STA, 17 March 2019 - Slovenia became a full member of NATO on 29 March 2004, accomplishing one of its strategic foreign policy goals. Fifteen years later, the alliance is considered the keystone of Slovenian and European security, although it is also a source of demands for a fairer distribution of obligations, especially in terms of defence funding.
Slovenia had been a part of the Non-Aligned movement in the era of former Yugoslavia, but when it became independent the country set out to become a member of all significant global as well as Euro-Atlantic organisations, in particular the EU and NATO.
It had had aspirations of being one of the first countries from the former Eastern bloc to be invited to join NATO, but to its chagrin, the alliance invited only Czechia, Hungary and Poland in 1999.
The invitation to begin accession talks was issued three years later at the Prague summit. According to the then foreign minister, Dimitrij Rupel, the US decided to open the doors wider in part due to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Popular support for NATO membership was weaker than support for the EU, as demonstrated during both accession referendums on 23 March 2003. While the EU membership was backed by almost 90% of voters, only 66% of them voted in favour of joining NATO.
Slovenia became a full member on 29 March 2004 along with Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, and Slovakia.
Despite expanding significantly since its inception, the alliance is still predicated on the principle of collective defence set down in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which states that an attack against one member is an attack against all of them.
The Defence Ministry also points out that NATO established itself as a bastion of liberal democracy, human rights and shared Euro-Atlantic values. Being a member, Slovenia has thus solidified its position among stable democracies in Europe and in the world.
After the end of the Cold War, NATO transformed into a major player securing global peace and security, in particular through peacekeeping operations in the Balkans.
But it has also engaged in combat, most notably in Afghanistan, which involved NATO participating in state-building and combat operations against the Taliban for 13 years until it was formally ended in 2014.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has described Slovenia as a valued ally that contributes to collective security and defence in many ways. The other allies acknowledge an important role of Slovenia in operations, especially in the Kfor mission in Kosovo, with Slovenian soldiers receiving high praise for their achievement.
But being at the bottom of the defence spending rankings, Slovenia has been warned about its low contributions. Stoltenberg personally pointed that out during his visit to Ljubljana in October last year.
NATO leaders agreed at the Wales summit in 2014 to increase the share of defence expenditure to 2% of GDP in ten years, after it had shrunk due to the financial crisis. Slovenia is one of the seven allies that do not plan to meet this target by 2024; it expects to allocate only 1.5% of GDP for defence budget that year.
The structure of the Slovenian defence budget is an issue as well. All allies are supposed to dedicate at least 20% of the financing to defence modernisation, but in Slovenia this share is only 8.2%. This is largely because Slovenia allocates the highest share of defence budget to soldiers' pay - almost 72.5%.
When it comes to increasing defence spending, the minority government is in a bind since the opposition Left opposes higher spending. However, a "fairer distribution of obligations" does not only concern Slovenia but the whole Europe, since only seven members of the 29 members allocate 2% of GDP to defence.
Slovenia plans to celebrate its 15th anniversary with a ceremony in Brdo pri Kranju on 20 March, with former NATO Secretary General George Robertson as the guest of honour.
STA, 15 March 2019 - Commissioner for the Security Union Julian King, who is in Slovenia on Friday to discuss the security situation in the EU, told participants of a Citizens' Dialogue event in Ljubljana that rightist terrorist attacks such as the one that happened in New Zealand's Christchurch today were also possible in Europe.
He noted though that attacks by extremist Islamists were more frequent in Europe.
King labelled today's attack in New Zealand, in which at least 49 people were killed, horrific, expressing solidarity with the families of those killed or affected by the attack.
Speaking at the event hosted by the Faculty of Social Sciences, he said that the EU had stepped up cooperation among security forces of individual countries in a bid to fight terror.
Terrorists' access to explosives and financing has been restricted and the EU is also fighting against radicalisation, including on-line, he said, adding that a lot more needed to be done.
King pointed to cyber security as one of the main challenges. Next to the fight against on-line radicalisation, it also includes measures against cyber-attacks, hate speech and misinformation, which external actors use to influence political debate or even EU election results.
The safety of electronic devices themselves is also important and here the EU plays an important role with its security certificates, he said.
The debate also touched on the future of the EU defence and the idea of forming a joint EU army. King said EU members already cooperated in defence, including in EU missions in third countries.
He moreover pointed to the joint EU projects aimed at strengthening defence capabilities of individual countries. A joint army would foremost enhance defence capabilities, he believes.
King, who is also in charge of the fight against organised and cyber-crime, and hate speech, is scheduled to meet Interior Minister Boštjan Poklukar and officials from the Slovenian intelligence agency SOVA later today.
STA, 14 March 2019 - Ireland was promised Slovenia's continued support with regard to Brexit as Minister of State for Food, Forestry and Horticulture Andrew Doyle held talks at the foreign and agriculture ministries on Thursday.
Busy morning in Ljubljana, meeting with my European counterparts and representatives from Slovenia. Brexit was top of the agenda, and the support from our colleagues across the EU remains strong @IrlEmbLjubljana pic.twitter.com/LWRlo1xiCQ— Andrew Doyle TD (@ADoyleTD) March 14, 2019
Meeting Foreign Ministry State Secretary Dobran Božič, Doyle was told bilateral cooperation was based on a shared understanding of values, principles and the rule of law.
"Božič provided assurances about Slovenia's solidarity with Ireland in the framework of the UK's exit from the EU," the Foreign Ministry said in a press release.
The officials also discussed the situation in the Western Balkans, the forthcoming Three Seas Initiative summit in Slovenia and Ireland's participation in the Bled Strategic Forum.
In talks with Agriculture Minister Aleksandra Pivec, Doyle was quoted as saying that Ireland appreciated Slovenia's support in Brexit talks, in particular on the Irish border backstop.
Aside from the consequences of Brexit, the discussion also touched on the Common Agriculture Policy post-2020 and rural development, the Agriculture Ministry said.
All our stories on Slovenia and Brexit are here
STA, 13 March 2019 - Foreign Minister Miro Cerar said on Wednesday that he personally believes Britain's exit from the EU would probably be best postponed a little as things currently stand. He feels Slovenia would be ready to back a postponement provided that other member states did the same.
Speaking to the press during a two-day visit to Egypt, Cerar said a postponement "would probably make the most sense right now, but not for too long, since the matter is becoming unbearable".
Responding to Tuesday's rejection of the exit agreement by the British parliament, Cerar said an extension would still be better than a no-deal situation.
He repeated that an extension would need to be reasonably short, since all the cards have been on the table for some time.
"It is truly only about the UK government having to find some kind of path as soon as possible; things have been finalised enough on the EU27 side," Cerar said.
While stressing this was his personal opinion on a situation that still needed to be coordinated at government level, the minister said Slovenia would also be ready to back a reasonable extension should other member states do the same.
In any case, it will be first necessary to wait for a final decision by the British parliament, which will be deciding on a possible no-deal Brexit today, Cerar pointed out.
If this option gets rejected, a vote on an exit deadline extension will follow on Thursday.
All our stories on Slovenia and Brexit are here
STA, 11 March 2019 - Simon Zajc, who currently serves as a state secretary at the Environment and Spatial Planning Ministry, is the candidate for new environment minister, Miro Cerar, the leader of the Modern Centre Party (SMC), announced on Monday.
Addressing reporters in Ljubljana, Cerar said Prime Minister Marjan Šarec agreed with the party's proposal for Zajc to succeed Jure Leben, who resigned in late February after becoming embroiled in allegations that he was involved in a tender rigging in his previous capacity as Infrastructure Ministry state secretary.
In the previous term, Zajc served as MP for the SMC, but failed to get re-elected in the 2018 general election. If appointed, he will become the tenth Slovenian minister of the environment and spatial planning.
Cerar said that the candidate would be able to continue on the course set by outgoing Minister Leben, ensuring continuity at the ministry.
Noting that Zajc had been picked for a state secretary by Leben, Cerar said that the candidate was "surely capable of coordinating people", adding that he had proved himself as an MP and vice-chair of the parliamentary Agriculture Committee.
Before being elected an MP in 2014, Zajc, 38, who graduated from the Faculty of Criminal Justice and Security, also worked as a radio and TV host.
He also managed car fleets of large companies and headed a video production and mobile app company, hosted events, wrote for the Slovenian edition of the Cosmopolitan magazine and performed as a stand-up comedian.
Before the formation of the SMC in 2014, Zajc was a member of the Slovenian Youth Party (SMS). He also unsuccessfully stood in the 2018 local elections for a member of the Ljubljana city council on the SMC's ticket.
The prime minister's office quoted Šarec as saying that Zajc was an optimal choice for the new environment minister at the moment "if we want the work that has been started to be continued".
The remaining coalition partners have responded positively to the nomination or said the name had been expected.
The Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB) said it wished for Zajc to understand the connection of his ministry with the Infrastructure Ministry, headed by SAB leader Alenka Bratušek.
Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) leader Karl Erjavec said supporting Zajc in the vote in parliament would not be a problem, adding that "the current state secretary is acquainted with the content and issues in the field, which makes him an appropriate staffing solution".
Social Democrats (SDS) head Dejan Židan believes the SMC had given a thought to proposing Zajc. "Prime Minister Marjan Šarec will also give the proposal a thought before nominating him, and we support such proposals."
The opposition New Slovenia (NSi) expects that the new minister will continue Leben's work, saying that the "issues that have piled up in the field of environmental protection ... demand quick and thoughtful response and opposition to certain lobbies which only pursue their own interests".
Zmago Jelinčič, the head of the opposition National Party (SNS), said that "emergency replacements" would not result in solving the issues Leben had started to tackle.
These issues are the reasons for Leben's resignation in the first place, Jelinčič said, expressing doubt that the new minister will be able to do anything.
All our stories on the environment and Slovenia can be found here
STA, 11 March 2019 - The Western Balkans and regional initiatives were at the centre of talks between President Borut Pahor and his visiting counterpart from Bulgaria Rumen Radev in Ljubljana on Monday. The presidents confirmed good relations between the countries, underlining that they could still be improved.
Talking to the press after the meeting, Pahor said that political, economic and cultural ties between the two countries were "very lively".
Slovenia considers Bulgaria a strategic partner and the countries have good bilateral relations that are not burdened by anything, he said. Contacts between the countries at the top political level are relatively frequent, he added.
Slovenia opened an embassy in Sofia last year, while Adria Airways has launched a regular route between Ljubljana and the Bulgarian capital, the president noted at their joint press conference.
According to Radev, Slovenia and Bulgaria, located on different sides of the Balkans, each represent stability and security, they steer dialogue and cooperation policies in the interest of security and peace in the Balkans.
"We share the same values and we want peace for the future of our region," Radev underlined.
Pahor presented to Radev Slovenia's preparations for the next Brdo-Brijuni Process Summit scheduled in Tirana, Albania, for May.
Although Bulgaria is not part of this initiative it does have its own, influential, positions about developments in the region, Pahor said.
He added that the atmosphere, cooperation and trust in the region were not ideal at the moment. He wants the summit to send out a message that would be encouraging for the nations in the region and that would obligate the EU to find together solutions to bilateral and multilateral issues in this part of southeastern Europe.
According to Pahor all Balkan leaders are set to come to Tirana, including Serbian and Kosovo presidents, Aleksandar Vučić and Hashim Thaci, although temperature is running high between Belgrade and Prishtina.
"I can't imagine one of the leaders not coming. This in itself would be a political message. One of the worst possible imaginable at the moment," said Pahor.
Radev moreover underlined that accession of Balkan countries to the EU and NATO was the key to stability, security and progress in the region.
Pahor expressed satisfaction that Radev confirmed today that he would take part in the Three Seas Initiative Summit in Ljubljana in early June.
He believes that the event will be an opportunity for countries in central and eastern Europe to freshen up on their list of priorities in the presence of high representatives of Germany, the EU and the US.
Po novinarski konferenci v Predsedniški palači se predsednik Republike Slovenije Borut Pahor in predsednik Republike Bolgarije Rumen Radev udeležujeta odprtja slovensko-bolgarske poslovne konference na @GZSnovice, kjer bosta nagovorila udeležence konference. pic.twitter.com/HXjWJUv3xJ— Borut Pahor (@BorutPahor) March 11, 2019
The Bulgarian president also said that cooperation should not only be limited to transport, energy and communication but it should also include science, education, culture and the youth.
Radev is accompanied in Slovenia by a business delegation which attended a business forum at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Due to restrictions, the group of executives is smaller than Bulgaria would have wanted. This indicates a great amount of interest in doing business with Slovenia.
Thus a business forum taking place at the sidelines of the Three Seas Initiative will serve as an opportunity for a visit by a bigger delegation.
Economic cooperation between Slovenia and Bulgaria is good, with trade amounting to EUR 385m in 2017. The figure was 25% higher than the year before. Bulgaria is Slovenia's 24th biggest exports market.
You can find all our stories on politics and Slovenia here
STA, 9 March 2019 - Addressing a ceremony marking 30 years since the formation of the Democrats' (SDS) precursor, Janez Janša said the SDS had stayed true to itself, its values and Slovenia even in the most challenging times. "The SDS stands for democracy and is against any totalitarianism," the party head stressed in Ljubljana on Saturday.
Janša said the party was therefore always ready to cooperate with anyone who shared this view for the benefit of Slovenia. "A party that votes against the European Parliament's resolution on European conscience and totalitarianism is not a democratic party," he added.
In the light of the EU elections, Janša stressed the importance of the EU and its future. "Perhaps never in the years since independence in 1991 have we celebrated our birthday in a time when the future ahead was so open and unpredictable. So many different possibilities lie before us. Not all of them are good," he said.
According to Janša, there is a time for every community, every nation when they need to reconsider their place in the world and such a time has come for Europe.
"The EU is strong because it gives priority to rules and the rule of law and not the rule of the stronger," Janša said, adding that the biggest threat to the rule of law were double standards.
One of such example is when EU institutions very quickly detect "actual or imaginary violations in some member states, especially in those where conservative or Christian democratic parties are on power," he said.
Janša believes it is time to opt for "a Europe that Slovenians voted for in the 2003 referendum, a Europe of European civilisation and culture that protects human rights and fundamental freedoms."
The SDS head believes that the key challenge of the new European Parliament after the economic and migration crises and Brexit will be political stabilisation, which will entail upgrading the EU's defence system and monetary policy.
Touching on the EPP's threats that Hungary's Fidesz may be expelled from the group, Janša expressed hope that "this argument in our family will be resolved as soon as possible with a smart compromise, without using force."
He believes the EPP should focus on ways to ensure prosperity for all in Europe, protect the borders and provide for the security of Europeans.
The SDS celebrates today the anniversary of the founding of the Slovenian Democratic Union (SDZ) and the Social Democratic Union of Slovenia (SDZS), which are considered its precursors.
The two parties emerged from the so-called spring movements, calling for democratisation and Slovenia's independence.
Janša said that when the two parties merged the "biggest and the most successful party in Slovenia's history" had been formed, which had so far won eight elections.
For three decades, the party has been "the main pillar of Slovenia's independence, an indivisible part of the fight for democratic transformation and Slovenia's inclusion in the European civilisation's flows," Janša said.
The event at the Cankarjev Dom centre was also addressed by the European People's Party (EPP) Spitzenkandidat for the EU vote, Manfred Weber, who warned against the danger of nationalism in Europe.
Europe is much more than just laws and must provide concrete answers to concrete challenges, including migrations, he said. He also stressed the importance of a shared culture that is based on Christian values.
STA, 8 March 2019 - The Ljubljana Local Court has slapped the opposition Democrats (SDS) with a fine of EUR 20,000 for violating the political parties act in the hiring of two loans, the commercial broadcaster POP TV reported on Friday. SDS head Janez Janša was slapped with a EUR 2,000 fine. The party has reportedly already announced an appeal.
The SDS was indicted by the Court of Audit in March 2018 over two contentious loans it took out in 2017.
The party came under fire in January 2018 for closing a deal on a EUR 450,000 loan from a Bosnian national at the end of 2017, and borrowing EUR 60,000 from the publisher Nova Obzorja in August 2017.
This runs contrary to the provision that parties can only borrow from banks, savings banks and a limited amount of money from individuals.
Under the loan agreement with Bosnian Diana Đuđić, the 32-year-old was obligated to pay out the loan in three instalments of EUR 150,000.
The law puts the ceiling for party loans from individuals at ten times the value of the average gross monthly pay or around EUR 15,800 per year.
Less than two weeks after the scandal broke out, media reported of the loan the SDS took from Nova Obzorja, in which the party holds a 44.2% stake. The stake was also put up as collateral in the loan secured with Đuđić but was later put up for sale.
Nova Obzorja issues the weekly Demokracija and tabloid Škandal24.
The SDS returned the first instalment it received from Đuđić with interest in January 2018 but this did not stop the procedure against the party.
All our stories on politics in Slovenia can be found here
STA, 8 March 2019 - Zoran Poznič, a 59-year-old cultural manager and new media curator, was appointed as Slovenia's new culture minister by the National Assembly on Friday by 47 votes in favour and 19 against.
Poznič has been heading Delavski Dom Trbovlje, a progressive cultural centre in the mining town of Trbovlje, for almost a decade.
He joined the junior coalition Social Democrats (SD) after offering himself as a candidate to the party, and now succeeds Dejan Prešiček, who was forced out of office in January amid bullying allegations.
In his hearing before the parliamentary Culture Committee, Poznič said one of his priorities would be to have a national culture programme for the period between 2020 and 2026 adopted this year.
He also pledged to seek to tackle the status of the self-employed and NGOs in the culture sector, and see to digitalisation of cultural heritage, among other things.
He expects that the culture euro law could become operational by the summer, considering that the draft proposal is all but ready.
Poznič also called for new media legislation, for curbing hate speech in the media, and opening up the room for new media that would support quality criticism in culture and investigative reporting.
Prime Minister Šarec said during today's debate that he expected a lot from Poznič and expressed the hope that stakeholders in culture would give him an opportunity to prove himself.
"Unlike many, I personally perceive the culture department as equal to others, as a field which must not lag behind in its ambitiousness," the prime minister added.
Šarec expects solutions from the new minister, pointing to the culture euro law, a new media law and a new national programme for culture.
"To put it short, I expect a new momentum and proposals for how to make the necessary breakthrough," Šarec said, adding that he expected the relationships at the ministry under the new boss to be appropriate.
Šarec hopes that the employees at the ministry had given the entire situation a thought and that they would "prefer work to complaining and replace the stories about the undermined trust with diligence."
While the coalition MPs endorsed Poznič, the opposition Democrats (SDS) had announced they would vote against, and the opposition Left, New Slovenia (NSi) and National Party (SNS) said they would not oppose Poznič.
Alenka Jeraj (SDS) took issue with Poznič offering himself as a candidate, saying that one would expect from a serious party like the SD to find an appropriate candidate within its own ranks.
Violeta Tomić of the Left said that culture in Trbovlje had entered a new era with Poznič, whom she labelled a good manager and a person who has a feel for workers' rights.
Ljudmila Novak (NSi) noted that Poznič would be facing problems not becoming the the Culture Ministry, as he first had to improve the damaged personal relationships in the institution.
Zmago Jelinčič (SNS) said that the candidate had said nothing about the protection of the Slovenian language and Slovenian cultural heritage.
Growing up in a mining family, Poznič graduated in sculpture from the Ljubljana Academy of Fine Arts in 2007, obtaining a master's degree in video and new media two years later.
He was appointed director of DDT, a worker's home-turned cultural centre, in 2008, setting out a new vision of the town under the slogan Trbovlje New Media Town.
The project brings together creative potential of people in the local and broader communities, combining with global trends in new media. Its central feature is the new media culture festival Speculum Artium.
STA, 8 March 2019 - Health Minister Samo Fakin has notified Prime Minister Marjan Šarec that he is stepping down because of ill health, after being on sick leave since 18 February. Šarec told the press that he would inform the public about Fakin's successor in the coming days.
In his resignation note to Šarec on Friday, Fakin said he was resigning because his recovery had not been progressing quickly enough. Šarec, who visited Fakin at home yesterday, said today that "this move was necessary at this moment".
Šarec also said that the outgoing minister's illness was "nothing that can't be treated, but things have piled up. He suffered an extended bout of bronchitis, followed by pneumonia."
Fakin told the newspaper Finance over the phone that "changing health legislation is very demanding. It requires a healthy person and I am not. When deciding what to do, health took priority."
"I haven't thought about a successor and I'm leaving that up to others," he told Finance. While he remains on sick leave, State Secretary Pia Vračko will continue to stand in for him, the Health Ministry said.
When asked how the change at the ministry will affect the reforms planned by his government, Šarec said that the goals remained unchanged.
He also said that he was happy with Fakin's work. "The minister is one of few people who know the entire system. He identified the real problems and addressed them. There can be no quick solutions in this ministry."
"Because he set such high goals, he now realised that he will not be able to see it through, being ill. We need a person capable of seeing things through."
But this will be no easy task. The next minister will have their work cut out for them. "The tasks are really tough," said the prime minister.
Fakin is the fourth minister in the Šarec government to step down after Environment Minister Jure Leben, Cohesion Minister Marko Bandelli and Culture Minister Dejan Prešiček.
Health ministers who last an entire government term are few and far between in Slovenia. Several said after leaving the position that they gave up on health reform, a project in the works for many years, due to strong pressure from various lobbies.
STA, 7 March 2019 - The Ljubljana District Court acquitted Ljubljana Mayor Zoran Janković of bribery charges in the Gratel case on Thursday. The prosecution sought a three-year prison sentence and a EUR 50,000 fine for Janković. It also wanted the Ljubljana municipality to return the donation it received from the company Gratel.
The ruling is not final yet and prosecutor Blanka Žgajnar announced an appeal.
The case concerns EUR 500,000 which the mayor demanded from construction company Gratel in March 2007 to allow it to dig roads to install optic cables.
Gratel then transferred two EUR 250,000 instalments to the municipality as a donation for the renovation of Ljubljana Castle.
This enabled it to resume its work under a new development permit after Janković had initially banned Gratel from digging on public premises.
Janković argued that the payment had been made in compensation for the damage incurred by the city because Gratel had dug up wider conduits and installed more cables than agreed.
He maintained throughout the trial there was nothing wrong with a company making a donation to a public institution, saying it caused no harm to anyone and nobody except the prosecutor was claiming anything back.
Gratel owner Jurij Krč backed up his story, saying the donation to Ljubljana Castle was not a bribe but a payment in line with the contract, while former Gratel CEO Drago Štrafela said he did not understand why the money should be paid to the municipality, arguing the city suffered no damage.
In presenting closing arguments today, prosecutor Žgajnar said Janković had used his power to pressure Gratel into the donation. "When they did that, he allowed them to continue the work," she said.
"Donations are not forbidden if they are voluntary," she stressed, adding that three witnesses had confirmed that the defendant had demanded money. She believes that the one witness who did not confirm this was not telling the truth.
But Judge Vladislava Lunder said today that the evidence presented had not corroborated the claim that Janković had demanded a bribe and that none of the witnesses had confirmed this.
"None of the witnesses confirmed the claim that Janković made obtaining the permit conditional on the payment of the damages," the judge said.
The problems of the project as part of which Gratel was building an optical network for operator T-2 had started in 2006, which is before Janković became mayor. According to Lunder, not only testimonies of witnesses but also documents presented as evidence showed this.
The judge was not convinced by the prosecutor's claim that Janković had revoked the permit to Gratel only to allow it to continue work once it paid a bribe.
Žgajnar moreover said that Štrafela had softened his statements compared to those he had given to police during the investigation. She believes it was him who had made the deal with Janković.
Janković's lawyer, Janez Koščak, said that no proceeding had been filed against the person who allegedly paid the bribe so technically there was no bribe to be accepted by Janković or the municipality.
He said Janković was on trial for acting with due care and diligence by demanding compensation after a contract partner had violated the contract. "If he hadn't done that he could be indicted for negligence."
Janković said today the had been the target of a political campaign by four persons, including Žgajnar, for the last four years. He believes this attack had been triggered by a "pamphlet of the parliamentary enquiry which was led by Alenka Jeraj of the SDS."
Jeraj of the opposition Democrats led between 2009 and 2011 a parliamentary inquiry into major public construction projects and other major investments funded from the Ljubljana or state budgets.
The final report of the inquiry commission, which had also investigated construction deals of companies owned by Janković's family members, suggested that Janković abused his power to allow his sons to profit from a re-zoning plan that opened agricultural land for construction.
All our stories on Ljubljana Mayor Zoran Janković can be found here