Politics

22 Dec 2018, 10:12 AM

STA, 21 December 2018 - President Borut Pahor has called for a concerted cooperation-based effort for changes that will keep Slovenia safe and economically robust in the face of pending global turbulences. He spoke to TV Slovenija about the need for structural changes, electoral reform, for a multilateral approach to migration, and for protecting free speech.

Pahor feels the level of cooperation in Slovenia is adequate for the present challenges, "but it is not sufficient for the demands of the times ahead."

Dangers ahead on multiple fronts

"I feel that we're all not really understanding yet that the times around us are changing, that the situation is changing at home and in particular in the international community and that a time is coming, without fail, which we all have to get ready for, as a state, its decision makers, as a community, as people, as a society."

Pahor fears Slovenia is relying too much on the recent positive trends. He argued that while "on the surface things are looking stable politically, right under the surface the rocks are hiding of party and bloc divisions".

He argued that in "the coming months, years this surface level will drop a little, as expected, and then these rocks will start sticking out sharply".

Pahor would like to see a sense developed that "we owe it to each other to cooperate, trust each other more, even if this will not happen overnight, because certain grudges remain".

"The problems ahead should not inspire fear in us, but are still a valid cause for certain concerns."

Security and the economy depend on cooperation

Listing the main priorities, he said Slovenia first and foremost needed to remain a safe country. It also needs to make its economy more "robust, resistant to the business cycle blows and perhaps recession".

Perhaps the most important thing however is cooperation. "We depend on each other" and "realising this and relying on each other would keep us on track no matter what lay in store".

"In the coming year, when it seems that this will be the last year of relatively favourable economic circumstances, the government and everybody cooperating with it have to create conditions for structural adjustments," Pahor said, arguing this would also boost the country's credibility and scope for action abroad.

Slovenia will win Croatian border dispute, and it’s electoral system will be reformed

Turning to the border arbitration impasse with Croatia, Pahor said it was important for Slovenia to have good relations with all neighbouring countries.

"I think it could be good if we'd give the debate on arbitration some time to calm down, while in the meantime I'd strive for constant dialogue between Zagreb and Ljubljana, including on how to implement the arbitration award."

He however stressed that "alternatives are not an option for us". Still, "there is no need to be nervous, impatient, because in the end, sooner or later, the border will be on the lines drawn by the tribunal".

Pahor "cannot imagine any scenario - peaceful, without the use of force or any major public opposition, possibly conflict-causing - that would lead to a different outcome of any sorts".

Touching on the Slovenian political system, he said he had taken the task upon himself, "one that everybody agreed with", to convene a meeting of parties in January to "start the very demanding discussion on a reform of the electoral system".

Arguing the sense in the public that politics is too self-involved is somewhat justified, he said the direction of electoral reform, also demanded by the Constitutional Court, "is more or less clear".

Finding a redrawing of election districts impossible, Pahor feels it more likely that more prominence will be given to electoral units and to the possibility of a preferential vote.

Pahor defends Catalan meeting

Quizzed about the tensions with PM Marjan Šarec over Pahor's decision to receive Catalan President Quim Torra, Pahor said that talking about major discrepancies in foreign policy was an exaggeration and that Šarec and him simply thought about the situation independently.

Pahor said his initial decision had been not to receive Torra. "It would't have been a wrong decision, but it was not good enough for me. Somehow, my heart did not allow it, I have to be honest here," he said, noting the tradition of good relations with Catalonia.

Meanwhile, returning to global politics shifts, Pahor stressed he was not a nationalist but still wanted Slovenia "to strengthen all the attributes of its statehood and sovereignty", as some of ripples of the changes could also reach Europe.

On the other hand, while nationalist forces are building ties in Europe, "we, who believe in European integration, have been unable to cooperate".

He still feels things are controllable, and urges a perspective that is out of box and that may raise eyebrows but could be a solution. Pahor would like to see another push for a constitutional process in the EU and plans to contribute with initiatives, including as part of what is known as the Ljubljana Process.

TEŠ6 and corruption

Quizzed about the TEŠ6 generator scandal, fears that the case will become statute barred and the general sense that the judicial system in protecting the elite, Pahor said he felt there was enough material available on the TEŠ6 case now to get to the bottom of things.

This would be good for future project too. There is a lack of trust presently stemming from bitter past experience that we haven't learned from, Pahor said.

"I wish things would move faster and express my trust that the legal institutions will deliver," he concluded.

As regards the situation of the current government, Pahor is happy that it has a solid support level even though it is a minority government and believes it should utilise this to secure structural reforms.

"Cooperation with the opposition will be necessary here, but I see problems here that could prove bigger in the coming years than it seems today," said the president, who announced he would continue to host consultations to try to find consensus.

Controlled migration depends on an international order and rules

Turning to migration, Pahor said he had felt he had to take an early stance on the UN migration compact, because of the "fear in part of the public that the compact will lead to an open doors policy or be seen as such by migrants".

"This is definitely not the case," he stressed, while arguing Slovenia's response was more than just about refugees, it was also about its identity and about its approach to multilateralism.

Situated at a very sensitive geopolitical location, Slovenia is in fact protected by the international order, Pahor said.

"We are the ones who need to push for these rules to be respected - the big ones can perhaps get away with violating them, but they are vital for us", he said arguing the joint UN approach will "only strengthen our ability to deal with the situation".

Free speech vs hate speech

Meanwhile, asked about his refusal to take a clear stance on the spreading of hate speech in Slovenia, Pahor said he called for tolerance and respect in practically all of his speeches but was careful when confronted with demands to take a stance on specific issues.

Moreover, Pahor is a strong believer in the freedom of speech and fears issues related to the blurry line between acceptable and hateful speech. He feels the situation required personal and political responsibility to be kind and respectful.

"We'll only get through these tough times be speaking our mind openly," he said, while asserting he is "not among those who believe there is more hate speech today".

"It is just more visible and more present because of social as well as traditional media...It is more present in a qualitative sense," Pahor said, while noting some similarities with the 1930s. "And I'm concerned, that is why I call for tolerance."

21 Dec 2018, 17:00 PM

STA, 21 December 2018 - The opposition parties the Democrats (SDS) and the National Party (SNS) launched an impeachment motion against Prime Minister Marjan Šarec on Friday. The parties decided for the move after the SDS's latest attempt to secure more funds for private schools failed in parliament yesterday.

MPs defeated in a 44 to 31 vote yesterday legislative amendment designed to implement full government funding of publicly-approved curricula at private primary schools as mandated by the Constitutional Court in 2014 in what was the fifth time that the party attempted to get the motion through.

The Constitutional Court ruled in December 2014 that the current 85% state financing of publicly-approved curricula at private schools was not in compliance with the Constitution.

The issue is an ideological one considering that two primaries in the country are operated by the Catholic Church. The previous government sought to enact the ruling, but the legislative process was stalled by the Social Democrat-led initiative to amend the Constitution, which eventually failed.

Šarec's government opposes the SDS-sponsored legislative changes, arguing that they tackle the issue of financing of private schools only partially.

This was repeated by Education Minister Jernej Pikalo in parliament yesterday. He announced a comprehensive solution would be sought at the beginning of next year and definitely before the start of the next school year.

The SDS, New Slovenia (NSi) and the SNS deputy groups were considering impeaching Šarec over the government's failure to implement the 2014 Constitutional Court ruling already at the beginning of the month, but decided to wait for the parliamentary session.

The SDS announced the move yesterday and the NSi was also to join the campaign but eventually opted out.

The party explained its decision on Twitter. "After Minister Jernej Pikalo announced the Constitutional Court's decision will be implemented by the beginning of next school year, the impeachment motion no longer enjoys the support of the necessary 46 MPs."

Noting that impeachment was a "strong tool of the opposition", the NSi said that if it were to stay this way it should only be used on sufficient support.

The initiators of the motion claim that Šarec as prime minister insists on discriminating children who attend the obligatory primary school programme at private schools. Thus, inequality is being created and the Constitution violated, the SDS and SNS claim.

The two parties are accusing the prime minister of failure to act, which caused "irreparable damage and the loss of trust in the institutions of the rule of law and welfare state."

They also claim Šarec is guilty of negligence at work, violation of several articles of the Constitution and the government act.

During yesterday's debate on the school funding, MPs of the coalition pointed to the different interpretations of the Constitutional Court's decision and labelled the impeachment motion a "populist gesture".

This is the fourth impeachment motion against a prime minister in Slovenia's history. In order for the Constitutional Court to decide on the motion, it would need to be backed by 46 of the 90 MPs, which seems very unlikely.

So far, all impeachment motions have been filed by the SDS and none of them even made it to the Constitutional Court.

21 Dec 2018, 12:00 PM

STA, 20 December 2018 - The National Assembly formed on Thursday a parliamentary inquiry into financing of political parties from abroad on an initiative from the coalition and the opposition Left. It will focus on the allegedly suspicious financing of the centre-right opposition Democrats (SDS), which believes it is an attempt to hamper its work.

The commission is to determine possible violations of the law prohibiting financing of parties from abroad and the role of the media in the financing.

The parties based their request on a report by the Court of Audit with the SDS, the only implicated party for the moment, but Jani Möderndorfer of the Modern Centre Party (SMC), who is to be appointed commission chair at its next session, said that the inquiry could be expanded if there were indications of other parties' questionable actions.

According to Möderndorfer, there was controversy about the financial support that companies with alleged ties to Hungarian ruling parties provide to some Slovenian media and its effect on the election campaign.

Möderndorfer mentioned the media house Nova24TV, magazine Škandal24 and the weekly Demokracija, whose ownership is linked to the SDS and Hungarian investors.

Related: New York Times examines Orban’s media allies in Slovenia

The commission will focus on the events between 2012 and 3 June 2017. The provisions on the financing of political parties stepped into force in 2012.

Robert Pavšič of the Marjan Šarec List (MLŠ) said on behalf of the initiators that the potential result of the inquiry could be thorough changes of legislation regulating money laundering prevention, financing of parties and election campaign and issuing and financing of media during election campaign.

Möderndorfer said that the inquiry had been endorsed because the issue had been dealt with already in the previous term and that the findings of the inquiry on suspected money laundering in the NKBM bank would also be included in the investigation.

He said that the SMC would propose at the first session of the commission that the Court of Audit be called to inform the MPs whether any party other than the SDS had "problems with financing".

Marko Koprivc of the Social Democrats (SD) said that it should be established what was wrong with the system which allows for suspicious financing of parties.

Koprivc added that the loan given to the SDS by Bosnian citizen Dijana Đuđić, who appears to have used NKBM accounts to extend millions in suspicions loans in Slovenia, and the suspicious manner of financing of the media owned by the SDS should be finally investigated.

Related: Politico on Janša and Orban

Franc Jurša of the Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) said that the inquiry could indirectly help strengthen the system of prevention of money laundering, financing of terrorism and tax evasion.

Nataša Sukić said that the law and supervision of transparency and lawfulness of financing of parties and election campaigns cannot keep up with the increasingly innovative and complicated financial flows, with the SDS being a leader in this department.

"The funds being transferred between foreign countries and the party are increasing. We are talking about a propaganda machine financed from Orban's Hungary, about money laundering suspicion, illegal transactions and interference in Slovenia's internal matters."

The SDS meanwhile believes that it is about the left-leaning coalition attacking the SDS. "It is more than obvious that the purpose of the inquiry is to get insight in the guts of the SDS, discredit it maliciously, try to paralyse it and hamper its work," deputy Dejan Kaloh said.

Kaloh added that the subject of the inquiry should be expanded with the question of how much foreign capital was involved in the promotion of the five coalition parties and the Left and "what share of the commission the leading officials in the LMŠ received from the EUR 1bn laundered for Iranian terrorists through the state-owned NLB bank."

18 Dec 2018, 11:43 AM

STA, 17 December 2018 - A report on Slovenia's EU funds drawing commissioned by former Minister Marko Bandelli, who was forced to resign in November, points to serious issues at the Government Office for Development and European Cohesion Policy that could cost the country up to EUR 68m in EU funds.

 

Bandelli ordered a new report after his team found irregularities in the old report, reads an attachment to the report, which was initially planned as public but was sent to Prime Minister Marjan Šarec separately after the Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB) and Šarec agreed on Bandelli's successor.

The leaked document, obtained by the STA, points to irregularities such as discrepancies between the data on the drawing of EU funds available to the public and those available to his office.

IT seems to be one cause of the problem

The government office has had issues with the information system for some time now, but Bandelli's team said in the document that the trouble with the system, which has compatibility issues with the IT system at the Finance Ministry, was such that "it poses a serious threat that Slovenia will (permanently) lose the awarded funds for the first time this year".

Slovenia has to use the EU funds earmarked for the country until 2015 by the end of this year. According to Development and European Cohesion Policy Office State Secretary Nevenka Ribič, Slovenia could lose around EUR 68m because of the issues.

"I hope we'll bring the figure to zero on time, but I cannot make any promises. We're working on it," she said, adding that it had appeared at first that more than EUR 180m were at risk of being lost.

Moreover, the leaked document says that the office was not quick enough in tackling the issues in the previous term, when it was led by Alenka Smerkolj.

According to the document, an audit carried out by the company KPMG unveiled these issues, but the office failed to act on it.

On the other hand, Igor Lakota, the deputy government secretary-general who headed Smrekolj's cabinet in the previous term, told the STA on Monday that the report did not paint a realistic picture.

There have been issues, he acknowledged, but the audit by KPMG led to Smrekolj finding a new contractor for the IT system, which managed "to resolve some of the key issues we had".

In turn, the payments mainly started in September, and Lakota says that only EUR 19m in EU funds are still under threat at the moment, but that these claims are to be sent to the Finance Ministry, "so all the funds will be taken care of".

Lakota may be fired and investigated by the police over irregularities

Moreover, Lakota and three other employees of the office in the previous term, point fingers at the previous government's decision to keep the office and the Finance Ministry on separate IT systems instead of using a single one.

"This has led to a very complicated system ... for the ministries and the end uses of the funds," they said in a response to the document they sent to Šarec, who is reportedly seriously considering letting Lakota go.

Commercial broadcaster POP TV reported that Lakota is a person of interest in two investigations related to his stint at the office, with the police investigating the IT system and connected public procurement, and the public inspectorate investigating alleged irregularities with which Lakota increased his monthly earnings by around EUR 600.

17 Dec 2018, 10:30 AM

STA, 16 December 2018 - Foreign Minister Miro Cerar called for more involvement by the US in Europe in an interview he gave for the Washington Post while visiting the US last week. Unless the US "make its leadership more visible in Europe" it risks being eclipsed by China and Russia, the paper said on Saturday.

 

"It's not enough to have good economic cooperation," Cerar was quoted as saying by the Washington Post.

"I tell you, the Chinese come to Europe. As prime minister, I met five times with the Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang in order to discuss political relations and business."

"So I think it would be very good if our friends and allies in the US would be more present in the region," Cerar said.

Related: Cerar – EU could lose Balkans to Russia, Turkey and China

China offers to build infrastructure quickly with cheap money that leaves the country in debt but is too alluring to turn down, he also said.

He predicts many countries in the Balkans and Eastern Europe will gravitate to Beijing and Moscow politically as well as economically. "If Russian or Chinese interests prevail, we will lose the region," he said.

16 Dec 2018, 14:47 PM

STA, 16 December 2018 - The government should be more resolute in demanding from Slovenia's neighbours to meet their obligations to the Slovenian ethnic minority, the chair of the parliamentary Commission for Slovenians Abroad, Ljudmila Novak, has told the STA.

 

Unlike when she was minister without portfolio for Slovenians abroad between February 2012 and March 2013, Novak said she can now only bring certain issues to the government's attention and call for action, but there is little leverage to influence how issues are actually addressed.

Although she would overhaul legislation governing the country's policies on Slovenians abroad, she believes Slovenia should more decisively demand from Austria, Croatia, Hungary and Italy to consistently respect minority protection legislation.

She therefore expects that when meeting counterparts from neighbouring countries, the foreign minister and prime minister will intensively promote minority topics.

"The commission's task is to demand from the government to bring minority issues to the attention of interlocutors in neighbouring countries."

Novak, a member of the opposition New Slovenia (NSi), believes Foreign Minister Miro Cerar should have also used his recent visit to Rome to discuss specific issues.

She pointed to the need to change Italy's electoral legislation to facilitate the election of a Slovenian minority deputy to both chambers of parliament.

She also believes "it would only be fair" that Slovenians in the neighbouring countries were guaranteed a representative in parliament in the same way as is the case with the Italian and Hungarian minorities in Slovenia - both are guaranteed an MP in the lower chamber of parliament.

Another issue is Slovenian minority media, which are faced with the abolition of subsidies in Italy and a severe lack of funds in Austria.

Nevertheless, Novak said some progress had been made since she was minister for Slovenians abroad, especially in Austria and Hungary.

She would also like the Government Office for Slovenians Abroad to set up a task force to coordinate activities of all ministries which deal with Slovenians living in neighbouring countries.

Novak is aware the Office, with which her commission cooperates well, always has too little funds at its disposal and most of them are earmarked for the minorities in the four neighbours, so she believes funds should be increased.

She would like Slovenians in Austria, Croatia, Hungary and Italy to preserve their Slovenian identity, culture and language.

But she also wishes for Slovenia to have "good relations" with Slovenians living elsewhere in the world, so cross-border cooperation should be strengthened.

In Novak's view, the know-how and experiences of successful Slovenians living abroad is not appreciated well enough in Slovenia.

Young, well educated people leaving is a problem in the absence of brain circulation, so it is important to keep in touch with them and try to facilitate their return.

Slovenia should let them know that their expertise is appreciated in their homeland. "We need a positive attitude on both sides, also on the part of Slovenia."

The Office of the Government of the Republic of Slovenia for Slovenians Abroad (Urad Vlade Republike Slovenije za Slovence v zamejstvu in po svetu) can be found here

 

15 Dec 2018, 08:53 AM

STA, 14 December 2018 - Prime Minister Marjan Šarec expressed regret in Brussels on Friday over disunity in Slovenia's position on Catalonia, taking aim at President Borut Pahor for receiving Catalan President Quim Torra for an informal meeting during his visit to Slovenia last week.

"I regret our foreign policy was disunited again despite an agreement that we'll act as one," Šarec said after he discussed the Catalan issue with his Spanish counterpart Pedro Sanchez on the sidelines of the EU summit.

"It's astonishing the conduct of some who have much longer experience working in foreign policy than I have. At least that's what I had been hearing a while ago," Šarec said in a reference to criticism levelled against him in the 2017 presidential race in which he challenged Pahor.

Related: Catalonia’s president calls on region to follow Slovenia’s example

"Considering Mr Pahor's wealth of experience I would expect a different reaction," he said, referring to Pahor receiving Torra for an informal meeting on 6 December.

"You have to know the protocol, who receives whom, and take into consideration the levels of visits," he said. When asked how he interpreted Pahor's decision, Šarec said this was a question to be put to the president.

Šarec said that there was quite a storm in Spain over the matter, but that he and Sanchez had a constructive debate. Sanchez is coming to Slovenia, he said, adding that the relationship between the two countries was very good.

The prime minister repeated the Slovenian government's position on the issue of Catalonia's independence: Spain is a sovereign and democratic country, the Catalan issue is Spain's internal affair and Slovenia's independence cannot be likened with Catalonia's.

He said that Slovenia's independence was made possible by Yugoslavia's 1974 constitution, amendments to the Slovenian constitution adopted in 1989 and a referendum in 1990 in which the turnout stood at 90%.

Related: Slovenian Foreign Ministry to educate Spanish Ambassador on the nature of the country’s independence

He noted that at the time 88.4% of Slovenians opted for independence, which made the referendum very legitimate, while Yugoslavia was not a democratic country at the time.

The situation in Spain is very different, he said, considering the Spanish constitution does not make independence possible. If they reach some other agreement in the future, it will be a different situation, he added.

Šarec also responded to questions from Spanish reporters today, underscoring that the situation in Slovenia in 1990 could not be compared to the situation in Catalonia today and that Slovenia's conduct was always peaceful and lawful.

He also said that Slovenia was unhappy that its case should be abused in the independence efforts of half of Catalonia's population. "We are legalists and we respect Spain's internal affairs," he told Catalan journalists.

Sanchez did not talk about Torra's visit to Slovenia in Brussels today. However, Spanish diplomatic sources say that Sanchez and Šarec discussed the issue yesterday, that their talk was positive and that the Slovenian prime minister supported the Spanish government.

Torra, who visited Slovenia at the invitation of MEP Ivo Vajgl (ALDE/DeSUS) and former Slovenian President Milan Kučan, caused an uproar in Spain after urging Catalonia in a speech in Brussels on Saturday to follow the example of Slovenia in its push for independence.

Apart from Pahor, National Assembly Speaker Dejan Židan also received Torra informally last week.

12 Dec 2018, 19:00 PM

STA, 12 December 2018 - After heated reactions in Spain to the Catalan leader suggesting Catalonia take the Slovenian path to independence, the issue is expected to be discussed as the Slovenian Foreign Ministry hosts the Spanish ambassador for what it has termed a regular dialogue on Thursday.

After visiting Slovenia last week, Catalan President Quim Torra expressed his support for the "Slovenian way" and determination in a speech in Brussels, a statement that provoked heated reactions in Madrid.

"He has obviously forgotten the many dead and wounded in Slovenia," Isabel Calaa, the education minister and the spokesperson for the Spanish government, said.

Related: Catalonian President calls on region to follow Slovenia’s example

The newspaper Delo has reported that the Slovenian Foreign Ministry has invited Spanish ambassador to the country for a meeting today so as to explain to him that Slovenia's independence was not an act of violence but that Slovenia defended itself from aggression.

However, the Foreign Ministry told the STA today Spanish Ambassador Jose Luis de la Pena Vela would be meeting the head of the EU Affairs Directorate David Brozina on Thursday for what was previously scheduled as "regular diplomatic dialogue and exchange of views on topical matters as is common practice between friendly countries and partners in the EU".

Foreign Ministry State Secretary Simona Leskovar said at today session of the parliamentary Foreign Policy Committee as she answered a question from an MP that Slovenia's position to the Catalan issue had been consistent and transparent.

From the historical aspect and in the light of its own experience, Slovenia advocates the right of nations to self-determination, which must be implemented lawfully and in accordance with democratic standards, she added.

According to Leskovar, Slovenia has been stressing regarding Catalonia that a solution should be found in a peaceful way, in dialogue and efforts for co-existence.

Slovenia respects the territorial integrity and does not interfere in internal affairs of other countries and in principle it does not take positions on these internal processes, she added.

Torra visited Slovenia last week at the invitation of MEP Ivo Vajgl and former Slovenian President Milan Kučan. He was also received by President Borut Pahor and Speaker Dejan Židan for informal meetings.

Kučan issued a written statement today in which he says that the issue of Catalonia is a political issue that can only be resolved by political means, through open, tolerant and well-argued dialogue between Barcelona and Madrid. He also said that the Slovenian path of peaceful exercise of the right to self-determination may serve as a model, something that was discussed with Torra last week.

However, Kučan said that the interpretation that Slovenia forced its way to independence by violence was not realistic and indicated ignorance of facts.

11 Dec 2018, 19:00 PM

STA, 11 December 2018 - The three right-leaning opposition parties preparing an impeachment against Prime Minister Marjan Šarec have decided to wait with the motion until the parliament discusses Democrats-sponsored legislative changes aiming to raise state funding for private schools to 100%.

The Democrats (SDS), New Slovenia (NSi) and the National Party (SNS) were planning to file the impeachment motion today, but the NSi is to supply the needed signatures when the legislative changes make the parliamentary agenda later this month.

The parties decided to impeach Šarec after his government said it did not support the SDS-sponsored changes in late November.

While the government implied the changes failed to tackle the funding issues comprehensively, the SDS says that the changes would implement the 2014 decision by the Constitutional Court that ordered Slovenia to raise funding for private schools teaching public curricula from 85% to 100%.

Education and Sport Minister Jernej Pikalo said today that this was a political issue and a decision that should be made by the coalition.

"One of the future coalition summits will have to deal with this," said the minister who expects long coordination due to the balance of power in the National Assembly. At this moment "nobody has enough votes to go either way".

He said that his position on the issue was clear: private is only for some, while public is for everybody. He underlined however that every decision by the Constitutional Court must be addressed: "These are the fundamentals of the rule of law."

Most coalition partners meanwhile believe that impeachment would be a premature step. However, Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) MP Jurij Lep said that the motion was legitimate and he has little doubt that it will be filed.

While the prime minister's office has not responded to the news of impeachment being planned, his party said that coalition partners would discuss the motion.

Brane Golubovič of the Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ) was critical of the opposition, saying that he would have expected them to seek dialogue about the changes before deciding for impeachment.

He also said that the coalition was very busy at the moment with the 2019 supplementary budget. "Without it neither public nor private schools will get funds next year".

Matjaž Han, the Social Democrats (SD) deputy group head, commented that the opposition had run out of ideas, adding that previous Education Minister Maja Makovec Brenčič faced a no-confidence vote due to the same changes.

"This is about more than just EUR 300,000, it's a symbolic move," Han said about the changes that would raise funding for private schools.

The junior opposition Modern Centre Party (SMC) meanwhile underlined that a Constitutional Court decision must be respected.

The Left, the minority government's partner in the opposition, is against additional funds for private schools. In fact they want to change the Constitution so as to restrict state funding only to public schools.

11 Dec 2018, 16:30 PM

STA, 10 December 2018 - Foreign Minister Miro Cerar, speaking after an EU ministerial in Brussels on Monday, said the EU should respond to positive change in the Western Balkans with very concrete acts or else it risked losing the region geo-strategically.

Cerar said positive shifts could be noticed in the Western Balkans at the end of 2018, inspiring hope the region's integration into the EU could continue successfully if countries meet all the criteria.

He believes it is vital for the EU to intensively continue to integrate the region, since countries such as Russia, Turkey and China are interested in it.

"The EU is the best guarantee of Europe's stability. Countries from the region should be integrated as soon as possible, as soon as they have implemented the reforms, or else this part of Europe will be lost to us geo-strategically, which would be a major loss for our European family."

He also pointed to Slovenia's two positive initiatives for the region: an integrated border control management system, which has facilitated a shift towards better coordination in fighting crime, and an agenda for the youth.

Cerar also said the EU should do all in its power so that Serbia and Kosovo reach a comprehensive agreement solving all open issues and having no negative consequences for the broader region.

He expects the EU to decide to launch accession negotiations for Macedonia and Albania in June 2019. He believes this must be done especially if the Macedonia name agreement is implemented.

Tension with Russia in the region

Ukraine, or the escalation of tensions with Russia, was also on the EU foreign ministers' agenda, but despite calls by visiting Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin to impose new sanctions on Russia and provide more financial aid to Ukraine, no such decision was taken.

"We did not explicitly discuss introducing new sanctions," said Cerar.

"It's now important to exert constant, decisive and unified pressure on Russia to release the arrested members of the crew and return the ship to Ukraine, and allow the freedom of navigation," he said in reference to the latest escalation of tensions in the Azov Sea.

Cerar believes there should be no need to make the sanctions more severe if Russia acted quickly to eliminate the latest violations of international law. In the opposite case, potential new or additional sanctions would probably be discussed sooner or later.

At the moment the EU hopes for some progress to be made at Tuesday's Berlin meeting of the Normandy contact group, which brings together Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France.

The EU is meanwhile expected to decide at a summit this week whether to extend the sanctions against Russia which expire on 31 January. Cerar believes they will be extended.

11 Dec 2018, 13:00 PM

STA, 10 December 2018 - Slovenia was among more than 150 UN member countries that endorsed the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration at an inter-governmental conference in Marrakesh on Monday.

Heading Slovenia's delegation at the two-day inter-governmental conference, Interior Ministry State Secretary Sandi Čurin said the document was not ideal, but it was a good compromise designed to enhance international cooperation in all aspects of migration.

"The agreement is a framework that offers guidance, recommendations how to form national policies in the field of migration. The standards therein are largely already part of European policies and legislation," Čurin told the STA over the phone from Morocco.

The agreement was not joined by 40 countries, including Slovenia's neighbours Austria, Hungary and Italy, but Čurin does not see this as a problem for Slovenia, because the agreement's key points have been framed as part of EU legislation.

"Like I was saying, the agreement will in no way affect national legislation, at least not in European countries," he said.

"The agreement has been adopted by acclamation, which is a good basis for international cooperation, something that is more than needed if we want to address migration in a comprehensive and effective way," he said.

In joining the document, Slovenia "explicitly respected the principles such as countries' sovereignty to determine their national policies and legislation related to migration, distinguishing between legal and illegal migration and allowing forced return [of migrants] when voluntary is not possible".

Foreign Minister Miro Cerar, speaking on the sidelines of an EU ministerial in Brussels, said he believed "the agreement will mostly bring positive things", but stressed that action would also have to be taken to prevent illegal migrations at the national level in the future.

"Despite much turbulence the Marrakesh global agreement on migrations caused in Europe, I'm calm now," said Cerar, adding the adoption of the agreement put an end to attempts by extreme populists to use non-truths, misinformation and scaremongering to scare people to gain politically.

However, such efforts will resurface again before next year's European elections and later, so it is important for Slovenia to have a positive attitude towards globalisation and to promote human rights and cooperation on migrations at the global level, he said.

Highlighting the need for multilateralism, Cerar reiterated his view that no country, not even the largest one, can handle on its own challenges such as climate change, migrations, digitalisation and security.

He is happy the Slovenian government made the right decision to join the agreement. Although it is not legally binding, the agreement facilitates common efforts to prevent illegal migrations, especially the return of illegal migrants, the foreign minister stressed.

The first inter-governmentally negotiated agreement on a common approach to international migration in all of its dimensions, the agreement has divided European countries as well as the public in Slovenia.

The document sets out 23 objectives for better managing migration in the interests of countries, migrants and the communities hosting them.

In July this year, the agreement was backed by all 193 UN member countries except for the US, which withdrew from the negotiations in December 2017.

The countries which have not joined it argue the document does not distinguish between legal and illegal migrations, but encroaches on national sovereignty in migration policy.

Offering similar arguments, the right-wing opposition parties in Slovenia had urged the government to reject it. They had also said the agreement does not address the causes of migration in the countries of origin.

The Democratic Party (SDS) filed for a referendum on the document, but it is not clear whether such a vote will be admissible. The parliamentary Foreign Policy Committee is to discuss the matter later this week.

Today, a protest against the document was held in front of the parliament building.

Meanwhile, opposition New Slovenia (NSi) leader Matej Tonin expressed regret that a Slovenian delegation took part in the Marrakesh conference, reiterating opposition to the agreement.

The compact "promotes multiculturalism in a rather aggressive way where it appears as if it should be us who almost had to adapt to those who come here, rather than the other way around", Tonin said.

The agreement includes many recommendations as to how the culture and customs of the immigrants should be respected. "However, the NSi believes that the guests in our house have an obligation to adapt to our customs and to subject to our laws and the constitution," he said.

Tonin added that Slovenia's joining the agreement could be a wrong message to the migrants waiting in the Balkans to continue their journey north.

"A open-door policy is false solidarity which causes even more problems. If countries want to help, they should help them by means of expertise, technology so they can create suitable living conditions for themselves," the NSi said.

The agreement, which is not legally binding, will be endorsed by a resolution at the UN General Assembly on 19 December.

Anti-UN migration pact rally staged in front of parliament

STA, 10 December 2018 - An estimated 200 to 250 people gathered on Monday in front the parliament building in Ljubljana in what appears to be a protest against the UN migration pact adopted in Marrakesh.

The statements of the protesters, some of which have donned yellow vests, indicate they are fearing the migration pact will have serious consequences for Slovenia.

They blocked access to parliament and disrupted traffic on the street in front of the parliament.

Many spoke of high treason, which was echoed by Bernard Brščič, an economist and former state secretary in the PM's office under the 2012/2013 Janez Janša government.

"Senior politicians are also aware of this and have turned tail, letting an insignificant clerk sign the declaration in their place," Brščič said.

While he said that the fear of a referendum will prevent a ratification in parliament that would make the declaration part of Slovenia's legal order, Brščič insisted this is an international treaty that will have legal consequences.

The protesters meanwhile argued they were not only protesting against the migration pact, also listing the failure to get the voice of small people heard, flawed referendum legislation and the need for national sovereignty and the liberation of society.

Before the anti-UN migration pact rally, the same location was used for a small rally by representatives of trade unions, who argued that workers rights were also part of human rights.

Slovenia is among the countries who have backed Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.

The right-wing opposition parties in Slovenia had urged the government to reject the agreement. They also say that the agreement does not address the causes of migration in the countries of origin.

The Democratic Party (SDS) has filed for a referendum on the document, but it is not clear whether such a vote would be admissible. The parliamentary Foreign Policy Committee is to discuss the matter later this week.

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