Politics

18 Jan 2019, 10:13 AM

STA, 17 January 2019 - Members of the Slovenian community in Italy will be protesting against a neo-fascist rally planned in the border town of Gorizia on Saturday. The Slovene Union Party (SSk) has called on its members and like-minded people to take part in an antifascist rally planned for the same day.

The antifascists say it is inappropriate for the Gorizia city authorities to receive the fascist rally participants, X Mas and Casa Pound, which is what happened at a similar rally last year.

Related: President Pahor and Speaker Židan express concern after neo-fascist rally in Trieste (video)

 "Gorizia must not accept such a decision and such behaviour because the fascist regime and terror between the two wars and during World War II caused great hardship," the SSk said in a press release on Thursday.

"The wounds caused by the fascist regime to the Gorizia locals can still be seen today and it is high time that they heal at last."

This year, Gorizia Mayor Rodolfo Ziberna decided against receiving the fascist rally participants after this move caused an outcry in 2018.

Klemen Milavčič, the new mayor of the nearby Nova Gorica, underlined in a press release today that "such provocations are dangerous and must not be underestimated".

He called on the neighbours of his town to act prudently, to the benefit of the whole area and with modern European values in mind.

Vice-president of the coalition Social Democrats (SD) Matjaž Nemec responded in a video on Twitter, saying that "it is our task to preserve European values: mutual respect, cooperation and building a new and modern European future".

The people of Gorizia and Nova Gorica have always fought for and built a future together, a future based on shared European values and are an inspiration for the entire Europe and the EU, said Nemec.

16 Jan 2019, 12:51 PM

STA, 16 January 2019 - Slovenia regrets that the UK parliament failed to confirm the Brexit divorce deal last night. Prime Minister Marjan Šarec said that the UK should rethink whether Brexit is really worth pursuing or whether this is a dead end and staying in the EU is the better solution.

A statement from the prime minister's office on Wednesday said that the divorce deal was a fair compromise, a balanced document, that allowed a regulated and controlled exit for the UK.

Slovenia will continue to support the approval of the deal in the EU, as the document is the best solution for the future and a necessary foundation on which to build relations after 2021.

Similar to the rest of the EU, Slovenia expects the UK government to present a plan on future steps as soon as possible. The statement also expresses hope that "the coming weeks and months will see enough political wisdom to avoid the worst outcome".

Slovenia's key wish is to preserve constructive and comprehensive cooperation even after Brexit, which must in no way infringe on the rights of citizens of Slovenia and other EU countries living in the UK. On the other hand, Slovenia will guarantee "an appropriate level of rights for UK citizens" living in the country.

Foreign Minister Miro Cerar also expressed regret over the vote. He tweeted last night that the EU had negotiated in good faith and with the wish to preserve constructive cooperation in the future.

Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee chair Matjaž Nemec commented on the situation for the press, saying that the process was "a good lesson for us" and that he hoped that "this will sober up the global political arena".

"When politicians become politicasters, when personal and party interests are put before those of the state and its citizens, there is populism that diverts attention from the real picture."

"All those who caused this in the UK have remained well hidden and no longer expose themselves, while regular people will start feeling immediately what it's like to be a third country citizen in relation to the EU," said Nemec.

He added it was hard to predict what would happen next. It is also hard to say whether the country will hold another referendum.

The House of Commons turned down the divorce deal with 432 votes against and 202 in favour last night. Subsequently, the opposition Labour Party requested a no-confidence vote against Prime Minister Theresa May.

The motion will be put to a vote this evening and if May is ousted and a government coalition cannot be formed within a fortnight, the UK will face an early election.

However, this is not a very likely scenario, according to Jure Vidmar, a professor of public international law at the University of Maastricht.

While the divorce deal was voted down due to infighting in the Conservative party, "bringing down the deal is one thing and bringing down one's own party is a different matter altogether," he told the STA.

If she survives the vote, May has said she will present an alternative plan by Monday. But at least in the short term the EU will not be able to offer anything but some sort of a political declaration, said Vidmar.

These have already been offered and did not convince the sceptics. This could only be done by abolishing the Irish safeguard, which is impossible for the EU, he believes.

"Northern Ireland is the main issue of Brexit and it is practically impossible to resolve. The reintroduction of border controls in Ireland would undermine the peace treaty," said Vidmar.

A no-deal Brexit or an extension of the deadline are the two possible scenarios. The extension could lead to a new deal under which the UK would remain a part of the single market and the customs union, he believes.

The other possibility is a new referendum in which voters would decide between May's divorce deal and remaining in the EU, said Vidmar. An early election is not very likely but cannot be excluded.

All our stories about Brexit can be found here

Chamber of Commerce worried about impact of no-deal Brexit on exports

STA, 15 January 2019- The Slovenian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GZS) assessed ahead of today's Brexit deal vote in London that there is a 20% chance of a no-deal scenario and that this could reduce Slovenian exports by a fifth.

The GZS's analytics department estimates that Slovenian exports of goods to the UK rose by 11% to EUR 615m in 2018, while exported services were up 9% to EUR 210m. In case of a no-deal Brexit, goods exports could fall by up to 20% in a year, although they would later probably rise again.

A similar reduction would also be experienced by Slovenian exports to other EU member states with close trade ties to the UK, the chamber wrote in a press release.

A no-deal Brexit would present a strong blow in particular to the movement of people, goods, services and capital, with cooperation already being affected by the current uncertainty.

A direct impact has been felt above all by multinationals and regional companies with a two-way value chain and in particular involving Germany, France, the Netherlands and Belgium. Indirectly affected are the supplier companies, meaning also a number of Slovenian companies.

A no-deal Brexit would also mean the reintroduction of border checks and thereby a fourfold increase in the time needed to cross the border. Slovenian hauliers conduct EUR 40m worth of transport for British clients a year, the GZS said, while also highlighting additional costs related to the diverging of standards for products and services.

UK Ambassador Sophie Honey July 2018.jpg

HMA Honey in July 2018. Photo: JL Flanner

UK Ambassador: Britain Remains Open for Business, Despite Brexit

STA, 16 January 2019 - British Ambassador to Slovenia Sophie Honey assured Slovenian businesses on Wednesday that they would receive ample support, regardless of how the UK leaves the EU, with or without a divorce deal.

The UK will provide businesses the maximum scope of information and clarity so they can prepare for future relations, she told an event on the future of economic cooperation post-Brexit a day after the British Parliament voted against Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit deal.

She said the British government has prepared advice for British businesses while the Slovenian authorities were doing everything they can to prepare companies for any changes.

The ambassador also stressed that the UK would remain an ideal destination for Slovenian exports and start-ups.

All our stories about Brexit can be found here

 

14 Jan 2019, 12:50 PM

With less than two months to go before Article 50 expires and the UK leaves the EU, which is currently set to happen at midnight on March 29, with or without a deal, the post-Brexit status of British nationals in Slovenia remains unclear. In recent weeks the governments of France, Spain, the Netherlands and others have all offered to guarantee the rights of British nationals, if the same safeguards are applied by the UK government to their citizens in Britain. As yet, however, no such announcement has been made by the Slovenian government.

Related: How to get dual nationality in Slovenia

We got in touch with the British Embassy on Friday, January 11, to ask if there were any ongoing discussions on this issue. The office replied later that day, but the response offered little comfort to those, like your correspondent, who are British nationals. We were directed to the call on Twitter by Robin Walker MP, Minister at the Department for Exiting the EU, for member states to set out their plans for reciprocal arrangements on Britons in the EU, and EU nationals in Britain, as seen below.

We were also told “Discussions are ongoing with the MZZ (Ministrstvo za zunanje zadeve – the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) regarding citizen's rights in the instance of a no deal scenario. We will continue to provide updates on this through our media channels [such as Facebook] but remain positive about UK resident's rights in Slovenia should there be a no deal.”

We were also advised to follow all the latest information on citizens’ rights is in the Embassy’s guide to living in Slovenia (here).

In short, with 74 days left until Brexit, and Theresa May’s deal likely to be rejected by Parliament later this week, British nationals in Slovenia can only wait and see what happens next, relying on the good will, and attention, of the Slovenian government to act soon and protect their current status, and the British Embassy’s continued optimism that it’ll all be OK in the end.

All our posts tagged “Brexit” can be found here

14 Jan 2019, 11:45 AM

STA, 14 January 2018 - The party of Prime Minister Marjan Šarec has gained ground in the latest poll run by the newspaper Delo to reduce the gap separating it from the top ranking opposition Democrats (SDS) to 2.3 percentage points.

 

Having dominated the rankings for more than half a year, the SDS lost almost two percentage points from the month before to 16.2%, whereas the Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ) jumped more than 5 points to 13.9%.

This means that the margin between the SDS, the plurality winner of the June general election, and the runner-up LMŠ was reduced more than four-fold from ten points in December.

The Left, the government's partner in the opposition, trails at 6.8%, which is roughly level with the month before, but the party has advanced from fourth to third.

This was as the Social Democrats (SD) slipped back from second to fourth spot after losing four points to 6.5%.

Our guides to most of Slovenia’s many political parties can be found here

Delo notes that this is the first time since the June election that the poll has showed major differences in rankings between the five coalition parties.

The Modern Centre Party (SMC) of Foreign Minister Miro Cerar has lost over one percentage point to 3.7%.

The opposition New Slovenia (NSi) ranks fifth on 5.4%, 1.2 points up from the month before, followed by the National Party (SNS) on 4.1%, up 0.9 points.

Meanwhile, the Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB) and Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) changed places so that the SAB now polled at 3.4% and DeSUS at 2%.

The non-parliamentary People's Party (SLS) lost 2.5 points to 3%.

The proportion of undecided increased to more than a fifth (21.2%) with a further 7.1% saying they would not vote for any of the parties and 2.6% not wishing to answer the question.

The voter approval rating for the government and parliament also improved to 3.09 and 2.81 on a scale of one to five, from 3.01 and 2.72, respectively, the month before.

President Borut Pahor continues to top the ranking of the most popular politicians ahead of PM Šarec and EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc.

NSi leader Matej Tonin advanced to fourth while SD leader and parliamentary Speaker Dejan Židan slipped a point to sixth. SAB leader Alenka Bratušek trails in 14th, Cerar in 15th and DeSUS leader Karl Erjavec in 20th.

Commenting on the increasing approval ratings for Šarec, the government and now also Šarec's list, Delo attributes them to low expectations for the minority government at the start of its term.

"Distribution of public funds which many feel in their pockets has made an impression. Higher are social benefits, minimum wages and per capita municipality income," Delo comments ion the front-page commentary.

"Almost 700,000 public employees have at least 4% more and many hope for more yet. White collars, who take the credit for the Cerar government ending its term early, are happy for the time being.

"However, the real challenges that will show what the government is made of are yet coming. The first ones will be the supplementary budget, healthcare, preparations for a pension reform and when we have to show how we are in fact prepared for the economy's cooling."

The poll was conducted by Mediana among 743 respondents between 3 and 10 January.

14 Jan 2019, 10:20 AM

STA, 12 January 2019 - After three months in office, Culture Minister Dejan Prešiček has told the STA that the Slovenian culture sector is successful and comparable with the production on the global scale despite the incomparable infrastructural and financial circumstances in which it functions. He would not change the culture financing model drastically.

"We are successful in all artistic fields. Music production is top-notch, theatre as well. We have individuals who have achieved world renown. This is positive and I'm very happy about the fact that there is a creative drive," the minister said in an interview.

The other thing is that those who work in their own country sometimes work in very difficult conditions compared with global production, which is also better financed, but nevertheless Slovenian artists keep making top achievements, he added.

As a minister, he sees his role in improving these conditions, but he is not inclined to making "major shake-ups" of the culture financing model.

"The system as it is should not be drastically changed. My opinion is that it needs to be only evaluated, and we should find out what is good and what does not function, and what is perhaps somewhat obsolete," Prešiček said in comments that are likely to sit uneasy with freelance artists, who have complained for years about inadequate financing.

He believes, however, that Slovenia lacks a clear strategy of development of culture. "In order for institutions to function well, we need standards, including for costs," he said, adding that talks about that were already under way.

Asked about the criteria for awarding the formal status of an artist, Prešiček said that artists provided society with such an added value that one could not say that there were too many of them.

"Artists think, they are critical of society and contribute to its development. Their social status and how much money the state earmarks for them is another question," he said, adding that the state could perhaps be stricter in awarding statuses, which sometimes come with paid social contributions.

Regarding the situation in culture, he said that with the technological and social progress, arts were being changed significantly as well. "For some arts adjusting to the new social circumstances is easier, for others it is harder."

The minister is convinced that the existing model of financing of culture could be an example to many countries with larger financial potential considering the importance of culture in society and the results it scores.

But Prešiček thinks that it is "so fragile" that hasted and major changes would bring more harm that benefits.

According to him, there is no shortage of ideas and tasks for the four-year term, which include the status of members of non-governmental organisations and self-employed culture workers, with which the state "has failed to deal with at the systemic level".

The idea is to regulate this with a special law, he said, adding that the bill prepared by the opposition Left could serve as its first draft.

Talks with Prime Minister Marjan Šarec and Finance Minister Andrej Bertoncelj and within his party, the Social Democrats (SD), suggest that there will be some more money for culture in the emerging supplementary budget for 2019, he said.

"Culture should not be perceived as a cost, but as an investment and added value both in the economy and tourism. It is a global trend and we are also adopting it. You cannot offer only mountains and water to a tourist, but also content and a story."

When it comes to legislation, Prešiček announced for February a public debate on changes to the media act, which he said would be adapted to the current technological environment.

"The planned change which will probably be most controversial politically will be prohibition of instigation of inequality and intolerance and measures when something like this happens. Sanctioning violations is something completely normal in all democratic societies," he said.

11 Jan 2019, 16:20 PM

Mladina: Low Salaries in Slovenia are Because of Company Policies, Not Taxes

STA, 11 January 2019 - The weekly Mladina says that wealthy entrepreneurs are preparing the battle field ahead of a tax reform planned by the government. They are narrating a story of an engineer who is paid poorly due to high taxes and decides to leave the country to work abroad where taxes are lower. This, as it turns out, is nothing but a myth, Mladina says.

Under the headline “Abused Engineers”, the latest editorial of the left-leaning magazine says that engineers do make less in Slovenia than they would, for example, in Austria.

But this is not because of higher taxes but because company owners, Mladina specifically points to the owner of a successful exhaust maker Igor Akrapovič, do not give them higher pay.

Moreover, engineers are actually paid far less than what the entrepreneurs claim, the paper says, suggesting the bosses are actually talking about themselves.

In fact, income taxes for what engineers actually make in Slovenia are lower than in Austria. Only if they were paid as much as company owners claim they are, would the income tax be higher, a Mladina journalist has found.

He also busted the myth that engineers are leaving the country, providing numbers that only 70 engineers left Slovenia between 2012 and 2017. Most of them went to Croatia, which suggests that they were Croatian citizens studying in Slovenia who returned home after graduation.

"Will we allow yet another coup of demagogy? Will they abuse our empathy again?" the weekly wonders.

Reporter: President Pahor is an inclusive statesman

Note: this editorial is actually from last week

STA, 31 December - The right-leaning weekly Reporter commends President Borut Pahor in its latest commentary for his effort to be a voice of reason and a statesman who wants to build bridges rather than ostracise.

As he addressed an open day at the Presidential Palace to mark Independence and Unity Day, the president said he wanted more mutual respect in the coming year, editor-in-chief Silvester Šurla notes in More Respect in 2019!

He adds that Pahor had asked at the national holiday more than 500 visitors to carry on his call for mutual respect, understanding and respect of differences.

The president's words are welcome and they again confirm that Pahor is or at least tries to be the president of all Slovenians more than any of other presidents before him.

"He is making an effort to be a voice of reason, a statesman who does not exclude, but connects."

According to Šurla, in the increasingly politically polarised world, full of ostracising and hatred, such a stance by the president is not always welcomed, unfortunately.

Pahor is being attacked more from the left than from the right, which is very telling. What the leftist ideological extremists have been bothered by most during Pahor's reign is his normal relationship with the political right, concludes the commentary.

All our posts in this series can be found here

09 Jan 2019, 19:34 PM

STA, 9 January 2019- The EU's future and challenges such as Brexit, migration and the upcoming Euro elections topped the agenda as Prime Minister Marjan Šarec received the visiting Cypriot President Nikos Anastasiadis on Wednesday.

According to the prime minister's office, the two officials called for a strong, unified and more effective EU, one that respects the values and principles underlying its foundation.

They agreed that migration was a problem common to all, so it should be addressed through a common, systematic and sustainable approach with the involvement of all member states.

Slovenia's position is that it is necessary to enhance cooperation with third countries, especially in Africa, in a bid to tackle the root causes of mass migration, and to protect the EU's external borders.

Šarec and Anastasiadis agreed that the Brexit agreement with the UK was the best possible, but they expressed the concern that the UK may leave without a deal.

The pair also expressed concern about growing populism in Europe, agreeing that the developments made the elections to the European Parliament in May the more important.

They also touched on the situation in the Western Balkans with Slovenia's position being that the prospect of EU membership for the region was an important motive for peace and stability in this part of Europe.

Anastasiadis also met parliamentary Speaker Dejan Židan. Their meeting also revolved around the future of the EU and the upcoming elections. The pair also touched on the rise of right-wing populist movements in the bloc, the National Assembly said in a press release.

Over lunch, the speaker and the president also talked about the countries' healthcare systems and the importance of improving healthcare, and touched on the Middle East.

09 Jan 2019, 14:44 PM

STA, 9 January 2019 - After the Constitutional Court recently decreed a reform of the electoral law to re-establish the one-person-one-vote rule, the new chief justice Rajko Knez told the STA in an interview that introducing a preference vote in the general election would go in the right direction.

In its December ruling, the court declared the legislative provisions determining the size of electoral districts unconstitutional because their varying sizes meant that the votes of constituents who cast their ballots in smaller districts count more than those of constituents in larger districts.

Slovenia has ten electoral units, two of which are set aside for the Italian and Hungarian minorities to elect each their own MP. Each of the remaining eight units is divided into eleven districts to elect 88 MPs.

The court ordered the National Assembly to amend the legislation within two years. While it did not say how, the belief is the legislature may either change the sizes of the electoral districts or abolish them and introduce a preference vote at the level of the larger electoral units.

Speaking to the STA after assuming his three-year term as president of the Constitutional Court in December, Knez said it was not up to the court to say which solution would be the most suitable.

"However, introducing preference votes would go in the direction set out by the Constitutional Court because preference vote increases the individual's say on the outcome of the vote," he said, quoting a constitutional provision saying that voters should have a decisive say on which candidates get elected.

Chief Justice suggests reducing duties of the Constitutional Court to streamline its work

Knez would like for the Constitutional Court to be able to speed up processing of cases, which he says would be possible by reducing the scope of cases that the court has to admit. However, this would require amendments to the relevant law as well as to the Constitution.

"The Constitution, in Article 160, imposes a great number of responsibilities on the Constitutional Court, something that is perceived as peculiar by some of our colleagues abroad. It would be worth considering amending the article, or reinforce the court's staffing.

"One possible solution would be to limit constitutional appeals against court decisions to decisions of only certain courts, for example to those of the Supreme Court or those of the Administrative Court, as is the case in Austria."

However, Knez is somewhat reserved about the idea that Constitutional Court judges should be given the discretion to choose themselves which cases they would hear and which not.

Knez has already talked to Prime Minister Marjan Šarec about the need for changes and he says Šarec was open to suggestions, but no concrete steps have been taken yet. "I'd like for the government and parliament to hear us. Data on court case resolution time and the growing caseload call for action."

One of the things the court is deliberating on at the moment is whether to step up sanctions for the failure to implement the late-2014 ruling decreeing full state funding for private primary schools with publicly-approved curricula.

The National Assembly has already sent in its response, which means the case may be prepared for deliberation at a Constitutional Court's session, but Knez could not say when this will happen, because much depends on the rapporteur judge responsible for the case, but the matter is treated as an absolute priority.

The appearance of impartiality must be preserved

Knez, who has served as a judge on the Constitutional Court since April 2017, is not opposed to public appearances by judges, but advises restraint and preserving the image of impartiality, something that he believes judges stick to.

"We are as a rule careful where to appear and what to say, which is right," Knez says, so he does not see the need to place any additional restrictions on public appearances.

Asked to comment on an opinion aired by former Constitutional Court president Miroslav Mozetič about declining democracy and rule of law in the country, Knez said that he believed Slovenia to be a law-governed country.

"We can talk about whether there's more or less rule of law, but the fact is that mistakes also happen in older democracies," Knez said although this does not justify systemic mistakes.

Slovenia’s young legal system is a work in progress

In cases he has encountered so far Knez as a rule has not come across obvious or intentional abuse of the Constitution in decision-making, but there are "often mere nuances in understanding constitutional norms".

If there are violations, the reason may be legislation, legal voids. "We started building the Slovenian legal system only 28 years ago, which is a relatively short period of time. In 1997 we started adapting to the European system (...) Given the circumstances, it would be an illusion to expect nothing would go wrong."

Knez supports the introduction of a trial term for judges and conditionally also the transfer of appointments of judges from parliament to the Judicial Council, both of which are planned for this year, but he opposes limiting judges' terms once they are awarded a life-long tenure.

To prevent the judiciary shutting itself in when appointments are taken to the Judicial Council, Knez proposes fully professionalising the body and enhancing its independence by appointing relevant external members.

"Every system that within its frameworks functions as its own master may go awry in the long run, getting entangled in its own paradoxes and partial interests," the justice warns.

09 Jan 2019, 11:50 AM

STA, 8 January 2018 - The Celje Higher Court has upheld a court ruling under which Democrat (SDS) leader Janez Janša has to pay RTV Slovenija journalist Mojca Šetinc Pašek 6,000 euro in damages for an offensive tweet. The damages are now final and he will also have pay the costs of the appeal procedure.

In a civil lawsuit brought against Janša by Šetinc Pašek, the Velenje Local Court ordered Janša in November 2016 to pay her the 6,000 euro, setting a 15-day deadline.

In March of the same year, Janša posted a tweet labelling editor Šetinc Pašek and journalist Eugenija Carl "washed up prostitutes" who offered their "cheap services" to the public broadcaster.

This was after Carl run a report on the SDS, which Janša found "containing a bunch of despicable lies about SDS members".

The latest ruling comes after a tug-of-war in which Janša had claimed he had missed the deadline to respond to the lawsuit because it was not handed to him in the standard procedure.

He had also disagreed with the sum he should pay, arguing the tweet could not have caused such anguish to Šetinc Pašek to warrant such high damages.

The Higher Court has now upheld the original ruling and also established that the lawsuit had been handed to Janša in the right manner.

It also agreed the tweet was offensive and going considerably beyond the freedom of speech, with its only intent being "insulting the claimant in the general public".

A similar lawsuit had been brought against Janša by Carl, but in her case, the Celje Higher Court sided with Janša's appeal, ordering a retrial last November.

Both journalists had also filed criminal lawsuits against Janša over the tweet.

In November, the Celje District Court sentenced Janša to a three-month suspended prison sentence on one-year probation for defamation and ordered him to pay for the costs of the trial. Janša's lawyer Franci Matoz announced an appeal.

All our stories about Janez Janša are here

06 Jan 2019, 15:09 PM

January 6, 2019

2018 was marked with several centenaries, WWI in particular, as well as two elections and the emergence of a new political star, a comedian turned politician, Marjan Šarec, who made a name for himself as an impersonator of various politicians, including the current opposition leader Janez Janša.

PyeongChang Winter Olympics

The year began with a pre-Olympic scandal. Biathlete Jakov Fak stepped down as a candidate for flagbearer at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, because some were bothered by his Croatian origin. Fak then won a silver in the men's 20km individual biathlon competition and became the highest ranking Slovenian competitor at the Games. A second, bronze medal was won by Žan Košir in the parallel giant slalom.

Slovenian president Borut Pahor was also in PyeongChang. He cheered for Slovenian sportsmen and then visited the demilitarised zone between the two Koreas. He describes the situation at the border in the following words: “Sorry to say, but this is bizarre.”

Slovenian armed forces

Also in February, a NATO evaluation of the 72 brigade of the Slovenian army marked it as “combat not ready” in four out of five fields of scrutiny.  The Chief of General Staff of the Slovenian armed forces was thus replaced with Alan Geder, who remained in office until November, when he was replaced by the first female chief of a NATO army, Major General Alenka Ermenc.

Read more about the Slovenian military here.

Public sector on strike

The first two months of 2018 were also marked by several major strikes in the public sector, with staff demanding that the remaining austerity measures be removed.

A second wave of public sector strikes forced the Minister of Public Administration, Boris Koprivnikar, to resign. The Secretary General of the Government, Lilijana Kozćovič, then took over as the chief government negotiator.

By March 12th it seemed that negotiations were coming to an end, when just a few hours later the proposed agreement is abandoned and another strike is confirmed for March 14th. On this same day Prime Minister Miro Cerar resigns from his post, although for different reasons.

Second track of the Divača-Koper railway and resignation of PM Cerar

“Today was the last straw” said Miro Cerar, who resigned as Prime Minister after the Supreme Court declared the second track referendum invalid due to a biased government campaign.

Although the infrastructure project does not really need a new law to commence, certain other claims of the government in relation to this project raised eyebrows, including one that insists on Hungary investing €200 million in the project, a 1/5 of the cost, which would give the Hungarian party a 49% share in the project’s 2TDK company.

Campaign

With Cerar gone, Pahor decided not to look for another Prime Minister but to set an early election date instead. Regular parliamentary elections were expected for June 10, and it was initially suggested that early elections would take place in the second half of May.  

NSi (the former Christian Democrats) seize the opportunity for an eventual right-leaning coalition by replacing their party leader. Ljudmila Novak is thus replaced with Matej Tonin, hoping the latter will have more success in dealing with the SDS’ leader Janez Janša.

The SDS was believed to be financing its campaign using Hungarian money obtained via their media outlets such as Nova24TV and Demokracija. Janša was on the search for campaign resources himself, borrowing €450,000 from an alleged Bosnian businesswoman Dijana Đuđić, who is unable to show where the money came from. 

Why did Janša not borrow the money from a Slovenian bank? “NLB laundered a billion euros for terrorists, if this is a more credible institution, I don't know where we live”, Janša answered.

Investigations

Several parliamentary investigations came to an end in 2018. One of them was that into the bank liquidity gap under the leadership of SDS Anže Logar. The results revealed suspicious to businesses  in the Balkans and Russia, where the money seems to have disappeared without a trace. The commission indicted many of the bankers in charge at the time, who were unable to remember anything during interrogations.

Because the commission didn’t investigate money laundering in detail, another investigative commission was established, headed by Janko Moderndoerfer of the SMC party, which also investigates the problematic SDS loan. The commission found out that Iranian citizen Iraj Farrokhzadeh and his business with the NLB (Nova Ljubljanska Banka) was not a case of an individual doing business in Slovenia, but rather part of an Iranian state bank scheme to break through financial sanctions with the use of the Slovenian state-owned bank. The commission issued no indictment against those responsible at NLB, as their actions were “not criminal offences”. Unlike NLB, the investigation into NKBM (Nova Komunalna Banka Maribor) revealed strong suspicions of money laundering by Italian organised crime syndicates as well as Slovenian citizens, some of them even bank employees. One person indicted was Primož Britovšek, who joined the bank on the invitation of the board president Aleš Hauc as a deputy chief for money laundering and terrorism financing prevention although he proved to have no adequate knowledge for the post.

All our stories on money laundering are here.

The investigation into the vascular stents procurements in Slovenian hospitals also came to an end with seven indictments to the relevant authorities, revealing one of the fields of systemic corruption of the Slovenian health system.

President Pahor discovers his Barbie origins

Meanwhile the Slovenian president continued to entertain the public with his Instagram posts. His first notable post of the year, in which he complains about his wrinkles is followed by another in which he discovers why he was destined to become Barbie.

Elections and the new minority coalition

Meanwhile, the election campaigns formed around the migration crisis, problems on the border with Croatia, selling NLB, public sector strikes, corrupt bankers and a disintegrating health system.

The polls showed a high possibility of an SDS victory, although in the debates nobody seemed to be willing to join a coalition with the SDS leader Janez Janša, who eventually takes 24.96% of all the votes, far ahead of the runner up Marjan Šarec’ List 12.66%. President Borut Pahor does his job and first proposes Janša as the Prime Minister and coalition leader. Janša fails to gather the support of 46 votes in the 90-seat strong parliament to make the government operationally possible and steps back into the opposition, while Marjan Šarec forms a left-leaning minority government with a support of Levica (aka the Left), who decide to remain in the opposition. The coalition agreement includes raising the minimum wage and pensions, as well as lower taxation of labour, supplemented by higher capital gains tax.

All our stories on the elections are here.

Disputes with Croatia: NLB and maritime border arbitration decision

In 2013 the then leader of the Slovenia, Alenka Bratušek, claimed to have saved the government from bankruptcy by promising to privatise NLB in return for state recapitalisation of the bank, which in the years 2011, 2012 and 2013 amounted to €2.2 billion, in addition to €2.3 billion of the bank’s bad debts that were transferred to The Banks Assets Management Company (BAMC), or the so-called “Bad Bank”. 

In 2018 NLB (Nova Ljubljanska Banka, since 1994) lost two cases with regard to the Croatian savers in LB (Ljubljanska Banka, until 1994), an issue Slovenia wants to put in the context of other remaining issues that originate from the dissolution of Yugoslavia. However, the bank might now need to pay about €400 million to the Croatian savers, which is why before the elections the SDS tried to pass a constitutional law that would presumably protect the bank from having to make such payments.  

A Croatian company from Umag extended its shellfish farm in the Bay of Piran, which Croatia continues to treat as part of its territory, while for Slovenia the arbitration decision on the disputed territories – which grants Slovenia most of the Bay – entered into force on January 2018. Slovenia wrote a protest letter to the European Commission, but no one seemed to take it seriously. Slovenia hence decided to file a lawsuit against Croatia for not following the arbitration agreement.

More problems in the health department

In February Aleš Šabeder took up leadership of the chaotic University Medical Centre in Ljubljana. Soon he faced mounting problems at the paediatric heart surgery department, where due to in-fighting there is a continual loss of surgeons. By the end of 2018 the health minister Milojka Kolar Celarc found an ad hoc solution by establishing a National Institute for Congenital Heart Disease, which would allow hiring foreign doctors on much higher pay than domestic ones, a move which now appears to be causing more problems than it solves.

All our stories on Slovenian healthcare are here.

September 13: New government’s constitutional session

The first surprises came with the first session of the new government. Ministers confirmed new state secretaries, among them Damir Črnčec, who became National Security Secretary in the Prime Minister’s cabinet. A former close colleague of Janez Janša, Črnčec is also known for his anti-immigration tweets, which compare refugees to cancer and call for their deportation. Šarec tries to calm the upset voices on the left by guarantees that if Črnčec continues to express such views he will have to go.

Among the tasks Damir Črnčec and Interior Minister Boštjan Poklukar face are not only the challenges of migration, but also the case of a paramilitary group, the so-called Styrian Guard, formed by self-proclaimed Duke of Styria Andrej Šiško during the summer.

Work then begins, as Šarec first travels to Brussels, then to Berlin, and then meets with the head of NATO.

Minimum wage

The Left began pushing for a two-stage rise in the minimum wage, something that was part of the coalition agreement. Accordingly, the minimum wage would be raised from the existing €638 net to €667 in 2019 and to €700 in 2020.

Business representatives were unhappy with this, as well as with the proposed rise in corporate income tax, currently at a nominal 17% one of the lowest in Europe. Ivo Boscarol, the CEO of Pipistrel, a successful light-aircraft company that in earlier years was a regular recipient of state subsidies, denounced the proposal and threatened to move his company to Italy. Pipistrel, despite the less favourable tax environment across the border, in fact built a factory in Italy in 2012 so that its aircraft could be licenced for export to the United States.

Another successful businessman, Igor Akrapovič, joined the threats to take his business out of Slovenia and the positions of both men were supported by Sonja Šmuc, the executive director of the Slovenian Chamber of Commerce.

When Levica finally prepares a bill for a rise in the minimal wage in November, Ms Šmuc explained to the national broadcaster that the raise “wouldn’t make anyone satisfied but instead make a lot of dissatisfied people: someone who now receives €700 will then be seen as if they are on a minimum wage, and therefore we are creating a country of the wealthy poor.” She later claims that her statement was taken out of a context.

Medical achievements

While the new government faced a plethora of problems with a corrupt and dysfunctional health system, this did not seem to have affected the level of medical expertise. Dedicated teams of doctors and nurses at the University Medical Centre Ljubljana successfully carry out the first transplantation of both lungs in September, effectively establishing the lung transplantation programme in the Centre.

One month later there was another breakthrough in the field of plastic reconstructive surgery.  A patient who lost her entire nose to cancer was provided with a new one, constructed from the patient’s own tissue, which grew on her arm for about a month before being successfully transplanted to her face.

NLB finally sold – cheaply

On November 14 NLB shares were finally listed on the London and Ljubljana Stock Exchanges. Alenka Bratušek thus fulfilled her promise to Brussels, but was unlikely to be satisfied with the price. The State sold its 59% share for a mere €608.6 million, much less than Slovenian taxpayers had invested in it.

All our stories on privatisation in Slovenia are here.

First minister of the new government falls

The beginning of November saw a second round of election campaigns, as new mayors and city councils were to be chosen on November 18, when foreign residents also had a right to vote.

On November 13, the new Minister of Cohesion and former mayor of Komen Marko Bandelli was forced to step down after sending an inappropriate message to the new mayoral candidate:: “I’ve been informed that you are running for mayor’s office. (…) If your campaign is all about fighting the neighbours, then you should know that no support will come from me. And you know yourself the importance of un-support from the two important departments such as cohesion, EU regional development funds and above all infrastructure.”

It is not the first time Bandelli doesn’t  seem to understand the gravity of the matter. He had previously used the emergency blue lights on his official vehicle for no reason other than he was late, telling the media that he had the right to do so. This time he admitted his mistake, adding that he could redeem himself by doing a good job. Prime Minister Šarec had other reasons for wanting him gone, however, as Bandelli also failed to prepare a presentation for the Finance Minister on the situation with regard to drawing on EU funds. When the 5th of November deadline for this task had passed, Bandelli then asked to be given more time.

Pensions

The party leader Alenka Bratušek was surprisingly protective of Bandelli, although he still lost his job. She stated that she expects equal treatment by Prime Minister Šarec for all government officials, and at the same time seized the “opportunity” to strike back. She reminded Šarec to respect the coalition agreement and government commitment to raise pensions, or else...

Marjan Šarec’ comment on the demand by SAB (Stranka Alenke Bratušek) is that “to claim that only one coalition party cares for the pensioners is quite pretentious.” Was he worried that SAB was about to leave the governing coalition? “They didn’t show much of intention to leave.”

SAB stops pushing on this issue and proposes Iztok Purič as the new cohesion minister.

All our stories about pensions in Slovenia are here.

SDS against the Global Compact for Migration

In the second half of November the SDS began its campaign against the UN pact on migration that would be signed at the UN conference on December 10-11 in Marrakech. The SDS claims that the agreement does not differentiate between legal and illegal migrations and demands an advisory referendum on whether or not Slovenia should join the agreement.

The temperature went up at an irregular parliamentary session on the matter, where we could hear everything from curses to orders to take a member out of the parliament.

All our stories on migration in Slovenia are here.

Local elections 2018

At the local elections on November 18, citizens elected new mayors and local councillors. Ljubljana re-elected Zoran Jankovič, while another well-known mayor, Franc Kangler, lost his seat in Maribor to a challenger, Aleksander Saša Arsenovič.

In Koper the incumbent Boris Popovič lost to Aleš Bržan, with a mere seven vote difference. Popovič filed a series of complaints and when a mistake was discovered at one of the polling stations the difference went from seven to seventeen and Bržan became the new Mayor of Koper.

The end of strikes

At the beginning of December and after two months of negotiating the government and unions sign an agreement which will raise almost all salaries in the public sector. 

Impeachment proposal against Prime Minister Šarec

On December 21 Janša's SDS and Jelinčič' SNS filed an impeachment proposal against Prime Minister Šarec due to his government's failure to secure full financing of private schools. The impeachment was not supported by the opposition NSi, and Šarec responded that while this particular attempt to remove him from office was not to be taken very seriously, it should serve as a reminder that there is an opposition in Slovenia and that it’s not going to sit around idly.  

In 2018 Marjan Šarec also became a regular character impersonated on the Radio Ga-Ga  show, where he began his career as one of the show’s performers.

04 Jan 2019, 17:56 PM

Mladina: Protests in France are a sign of widespread economic insecurity

STA, 4 January 2019 - Commenting on the anti-government protests in France, the left-wing weekly Mladina says in its latest editorial that French society has finally realised what its main problems are.

Looking at the poverty statistics for Slovenia and Europe, editor-in-chief Grega Repovž says that a high poverty rate is the reason for the French protests.

In Slovenia, 268,000 people lived below the poverty line in 2017 but as many as 345,000 were at risk of social exclusion, meaning one in six citizens. And Slovenia is among the countries faring rather well in Europe, he notes.

Until late autumn or early winter 2018, European and Slovenian politicians had been ignoring these people. They never perceived them as a political force.

"But there is hope that the protests in France will bring change. Because what we have seen on the streets in France have been protests that started among the poor and their message and frustration was quickly heard and understood by everyone but the French elite - at least for a while."

Most French citizens were able to identify with their feeling of despair that they will not be able to catch up and improve their lives. "Why? Because this is also how the middle class, which has been regressing for decades, feels."

The last crisis has left everyone feeling that no job is safe anymore and that the future is not bright, Repovž says. Save for a few exceptions, this is a source of constant and immense stress for Europeans.

Almost all European societies have become pressure cooker societies. France is important in this respect because it is almost always the first one to explode.

According to Repovž, the social stratification between those with no future and those choosing among the latest models of electric vehicles coming with state subsidies is a source of discontent, which extremist policies feed on.

But the French protesters have shown that most of the society has seen through smokescreens and realised what its actual problems are. People realised that they are not in a difficult situation because of immigration or a neighbour who receives social transfers but because of those who are in power.

"What a twist. And what a warning," Repovž says under the headline 345 Thousand People.

Demokracija: New York Times is wrong to attack Trump on Syria withdrawal

STA, 3 January 2019 - The right-wing weekly Demokracija takes issue with The New York Times' comments on the US's involvement in the Syria war. In January 2018, the "lighthouse of global journalism" attacked President Donald Trump for keeping US soldiers there and only a year later it criticised him just as strongly for announcing a withdrawal from Syria.

"The situation was tragicomic. [Defence Secretary] Jim Mattis, who was the most hated person in the White House after Trump, became a hero of the left overnight. He was described as the 'last adult' in Donald Trump's administration," says editor-in-chief Jože Biščak.

Any reasonable man must have trouble understanding such a U-turn in the editorial policy of the paper boasting as many as 125 Pulitzer prizes, Biščak says.

"Trump is undoubtedly a unique president, even controversial at times. It is still too early to say how he will be judged by history. The mainstream media have already passed judgement and labelled him the worst president in history.

"But Trump has an effect on these journalists like no president before him. They are changing views and opinions, giving up their editorial policies exclusively based on what Trump says or does. No, he simply cannot do anything good."

The media have completely ignored the fact that Trump is a businessman and as such he knows that wars do not bring prosperity, new factories do.

The media attacked Trump in October for withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia but the criticism quickly died down after some Pulitzer laureates actually read the deal and found out it only concerned land missiles and not the sea-based, air-dropped and space nuclear weapons, Biščak says.

And that the US is far ahead of Russia in nuclear systems for launching missiles from the sea and land.

Similarly, the withdrawal from Syria means that 2,000 soldiers of US land forces will return home but the US will still have troops in the 6th fleet in the Mediterranean and in the 5th fleet in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea.

Secondly, the move is in line with Trump's plan to end the oil conflicts in the Middle East. The US no longer needs Arab oil. Thanks to innovation by US energy engineers, focussing for example on shale oil, the US has become a leading superpower in oil and natural gas production.

"This has not only caused a drastic fall in oil prices in the US, it had also led to a new political strategy in the Middle East, as Trump is taking Islam's strong weapon (oil), which it had been using against the Western civilisation for more than a hundred years."

These are the things that the global mainstream media (including in Slovenia) refuse to see and accept. And it is what destroyed its reputation permanently, Biščak says under the headline The Time It Takes for Earth to Circle Around Sun.

"The media turned out to be much more ferocious than Trump, who actually cares most for peace and his citizens."

All our articles in this series can be found here

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