02 Sep 2019, 17:34 PM

STA, 1 September 2019 - Slovenian MEP Milan Brglez (SD/S&D) has joined an appeal by a group of MEPs asking the European Commission to examine whether British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's move to suspend parliament is in breach of EU law.

"It is a sad day for development of democracy and the rule of law in British and all-European history. Parliaments are the essence of a country's democratic system (...) So their work should be enhanced rather than hampered," said Brglez, who served as Slovenian parliamentary speaker between 2014 and 2018.

"There have always been differences in views on how democracy should develop and there always will be (...) but it is wrong if the politically stronger party substitutes the argument of power for the power of arguments and uses the leverage it has against democracy and democratic procedures."

Arguing that this is exactly what the British government has done, Brglez joined the appeal drawn up by British MEP Anthony Hook (RE), for the Commission to examine potential breach of the EU's basic values and principles under Article 7 of the Treaty on EU, which has been used to censure the governments of Poland and Hungary.

All our stories on Brexit are here

31 Aug 2019, 14:55 PM

The covers and editorials from leading weeklies of the Left and Right for the work-week ending Friday, 30 August

Mladina: Support for the Left’s spending proposals

STA, 30 August 2019 - The left-leaning weekly Mladina criticises the government's dismissive attitude towards the Left's (Levica) spending proposals, saying that instead of preparing for the global economic slowdown and possible recession as numerous other countries are doing, Slovenia has been recklessly ignoring indicators of the coming downturn.

The draft budget for 2020 is lacklustre and "threatens the country's stability in the short run if the international situation changes", editor-in-chief Grega Repovž writes in Friday's editorial The Government's Grave Mistake.

So instead of wondering if the draft budget will be endorsed in parliament or not, the question that should be asked it how to improve it.

The Marjan Šarec government has been haughtily rejecting any ideas that would prepare Slovenia for the worst-case scenario, including investments in new social housing.

"Apart from supporting the construction of the second rail track - which benefits only the port of Koper - the state has not planned any major investments or secured any safety net for companies which will be affected by Germany's economy cooling down.

"In the government's first year in power there has been no considerable progress in any key areas, not a step has been taken to enable society and the economy to start keeping up with growing new climate standards which actually constitute an industrial revolution."

Saying that the 2020 budget draft would be appropriate for 2019, but not for the year of economic downturn, Mladina notes that all the progressive parts of the coalition agreement have been left forgotten - healthcare privatisation has not been curbed, on the contrary, insurers are raising premiums with the government turning a blind eye.

It seems that the state will continue down this path in 2020, while Germany, on the other hand, is getting ready for the possibility of another financial crisis by investing in education, social housing, digital technologies, infrastructure and jobs of the future.

It is only right that the Left has decided not to support the budget bill for 2020 and 2021 if the coalition does not endorse its proposal to abolish top-up health insurance.

The government's dismissive attitude towards the Left's proposals for ideological reasons needs to stop since those plans are the projects currently carried out by progressive and prudent countries.

Slovenia still has time to change course and prevent its economic and political collapse, but the magazine concludes on a rather pessimistic note, saying that the faces in politics are new, but their attitudes and deeds have been seen before and do not inspire trust.

Reporter: When Slovenia will get access to the White House?

STA, 26 August - Wondering where Slovenia is on the global map, the right-leaning weekly Reporter says in its latest commentary that Slovenia would perhaps get the opportunity for one of its officials crossing the doorstep of the White House now that PM Marjan Šarec has announced plans for a second reactor at the NEK nuclear power plant.

In the commentary headlined Washington-Beijing-Moscow, editor-in-chief Silvester Šurla initially notes that Šarec will pay in the autumn an official visit to Moscow, not Washington.

"It is probably also because of Slovenia's pro-Russian foreign policy that no Slovenian politician crossed the doorstep of the White House in the last eight years."

Even in the last three years, with the US being presided by Donald Trump, and him having as many as four Slovenians by his side - his wife Melania, son Barron and his father-in-law and mother-in law Viktor and Amalija Knavs - the door has remained firmly shut.

But Šurla wonders if Trump, who is always ready to do business, will change his mind now that Šarec has announced the construction of a new reactor at NEK, which operates with US technology.

"If the deal gets won by their Westinghouse, Slovenia would probably get something in return. Something more concrete than just a courtesy visit to the White House?", concludes the commentary.

All the posts in this series can be found here, while all our stories on Slovenian politics are here

31 Aug 2019, 10:14 AM

What follows is a weekly review of events involving Slovenia, as prepared by the STA.

FRIDAY, 23 August
        GRAZ/KLAGENFURT, Austria - Prime Minister Marjan Šarec's statement of support for the construction of a second nuclear reactor in Slovenia caused upset in Austria. Michael Schickhofer, deputy governor of the federal state of Styria, urged the federal government to intervene, while Gernot Darmann, the leader of the Carinthia Freedom Party (FPÖ), announced "fierce opposition" to the project.
        LENDAVA - President Borut Pahor said all totalitarian regimes started with small displays of intolerance and to defend a minority was to defend peaceful coexistence, as he addressed a ceremony on the eve of European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Totalitarian Regimes.
        CELJE - Media reported that the Celje Higher Court had upheld a ruling under which Abanka has to fully refund two clients whose subordinated bonds were wiped out in the December 2013 bailout, interest included. The decision makes the Celje District Court's ruling from June 2018 final and must be implemented even if Abanka appeals at the Supreme Court.
        LJUBLJANA - The Slovenian Chamber of Public Utilities said the Hungarian government had decided to ban imports of sewage sludge, a move that could spell serious trouble for Slovenia, which exports around 70,000 tonnes of sludge from its municipal wastewater treatment plants to Hungary a year. From September onwards, Slovenia could be left with 120-140 tonnes of sludge a day.

SATURDAY, 24 August
        GORNJA RADGONA - The non-parliamentary People's Party (SLS) cancelled a protest against wolf attacks on livestock scheduled to be held on the margins of the AGRA fair. SLS leader Marjan Podobnik said they had been given assurances from a high government representative, but PM Marjan Šarec said that Podobnik's statement was "nonsense" and questioned the true reasons why the protest was cancelled.

SUNDAY, 25 August
        TALLINN, Estonia - Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid will be one of the main guests of this year's Bled Strategic Forum. She told the STA she expects the meeting to bring an in-depth debate on sustainable development and answers as to how to prepare for a further global population rise and prevent the planet from suffering.
        LJUBLJANA - The latest Mediana poll, released by POP TV, showed a 5.6-percentage point drop in the voter approval rating for the Marjan Šarec government, which was however still backed by 51.6% of respondents. Šarec also remained the most popular politician and his LMŠ the most popular party, but the poll also showed the share of undecided voters rising to over 30%.

MONDAY, 26 August
        NOVO MESTO - The Novo Mesto District Court sentenced a 25-year-old Moroccan and a 18-year-old Algerian to 21-month prison sentences after they pleaded guilty to abducting a 79-year-old Slovenian near the Croatian border in May and using his car to get to Italy. The pair apologised to the abducted man and to Slovenia, expressing remorse and arguing they had suffered from mental problems due to the long journey to Europe.
        LJUBLJANA - Infrastructure Minister Alenka Bratušek highlighted the need for Slovenia to remain at the cutting edge globally when it comes to the transition to clean energy, as she addressed the European Conference of the International Association of Energy Economics. "Slovenia is among the best and we plan on keeping it this way," she said.
        LJUBLJANA - Some 100 young protesters gathered in front of the Brazilian Embassy to urge authorities to act on massive fires raging in the Amazonia. Calls for Slovenia to block the trade agreement between the EU and Brazil and to join economic sanctions against Brazil could also be heard at the protest organised by the Youth for Climate Justice movement.

TUESDAY, 27 August
        BELGRADE, Serbia - Making an official visit to Serbia, PM Marjan Šarec and his Serbian counterpart Ana Brnabić noted the good relations between the two countries while also exploring ways to deepen both political and economic cooperation. There are no major open issues between the two countries, they are important economic partners and trade is expected to increase soon, said Šarec.
        LJUBLJANA - The Foreign Ministry confirmed that career diplomat Vojislav Šuc will take over as Slovenia's new ambassador to Croatia, expectedly in September, his credentials having been accepted by the host country. Šuc will succeed Smiljana Knez, who has become an international relations advisor to President Borut Pahor.
        LJUBLJANA - Matjaž Merkan, the former boss of the US-owned company Weiler Abrasives, was appointed the new chief executive of telecoms incumbent Telekom Slovenije, to replace Rudolf Skobe, who quit in April. In his first comment, Merkan expressed the confidence that Telekom would retain its leading position in the future, including by venturing into new fields.
        LJUBLJANA - Pharma company Lek announced that its supervisory board had appointed Robert Ljoljo as the company's new chairman. Currently serving as the global head of the procurement strategy for the technical operations of Lek owner Novartis, Ljoljo will assume the new post on 1 September.
        CELJE - Alenka Jovanovski won this year's Veronika Prize for a socially-engaged poetry collection called One Thousand Eighty Degrees (Tisoč Osemdeset Stopinj), in which she takes a critical view of today's heartless individualism and consumerism. The prize comes with a EUR 4,000 cheque.

WEDNESDAY, 28 August
        LJUBLJANA - Fed up with waiting for a government bill, the Left presented its own bill to abolish top-up health insurance, whose passage it said would determine whether it would continue to support the Marjan Šarec minority government. It proposed offsetting the loss of revenue from top-up insurance with higher contributions and a new capital gains tax. Insurance companies warned of hasty changes, employers came out strongly against higher contributions, and unions welcomed the proposal.
        CELJE - Celje police announced having apprehended several persons suspected of trafficking some 280 migrants across the Slovenian border in a sting that involved over 70 criminal investigators conducting house searches in and around the city. Eight suspects face trafficking charges and two will be also charged with offences related to illicit drugs.

THURSDAY, 29 August
        LJUBLJANA - Prime Minister Marjan Šarec dismissed Brane Kralj, a close confidante, as secretary general of his party after the chief supervisor of the Official Gazette, Irena Prijović, reported him the Corruption Prevention Commission claiming he had instructed her to appoint former Court of Audit head and MEP Igor Šoltes as the gazette's new director.
        HELSINKI, Finland - Foreign Minister Miro Cerar met his Croatian counterpart Goran Grlić-Radman on the sidelines of an informal EU ministerial. It was clear in advance that the border arbitration agreement would not be a topic, but Cerar did emphasise Slovenia's commitment to the rule of law.
        LJUBLJANA - The government initiated repatriation procedures for 47 Venezuelans of Slovenian origin, who will be able to settle in Slovenia under a law that permits repatriation from countries hit by a severe political or economic crisis. Seven ministries will be involved and the effort coordinated by an interdepartmental task force, said Minister for Slovenians Abroad Peter Jožef Česnik.
        LJUBLJANA - The government adopted a report on the drafting of the National Energy and Climate Plan, a document which will set the course of action for ten years until 2030. Faced with delays, the government will probably not be able to send the final version to Brussels by the end-of-the-year deadline, Infrastructure Minister Alenka Bratušek said.
        LONDON, UK - The London-based oil and gas exploration company Ascent Resources will demand EUR 50 million in damages from Slovenia for delays in obtaining a permit to develop the Petišovci gas field in the north-east of the country, news portal Litigation Finance Journal reported. The British company earlier said it was preparing legal claims for damages.

If you’d like to keep up on the daily headlines then follow those here, or get all our stories in your feed on Facebook.

30 Aug 2019, 14:30 PM

STA, 29 August 2019 - The government has decided to help 47 Venezuelans of Slovenian origin settle in Slovenia under a law that permits repatriation from countries hit by a severe political or economic crisis.

 Acting on requests it received in June, the government decided on Thursday to immediately launch repatriation procedures.

Seven ministries will be involved and the effort coordinated by an interdepartmental task force, said Minister for Slovenians Abroad Peter Jožef Česnik.

"There are 47 applicants in total ... These people have decided that the situation is unbearable," he said. Several Slovenian companies have expressed readiness to hire skilled individuals from the group.

According to the Office for Slovenians Abroad, Slovenia has limited experience with repatriation: the only repatriation carried out so far was for a family from Syria in 2013 due to the civil war there.

Under the law on Slovenians abroad, individuals of Slovenian descent are eligible for repatriation when their countries of residence are hit by a severe political or economic crisis.

Since the outbreak of political turmoil in Venezuela and the ensuing economic crisis, the government has received multiple requests for aid.

A key condition to launch repatriation proceedings is Slovenia designating the situation a grave economic and political crisis. This has already been done several times before by the Foreign Ministry.

Slovenian Interior Ministry data puts the number of Slovenian citizens living in Venezuela at 335, while the total number of people of Slovenian descent is estimated at 1,000.

Repatriation status can be used by individuals for a maximum of 15 months. In this period they have the right to free healthcare, Slovenian language lessons, a work licence, enrolment in higher education institutions under favourable conditions, as well as to favourable treatment when applying for a job compared to third-country citizens.

To accommodate repatriated individuals, the government can set up an immigration home where basic provisions are secured, including financial aid for those below the minimum income threshold.

The 15-month status cannot be extended, meaning the repatriated individual needs to secure a different status as the basis for continued residence in Slovenia, for instance Slovenian citizenship, the status of a Slovenian without Slovenian citizenship, or an appropriate status of a foreign citizens with a residence permit.

30 Aug 2019, 09:27 AM

STA, 29 August 2019 - Prime Minister Marjan Šarec, the leader of the ruling Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ), dismissed on Thursday Brane Kralj as the party's secretary general following a report against him which claims that Kralj had tried to exert staffing pressure. Šarec told the press he had not been aware of the controversial phone call.

The decision comes after the party launched a debate on the allegations, saying it would take action regarding the incident.

Kralj has been reported to the authorities by the chief supervisor of Uradni List, Irena Prijović, who claims that he called her and tried to secure a top job at the state-owned publisher of the Official Gazette for former MEP Igor Šoltes and exert staffing pressure on her.

After holding talks with Kralj, Šarec concluded that "the truth is somewhere in between and that it was not that brutal".

"I trust Kralj more than some other people who would have probably not reported the issue if the caller was someone of the right kind," said Šarec, adding that this was a "one person's word against another one's" incident.

According to the prime minister, Kralj did however behave in a naive, inexperienced and incorrect manner, with the phone call being inappropriate.

The tweet that started it all

Allegedly, Kralj instructed Prijović on 21 August to appoint former Court of Audit president Šoltes as the gazette's new director and to report directly to him, bypassing Slovenian Sovereign Holding (SSH), the state asset custodian.

Prijović then reported him to the Corruption Prevention Commission as well as to SSH.

Kralj has told the STA he had indeed called the chief supervisor, but only to tell her that Šoltes, who had applied for the top post at Uradni List as part of a call for applications, was a good candidate.

However, Šarec highlighted today that Kralj as the party's secretary general could not have been lobbying on the state's behalf since only the government could do that.

"I respect Šoltes, but I do not like him that much to sacrifice a secretary general for him," said Šarec.

"Šoltes was not our candidate. It is definitely important to recruit people who are competent," added the prime minister, highlighting that any kind of staffing should be transparent.

In this case there was an open call for applications and it is completely inappropriate to try to exert influence in such a manner, said Šarec.

"Kralj will no longer be the LMŠ secretary general because we are putting our house in order. When such a situation occurs, one needs to deliver right decisions," said Šarec.

He added that such phone calls were probably common, but since there were not a lot of reports, the right people had to be calling. This incident could serve as an opportunity for the media to investigate other cases as well, he added.

Kralj will remain the party's member and will serve as a stand-in secretary general until the appointment of a new one, since, according to Šarec, the LMŠ cannot continue without its legal representative.

The prime minister believes Kralj, if called upon, will cooperate with the Corruption Prevention Commission, which launched the proceedings today.

SSH, which is processing Prijović's report as a priority, highlighted today that it was up to the supervisory boards of state-owned companies to decide on management appointment procedures in such companies.

29 Aug 2019, 11:30 AM

STA, 28 August 2019 - Trade unions were alone in welcoming on Wednesday the Left's (Levica) proposal for the abolition of top-up health insurance, while coalition parties, insurers and employers mostly argued against an "ad hoc" and "solo" proposal for a step estimated to be worth half a billion euro.

The centre-left coalition parties - the PM's Marjan Šarec List (SMC) has not yet commented - mostly agreed the current top-up insurance scheme needed to be abolished, but they took issue with their tentative opposition partner failing to consult them before unveiling the proposal and with the Left's threats it will not back the forthcoming government budgets if it is ignored.

SocDems deputy group head Matjaž Han argued healthcare was too important to be involved in any horse trading. He did note that insurers had done themselves a poor favour by raising top-up insurance premiums - which are basically obligatory - in recent months and announced the coalition would probably already discuss the matter ahead of the next government session.

The Modern Centre Party's (SMC) Igor Zorčič said such a proposal would need to have been drawn up in cooperation with the Health Ministry and that it was very telling the Left first presented it to the press.

The Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB) also spoke of a "solo manoeuvre" and argued a legislative solution to such a major issue should not come from a single party but from the government. SAB is on the other hand also losing patience with the Health Ministry, saying it had also failed to present concrete proposals on how to shorten the waiting times in healthcare.

The Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) was surprised to be finding out about such a major topic from the media. "Even more striking is that the Left is interfering with the work of the ministry, which is working hard on this issue," the party wrote, saying the government expected to have the ministry's proposal on the table next June.

The Left proposes that top-up insurance be replaced with higher employer contributions and a new capital gains tax in order to offset the estimated half a billion euro top-up insurance currently injects into the healthcare system.

The idea was rejected categorically by employer representatives, with Igor Knez of the Slovenian Business Club saying the proposal did not bode well for Slovenians, who were also facing an additional contribution for long-term care.

He said employers had been given nothing by way of tax relief and that this also applied to highly trained staff that Slovenia would have a hard time keeping or attracting.

Knez added the proposal did nothing to address key questions in healthcare, a view echoed by the secretary general of the Trade Crafts and Small Business Employers' Association Igor Antauer, who said the issue of top-up health insurance would need to resolved in a package with a new act on healthcare and health insurance.

Meanwhile, health insurers said they still needed to study the proposal, while they warned that any rushed measures could destabilise the financing of health services.

Vzajemna, the mutual health insurer which has been managing the bulk of top-up insurance paid in, also argued that all stakeholders would need be included in the adoption of a solution and that "healthcare, which is having problems, will not improve" as a result of the Left's proposal.

Insurer Zavarovalnica Triglav said the Left's approach was not sustainable, since "gradually the amount of funds collected would decrease as a result of a decline in the active working population and an increase in the number of pensioners, while the ageing population will also entail increasing healthcare needs".

Positive reactions to the Left's proposal only came from trade unions, but Lučka Böhm of the ZSSS confederation pointed to bad past experience which such proposals.

She welcomed the Left's proposal to have the state chip in when the health care purse runs out of money, noting "the ageing population in itself was reason enough for finding additional sources of healthcare funding".

"In any case, the abolition of top-up insurance should not lead to poorer access to health services and to irregular payments to providers," Böhm added, while also raising the issue of job security for people currently working with top-up insurance.

29 Aug 2019, 09:30 AM

STA, 28 August 2019 - The chief supervisor of the Official Gazette, Irena Prijović, has reported the secretary general of the senior coalition Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ) Brane Kralj to authorities, claiming he had instructed her to appoint former Court of Audit head and MEP Igor Šoltes as the gazette's new director. PM Šarec said he expects Kralj to provide an explanation.

 Prijović, who reported Kralj to the Corruption Prevention Commission and to state asset custodian SSH as the gazette's owner that had appointed her, confirmed for the STA on Wednesday the authenticity of a document in which she claims pressure had been exerted on her "regarding the choice of director".

The document, sent by her to the SSH and first published by the editor of the online tabloid Pozarerport Bojan Požar, says she had received on 21 August a call from Kralj who ordered her that "the state expects the appointment of Igor Šoltes as director of the Official Gazette".

Kralj is said to have also demanded that she "report on the staffing procedure directly to him without and before any communication with the SSH".

While she intends to provide additional explanations on Thursday, Prijović said that "it is now the turn of other institutions and those affected to take action".

In a brief first response, Šarec said he expected Kralj to provide an explanation regarding the accusations by Thursday.

Kralj later told the STA he had indeed called the supervisor, but only to tell her that Šoltes was a good candidate.

"I called Ms Irena Prijović and mentioned that Igor Šoltes might be a good candidate for director of the Official Gazette. I regret her perceiving that as pressure, the purpose of my call was merely to say that I thought of him as a good candidate as former president of the Court of Audit and DeSUS candidate in the EU election," Kralj said.

He would not comment on whether he will resign.

Šoltes had been the leading candidate of the junior coalition Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) in the May elections to the European Parliament, but failed to get re-elected. He applied for the top post at the Official Gazette as part of a call for applications.

The appointment procedure is still ongoing, with Prikovijić, who is also the executive director of the Slovenian Directors' Association, explaining the selection date had not yet been set.

28 Aug 2019, 17:10 PM

STA, 28 August 2019 - Police in Celje have apprehended several persons suspected of trafficking some 280 migrants across the Slovenian border in a sting that involved over 70 criminal investigators conducting house searches in and around the city.

Eight suspects face trafficking charges and two will be additionally charged with offences related to illicit drugs. Four of the suspects remain in detention and one is abroad. All of them are Slovenian citizens, the Celje police said on Wednesday.

The suspects, some of whom have previous trafficking convictions, are believed to have run a part of a larger international criminal racket specialised in trafficking migrants.

The group is believed to have trafficked migrants from Croatia through Slovenia and into Italy in collaboration with multiple other foreign gangs, charging EUR 2,000-3,000 per person, according to Damijan Turk, the head of the Celje criminal police.

The racket enlisted drug addicts and other persons from the margins of society to carry out the actual transport with vans and cars, often even in rented recreational vehicles. The drivers would get EUR 250-500 per migrant.

Uroš Lavrič, the head of the organised crime division at the General Police Directorate, said human trafficking activities of criminal rings had picked up recently as they take advantage of illegal migrations along the Balkan route.

"They use various methods to keep the trafficking covert. They are ruthless," he said about the traffickers' habit of stuffing between 30 and 50 migrants into the cargo holds of vans.

Police have arrested 273 suspected traffickers so far this year, compared to 218 in the whole of 2018.

They intercepted over 9,000 migrants who tried to cross the border illegally, up 62% over the year before, show data by the General Police Directorate.

A total of 6,223 persons were returned to Croatia and 3,255 requested asylum.

Related: Smuggling People Now More Profitable than Drugs for Organised Crime in Slovenia

28 Aug 2019, 14:35 PM

STA, 28 August 2019 - Health Minister Aleš Šabeder has announced that long-awaited legislation on long-term care would be unveiled soon. As for the second major legislative effort, the act governing health insurance, the government plans to proceed cautiously, the minister told the STA.

- Aleš Šabeder youtube.JPG

Aleš Šabeder. Source: YouTube

Faced with a rapidly ageing population, Slovenia has for years been debating the need to adopt legislation on long-term care. The bill should be ready by the end of this year or early next year, but there are still some open issues, according to Šabeder.

A new contribution will probably be necessary to finance long-term care, but Šabeder would not venture to say how high it might be or whether it will be mandatory or voluntary. "I hope the contribution is small, but it will probably be necessary," he said.

The healthcare and health insurance act, which governs much of financing in the healthcare sector, is expected in mid-2020. As Šabeder suggested, it has not yet been decided what will replace the current system of voluntary top-up insurance, which is the main demand of the Left.

"We have to find a solution for a long-term and stable source of financing if supplementary health insurance is abolished. We're talking about half a billion euro, they will have to be secured one way or the other."

In conjunction with the Finance Ministry, the Health Ministry is conducting multiple simulations, ranging from higher contribution rates to a new levy, according to Šabeder.

The Left, for which abolishing top-up insurance is one of the key priorities and one on which its support for the majority government hinges, plans to shortly unveil its own bill, but Šabeder sees no need to hurry.

"I have presented the priorities for this year and next to all deputy groups, including the Left and other opposition parties, and there were no complaints about the timeline," he said.

Šabeder has been kept busy in the first months of his term by general practitioners, who started quitting en masse due to excessive workload and low pay.

As a stop-gap solution, additional funds were earmarked for GPs and their nurses, with new measures now planned, focused on cutting red tape.

GPs have so far been coy about whether these measures will be enough to stop the drain of staff. "Considering the measures that we have already drawn up and the measures coming up, I hope they realize we are truly extending a hand this time," he said.

The situation has been getting worse for years and cannot be resolved overnight. "We do not have a magic wand at the ministry to provide all the missing doctors," according to Šabeder.

Waiting times have also been near the top of Šabeder's agenda. Several stop-gap solutions have been adopted and additional measures are in the pipeline.

An action plan to reduce waiting times for orthopaedic surgery is expected within a month and that will serve as the starting point for action in other segments. "If necessary, private providers will be included as well," said Šabeder.

Previous plans to give additional money to private health institutions in order to reduce waiting times have been met with stiff opposition and accusations that this would be used as an underhand way to chip away at public healthcare in favour of privatisation, but Šabeder denies this.

"This has never been my intention. My sole intention is to work for the benefit of patients," he said.

The management of hospitals is another issue Šabeder plans to tackle. The process was started by Šabeder's predecessor Samo Fakin and the blueprint is expected to be finalised by the end of the year.

The minister said key governance principles would be imported from the business sector, for example management liability and remuneration of employees, but "public institutions must never be like companies with regard to the fundamental objective ... They are designed to provide health services."

27 Aug 2019, 17:02 PM

STA, 27 August 2019 - Prime Minister Marjan Šarec and his Serbian counterpart Ana Brnabić confirmed the good relations between the two countries in Belgrade on Tuesday while also exploring ways to deepen both political and economic cooperation. Šarec reiterated Slovenia's strong support for EU enlargement to the Western Balkans.

 There are no major open issues between the two countries, they are important economic partners and trade is expected to increase soon, said Šarec, who is paying an official visit.

While trade in goods already rose by 14% in 2018 compared to 2017 to exceed EUR 1.5 billion, Šarec said opportunities needed to be used both in the economy and in tourism.

His host Brnabić singled out Slovenia as one of the biggest investors in Serbia, with around 1,600 Slovenian companies active there. It is also a key foreign investor, she added, while expressing her expectation Serbian investment in Slovenia would grow too.

She labelled the total trade of EUR 1.6 million recorded in 2018 as impressive, but expressed hope it would exceed EUR 2 billion in 2020.

Brnabić also thanked Slovenia for its strong support for EU enlargement, while Šarec stressed Slovenia would insist enlargement needed to be addressed, even if "it is true that currently the climate is not very favourable for enlargement".

He added enlargement was a long process that required reforms, which in turn also required encouragement.

Implementation of the agreement on succession to the former Yugoslavia remains an open issue with Serbia, with a joint session of the two countries' governments seen as a chance to speed up the resolution of these issues. Brnabić expressed hope the session could be held before the end of the year.

The idea is to combine the joint session - such sessions have been organised since 2013 and the last one was held in Slovenia at the start of 2018 - with a business forum.

The pair also touched on the stalled talks between Belgrade and Prishtina, with Brnabić thanking Šarec for the clear position that Kosovo's introduction of 100% custom tariffs on Serbian goods did not contribute to stability in the region and that the decision needed to be changed.

She pointed out that Slovenia's and Serbia's positions on Kosovo's independence differed. While Serbia understands Ljubljana's views, it is important for Belgrade that Slovenia also understand Serbia's position and that that it recognise that Prishtina is far from being a predictable partner.

Also commenting on the Slovenia-Serbia agreement governing the employment of Serbian workers in Slovenia which will enter into force in September, Brnabić said she did not expect the agreement to cause a major workforce outflow from Serbia. Its main purpose is providing for safety and protection of the workers, she said.

Šarec said Slovenia presently had record-high employment and needed additional workforce. He also stressed the importance of having a well regulated workforce flow, which is something that is provided by this agreement.

Šarec was also received by Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and Parliamentary Speaker Maja Gojković, while he is also scheduled to meet Slovenians who are living or are active in Serbia.

According to the prime minister's office, Šarec talked with Vučić and Gojković about the current events in the EU and the situation in the Western Balkans.

Vučić thanked Šarec for Slovenia's support to Serbia in the process of EU accession, especially for the political, technical and expert assistance in individual negotiating chapters, added the office of the Serbian president.

While Vučić also emphasised Slovenia's importance as an economic partner, Šarec said that Slovenia supported dialogue between Belgrade and Prishtina as the country's interest was that the relations in the region were good.

At the meeting between Šarec and Gojković, the latter thanked Slovenia for its support to Serbia in the EU integration process, and noted that cooperation between the countries' parliaments was very intensive.

According to a press release from the Serbian parliament, Šarec assessed at the meeting that the cooperation between the countries was excellent, and pointed to the good cooperation between the countries' parliaments.

24 Aug 2019, 09:00 AM

The covers and editorials from leading weeklies of the Left and Right for the work-week ending Friday, 23 August

Mladina: Catholic Church Should Not Promote Domobranci

STA - Mladina takes a look at the emergence of organisations celebrating quislings after the fall of the Berlin Wall in Eastern Europe, saying the Catholic Church is behind them to cover up its own collaboration with the Nazi and Fascist occupying forces before and during World War II.

The left-leaning weekly takes as a starting point for Friday's editorial an invitation to a commemoration organised by "New Slovenian Testament, an association which promotes the doings of the Domobranci home-guard during WWII".

In the majority of European countries, with the exception of Austria and Italy, which have not undergone denazification, such associations "do not and cannot exist".

"Eastern Europe is quite another story. After the fall of Communism, associations promoting quislings emerged in many countries," says editor-in-chief Grega Repovž.

He notes that Croatia's ruling party HDZ does not hide its fondness of the Ustashe, and Slovenia's right is firmly connected with organisations celebrating the quislings.

In both Slovenia and Croatia, the Church was the most responsible for the emergence of the quislings - the Domobranci and the Ustashe and for collaboration.

Repovž says that 80 years on, it needs to be clearly said that the Church is behind organisations such as New Slovenian Testament.

"The Church is again abusing the Domobranci and their descendants, their pain, the actual pain, which results from the Communists' post-WWII doings, and also the pain which comes from the inability to face historical facts".

"The Domobranci soldiers were national traitors, but they were also the victims of the Church and politics at the time."

And just as it used to lure innocent people into the Domobranci home-guard and the Catholic militias through its power as institution, the Church is now similarly abusing them to conceal the historical facts, says Repovž.

Just like its role during WWII cannot be limited to Bishop Gregorij Rožman (1883-1959) attending the Domobranci oath to Hitler in Ljubljana, its role at commemorations such as the one organised by New Slovenian Testament is not innocent.

"The leadership of the Slovenian Church abuses religion, believers, Domobranci survivors and their descendants so that it can continue to blur historical facts.

"It is doing the same in dealing with sexual abuse. It simply ignores facts, abusing the power of faith and the trust of believers," Repovž says under the headline In the Name of Mary, the Queen of Slovenians.

Demokracija: Private property in peril as socialism makes comeback

STA - Expressing indignation over the comeback of socialist ideas, including in the west, the latest editorial of  Demokracija points to the state supervision of privately-owned forests as proof that "the worm of socialism remains nested deep in the brains of Slovenians".

The right-leaning weekly paper's editor-in-chief Jože Biščak takes the ongoing issues with the culling of wild animals and the protests against the increasing use of off-road vehicles in forests as examples to argue that private property as a basic tenet of capitalism is under attack.

While over 75% of forests in Slovenia are in private ownership, the government is using a number of regulations to claim the right to serve as the only righteous guardian of forests as a common good, a typically socialist supposition.

"The framer, who is also the owner of the forest, does not have the right to settle his accounts with wolves that are slaughtering his sheep and goats ... He is not even allowed to set wild animal traps on his own property."

The same applies when it comes to forest visitors, who need to be granted free access to walk, and pick mushrooms and fruits no matter if the owner agrees or not.

The owners merely have duties, Biščak says, arguing it would not be surprising if things once get to a point when "an ecosocialist will file charges against the owner for getting bitten by a tick".

Meanwhile, off-road vehicles are reportedly destroying the forests, endangering the hikers, scaring game etc., but the only ones that do not get asked for an opinion are the forest owners who may perhaps be using such vehicles to supervise their property, Demokracija's editor says.

Biščak, who claims that "this government is blurring the line between what is state-owned, public and private", goes on to point "to the loud cheering of the media mainstream when inspectors mount an offensive an announce how many private entrepreneurs they have fined".

"One needs to have a sick mind to celebrate something like that. If the share of the 'swindlers' is high, this means something is wrong with taxation and regulations. Disregard for laws is a phenomenon that accompanies any unjust state," Biščak says.

He argues under Don't Steal, the State Does Not Like Competition that people who get robbed by the state should only be expected to look for ways to do the same to the state in order to survive.

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