and kept rising.
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenia will send disaster relief aid to Albania in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake. Under the decision taken by the government today, the aid is valued at EUR 126,000, including transport. Responding to Albania's request for help, Slovenia will send material aid, including tents, beds, blankets, sleeping bags and generators.
        ŠKOFJA LOKA - Germany's multinational Freudenberg signed a contract to take over Filc, a Škofja Loka-based manufacturer of needlepunch nonwoven textiles and laminated materials for the car and construction industries, the Slovenian firm said, but did not disclose the value of the deal.
        VRHNIKA - Two illegal Syrian migrants died as a car carrying eight Syrians crashed into the motorway railing on the Ljubljana-Koper motorway near the town of Vrhnika. The accident happened as the car started to skid while overtaking a lorry, with three Syrian citizens falling out of the boot. Two died immediately while the third was rushed to the hospital.
        DORTMUND, Germany - Slovenian Damir Skomina was declared the world's best football referee in 2019 by the International Federation of Football History & Statistics (IFFHS). Skomina was the first Slovenian referee to officiate a UEFA Champions League final, the game between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool in Madrid in June.

All our posts in this series are here

28 Nov 2019, 12:00 PM

STA, 27 November 2019 - The parliamentary Health Committee has surprisingly endorsed legislation that would effectively end the current system of compulsory and supplementary health insurance as of 2021 in favour of a fully-fledged single-payer system.

The committee was discussing Wednesday amendments to the health insurance act tabled by the opposition Left that would fold the supplementary insurance contribution, which is paid as a lump sum regardless of income, into higher employer and employee payments.

It was widely expected the amendments would simply be voted down since the government said the bill was not appropriate. Its reluctance to back it was also the main reason why the Left terminated its cooperation agreement with the minority government.

Instead, the original proposal was transformed with coalition amendments into a bill that folds the lump sum, roughly EUR 29 per month, into the existing compulsory payments.

This means that supplementary health insurance contributions of individuals would increase by the same amount regardless of income, in what the government says is "the first step" of a more comprehensive solution.

Even the Left in the end backed the government solution, with party leader Luka Mesec arguing that this would "keep the bill open" and provide an avenue to find better solutions in the coming days and months.

Despite the surprise endorsement today, the legislation faces obstacles down the line.

For one, the parliament's own legal department voiced apprehension about the bill being changed so thoroughly with amendments. It also has qualms about how clear the provisions are.

Marjan Sušelj, the head of public health insurer ZZZS, which would manage all health insurance payments under the new system, said the solutions were not defined clearly enough.

He also noted that the government had recently agreed with social partners to steer all legislation through the Economic and Social Council prior to adoption.

And even if these issues are resolved, the three companies that provide supplementary health insurance, two private firms and a mutual insurer, have indicated they will put up a fight against legislation that would effectively kill their business.

These insurers currently collect roughly half a billion euro in health insurance premiums, money that would be handled by the ZZZS if the legislation is passed.

27 Nov 2019, 16:10 PM

STA, 27 November 2019 - Janez Lenarčič, Slovenia's former ambassador to the EU who has taken over as crisis management commissioner, is a seasoned diplomat. He has served as ambassador to the OSCE, director of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, secretary of Slovenia's permanent mission at the UN, and the PM's diplomatic adviser.

Lenarčič, who speaks English, French and Serbian, was born in Ljubljana on 6 November 1967. He graduated in international law in Ljubljana in 1992 and started working for the Foreign Ministry the same year.

Between 1994 and 1999 he worked with Slovenia's permanent mission at the UN, initially as the third and then as the first secretary. In 2000 he started serving as adviser to the foreign minister and the following year he became the diplomatic adviser to the prime minister, the late Janez Drnovšek.

In 2002 and 2003 Lenarčič worked as state secretary in the prime minister's office, to be appointed in 2003 the head of the Slovenian mission to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). During Slovenia's OSCE presidency in 2005 he headed the organisation's permanent council.

In 2006 he was appointed state secretary for European affairs, serving also during Slovenia's first presidency of the EU in 2008 during the centre-right government of Janez Janša. He was the head of the task force in charge of preparing Slovenia's EU presidency.

In July 2008 he was appointed the director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and confirmed for a second and final term at the same post in May 2011.

In September 2014 Lenarčič became state secretary in the office of the then Prime Minister Miro Cerar, where he was in charge of foreign and European affairs.

He served under Cerar's centre-left government until July 2016, when he took over as Slovenia's permanent representative to the EU.

Lenarčič decided to quit the Foreign Ministry after 19 years last month. He criticised a legal provision that financially penalises diplomats who suspend their status at the ministry to serve abroad and then return to the ministry for a period shorter than half of the duration of the absence.

Lenarčič is considered apolitical. In his opening address at the committee hearing in the European Parliament, Lenarčič listed improved crisis response, prevention and preparedness as his priorities. He also called on MEPs to support a 30% increase in the humanitarian aid budget for the next multi-year budget.

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