14 Jun 2019, 12:08 PM

STA, 13 June 2019 - The government adopted on Thursday a decree updating Slovenia's list of safe countries from 2016. The list has three new names, while Turkey has been removed from it. This means that Slovenia will no longer return migrants or extradite suspects to Turkey.

The new list contains 14 countries: Albania, Algeria, Bangladesh, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Egypt, Kosovo, Montenegro, Morocco, North Macedonia, Serbia, Tunisia, and newcomers Georgia, Nepal and Senegal.

A third country, meaning a non-EU member, is considered safe if it can be assumed, based on several factors, that in general it does not see persecution, torture, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment, and that people there are not in danger due to an international or internal conflict.

There was a push last year to remove Turkey from the list after Slovenia rejected the asylum applications 38 Turks even though they had fled Turkey for fear of persecution, but the motion was rejected at committee by the previous parliament.

The move comes about a month and a half after Swedish news portal Nordic Monitor reported that the Turkish Embassy in Ljubljana spied on critics of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan living in the country, likely believed to be the followers of Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen, who the Turkish authorities believe was behind the failed 2016 coup d'etat.

14 Jun 2019, 10:58 AM

STA, 13 June 2019 - The deputy chair of the Commission for the Oversight of Intelligence and Security Services Žan Mahnič has accused Defence Minister Karl Erjavec of having fabricated the reasons for the April dismissal of Miha Škerbinc as the force commander of the Slovenian Armed Forces.

Mahnič said the testimony given today for the parliamentary commission by Škerbinc had shown that Škerbinc had not spoken ill of the health of Maj-Gen Alenka Ermenc, the chief of the general staff, as well as that Škerbinc had not been responsible for late-night shooting at the Poček training grounds.

According to the MP for the opposition Democrats (SDS), Škerbinc attributed the reports about his comments on Ermenc to "informal informants" within the army who also spread false rumours.

One such rumour led to media reports that Ermenc would be replaced, which is something Škerbinc said he strongly opposed although he might have been misunderstood in the process, Mahnič told the press.

While Minister Erjavec is facing an ouster motion for allegedly abusing the Defence Ministry's Intelligence and Security Service (OVS) to gather information on Škerbinc, Mahnič said Škerbinc said today nobody from OVS had actually asked him, in what had been unusual sets of questions, whether he had in fact spoken inappropriately of Ermenc's health.

As for the Poček night shooting drills that upset the local community, Mahnič said Škerbinc had provided documents showing the shooting had been conducted in line with the guidelines provided by the government and Defence Ministry.

According to Mahnič, the documents show Erjavec had lied about Škerbinc's responsibility and about the shooting not being planned.

The commission decided today it would also interview Ermenc, the OVS members involved in the Škerbinc inquiries as well as OVS director Dejan Matijevič, Mahnič announced.

Erjavec has been rejecting claims that the night shooting had been in line with government-approved plans, saying the army had failed to make adjustments after a plan of exercises approved by the government in January.

The minister also dismissed Škerbinc's referencing of the documents put forward today - these in fact make up a report by Ermenc on the developments - arguing they do not go into the details of the training conducted and of all the documents issued in relation to it.

Ermenc's report, which has also been obtained by the media, however states that all agreements and guidelines adopted in relation to training at Poček had been honoured by the army.

14 Jun 2019, 08:51 AM

STA, 13 June 2019 - Slovenian President Borut Pahor and his Austrian host Alexander Van der Bellen called for an upgrade of bilateral relations as they met in Vienna on Thursday. While acknowledging some differences in views, Pahor said those could be resolved in dialogue.

The presidents broached a variety of issues, including the status of the Slovenian minority in Austria and the position of the German-speaking community in Slovenia, which wants to be recognised as a minority.

Van der Bellen said the two countries were partners and friends whose relations were underpinned by "human, economic and political ties".

He said the situation of the Slovenian minority there had changed for the better, while there were also positive signals regarding Slovenia's support for the preservation of the German-speaking community in Slovenia.

Pahor stressed that the communities had different constitutional statuses, but he is in favour of Slovenia doing everything it can so that the community can preserve its identity. "This makes us richer," he stressed.

Both presidents expressed support for the idea of a Slovenian-Austrian event marking the 100th anniversary of the referendum under which voters in a large part of Carinthia opted for Austria instead of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians.

Pahor said the anniversary was an opportunity for a manifestation that would unite both nations and countries. "It is a great opportunity to set things that appeared a historical problem into the context of the future, where they can become solutions."

The pair also discussed Austrian police checks on the border with Slovenia, which Pahor said were unjustified, and construction of a new unit at the Krško nuclear power station, which Pahor indicated would likely be subject to a referendum in Slovenia.

Ven der Bellen said nuclear energy, which Austria has given up long ago, was one of the open issues, a reference to Austria's long-standing opposition to nuclear energy, both existing and new projects, in its neighbourhood.

Pahor said that his official visit was a part of Slovenia's efforts to have excellent relations with all neighbouring countries, noting that Slovenia was trying to resolve problems in dialogue. He expressed pleasure at Slovenia and Austria declaring 2020 as the year of neighbourly dialogue.

Broaching EU topics, in particular EU enlargement to the Balkans, Van der Bellen said that progress with regard to the accession of North Macedonia and Albania was needed in order for the EU to remain credible.

Pahor said the EU's absorption capacity was not questionable since these countries have small populations. He believes the EU Commission must treat Western Balkans as a whole.

The Slovenian president also held talks with Brigitte Bierlein, the new Austrian chancellor, with the pair describing bilateral relations as excellent and expressing the wish for deeper ties in science and culture, according to Pahor's office.

Pahor and Bierlein also expressed the hope that cooperation in 2020, which they declared as the year of neighbourly dialogue, would "nurture and affirm the already good neighbourly relations", with Pahor expressing the conviction that all issues, no matter how complex, can be resolved in dialogue.

The meeting with Speaker Wolfgang Sobotka revolved around international issues, the future of the EU and multilateralism.

All our stories about Austria are here

13 Jun 2019, 15:55 PM

STA, 12 June 2019 - Infrastructure Minister Alenka Bratušek met Chinese Transport Minister Li Xiaopeng on the final day of her visit to China to talk about Slovenia's geostrategic advantages in light of China's plans to upgrade links to Europe.

According to a press release from the Infrastructure Ministry, Bratušek also met the management of Cosco, one of the world's biggest shipping companies which has stakes in several European ports, including a 100% stake in the container terminal of the Piraeus port in Greece.

Cosco, which is a state-owned company, is also a major partner for Slovenia's sole maritime port, Koper.

Bratušek put in her word for boosting that cooperation, and presented plans to build a second track connecting the port inland.

The CEO of the port operator Luka Koper, Dimitrij Zadel, who accompanied the minister, presented the company's development potential and investment plans.

The minister tweeted that the construction of the second track between Koper and Divača, and investment in extension of port piers would increase the joint potential of the port and Slovenia, "so stable partners are important for our companies".

Bratušek also visited the Slovenian Embassy in Beijing and met Transport Minister Li. They discussed the advantages of Slovenia's geostrategic position in Central and Eastern Europe.

China has been dedicating considerable attention to transport infrastructure within the 17+1 initiative for cooperation with the countries of Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe and the Belt and Road initiative, or the new Silk Road to boost transport links with Europe.

Li thanked Bratušek for Slovenia's active participation in both initiatives, noting the country's geostrategic location. He called for enhancing cooperation between the two countries. Bratušek invited her counterpart to visit Slovenia.

Earlier this week, Bratušek visited the China - CEEC Investment and Trade Expo fair in Ningbo, meeting Chinese Vice-Prime Minister Hu Chunhua at the forum of representatives of the participating countries. She also met former long-serving Transport Minister Jang Huantang.

Apart from Luka Koper, several other Slovenian companies were showcased at the Ningbo fair, including the Slovenian railways operator Slovenske Železnice, postal company Pošta Slovenije, logistic companies Intereuropa, Adria Kombi and d OmniOpti.

13 Jun 2019, 10:00 AM

STA, 12 June 2019 - President Borut Pahor will start an official visit to Austria on Thursday for talks with his Austrian counterpart Alexander Van der Bellen and other top officials. The visit is designed to maintain successful political dialogue at the presidential level and review bilateral cooperation between the countries so far.

Pahor will also meet Chancellor Brigitte Bierlein and parliamentary Speaker Wolfgang Sobotka.

According to the Austrian Press Agency (APA), the talks between Pahor and Van der Bellen will focus on the future of the EU following the May EU elections, the EU enlargement process and climate change.

Pahor will be the first foreign head of state to visit Austria after the Ibiza scandal that swept away the government of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. Bierlein was appointed chancellor to lead an interim government until the snap election scheduled for September.

On Wednesday evening, Pahor will attend a ceremony hosted by the Slovenian Embassy in Austria to mark the upcoming Statehood Day.

Relations between Slovenia and Austria are considered excellent, with the two countries maintaining a regular and versatile political dialogue and successful economic cooperation.

The talks are also expected to touch on the protection of the Slovenian minority in Carinthia on the basis of the 1955 Austrian State Treaty.

The notification of the treaty has been an issue, as Austria has been against any of the new countries, including Slovenia, notifying its succession to the treaty, one of whose original signatories was Yugoslavia.

Although it has not formally notified its succession, despite occasional initiatives to do so, Slovenia considers itself a successor.

Meanwhile, Austria has repeatedly raised the issue of the German-speaking community in Slovenia, urging the Slovenian authorities to grant it the minority status.

Slovenia is also not pleased with Austria extending border checks on its border with Slovenia, which were reintroduced at the peak of the migration crisis in 2015. Slovenia deems the measure unnecessary.

Van der Bellen paid his first official visit to Slovenia as president in May 2017, while Pahor met him for the first time at the beginning of the same year during his working visit to Vienna when Van der Bellen was yet to take over as president.

In early May, Foreign Minister Miro Cerar paid an informal visit to the Tyrol state to meet his Austrian counterpart Karin Kneissl. The ministers signed a joint statement on a multinational bid to have the Lipizzan horse breeding listed as UNESCO intangible heritage.

In terms of economic partnership, Austria is Slovenia's third biggest partner and its leading investor. Austrian tourists rank second in terms of the number of arrivals and nights spent in Slovenia.

Austria is also the most important market for Slovenia's sole port Koper, which in turn is the most significant port for Austria.

Merchandise trade between the countries amounted to EUR 5.5 billion last year, according to official statistics, with EUR 2.3 billion in exports and EUR 3.2 billion in imports. In the first three months of 2019, trade reached almost EUR 1.4 billion - more than EUR 549 million of which was exports and over EUR 849 million imports.

12 Jun 2019, 16:10 PM

STA, 12 June - The EU Court of Justice has scheduled an oral hearing for 8 July in a case that Slovenia has brought against Croatia due to its failure to implement the award of the border arbitration tribunal, according to the schedule released by the court on Wednesday.

Slovenia has accused Croatia of breaching several provisions of EU treaties and regulations with its refusal to implement the final award of an arbitration tribunal the two countries appointed to resolve their long-standing border dispute.

In general, Slovenia asserts Croatia is failing to respect the rule of law, which is a fundamental value of the EU, and unilaterally refuses to fulfil its obligations under the arbitration award, which is in breach of its duty of sincere cooperation as enshrined in the EU Treaty.

Slovenia has also made more specific charges relating to breach of common fisheries policy, violation of the rules governing the free movement of persons, and violations preventing Slovenia from conducting maritime spatial planning.

The arguments will be heard by the court's Grand Chamber, which comprises 15 judges and is called up either at the request of a party or to deliberate on matters that are highly important or complex.

In this part of the procedure, the court will first determine whether the application is admissible; Slovenia claims Croatia's violations directly infringe on EU law, while Croatia has told the court this is a matter of international rather than EU law.

The Foreign Ministry told the STA the Slovenian side would "reiterate its position that the final award of the arbitration tribunal on the border is valid and binding".

"By rejecting the border as determined with the [arbitration] award, Croatia is preventing Slovenia from exercising EU law in certain parts of Slovenian territory. This is why Slovenia is suing Croatia at the EU Court," the ministry said.

Moreover, Foreign Minister Miro Cerar, told Radio Slovenia today that Slovenia was well prepared for the 8 July hearing.

He stressed that the arbitration award would remain binding no matter what the Luxembourg court decides and would have to be implemented.

Having the EU Court of Justice confirm this will be yet another argument for the implementation of award, Cerar told reporters in Trieste on the sidelines of a ministerial meeting of the Central European Initiative (CEI).

"I hope that Croatia will start with the implementation before the end of the proceeding in Luxembourg," he said.

Croatia insists that the court is not competent to rule in the case. "Our position has been clear from the start: we don't see how the court is competent in this dispute," Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković told reporters at an European People's Party (EPP) meeting in Spain.

He also reiterated Croatia's long-held position that all disputes should be resolved bilaterally. The outstanding bilateral issues are "issues left over from the break-up of Yugoslavia. These are issues that can be resolved in agreement," he said.

If the court rules that Slovenia's application is admissible, it will delve into the substance of its claims. It may also decide to merge the admissibility decision with the substantive ruling.

The court's rules of procedure provide for several steps that both sides may follow and while it is difficult to forecast how long the procedure may take, it is unlikely to be completed this year.

All our stories on this border dispute can be found here

11 Jun 2019, 13:48 PM

STA, 10 June 2019 - Coalition partners and ministers agreed at Monday's summit that healthcare and the pension system would be the priorities of Slovenia's budgets in 2020 and 2021. Each will get EUR 200-300 million more annually.

Nevertheless, Finance Minister Andrej Bertoncelj said as he spoke to the press after the Brdo pri Kranju meeting the budgets would still be in surplus.

The coalition and government partners met to agree further steps in planning the budgets for the coming two years.

The government is due to send the draft budgets to parliament by 1 October based on a budgeting decree which was passed in April.

The decree caps expenses for 2020 at EUR 10.45 billion, whereas for 2021, they can be a bit higher, at EUR 10.50 million.

Bertoncelj said he had presented the planned revenue and the spending ceilings for the state budget, the health and pension purses as well as for local government.

He expects the government to meet for its first session dedicated to the budget on 4 July, by when the ceilings for individual budget users should be ready.

Although he does not expect everyone to be happy with the distribution of funds, Bertoncelj intends to insist on the ceilings set in April, since this would keep the budgets within the fiscal rule.

The coalition also agreed to have the budget surplus at around 1% of the country's GDP, while Bertoncelj would also like to cut pubic debt to 65% and 61% of GDP, respectively, with a view to have a structurally balanced budget by 2022.

"The budgets for the next two years will have to be within this framework, and we committed to it today," he stressed.

The budgets will be drafted on the basis of the government's macroeconomic forecaster IMAD's outlook, which puts Slovenia's growth for 2020 at 3.1% and at 2.8% for 2021.

Bertoncelj pointed out Slovenia's GDP growth was now double the eurozone average, and its public debt was being reduced the fastest among all eurozone members.

Health Minister Aleš Šabeder, on the other hand, presented the situation in healthcare, noting the priorities were a long-term care bill, improving the management of medical organisations and reducing waiting times.

Happy the healthcare system can count on an additional EUR 400-600 million in 2020-2021, he said the funds would have to be spent in line with the priorities.

"All resources on the market will probably have to be identified and a decision made on how to involve them in cutting the long waiting times," said Šabeder.

Prime Minister Marjan Šarec agreed, but was quick to add this should not be a cover for "permanent privatisation" of the healthcare system.

Šabeder stressed the long waiting times would first be tackled where they were the severest, announcing the first pilot project for orthopaedics.

He, however, admitted his ministry was just starting to tackle the issue, stressing waiting time records would first have to be sorted out.

Šabeder believes more funds would have to be provided to finance not just individual doctors but entire teams of doctors and nurses to cut the waiting periods.

He said the bill on long-term care could be adopted by the end of the year, but noted it was too early to discuss funding, as several scenarios were still being studied.

The coalition partners were generally happy with the summit, with Defence Minister Karl Erjavec, the leader of the Pensioners' Party, saying the budgets should make it possible to meet the country's commitments to NATO and to raise pensions.

Šarec, on the other hand, said names of Slovenia's possible candidate for the European commissioner had not been discussed.

08 Jun 2019, 12:00 PM

The covers and editorials from leading weeklies of the Left and Right for the work-week ending Friday, 07 June 2019

Mladina: Slovenia taking the wrong approach in selection a candidate for EU commissioner

STA, 7 June 2019 - The left-wing weekly Mladina says on Friday that instead of considering how to affect the future of EU politics by selecting a suitable European commissioner candidate, Slovenia is simply discussing who will be its next commissioner and will probably continue underestimating the influence of the post.

The editorial points out that in 2014, the then government made a fool of itself when it nominated Prime Minister Alenka Bratušek to damage her political status and get rid of her by exposing her lack of English language skills and professional knowledge.

The ridicule attempt backfired, with the whole country and not just Bratušek being laughed at by the EU, editor-in-chief Grega Repovž says under the headline “Commissioner”.

Slovenia's political influence was weakened and the second attempt did not amend the situation. The decision to nominate a political newbie Violeta Bulc, who was regarded as the then Prime Minister Cerar's confidant, was similarly absurd.

She tried to navigate the EU waters, but lacked basic Brussels-speak skills of the art of subtext. "During her term, Slovenia recorded a great deal of political losses, from the Commission's attitude toward the arbitration dispute to its never-ending demands for the privatisation of state assets, including the NLB bank, Adria Airways, Fotona.

"All those cases show the actions and decisions of the Commission, which will significantly affect the development and the strength of this country in the long term," says the editorial.

Those incidents have also branded Slovenia as another "nation of some kind of characters", Easterners, which does not grasp the significance of the commissioner post. "A commissioner is a powerful politician, diplomat, who runs a certain sector but also acts in their country's interest at the Commission level in a smart and skilful way."

This unspoken aspect is key to the nomination procedures of the other EU countries. The candidates' professional skills certainly raise their political status, but their international experience and diplomatic skills are even more essential, Mladina points out.

"It's high time Slovenia left the club of countries which don't understand the dimensions of this post. Unfortunately, things are not looking good," concludes the editorial, adding that there is a shortage of suitable candidates.

Reporter: What the EU vote could mean for the Slovenia’s next general election

STA, 3 June 2019 - The right-wing magazine Reporter offers an analysis of the EU election results in the latest editorial, finding that the right bloc is no closer to power than it was a year ago and that the conservatives would have to "cut the Gordian knot" unless they want the left to continue in power.

Under the headline Game of Thrones on the Right editor-in-chief Silvester Šurla finds that the EU vote has not significantly changed the balance of power between the left and right, and that the electorate is sill tipped slightly to the left, although a bit less than in the 2018 general election.

He notes that the Democratic Party (SDS), which won the election convincingly on a joint ticket with the People's Party (SLS), mustered roughly as much of the vote as it did five years ago when it ran on its own.

It was mainly the SLS which benefited from the joint ticket, because Franc Bogovič would not have been re-elected MEP if the party stood on its own, while the joint ticket in a way also benefited the SDS, because otherwise its victory would have been less convincing, writes Šurla.

"The SDS is now trying to convince the public that the joint ticket was an investment in the next general election so that it would be easier, if the SLS returned to parliament, to form a right government.

"However, the speculation that this would be made possible by Marjan Podobnik, risen from the dead after twenty years of political abstinence, is, given his political baggage from the 1990s, a bit far fetched."

Šurla goes on to say that the concept of Spring parties is rather passe in 2019; after the failure of the pro-life GOD party last year, this year it was Bernard Brščič's Homeland League (DOM) which flopped, partly due to SDS leader Janez Janša, which Brščič will not easily forget.

"The state of latent tension" also continues between the SDS and New Slovenia (NSi). For the right losing one MEP term Janša blamed NSi leader Matej Tonin, who rejected the accusation as 'fake news', arguing that a joint NSi/SLS ticked would get two MEPs, as much as the SDS independently, so the right would have ended up with the same tally of seats.

Speculating about the next general election in spring 2022, Šurla is doubtful that the Spring parties formula would work this time, when it did not the last, although he expects Janša to give it one more try with the NSi, SLS and possibly DOM.

Šurla notes that the combination lacks a centrist party like the Virant List which helped Janša form his second government in 2012, or a party that would appeal to the half of the electorate who do not turn out.

"The SDS as it is can obviously not address these voters either. In the finale of each election campaign it is only capable of scrapping as much right voters as possible, but the pool of those is limited," writes Šurla.

Considering the left bloc is ruling out forming a coalition with Janša, he can come to power only if a coalition of akin right parties win a majority in parliament.

"This is not impossible but very hard, considering the structure of the Slovenian electorate, to whom the left adapts better by means of new faces. But the Gordian knot on the right will have to be cut at one point or else they will continue to turn in vicious circles, while the left will rule."

All our posts in this series can be found here, while you can keep up-to-date on Slovenia politics here, and find the daily headlines here

08 Jun 2019, 08:31 AM

STA, 7 June 2019 - Slovenia has condemned a map published on an official Twitter profile of the Hungarian government that appears to suggest Slovenia and other countries had appropriated Hungarian lands in the aftermath of the 1920 Treaty of Trianon.

The map "does not contribute to the strengthening of the EU values of cooperation and good-neighbourly relations. The EU has emerged to overcome the burdens of the past and hostility among nations," the Slovenian Foreign Ministry said on Twitter.

The reaction comes in response to a Tweet from @abouthungary, a Twitter profile managed by the International Communications Office of the Cabinet Office of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

The tweet shows a map of Hungary in 1920 and several hands reaching in to grab territory with the caption "2/3 of the country was taken away".

The tweet was released to mark Hungarian Day of National Unity, commemorating the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Trianon, when the Kingdom of Hungary lost 72% of its territory.

Romania, Czechoslovakia, and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians made big territorial gains at the time, with Slovenia for example getting Prekmurje.

The Hungarian map as well as the Italia irredenta map posted by a Trieste councillor on Facebook a few days ago also drew response from President Borut Pahor, who called for redoubling efforts for respect between nations.

italian dalmatia map.jpg

Related: Slovenia Protests After Trieste Councillor Posts Map of Italy Claiming Parts of Slovenia, Croatia

"It is understandable and right that the publication of maps that could be understood as an expression of territorial claims is met with concern and rejection by the democratic public and politics," Pahor was quoted as saying by his office.

"It is due to such attempts that we must make the greater effort to establish best practice of respect and cooperation, both within national frameworks and between them," said Pahor.

"A president I will endeavour for mutual respect, cooperation and understanding to prevail in particular in relations between neighbouring nations and countries, for the benefit of peace and prosperity," he said.

The maps were also criticised by Prime Minister Marjan Šarec, who said on Twitter it was "neither European nor peaceful. It is a knife in the heart of Slovenia."

Šarec also made broader reference to recent revisionist comments by outgoing EU Parliament Antonio Tajani and a motion by a far-right Italian MP to take census of ethnic Slovenians in Italy.

"The question of Hungarian and Italian maps and proposal to census Slovenians is a question for the portion of Slovenian politics that rushed to accept Tajani's 'apology'," he added.

The Hungarian move also drew condemnation from political parties, in particular on the left.

The Social Democrats (SD) and the Left, which said Slovenia had to issue a strong response, described Hungary's move as signalling "territorial designs".

The NSi demanded that the government issue a protest note against what are no longer just provocations but, in the words of MP Jernej Vatovec, "a plan, perhaps even intimidation".

The Democrats (SDS), which have close links to the Hungarian prime minister and his party, said they would not comment on the issue.

All our stories about Hungary are here

07 Jun 2019, 15:18 PM

STA, 6 June 2019 - The government has confirmed a controversial legislative motion under which private primary schools are to get full state funding to teach publicly approved curricula, but what constitutes curricula has been effectively narrowed to the extent that private schools are calling it a betrayal of constitutional commitments.

The amendments to the act on the financing of education implements a 2014 Constitutional Court ruling mandating full rather than 85% state financing of publicly approved curricula at private primaries.

But 100% financing refers only to a narrowly defined mandatory programme, with services such as pre-school or after-school classes, which are otherwise a normal part of daily life at school, not financed at all. Similarly, any curricular content considered as above-standard will be exempted.

The amendments would apply to students who will start school next year, while those currently enrolled would be subject to the financing scheme currently in place: 100% financing of mandatory curriculum and 85% financing of expanded curriculum.

But private schools say that the bill contravenes the landmark Constitutional Court decision since it would affectively reduce financing from 85% to around 65%.

Education Minister Jernej Pikalo said that the proposal was based on the ministry's interpretation of the court's decision that what must be funded was the mandatory programme, and not also the extended programme.

The minister stressed that the primary school act did not define the latter as mandatory, although the state was currently financing it.

Regarding the premise that private schools would not be competitive if they did not provide pre-school or after-school classes, he said that the "network of public schools where all this is organised is available to every parent".

"They meanwhile have every right to enrol their children in a private school," Pikalo said, adding that the state did not want to limit the private initiative in education, "which must be present".

"But every country can decide on their own to what extent it will finance this private initiative and what the entry conditions will be," the minister said at a press conference as he presented the changes.

The centre-right opposition has long been vociferously opposed to the proposal arguing that it actually circumvents the Constitutional Court decision, and even some coalition partners have been reserved.

The Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) said that the motion must not reduce the existing rights of private schools in this respect, while the Modern Centre Party (SMC) will listen to the opinion of the parliamentary legal service.

Brane Golubović, the head of the deputy group of the ruling Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ), said the party believed the minister, adding that "we will examine all remarks from the public debate and make our decisions based on that".

On the other hand, opposition New Slovenia (NSi) president Matej Tonin said on Twitter that the government's proposal actually lowered the financing of private school "to the ridicule of children, parents and the rule of law".

07 Jun 2019, 08:30 AM

Day 1 can be found here

Three Seas Investment Talk calls for steps to close liquidity-investment gap

STA, 6 June 2019 - The Investment Talk panel, held on Thursday at the business forum of the Three Seas Initiative summit in Ljubljana, noted the major infrastructure investment gap affecting central and east Europe, and called for effective steps and funding instruments to bridge the glaring discrepancy between existing fiscal liquidity and actual investment.

The opening address was delivered by Slovenian Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek, who underlined Slovenia's view that it was key to also focus on innovation along with the three pillar areas of the Three Seas Initiative - infrastructure, energy and digital interconnectivity.

To achieve an investment breakthrough, "attracting and supporting investment in supply chains is simply not enough any more", said Počivalšek, while calling for open and transparent investment policies, for Three Seas' openness to private-public investment projects and to any source of capital and connectivity platform.

The panel featured the heads of the Slovenian and Polish promotional development banks, Sibil Svilan and Beata Daszynska-Muzyczka respectively, as well as European Investment Bank (EIB) vice-president Vazil Hudak and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) vice-president Jürgen Rigterink.

Looking at the drop in investment after the 2008 crisis that disproportionally affected eastern Europe and added to its infrastructure gap - estimated at EUR 500 billion - the panellists noted the discrepancy between current high liquidity and the amounts that actually get channelled into projects.

While the EIB and EBRD officials noted a lack of "bankable" projects, issues with implementation and the need for their institutions to preserve AAA credit ratings so that "cheap and long" can keep coming, Svilan and Daszynska-Muzyczka urged a change of the investment mindset away from short-term logic focused solely on profitability and returns.

The key challenge will be using the right combined instruments - national, supranational, private etc. - to secure appropriate risk sharing, and also to focus on quality projects as opposed to only quantity, added Svilan, who urged accountability and sustainability.

His Polish counterpart is also in favour of blending instruments, while she also wondered whether east European countries should not perhaps be allowed to engage in bigger deficits to speed up economic and infrastructure convergence.

She said it would take 100 years for this part of Europe to catch up if it only leant on the funding envisaged for infrastructure in the EU's new financial perspective. Thus, a kind of new mini Marshall Plan, but this time for Eastern Europe, would be in order, she added, while saying the emerging Three Seas Fund, "a private fund, based on the rate of return" could be one of the instruments complementing it.

Svilan argued the richness in diversity principle in Europe also applied to financing instruments. "We need different instruments to catch different situations and that is also what we're trying to do with this fund, we're looking for something new to combine it with what is already going on in Europe. But that does not mean we'll exclude anyone," he said, arguing that the EIB, World Bank, EBRD and others should also be included.

Hudak of the EIB meanwhile pointed out that EFSI, also known as Juncker's investment plan for Europe, was an example that addressed the risks sharing need, with guarantees generating billions in private investment.

Commenting on the note of panel moderator, Gorazd Renčelj of the Slovenian Foreign Ministry, that 82% of the signed contracts within EFSI had gone to the EU-15 member states, Hudak agreed that what seemed as unfair distribution should be modified, while he pointed to plans to apply the Junker plan principle, "a mini Juncker", within the Three Seas initiative.

Rigterink, who expressing his reservations about "setting up new funds every single time", emphasised the principle of additionality and the EBRD's strong belief that the market should not be distorted in any way.

As for profits, he said that "we do not want to maximise profitability but optimise it". The EBRD "also has this development angle, but we need to be profitable to grow" and keep the shareholders happy.

Three Seas business panel calls for concrete results, representation

STA, 6 June 2019 - The business part of the Three Seas Initiative summit concluded on Thursday with a panel which called for the agreements and plans by the 12 members of the initiative to be made concrete as soon as possible, and agreeing that the group should form a steering committee in order to communicate better with other organisations.

Opening the panel in Ljubljana, Slovenian Foreign Minister Miro Cerar said that now that the summit was ending, "we must deliver, we have had a lot of ideas and projects and we need to come up with some concrete results."

If the initiative makes concrete results, if it results in things that will connect people better with roads and rails, it will be more persuasive to the people, he said, adding that "this is our main task now."

Cerar's Polish counterpart Jacek Czaputowicz agreed, saying that "success of the initiative will be measured by kilometres of road" and that the meetings indeed discussed concrete projects of common interest.

As most of the countries of the Three Seas Initiative had "found themselves on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain", they are less developed than the western countries and have the common interest in the EU, he said.

Retired US General James L. Jones, a former US national security advisor, made the point that while Three Seas was a great strategic initiative which will benefit the region, its nations did not realise what it takes to make it work.

There is a lack of architecture, there is no single point of access, no staff, no website, and there is a lack of a steering group that can respond to inquiries, Jones said, adding that the 16+1 initiative was better organised.

The US feels very tied to Europe as the continents have common values and common history, and believes that the defence of Europe starts in the Black Sea. "We are faced with at least one country which tries to destabilise and fracture the relationship."

Cerar said that the idea should be considered of creating a steering committee, a "small administrative force that would communicate with other countries". Perhaps the next step is making a body which would represent the initiative, but not with too much bureaucracy, he added.

Czaputowicz agreed too, saying that practical steps were needed to change the formula of the initiative, including further institutionalisation, a kind of a secretariat. "This practicality is important", he said, endorsing the idea to make a steering group.

As for investments, Jones said that the US needed evidence that everybody in the initiative was in in terms of funding, and only then the private and public sector would take it seriously.

Czaputowicz said that Poland already had a terminal for US gas which was less expensive than Russian gas, while Cerar said that the initiative needed more investments "from our friends from the US", noting that most investments were concentrated with a few larger EU states.

"But we should never forget what connects us the most - our common values and the rule of law. Without this glue, Europe is not what it is, or what it used to be," the Slovenian foreign minister concluded.

The panel also featured Slovenian Minister of Education, Science and Sport Jernej Pikalo, who discussed how to keep talented people in the region. He said maintaining and nurturing talents was one of the biggest issues governments had.

He said countries had to invest in education, which was one of the most complex issues as education was always lagging behind the developments, changes in technology. "We need to create conditions in which talent can thrive".

Pikalo also pointed to gender balance as one of the most important things. "Women must have equal access and equal opportunities and chances also in terms of the later professional life," he concluded.

Three Seas Initiative Summit calls on EU to consider its goals

STA, 6 June 2019 - Presidents of the Three Seas Initiative called on the EU following a summit at Brdo pri Kranju on Thursday to incorporate the initiative's goals in its existing and future policies, with interconnectivity and energy security topping the list of the initiative's priorities.

Presenting the declaration after the summit, Slovenia's President Borut Pahor said that the initiative aimed not only to bridge the gaps between participating countries but also in the EU and strengthened transatlantic relations.

As a platform at presidential level, the initiative is an opportunity to create an equally strong voice in the EU for the participating countries and strengthens the democratic legitimacy of the EU.

Bringing together 12 countries situated between the Baltic, Adriatic and the Black Sea, the initiative aims to improve the competitive edge of member states and improve the life of its people with concrete projects, Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarović said.

To realise the projects, the initiative has established its own fund. While today no concrete figures were revealed about the Three Seas Fund, declared functional yesterday at the business forum accompanying the summit, it was said that the European Investment Bank had promised its support for the fund today.

According to a report by German news portal DW, the fund was established only days ago and has a balance of around EUR 500 million with the goal to reach EUR 4-5 billion.

Also present was the outgoing president of the European Commission, Jean Claude Juncker, who praised the initiative for its concrete projects, and also illustrated with figures how much the EU has already invested and will continue to invest in the region.

"Between 2014-2020, we have invested from the structural fund EUR 60 billion in this region. The Juncker plan has generated in these years EUR 42 billion for the 12 member states of the region. I believe that we have done and will do everything to support the efforts aiming at better cohesion and better connectivity in the region."

For the next financial perspective, 2022-2027, the Commission has foreseen EUR 42.3 billion to improve the interconnectivity in Europe and in particular in this region, said Juncker.

The press conference was also addressed by presidents of Romania and Poland, Klaus Werner Iohannis and Andrzej Duda, with the latter saying that the next summit of the initiative would take place in Estonia, where the presidents had been invited by President Kersti Kaljulaid.

The presidents expressed in their statements, as well as the declaration, an invitation to other potential partners, encouraging "the inclusion of actors from the Three Seas Initiative member states and the US to the existing network".

They were especially pleased that the two-day event hosted by Slovenia was attended not only by Juncker but also German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, as well as US Secretary of Energy Reick Perry. The latter took part in the presidential panel hosted by Pahor as part of an accompanying business forum yesterday, inviting participants to buy US gas.

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