Politics

13 Jul 2019, 11:39 AM

STA, 8 July 2019 - Slovenia reiterated its stance that by not implementing the 2017 border arbitration award, Croatia is violating EU law, as it presented its view in an oral hearing of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) about the admissibility of Slovenia's lawsuit against Croatia.

The court convened on Monday to deliberate on Croatia's December 2018 arguments that border arbitration between Slovenia and Croatia does not fall under the ECJ's jurisdiction, because borders are a matter of international rather than EU law.

The EJC advocate general will present his legal opinion on the case on 6 November.

Presenting Croatia's stance to ECJ judges, lawyer Jemima Stratford said the case did not fall under the court's jurisdiction and the court should not interfere in bilateral disputes.

Bilateral territorial disputes are outside the EU court's jurisdiction, even if they have a bearing on the implementation of EU law, she said.

She added that the only possible legal basis for the legal action would be Article 273 of the Lisbon Treaty.

The article enables EU members to bring a dispute before the ECJ in a consensual manner. It relates to disputes which are not strictly EU law, but are relevant for member states and the EU.

Stratford explained that Croatia did not recognise the border arbitration award because it had withdrawn from the arbitration process before it was declared.

Although Slovenia claims the arbitration award is a fact, it is also a fact that the award is not being implemented on the ground, she added.

Croatia therefore believes Slovenia is creating a fictitious dispute, she said, adding Croatia and Slovenia were acting in line with their respective legal understanding of their borders.

The apple of contention is therefore the course of the border, not the interpretation of EU law, Croatia's representative said.

Presenting Slovenia's stance, agent Maja Menard said the lawsuit was not about the border, because the border had been set in the 2017 award, which was final and self-implementable, and the two countries were obliged to respect it.

Menard also reiterated that by not recognising the arbitration award, Croatia was violating EU rules and policies.

In the lawsuit, which is based on Article 259 of the Lisbon Treaty, Slovenia proposes the ECJ establish that Croatia violated Articles 2 and 4, which stress the importance of the rule of law and sincere cooperation between member states.

Slovenia also claims Croatia is violating the common fisheries policy, Schengen rules about the free movement of people and a directive on maritime spatial planning.

Menard stressed that a decision of international law was in the ECJ's jurisdiction if the decision was necessary to interpret EU law, to which it referred.

Following the presentation of both countries' positions, judges asked several questions, many about a note concerning the border arbitration in Croatia's EU accession agreement.

The note in annex 3, chapter 5, refers to fisheries, saying the fisheries regimes will start applying when the arbitration award reached on the basis of the arbitration agreement signed by Slovenia and Croatia on 4 November 2009 is fully implemented.

Judge rapporteur Christopher Vajda thus asked Croatia about it in relation to the country's argument that the ECJ had no jurisdiction in the case.

Stratford said the note merely set the time frame of the implementation of the fisheries regime.

But Slovenia's lawyer Jean-Marc Thouvenin explained the note introduced the arbitration agreement and what stemmed from it into EU law, which made it part of EU law.

Italian judge Lucia Serena Rossi said this was really just a note, but a very important one. As such it is part of primary EU law and thus falls under the ECJ's jurisdiction.

Once the two-and-a-half-hour oral hearing was over, Advocate General Priit Pikamäe announced he would present his submissions - his independent legal opinion - on 6 November.

If the lawsuit is admitted, the court will start to deliberate on its content.

Speaking to the press after the hearing, Marko Vrevc from Slovenian Foreign Ministry said he would be surprised if the court decided not to admit the lawsuit.

Menard said the hearing had gone according to plans and the debate had been intense as expected. She has a positive feeling about it since Slovenia had an opportunity to answer the judges' questions in detail.

The agent expects the court's decision on the admissibility at the start of 2020.

She was also not surprised Croatia had referred to Article 273 during the hearing, noting this implied "a quasi arbitration process which requires both sides' consent, but we insist the border dispute is settled, so we need no consensus on another attempt to solve it".

12 Jul 2019, 12:28 PM

STA, 11 July 219 - The Public Administration Ministry has laid the groundwork for the erection of another 40 kilometres of border fence. It would not reveal, however, where the fence will be placed.

The new fence will be supplied and set up by the Serbian company Legi-SGS for EUR 4.8 million.

The fence alone will cost EUR 4.56 million, and the pillars, fittings and installation another EUR 273,000, shows the result of an open call released on Wednesday.

The ministry looked for the best bidder with two calls for applications, and the Belgrade-based Legi-SGS was picked as the best bidder in both.

The ministry would not reveal where the border fence will be placed. It says this is confidential.

It did say, however, that additional fence would be erected in places where this is required to prevent illegal migration and protect locals and their assets. In some places, the new fence is needed because the old one is damaged.

The specific decisions on when, where and how much fence is needed are made based on the proposal of the Slovenian police, the ministry said.

12 Jul 2019, 10:18 AM

STA, 11 July 2019 - Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki told the STA he was optimistic about Slovenia recognising Palestinian independence, expecting Slovenia to make this step along with a number of other EU countries. However, he pointed out there was currently little chance of restarting the peace process with Israel.

Malki said he was disappointed when Slovenia changed its mind about recognising Palestine last year after the decision to do that had already been reached.

"I remember we were in Brussels when the former foreign minister met with our President Mahmud Abas and told him Slovenia was going to recognize Palestine," said the minister, adding that they were very pleased about the step and started celebrating, but Slovenia decided to take a step back.

Palestinian expectations then became more realistic, with Palestine starting to understand the complexity of this process and also the effects of the pressure from Israel and the US.

Wednesday's talks with Foreign Minister Miro Cerar and Speaker Dejan Židan made Malki realise that together they could create the right kind of atmosphere for reaching the recognition decision.

He said that in the upcoming weeks he would strengthen the efforts aimed at establishing conditions in which Slovenia could recognize Palestinian independence along with several other EU countries, adding that would be beneficial to all, "not only Slovenia but also for other countries who are a little bit hesitant and who are looking for other countries to do the same".

According to him, Palestinians would deeply appreciate Slovenian recognition of their independence also because they regard Slovenia as "a country which understands what it means to be independent and has strived for its own freedom and independence", as well as a country which has supported Palestine since its own independence.

"The moment Slovenia will announce its recognition of the state of Palestine, it's going to be a national celebration in Palestine," said Malki.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian minister is not particularly optimistic in terms of the peace process in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

As long as Israel will have a "fascist, extreme right, radical government" and as long as the US administration will continue supporting this government and illegal settlers and disregarding international law and UN resolutions, there are no chances of restarting the process, said Malki.

According to him, Palestinians would support the replacement of the US as a mediator in the process; however, they are aware that the US cannot be completely excluded from the negotiations. But they cannot have an exclusive role any more, said Malki.

He called for a bigger role of the EU in the negotiations. According to him, Europe understands the Middle East situation and has "vested interests to see peace and prosperity in the Middle East".

However, Malki believes Israel would not accept that. "Israel wants the US alone to play that role, but we cannot allow that, so we have to reach a compromise," said the minister, adding that such compromise could include the US, EU and other countries as participants in the negotiations.

Malki described the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories as very difficult, highlighting that such state of affairs has been going on for more than 50 years.

According to him, the Israeli occupation is not only military but also economic and social.

"You cannot dig a well without getting Israeli permits. You cannot get electricity without Israeli permits. Our internet - we get it directly from Israel," said Malki, pointing out that Palestinians only recently got 3G, when people in some places already have 5G, while in Gaza only the 2G network is available.

"If we want to travel abroad, we have to go through Israeli military control. If they decide you're not allowed to travel, then you cannot really go anywhere. There are more than 600 checkpoints dispersed around in the West Bank, meaning that on average there is a checkpoint every four or five kilometres."

Malki pointed out that if one travels from one city to another, a distance of some 30 km, they have to go through 2-3 checkpoints. "You don't know if you can cross, you don't know if you can get where you are going on time."

"You go to sleep and you don't know if Israeli soldiers will break into your home at 3 or 4 in the morning just to remind you they're the ones in control or to look for somebody or something or even to take one of your children for interrogation.

"When your kids leave in the morning for school, you don't know if they will come back," said Malki and added that Jewish settlers, pushing Palestinians off their land make life in the occupied territories even harder.

11 Jul 2019, 18:57 PM

STA, 11 July 2019 - The 24th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide was commemorated in Slovenia on Thursday, with senior officials calling for a Europe of peace so that such horrendous atrocities would never happen again.

The National Assembly observed a minute's silence, with Speaker Dejan Židan stressing it was our task not to forget this horrible crime.

Bosnian Serb forces killed more than 8,300 Muslims on 11 July, a few days after taking over Srebrenica, a town under UN protection.

"It is our task to reject any attempt at diminishing the crime, denying the indisputable fact that it was a genocide and rationalising the motives for it."

He stressed the promise "never again" was all too easily made and all too often broken, also consciously.

Today the international community remembers with horror the broken promise it made at the end of WWII as one of its worst mistakes, which will remain a black stain on the soul of the entire Western civilisation, Židan said at the commemoration in parliament.

A news report from 1996

He warned that today's unjust inequalities and pressing social challenges posed a threat to freedom again.

But it is our moral duty to stand up to it and remember that Europe's years of peace cannot be taken for granted, said the parliamentary speaker.

Foreign Minister Miro Cerar said in a release that since 1995, 11 July had been a day of a painful memory of the Srebrenica genocide victims.

He believes commemorating them is a moral duty and a means of never forgetting the Srebrenica tragedy. "Forgiving does not mean forgetting."

Stressing the perpetrators must be punished, he said Srebreica was a reminder of where militant nationalism, hostile populism and the rhetoric based on inciting harted against other nations led.

The anniversary is also a reminder to act in a preventive manner so that Europe remains a place of peace where human rights and the rule of law are respected, he said.

"It is this kind of Europe and region that Slovenia advocates. It advocates Bosnia and Herzegovina which is part of a Europe of peace and which is a country of progress and prosperity," Cerar pointed out.

The genocide was also remembered by NGOs Averroes and Burrial Is Not Taboo in Ljubljana's City Square under the auspices of Mufti Nedžad Grabus and Mayor Zoran Janković, where a minute of silence was observed and an excerpt read from The Story of Srebrenica: A Novel about the War in Bosnia by Bosnian Isnam Taljić (1954-2017).

11 Jul 2019, 11:15 AM

STA, 10 July 2019 - The National Assembly passed on Wednesday the controversial government-sponsored changes to the law on the financing and organisation of education which alter the way in which the state funds private primary schools.

The bill was backed in a 42:36 vote despite criticism, also among some coalition parties, that it falls short of implementing a constitutional court decision on 100% state funding of publicly approved curricula at private primary schools.

It sets down the state fully financing publicly approved curricula at private primary schools, but any publicly approved curricular content considered above-standard (pre- and after-school classes etc) will be exempted from state funding.

Since both programmes are now funded 85%, the new legislation means the amount of public funds received by private primary schools will drop.

The bill has been strongly criticised by two centre-right opposition parties and by parents of the children going to half a dozen private primaries for not providing 100% funding as ordered by the court in December 2014.

It has also been criticised by the government and parliament's legal services, which warned it could be unconstitutional, noting it would worsen the legal position of private primary schools with parents paying more for their children's education.

But the new financing regime will not apply to those who are already in primary school. It will only start applying to those who start primary school in the 2020/2021 school year.

The changes were backed by four of the five coalition parties with the help of the opposition Left and both minority MPs.

The coalition Modern Centre Party (SMC) abstained, while the opposition Democrats (SDS), New Slovenia (NSi) and National Party (SNS) voted against.

Defending his bill after the vote, Education Minister Jernej Pikalo of the Social Democrats (SD) said parliament "draw a clear line between private and public education".

He said this concept had already been set down in the 1995 White Paper on Education, and had now only been confirmed in parliament.

"It is not about whether I'm happy or not. My key task is to try to improve the education system," he said, adding he was not worried about a constitutional review.

Stressing many laws are sent to the Constitutional Court, Pikalo said "this is a normal process in a democracy ... Every branch of power has its own tasks and does its part of the job".

As reflected by the vote, today's parliamentary debate brought no convergence of stances on the legislation.

The Left's Miha Kordiš, however, explained the party had decided to support the bill "because it does not improve the status of private schools".

The party believes that public money should be spent on public schools, and that the Constitution should be changed to draw a clear line between private and public.

Tomaž Lisec of the SDS accused the supporters of the bill of cutting the funds for private primary schools, thus causing discrimination "because of leftist ideology".

Gregor Perič of the SMC said "the bill is far from what we should do".

His party colleague Igor Zorčič added that "if the court said the 85% funding is too low for private schools, we cannot pass a bill which further cuts the funds".

Jožef Horvat of the NSi believes the rule of law is at stake in this case. "If the legislator was not able to change a simple article in four and a half years to implement the court decision, then we have a problem with the rule of law."

He noted that only 0.84% of primary school children go to private schools, so another EUR 300,000 spent on them would be no problem for the national budget.

Aljaž Kovačič of the Marjan Šarec Party (LMŠ) assessed the court decision was not that straightforward as some would like to think, but said the LMŠ trusted Pikalo that the bill implemented it.

Supporting the bill, Maša Kociper of the Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB) wondered whether it was reasonable that a mere "nine Constitutional Court judges decide on the most vital social issues".

Matej Tonin (NSi), on the other hand, reiterated his view that the court should first annul the new law and then implement its decision from 2014 itself.

Disappointment was also expressed by the parents of the children going to private schools.

They hope the bill will be vetoed by the upper chamber and then voted down when it is put to a revote in the lower chamber, where it will need at least 46 votes.

Marko Balažic of the United Parents civil initiative warned the bill would introduce elitism, as many parents could not afford to pay the school fee any more.

The school fee for the publicly approved curriculum will more than double, with the cost of the above-standard curriculum also rising, he said.

Balažic said that Prime Minister Marjan Šarec had sacrificed the rule of law for the survival of the ruling coalition.

All our stories on education in Slovenia are here

10 Jul 2019, 18:13 PM

STA, 10 July 2019 - Foreign Minister Miro Cerar reiterated that Slovenia would recognize Palestine as part of a smaller group of EU countries after a meeting with his Palestinian counterpart Riad Malki in Ljubljana on Wednesday, confirming the continuation of existing efforts aimed at recognizing Palestinian independence.

"We will continue with activities designed to form a smaller group of EU member states as soon as possible which would along with Slovenia recognize Palestine as an independent country," said Cerar.

"We haven't abandoned this plan of ours; it's still the main aim of our foreign policy," the minister pointed out.

According to Malki, Palestinians are looking forward to Slovenia's recognition. "We know there is the will to do that, but they are probably waiting for the right moment. We hope this moment will arrive soon," said the head of Palestinian diplomacy.

Cerar told Malki that Slovenia would continue to support Palestine within international organisations and assist it with financial and humanitarian aid.

The pair discussed the Palestinian-Israeli relations and the regional situation as well.

According to Cerar, Slovenia supports all initiatives aimed at dissolving tensions between Israel and the Gaza strip, which is under the protection of the UN and Egypt, as well as the continuation of the intra-Palestinian reconciliation process.

The Slovenian minister also called for restarting the peace process in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"Slovenia, as an active EU member, advocates that the only solution (for this conflict) is a solution of two states - within the borders set in 1967 and with Jerusalem as the capital if the two sides do not agree on something else," highlighted Cerar.

According to him, Slovenia wishes that the suffering of the Palestinian nation would cease as soon as possible.

Malki said that Palestinians were striving for a peace agreement with Israel through direct political negotiations. He also expressed hope that the agreement would be reached soon.

The minister urged Israel to recognize the right of the Palestinian nation to self-determination and independence and enter into political negotiations, based on the two-state solution, with Palestine.

Malki highlighted that for Palestinians the continuation of Israeli occupation was unacceptable, which is why they were willing to respond to all Israeli security concerns.

"If a single Israeli soldier remains on the Palestinian territory, that would indicate the continuation of the Israeli occupation and would be unacceptable," said Malki.

Palestinian President Mahmud Abas even suggested the presence of a third party, mentioning NATO. Thus Israeli concerns would be addressed and Palestine protected against possible Israeli army invasions, said the Palestinian minister.

Malki also condemned Israel's efforts to annex individual parts of the West Bank, attempts which had been encouraged by the recent actions of the US administration such as the recognizing of the illegal annexation of Syrian Golan Heights.

Cerar highlighted that Slovenia allocated its biggest humanitarian donation so far to Palestine - half a million euro for installing a water desalination plant in Gaza. The rest of the financial aid (EUR 70 million) will be earmarked by the EU Commission.

Slovenia's aid includes providing rehabilitation and psychosocial support to victims of the Gaza-Israel conflict.

The Ljubljana URI Soča rehabilitation centre has treated more than 100 children from the conflict region in the past decade, while some 300 of them have been treated in Gaza as part of a joint project of the centre and ITF Enhancing Human Security (ITF) organisation, said the Foreign Ministry.

Slovenia is also setting up a rehabilitation centre for the West Bank and Gaza victims at the Bethlehem hospital Harmalah in cooperation with the ITF organisation and the URI centre. The country has contributed EUR 165,000 for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) for the 2018-2020 period as well.

The Palestinian minister thanked Slovenia for its political and victim rehabilitation support. "Slovenia has a very special place in our hearts," he said.

Along with Cerar he called for strengthening Palestinian-Slovenian cooperation including in economy, tourism, education and culture. "All of these forms of cooperation strengthen the good friendly relations are are a form of aid and support to the Palestinian nation," said Cerar.

Malki, who had visited Slovenia twice before, was also scheduled to meet Speaker Dejan Židan, the Foreign Policy Committee chair Matjaž Nemec and the head of the Palestinian-Slovenian friendship group Matej T. Vatovec.

Židan highlighted Slovenia's strong affection towards Palestine, especially in terms of understating the meaning of the right to self-determination.

He expressed support and advised persistence in Palestine's efforts for independence, saying its recognition can speed up the peace process, the parliament's press service wrote.

The pair moreover expressed the importance of multilateral cooperation, which Malki noted was particularly important for giving small countries security and a sense of being protected by the global system and its agreed rules.

10 Jul 2019, 11:36 AM

STA, 9 July 2019 - Prime Minister Marjan Šarec has dismissed ideas by senior Italian officials that a fence should be erected on the Slovenian-Italian border, telling the National Assembly that such proposals had to be interpreted "in the domestic policy context".

"In talks with the Italian government we will state that there are no reasons for the border, this is clear from the numbers ... Italy is not threatened by Slovenia's inactivity, and we will substantiate that," he said.

Šarec made the comment when he was quizzed by opposition MPs in parliament on Tuesday about the recent launch of mixed police patrols on the border, their implication being that the beefed up controls are the result of Slovenia's failure to properly protect the Schengen border.

Stressing that the number of persons Italy returned to Slovenia had dropped by 17% in the first half of 2019 compared to the same period last year, Šarec said Slovenian police were doing all they could to protect the Schengen border and curb illegal migrations.

Border patrols are "not a measure that would squeeze Slovenia out of the Schengen zone," as Democrat (SDS) MP Branko Grims claimed, as Italy has such cooperation with all of its neighbours and Slovenia also had such mixed patrols on its other borders, according to Šarec.

New Slovenia (NSi) deputy Jernej Vrtovec wondered why Slovenia had proposed mixed patrols, labelling it an admission of its inability to control the Schengen border. But Šarec stressed that it was not the government that had proposed joint patrols, this was the result of an agreement at the level of both police forces.

For Šarec, the key thing to dam migrations is for Frontex, the EU's border agency, to be deployed on Croatia's borders with Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia.

Overall, border control is "a serious issue that the new EU Commission will have to tackle with all seriousness... Migrations will be with us for years to come ... the EU is not active in tackling these issues," he said, adding: "Schengen is de facto not working anymore."

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini recently suggested Italy might erect a fence on its border with Slovenia if joint police patrols do not suffice to stop migrations, raising fears of a return to border checks that would severely disrupt life along the border.

While the right has taken the announcement as evidence of Slovenia's failings, politicians on the left have started urging the government to take action to prevent such a scenario from unfolding.

Social Democrat (SD) deputy Matjaž Nemec thus urged Šarec today to take the initiative and invite the prime ministers of all countries on the Western Balkan migration route, including Italy and Austria, to jointly tackle the issue.

But others think Italy will do as it likes regardless of what Slovenia does.

Robert Polnar, an MP for the Pensioners' Party (DeSUS), said Italy's measures would probably be harsher than the measures Slovenia is adopting.

And Luka Mesec, the leader of the Left, said Salvini was "playing his game" in order to win the election in Italy.

"What the Slovenian right is doing, and partially the government by starting to announce drones and fencing ... is acquiescing to this game... Our politicians are dancing to Sallvini's tune, Mesec said on the margins of the plenary today.

09 Jul 2019, 10:12 AM

STA, 8 July 2019 - Slovenian President Borut Pahor and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed a rise in illegal migrations on the Balkan route as they held a bilateral meeting in Sarajevo on Monday on the sidelines of a SE Europe cooperation event.

Pahor told Erdogan about the recent rise in the number of migrants entering Slovenia illegally from Croatia, Pahor's office said in a release.

Erdogan in turn outlined Turkey's plans about the four million refugees in Turkey, complaining the EU was not fully meeting its financial commitments related to them.

The two presidents are worried that the situation in the Middle East could worsen, and hope that a diplomatic solution will be found to the Iran nuclear deal issue.

Bilateral relations were another topic on the agenda, with Pahor and Erdogan sharing a view there were many opportunities to further develop and deepen political dialogue and economic cooperation.

Pahor met Erdogan before a working dinner of the South-East European Cooperation Process (SEECP) summit, which brings Bosnia-Herzegovina's SEECP presidency to an end.

The Slovenian president had decided to attend the summit due to enhanced dialogue with all Western Balkan leaders and as a sign of support for Bosnia.

The summit will draw to a close on Tuesday with a plenary session and the adoption of a closing declaration.

However, Bosnia will not formally hand its presidency over as planned since Kosovo has sent any representative to the summit in protest of Bosnia's treatment of its representatives.h

08 Jul 2019, 17:24 PM

STA, 8 July 2019 - Prime Minister Marjan Šarec said on Monday that security on Slovenia's southern border would be beefed up, including with new equipment such as drones, after meeting with Ilirska Bistrica officials and civil society representatives to discuss the situation on the border with Croatia.

Šarec, visiting the south-western town along with Interior Minister Boštjan Poklukar and Police Commissioner Tatjana Bobnar, said that he understood locals' feelings of unease about the situation.

Ilirska Bistrica Mayor Emil Rojc pointed out that the number of illegal border crossings had doubled since Poklukar's first visit to the area.

"We've never said there was no migration issue," said the prime minister, adding that the need for strengthening border controls had been acknowledged.

Šarec announced the expected arrival of additional soldiers to the area as well as the deployment of new police equipment, including border patrol drones, and expansion of the border fence.

However, Šarec also said that Slovenia's border patrol had been effective in meeting set expectations and that "we cannot settle for various forms of fear-mongering, which are sometimes politically-motivated as well".

Šarec will also visit the Kostel and Črnomlje municipalities later today.

06 Jul 2019, 10:57 AM

STA, 5 July 2019 - The city councils of all four coastal municipalities have urged authorities to present them within a month a timeline of activities to find a new, safe water source for Slovenian Istria.

Koper, Piran, Izola and Ankaran councillors met on Friday after almost 11,000 litres of kerosene spilled as a train derailed in a tunnel on the Koper-bound railway near Hrastovlje, south-west.

The spill is a threat to the Rižana water source, the only source of drinking water for Slovenia's coast. The greatest threat is heavy rain, which could make kerosene penetrate further into the soil and underground water.

The councillors are worried the state cannot guarantee the coast the constitutionally guaranteed right to drinking water if the Rižana source is contaminated.

They thus demand that all the necessary measures are taken and implemented to prevent the pollution of the only water source for Slovenian Istria.

Supervision of the state in which railway and road infrastructure is in water areas, should be enhanced, the councillors decided.

The railway infrastructure in water areas should be maintained and modernised to avoid any problems with the rail tracks.

The authorities should also make sure that trains carrying dangerous cargo in water areas run at adequate speeds.

Finally, the state should take measures to minimise risks for similar incidents.

If these measures cannot be guaranteed, then the option should be studied to ban transport of dangerous substances through water areas until a new water source is found.

The councillors also tasked the mayors to prioritise efforts to find a new water source and expressed support for the state's efforts to build the second rail track between Koper and Divača.

The session, which Koper Mayor Aleš Bržan labelled "Istrian parliament", was also attended by government representatives.

Environment and Spatial Planning Minister Somin Zajc promised serious efforts would be made to find a new water source, announcing a meeting with Istrian mayors at the ministry's water directorate for next week.

Several possible water sources have been proposed in the past, so it is clear which ones could be suitable, but they will have to be studied again, he said.

While he could not give any detailed timeline, he said "we're probably not talking weeks or months, but a year or two".

To further protect the Rižana water source from kerosene pollution, a special protective foil was laid in the Hrastovlje tunnel on Wednesday after much of the contaminated material was removed earlier.

All our stories on water quality in Slovenia are here

05 Jul 2019, 18:36 PM

STA, 5 July 2019 - While protests are being held on Friday in the Slovenian-Italian border area against the planned border control measures, Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini spoke on the phone with his Slovenian counterpart Boštjan Poklukar to discuss migration and enhancing cooperation in this field.

Poklukar and Salvini, who visited Trieste today for a port investment contract signing and to discuss border protection with Friuli Venezia Giulia President Massimiliano Fedriga, welcomed the start of Slovenian-Italian police patrols on the border.

According to the press release from the Slovenian Interior Ministry, Poklukar noted that it was not the first time Slovenia responded to Italian proposals for joint operations.

The Slovenian minister pointed to the assistance by the Slovenian Armed Forces in the maritime operation Mare Nostrum with the Triglav patrol boat in 2013 and projects to transfer persons in need of international protection from Italy to Slovenia.

The Slovenian and Italian police forces launched joint border patrols on 1 July as a response to the increase in illegal migration. The measure is expected to be in force until the end of September.

The Slovenian Interior Ministry told the STA today that the initiative for the mixed patrols had come from the Italian police on 29 April. The Slovenian police agreed with the proposal and Poklukar presented it to the government.

Subsequently, Foreign Minister Miro Cerar presented it to his Italian counterpart Enzo Moavero Milanesi and both countries agreed to implement it.

The two countries' police commissioners discussed the planned cooperation in more detail at the sidelines of a conference of police commissioners in Rome, the ministry said.

Salvini reiterated yesterday that if the border patrols failed to serve the purpose, Italy would erect physical barriers on the border with Slovenia. "We will make the border with Slovenia impenetrable with all available means."

Poklukar stressed that Slovenia was protecting its border with Croatia effectively and that the situation was under control. He said that special attention should be paid to the entire Western Balkan migration route and take appropriate measures.

The Italian and Slovenian interior ministers agreed that they would meet in person soon to talk about the possibilities of further bilateral cooperation as well as cooperation with the countries in the region.

According to the Austrian press agency APA, Salvini also talked today about measures to beef up the control of the Balkan route with Croatian Interior Minister Davor Božinović.

The Italian press agency ANSA reported that Salvini said in Trieste today that "joint patrols by Italy, Slovenia and Croatia are something we are establishing, and we will see what the results will be".

The police forces of the three countries are expected to also enhance cooperation in fighting trafficking of illegal migrants.

Asked about the joint Slovenian-Italian-Croatian patrols, the Slovenian Interior Ministry said it could not go into detail at this point.

Several protests are meanwhile being held or are to be held in the area on both sides of the border and on border crossings to express opposition to the idea and to call for open borders.

Some 50 people have gathered in the main square in Trieste to protest against Salvini's policy of closure of Italian sea ports for migrants. People are also protesting in other parts of Trieste as the minister is visiting the city.

Slovenian politicians mostly against proposed border fence

STA, 5 July 2019 - Slovenian parliamentary parties and MEPs are critical of Italy's announcement it could set up "physical barriers" on the border with Slovenia if Slovenian-Italian border police patrols, introduced on 1 July, do not result in fewer illegal migrants. The patrols, on the other hand, continue to divide Slovenian politics.

Current developments in relations with Italy are "a total disaster" and proof that "our government is impotent security- and development-wise", opposition Democrat (SDS) MP Branko Grims told the press on Friday.

He believes the Bosnian-Croatian border should be properly protected, while Slovenia should properly protect its part of the Schengen border - its southern border with Croatia.

If that border was sealed, then Austria's and Italy's moves would be superfluous, said Grims, who believes the Slovenian police and the army, if it was given adequate powers, would have no problem protecting Slovenia's southern border.

The SDS's MEP Romana Tomc (EPP) meanwhile believes the announced fence on the border with Italy "presents a threat that Slovenia could become a migration pocket, which would undoubtedly worsen our security and seriously affect our economy".

The coalition Modern Centre Party (SMC) believes a fence on the border inside the Schengen zone would be "unacceptable and un-European", and statistics do not corroborate it. What the EU needs is an effective supervision of its external borders.

The SMC believes the joint patrols are meant to build trust, with Prime Minister Marjan Šarec's LMŠ noting they were about preventing the smuggling of illegal migrants and fighting against smugglers.

Meanwhile, both MEPs from the ruling LMŠ believe Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini's announcement of a fence was meant foremost to appease Italian voters.

"Physical barriers in the Schengen area are unacceptable, they would be a major step backwards and a major attack on the EU's basic values," wrote MEPs Irena Joveva and Klemen Grošelj (Renew Europe).

If the Italian government keeps insisting on the fence, Joveva and Grošelj intend to bring the issue up in the European Parliament, but certainly at their political grouping's meeting with Ursula von der Leyen, the candidate for the nee European Parliament president.

The same would be done by MEPs Ljudmila Novak (EPP/New Slovenia (NSi)) and Tanja Fajon (S&D/Social Democrats (SD)).

Fajon urged Slovenia's authorities to do all in their power for solidarity to re-emerge in Europe and for a common migration and asylum policy be formed.

Novak expects the Slovenian government to "immediately condemn such announcements" and do all in its power to stop illegal migrations on the border with Croatia.

She said the mixed patrols on the Slovenian-Italian border would be no problem had they not been fuelled by a rise in illegal migrations on the Croatian border.

The NSi, convinced the patrols are a mistake, demanded yesterday a session of the parliamentary foreign policy and interior policy committees to discuss them.

Its MP Jernej Vrtovec said never again wanted the Slovenians living on both sides of the border, which is a single economic and cultural area, to be divided with a wall or even a wire.

The trend of erecting barriers should worry the entire EU, said MP Matjaž Nemec of the coalition SD, as a fence on the Slovenian-Italian border would be a measure disproportionate with illegal crossings of the border.

Nemec also believes the dialogue between the Slovenian and Italian interior ministers, who spoke on the phone today, was no longer constructive.

He thus called on Prime Minister Marjan Šarec to start dialogue with the Italian prime minister.

Just like the SDS, Nemec believes the focus should be on the Croatian-Bosnian border as the outer EU border.

Saying the fence was no answer to the migrant issue, opposition Left MP Primož Siter said the rhetoric of Slovenia and Italy's right-wingers was the same.

"The only difference is that the Slovenian right has already got its wire [on the border with Croatia], while the Italian right is now calling for it."

Noting the EU lacked a common approach to illegal migrations, which forced each country to deal with them on its own, the coalition Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) said Italy was dealing with them in line with its nationalist policy.

However, DeSUS also said the Slovenian Interior Ministry and the Slovenian police were trying to relativise the issue of illegal migrations.

The coalition Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB) would rather boost the control of Slovenia's border with Croatia, where Italy and Austria could help in.

"The mixed police patrols on our western border are an un-European move, just as is Austria's border control on the northern border," the SAB told the STA.

The opposition National Party (SNS) believes the mixed patrols are nonsense.

Its leader Zmago Jelinčič criticised Foreign Minister Mira Cerar for having come up with the idea, wondering whether he tried to Italy's support for his bid to become a European commissioner.

Just like the SAB, Jelinčič believes Slovenia should have "double patrols" on the border with Croatia, which could also be mixed.

While MEP Fajon believes "there is absolutely no serious need for patrols on the border between Slovenia and Italy", MEP France Bogovič (EPP/SLS) welcomed them, but noted Slovenia should do more to protect its Schengen border with Croatia.

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