Politics

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.

11 Dec 2018, 10:20 AM

STA, 10 December 2018 - The Democrats (SDS) remain in the lead in the latest Mediana poll, published in Monday's Delo. The biggest opposition party, which topped the rankings for the most part of the year, is followed by the coalition Social Democrats (SD), Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ) and the Left. The government received the best mark so far.

Two-fifths of the respondents assessed the work of the government as mediocre and almost 30% assessed it as positive or very positive.

In September, when the government was sworn in, its average mark was 2.16 on a scale from one to five but now its average mark is 3.01, which is more than the previous government of Miro Cerar reached in the last two years of its rule.

Related: Learn more about most of Slovenia’s political parties here

The most popular party by far is still the SDS, polling at 18.1%, slightly down from 18.3% in November. The ratings of the SD, LMŠ and the Left, which trail the SDS, improved compared to last month.

The SD polled at 10.5% (8.9% in November), the LMŠ at 8.5% (7%) and the Left at 6.7% (6.1%)

The non-parliamentary People's Party (SLS) jumped to fifth place on 5.5% support, while polling at 1.7% only a couple of months ago.

The coalition Modern Centre Party (SMC) won a percentage point to poll at 4.9%. The opposition New Slovenia (NSi) follows with 4.2% support and the coalition Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) with 3.5%.

The opposition National Party (SNS) polled at 3.2% and the coalition Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB) at 2.2%.

While DeSUS's support remained level, the remaining three parties lost some ground compared to November.

President Borut Pahor remains the most popular politician, followed by Prime Minister Marjan Šarec but Pahor received a slightly lower grade this month compared to November and Šarec a slightly higher.

European Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc and MEP Tanja Fajon follow in third and fourth place, respectively.

Pollster Ninamedia conducted the survey among 717 adults between 26 November and 6 December.

08 Dec 2018, 13:00 PM

Mladina: Slovenia experiencing serious crisis of managerial class

STA, 7 December 2018 - Speaking of ignorant arrogance that occasionally slides into direct hostility towards the working class, the left-leaning weekly paper Mladina casts in its latest editorial the new Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GZS) director Sonja Šmuc as the embodiment of a serious crisis of management in Slovenia.

While social dialogue in Slovenia used to be at a level comparable to that in Scandinavian countries and featured refined managers with a good overall grasp of the economy and society, Šmuc is now demonstrating serious empathy issues, talking about workers with an air reminiscent of the arrogance of French queens just before the revolution.

Rejecting dialogue on a serious adjustment of wages, threatening with cancelling collective bargaining agreements in what is the fifth consecutive year with one of the highest GDP growth rates in Europe, amid record-low unemployment and record-high profits ... could be described as sad, but it is actually worrying.

Šmuc is an expression of a deep crisis of corporate governance in Slovenia, which has been dragging on for years, Mladina editor-in-chief Grega Repovž asserts.

He argues that today's managers were raised during the crisis or are even a product of the crisis itself. Having gone through a series of turbulences, including political pressure and purges, the Slovenian economy did not see the knowledge and experience of the managers of the old generation being transferred to the new one.

There are practically no managers left today capable of serious macroeconomic insights. The language of today's managerial elite is simple, elementary, bereft of progressive elements, of serious reflection.

While arguing that this is also being reflected in companies, for instance in low productivity, Repovž says that a professional group that has so much influence on development should stop ignoring the crisis in its ranks.

The discontent over wages, which is real and justified and largely a result of neoliberal capitalism, will end up exploding with full force. It suffices to look at France, which is experiencing the same frustrations.

The difference is that while France has still not emerged from the post-crisis crunch, Slovenia is among the fastest growing European economies. Arrogance is not a sign of power, it is a sign of weakness, Repovž concludes the commentary entitled “Managerial Crisis.”

Demokracija: Deep state ignores certain issues

STA, 6 December 2018 - The deep state is re-directing the people's attention to artificially created problems, such as hate speech, while certain topics in need of attention get largely ignored, the right-leaning weekly Demokracija says on Thursday under the headline “Masters of Ultimate Illusion of Virtual Reality”.

With the help of mainstream media, the deep state of the transitional left is constantly redirecting the citizens' attention from real problems, most recently by trying to convince us there is nothing more important in Slovenia than hate speech.

But in the meantime a number of things are going on which should get at least as much attention, editor-in-chief Jože Biščak says, listing the bad bank, the Karavanke tunnel and minimum wage debate.

He says nobody is paying any attention to the Bank Assets Management Company, or the bad bank, whose mission is, or was, to return to taxpayers as much money spent to save Slovenian banks as possible and then close down.

But it is still here. And after its Swedish leadership was replaced, it has turned into a socialist asset management company whose priority is to cater to the needs of "our people".

Its brisk action to sell liabilities has been replaced by a gradualist approach and its life span prolonged into the next decade. This is enough for companies to get slowly grabbed by tycoons, with the money getting into the "right" pockets.

Another example is developments surrounding the construction of a second tube of the Karavanke tunnel, the tender for which was won by Turkey's Cengiz Insaat as the most experienced and cheapest bidder, but since three Slovenian builders complained, the national review commission annulled the tender.

Biščak notes the Turks would build the tube for EUR 89.3m whereas the second cheapest bidder would do it for over EUR 100m, but since the latter is "ours", nobody doubts its "fair" price.

The debate on the minimum wage has also passed without causing any major stir, even if economists and employers warned about its pitfalls, with the mainstream media even applauding the planned changes to the minimum wage law.

Biščak says "the fact that the law is in breach of the Constitution, violating the free economic initiative, is apparently not important ... But as you know, 'our guys' always know better and can do anything".

Other posts in this series can be found here (note that sometimes we use another right-wing weekly, Reporter)

08 Dec 2018, 08:00 AM

STA, 7 December 2018 - The Maribor Prosecution Office has filed an indictment against Andrej Šiško, the leader of a para-military unit that call themselves the Štajerska Guard, who has been in custody since early September.

Darko Simonič, the head of the prosecution office, said the indictment, alleging instigation to the subversion of the constitutional order, was filed with the Maribor District Court on Thursday.

The prosecution also proposed for Šiško to be remanded in custody. The last monthly extension of his detention would expire on 12 December.

Once an indictment is filed, the court's pre-trial panel of judges may extend detention for up to two years.

"Considering that the court has always supported us on custody, except for the first investigating judge, there's probably no dilemma about custody. Nothing that would warrant a different conduct has happened in the meantime," Simonič said.

An armed militia was filmed in September

Šiško was apprehended on 6 September, three days after a video emerged of him lining up several dozen men, some armed, wearing balaclavas and conducting what appeared to be basic military training.

After extending his 48-hour detention twice, the investigating judge released him, but he was brought back into custody on 12 September after a court panel reverted the judge's decision.

The Supreme Court rejected his appeal against detention, upholding the lower courts' reasoning that there were reasonable grounds to believe the suspect formed a para-military unit and called for the formation of other militias across Slovenia that would, when the time was right, bring down the highest authorities of the state.

Šiško and his counsel Viktor Osim argued that Šiško's conduct did not amount to instigation to the subversion of constitutional order.

A colourful past, including jail time for attempted murder

Šiško, a former ultras leader who has served prison for attempted murder, argued the line-up was a provocation meant to disclose how Slovenian media work. However, he had called for the establishment of other such militias around the country.

The Supreme Court noted his past conduct, from the utterance of a threat against then Prime Minister Miro Cerar in January 2017 to the formation of the para-military unit.

Osim said today he was not surprised by the timing of the indictment, arguing that it would help the prosecution to avoid the decision on custody being taken by the Supreme Court.

He plans to appeal against the indictment at any case, although he had not yet been formally notified of it being filed.

Information available to him indicates that the indictment also concerns co-defendant Matej Lesjak, a former member of the youth wing of the Democratic Party (SDS) who allegedly filmed the paramilitary formation's training, but his lawyer Mihael Jenčič could not confirm the information for the STA because he had not yet received the indictment.

Osim had proposed taking witness statements from PM Marjan Šarec, his predecessor in office Miro Cerar and President Borut Pahor so they will be able to tell whether they felt threatened by Šiško.

Osim also proposes hearing Janez Janša, the leader of the opposition Democratic Party (SDS), who he said publicly proposed forming a national guard or a para-military formation back in 2015.

Šiško is the head of the non-parliamentary party United Slovenia. He stood in the 2017 presidential election, winning 2.21% of the vote. He also ran for Maribor mayor from detention last month, securing 1.43% of the vote.

All our stories on Andrej Šiško can be found here

07 Dec 2018, 13:00 PM

STA, 6 December 2018 - Interior Minister Boštjan Poklukar welcomed in Brussels on Thursday the EU Council's partial agreement on the reform of Frontex, the European border guard, which includes a stronger mandate in the returns of migrants and cooperation with third countries. Slovenia meanwhile remains reserved with regard to the remaining elements in the reform proposal.

Poklukar said on the sidelines of the Justice and Home Affairs Council session that Slovenia supported the stronger mandate and cooperation with countries beyond those directly neighbouring on the EU.

It is however reserved about the remaining points of the proposal, which also seeks to establish a European Border and Coast Guard standing corps of 10,000 operational staff with executive powers by 2020.

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Photo: frontex.europa.eu

Slovenia is in principle in favour of a gradual formation of a standing corps, it is however reserved about the 10,000 figure, Poklukar said.

He also noted that it had still not been possible to see under what criteria or by which key responsibilities would be divided among member states.

Poklukar reiterated that all European police forces are facing staff shortages and that this is also a major problem of Slovenia's police force.

The minister moreover expressed Slovenia's interest to have its missions sent to Western Balkan countries.

Since Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, already has a lot of possibilities for cooperation with third countries on the basis of existing legislation, Poklukar expects concrete steps already in the coming months.

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Photo: frontex.europa.eu

In line with expectations the ministers failed to make a breakthrough in a bid to find a comprehensive agreement on reform of the EU's asylum system.

European Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos repeated that time was running out and some key dossiers would have to be agreed before the Euro elections in May.

Considering a lack of progress on asylum reform, the commissioner called for breaking up the asylum package, by passing five dossiers right away, while continuing debate on the two most contentious ones, including mandatory refugee quotas.

Minister Poklukar said that Slovenia would like the issues resolved and that "this must be in a package", but he did say that much debate would still be needed to align views.

06 Dec 2018, 16:30 PM

STA, 6 December 2018 - A group of acclaimed scientists and researchers have addressed a letter to Prime Minister Marjan Šarec urging him to increase research funding in 2019 and laying out several issues. Among other things, they expressed concern that only 2% of Slovenian grant bids to the European Research Council (ERC) are successful, while the EU average is 12%.

So far only seven Slovenian research labs have been successful in acquiring grants from the ERC, notes the letter, signed by nine successful Slovenian researchers working either at home or abroad.

Science and research funds have remained virtually level in Slovenia since 2009. Many of the EU member states that joined the bloc alongside Slovenia in 2004, or later, have taken a much more ambitious path, the letter notes.

"The Czech Republic established several centres of excellence, allocating EUR 200m for each of them. Poland is building a synchrotron and a centre for cryo-electron microscopy."

Slovenia fares poorly even compared to the Balkans: Croatia has made it a priority to invest EUR 100m in the Ruđer Bošković science institute, while Serbia is investing EUR 40m in a nanoparticles centre, the letter says.

It adds that Romania and Hungary have each invested about EUR 100m in the past four years, while more developed countries are investing much more.

Austria, for example, launched in 2009 the Institute of Science and Technology, which in 2016 alone acquired more ERC grants than all Slovenian scientists in a decade, the letter illustrates.

The scientists also point to a fiscal policy that "punishes researchers working abroad and forces them to sever all ties with the homeland."

Slovenia unable to attract foreigner talent

What is more, the funds available in Slovenia do not attract top foreign researchers. "Salaries of Slovenian researchers are not even attractive to those from Eastern Europe and Asia, let alone from more developed parts of the world," says the letter, adding that Slovenia has a serious brain drain problem.

Slovenia will only be able to raise a new generations of scientists if it encourages post-doctoral students to join the best research teams around the world and then gets them to return back home by providing funding that allows them to start new research teams.

Moreover, the state should rethink the way science and research funds are distributed. It should move away from giving a little to everybody and make sure that the best and the most promising teams get the funds they need.

"A clear support for science excellence could reverse the trend and start seeing results in five to ten years," the letter stresses.

"We urge you to increase science funding already in 2019, at the very least in line with promises given in the coalition agreement: to increase science funding from 0.38% of GDP to 1% of GDP by 2022."

05 Dec 2018, 10:20 AM

STA, 3 December 2018 - Representatives of the government and trade unions on Monday signed annexes to the collective agreements in the public sector securing rises in pay and bonuses for a majority of employees. Several unions have pulled out of the deal today, which however has no effect on its validity.

The agreement, worth around EUR 308m in the 2019-2020 period and including pay increases of between one to four brackets and increases of some bonuses, means that the strike wave announced for the beginning of December has been averted.

The measures, which will be introduced gradually, include the promotion by one wage bracket or around 4% higher wages for public sector employees up to the 26th wage bracket.

Wages for a majority of employees above the 26th wage bracket will increase by two wage brackets, while employees at posts which require a master's or PhD degree in science or specialisation will see their wages rise by three brackets.

Head teachers and nurses and midwives at the most demanding positions will get additional pay raises.

Holiday pay and bonuses also rising

The deal also increases some bonuses such as those for work on Sundays (from 75% to 90% of the hourly rate), holidays (from 90 to 120%) and for night work (from 30% to 40%) as of 1 September 2019.

It also introduces a bonus for 40 years of service (EUR 577.51) and raises pension severance from two to three average salaries, or three employee's salaries if it is higher than the average.

Prime Minister Marjan Šarec attended the signing and thanked the negotiators, saying that "what has been negotiated is the best that could be achieved," adding that the agreement "means that agreements can still be made in this country".

Šarec thanked the trade unions for understanding that the situation in the budget did not allow for more. "This is the moment when we can look each other in the eye and say that 'we have been reasonable'," he added.

Noting that the trade union representatives had realised the expectations of the employees, he added that the government and trade unions were not opponents, but should make possible that "people who work every day live a decent life".

Not all unions happy

Several unions have, however, pulled out of the deal, including the trade union of workers in the judiciary, which has given the government three months to meet its demands, otherwise it would step up its strike activities.

The decision was made after members of the union responded negatively to its representatives initialling the deal with the government. The union said that the government "did not want to enter a written commitment to actually sort out the situation in the judiciary."

The trade union of the Ministry of Defence also said today it would not sign the deal until the decree on the classification of jobs and titles in the Slovenian Armed Forces into wage brackets was harmonised and confirmed by the government in accordance with the initialled agreement.

Also refusing to sign the agreement were representatives of the KSS trade union confederation, which associates the trade unions of healthcare workers SPUKC, the trade union of accounting workers, the municipal traffic wardens' trade union and the SVS soldiers' trade union.

The unions, which did not participate in the negotiations, said in a press release today that the agreement and annexes did not eliminate the austerity measures from the 2012 fiscal balance act.

Police officers remain a sticking point

The government is meanwhile still in talks with police officers, who resumed their strike on 1 October to demand the government to restore pay ratios which were undermined when the government raised pay for some other uniformed workers in 2017.

They also demand a special bonus for each year of service, a bonus for being ready to act at all times, a compensation for not being allowed to join a political party, and the elimination of retirement anomalies.

While there was broad agreement among trade unions that the deal is good, some raised concern about whether there will be enough money for hospitals and elderly homes, which will have to give their employees higher wages.

"We're going to organise a strike as soon as wages are late in the first [public] institution," said Zvonko Vukadinovič, the president of the Trade Union of Healthcare and Social Care.

Health Minister Samo Fakin said there was enough money for everything, but he added that this would be true would only if productivity is increased and waiting lines cut, describing poor work organisation as "the cancer of Slovenian healthcare."

Public Administration Minister Rudi Medved likewise said the unions did not have to worry, since there would be enough money through 2021, the period for which the agreement is valid.

Related: Find out the average pay for various jobs in Slovenia here

04 Dec 2018, 11:49 AM

STA, 3 December 2018 - Local elections 2018 were bound to produce some surprises, and the voters delivered, kicking out many mayors that had been seen as shoo-ins given the incumbency advantage that has become entrenched in the last decade and a half. For the parties at the national level, the picture is mixed, though most find something to cheer.

Independents - both truly and notionally independent parties and lists - remain the strongest force in local politics measured by the number of mayors and the council vote, an indication according to analysts of people's deep distrust of the political establishment.

In 212 municipalities, they accounted for over 31% of the cumulative council vote, with small, local parties adding another 10%. Both figures are slightly up from four years ago. They also account for 123 mayors, up from 115 in 2014, and another eight mayors were backed by coalitions of parties, the same number as four years ago.

Long the biggest party on the national scene, the Democrats (SDS) remain the strongest force among the established parties at the local level. They have managed to increase their share of the council vote from 14.3% to 16.7%, though they have fewer mayors, 17 compared to 19 four years ago.

However, by the party's own reckoning they have 54 mayors that they either fielded directly or endorsed.

SDS does well in rural areas, less so in cities and towns

"We're particularly glad that people have recognised that the SDS is a party with roots and has hence strengthened its position in urban and other municipalities," the party said after the run-off on Sunday.

The SDS has a strong presence in small rural municipalities, but they have not directly won a single urban municipality, even as their candidates made a strong showing, in particular in the capital Ljubljana, and the candidate they endorsed won in Novo Mesto.

The situation is reverse with the Social Democrats (SD), who appear to have regained their standing in cities.

SD mayors will lead four of the eleven urban municipalities - Kranj, Velenje, Ptuj and Murska Sobota - and had endorsed the winner in Slovenj Gradec.

But overall, they have 16 mayors that officially ran on SD tickets, down from 20 four years ago. Their share of the council vote increased marginally to just over 10%.

SD leader Dejan Židan said yesterday that the party was "returning to the cities," and doing this by insisting that its candidates be respectful in political dialogue. "Unfortunately, that cannot necessarily be said of other candidates."

Somewhat surprisingly, the non-parliamentary People's Party (SLS) remains a force to be reckoned with in local politics. Despite not having been in parliament since 2014, its robust local network has helped it secure 26 of the 212 mayoral offices with just 51 candidates for mayor.

In local councils, too it remains strong, though with just 6.2% of the overall council vote. The figure points to a problem that has almost always plagued the SLS: it is strong in small, rural municipalities but has virtually no presence in large towns and cities.

The only urban municipalities where it has secured council seats is in Celje, where its former president Bojan Šrot has been mayor for two decades, and Novo Mesto and Velenje, where it has one councillor each.

Marjan Podobnik, who recently returned to the helm of the SLS to turn the party's fortunes around, said the result was "incredibly encouraging considering the path that we have walked in recent years", confident that it will be similarly successful in the EU elections in spring.

Related: Our guides to many of Slovenia’s political parties can be found here

Good and bad news for the parties in government

For the coalition parties, the election was a mixed bag at best.

 

The list of Prime Minister Marjan Šarec was never expected to perform well, having fielded mayoral candidates in only nine municipalities and council candidates in just a few dozen. At the end of the day, its share of the council vote was 2.5%.

But in Šarec's home town of Kamnik, where the prime minister served almost two full terms as mayor, his hand-picked successor, deputy mayor Igor Žavbi, surprisingly lost to New Slovenia (NSi) deputy mayor Matej Slapar by more than 20 percentage points.

Šarec did not dwell on the outcome beyond saying that this marked the end of his eight-year reign in Kamnik and that Slapar was a good candidate who would do the job well.

The fellow coalition Modern Centre Party (SMC) suffered a blow, having four years ago failed to get a single mayor elected but grabbing 11% of the council vote on the back of its win in the general election.

Its share of the council vote plunged to 4% this year but it has two mayors, Saša Arsenovič in Maribor, who wanted to run as an independent but opted for the SMC because he did not have the time to collect the voter signatures, and Alenka Kovač in the tiny southern municipality of Osilnica.

It is notable, however, that even though the SMC is one of many of parties in recent years formed just before the general election it is the only one not to have been completely burned in subsequent local elections, a fate that for example befell the Ljubljana mayor's party Positive Slovenia.

The Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) never excelled in local elections, but its result is even worse than four years ago. It has one mayor, just like before, but its share of the council vote dropped from 7.5% to under 5%.

The Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB), known as the Alenka Bratušek Alliance (ZAB) four years ago, performed better, raising its share of the council vote from 0.2% to 0.8%, but it does not have a single mayor and remains a marginal force at the local level.

In the ranks of the opposition, the Christian democratic New Slovenia (NSi) made significant progress. It has ten mayors, up from seven in 2014, and its share of the council vote remained almost level, rising by 0.3 points to 6.4%.

Much like the SLS, the NSi remains largely confined to smaller communities, but analysts have pointed out it is gaining traction in more urban environments as well, Kamnik being a case in point.

Like the SAB, the Left remains more or less on the margins in local politics, having just 3% of the council vote compared to roughly 2% that its three predecessors won four years ago. It does not have a single mayor either.

The results of the general election show that it has a strong base in the capital Ljubljana, where it got 8.5% of the council vote, but it is struggling to expand beyond its urban base, having a progressive platform that is finding better reception among young urban voters.

The far-right National Party (SNS) remains on the margins as well, with just 1.1% of the council vote and not a single mayor.

04 Dec 2018, 10:20 AM

STA, 3 December 2018 - The mayoral race in Koper was too close to call until all mail-in ballots were counted on Monday. The count confirmed Aleš Bržan, a radio host, managed to dethrone long-serving Mayor Boris Popovič, but by a mere seven votes.

Of the 46 mail-in votes, 45 were valid, commission chair Miloš Senčur told the press.

Twenty-five votes were for Popovič and 20 for Bržan, which means that according to unofficial results, Bržan received 13,921 votes and Popovič 13,914.

In his first statement after the mail-in votes were added to the tally, Bržan said "people have decided on change and the change is here, so all I can say is thanks to all those who have made an effort and to all who turned out to vote".

He did expect a narrow result, yet not that narrow. "Nobody expected such a narrow outcome. We expected a margin of several hundred votes."

Earlier in the day, Bržan said he would demand recount since last evening's count of the votes from early voting revealed some irregularities.

It was reported that there were 2,715 ballots from the early vote, but the number of ballots exceeded by six the number of people who were registered as having voted.

But this is according to Bržan not an option now. "For us, this story is over."

In a comment to a fierce race, Bržan said "both candidates should first calm down people and passions so that we can start living normally again".

Meanwhile, Senčur explained that the number of ballots and the number of people having voted in advance in fact matched. Of the 2,715 ballots, nine were invalid.

He explained, however, that complaints about the performance of the local electoral commission could be filed until midnight.

Asked whether it was still possible for the Koper vote to be annulled, he said: "Anything is possible if the complaint is justified."

The mayoral race in Koper provided one of the biggest surprises in this year's local elections.

Not only did Popovič lose after 16 years in office while he was set to win his fifth term in a landslide even two weeks ago, but also for Bržan, who, except on the coast, was until recently relatively unknown.

Securing 30.4% of the vote in the first round, Bržan trailed Popovič by 14 points, but was then endorsed by almost all the other mayoral candidates in Slovenia's fourth largest municipality.

Popovič, who conceded defeat already last evening, has run Koper in a rather authoritarian manner, which many locals got fed up with, apparently also Bržan, who announced to bring change to the style of leadership.

Bržan, born in Koper in 1976, is a logistics engineer, but he is best known as a host on a popular local commercial radio station.

The website of his Aleš Bržan List (LAB) party says that over the past decade, he has managed a small company.

While still a student, he overhauled the Koper students' club and revived the streets of Koper with a special project.

Not entirely a political novice, Bržan challenged Popovič before, in 2014, when he, with the support of the Modern Centre Party (SMC), emerged as the runner-up.

He later distanced himself from the SMC, the party of the former prime minister, Miro Cerar, and has spent most of the past four years as independent city councillor.

He founded his LAB party just before this year's local elections, but was not among the fiercest critics of Popovič. On the contrary, he credited his predecessor with a number of achievements.

Given that his party has won nine seats on the city council to emerge as the second strongest, it seems that such restrained rhetoric worked for both the party and him.

All our stories related to Koper can be found here

03 Dec 2018, 16:21 PM

STA, 3 December 2018 - Slovenia will take over the rotating EU presidency for the second time in the second half of 2021, having already held it in the first half of 2008. Preparations started less than two weeks ago with a several-month delay. The costs are estimated at EUR 75-80m. Finding qualified staff has been identified as the biggest challenge.

Slovenia's presidency of the Council of the EU in 2008 was praised as successful, but the stint in 2021 will be much different as the role of the country holding the presidency has changed significantly after the 2009 Lisbon Treaty, which introduced president of the European Council and the foreign policy chief.

The presidency of the Council has thus lost influence: the prime minister of the EU presiding country no longer chairs the European Council, and its foreign minister no longer represents the EU externally.

Almost all government departments will be involved

Preparations for Slovenia's presidency started with a delay of several months because of the general election and government formation, which Prime Minister Marjan Šarec confirmed in a recent interview with the STA.

The government launched the preparations on 22 November with the appointment of Igor Mally, a state secretary at the prime minister's office, as head of the project.

The project will be headed from the prime minister's office, but the preparations will involve virtually all government departments.

According to Mally, a rough staffing plan was made at the beginning of the year and the experiences of the countries holding the presidency have already been reviewed.

350 full-time jobs will be created, starting next year

In 2008, the project of EU presidency cost EUR 62.3m. Considering inflation, and the costs of other countries of a similar size that recently held the presidency such as Estonia, Slovakia and Bulgaria, the costs are estimated at EUR 75-80m, Mally said, adding that a more reliable estimate would be made at the end of February.

Most of the funds will go for the 350 full-time jobs. Officials in Brussels and Ljubljana agree that finding the right staff and providing them with proper training will be a major challenge.

Ministries will start hiring at the beginning of next year, but most of the job vacancies are expected to be filled in 2019 and 2020.

Compared to 2008, ministries now reportedly have much less staff with required skills. Ten years ago, a pool of staff experienced in European affairs was available as part of the Government European Affairs Service.

After the EU presidency, many of these people got a job at EU institutions and the service was merged into the Foreign Ministry.

Mally said that those who were actively involved in the 2008 presidency would train the new staff.

A packed schedule over the six-month EU presidency

During the six-month spell, the country will preside over around 30 ministerial sessions and more than 2,000 various working meetings and host around 15 ministerials at home.

Since most of the meetings will be held in Brussels, the Slovenian permanent representation there will need to be expanded - both in terms of staff and rooms.

Mally expects 119 officials to be sent to Brussels, which means the number of staff at the representation office will almost triple.

The office will thus have to at least temporarily move to new premises and a decision on this is expected to be made shortly, according to Mally.

Most of the meetings in Slovenia will be held at the Brdo Conference Centre, which Mally believes is the most suitable venue from the financial, logistic and security points of view.

The priorities of Slovenia's EU presidency will be determined in cooperation with Germany and Portugal to ensure continuity of the agenda. The trio also cooperated ten years ago.

An obligation and an opportunity

Among the possible topics that could be Slovenia's priorities Foreign Minister Miro Cerar recently mentioned the issue of integration of the Western Balkans, security in the face of migration, the strengthening of the welfare state, and modernisation and digitalisation.

Slovenia's Ambassador to the EU Janez Lenarčič, who was European Affairs Ministry state secretary during Slovenia's first stint at the helm of the EU, believes the presidency is both an obligation and an opportunity for the country.

Mally said each presidency wanted to leave a mark. "It's a matter of ambition. Either you want to carry out the presidency merely as a routine or you want to take advantage of the opportunity to make a difference, which is what Slovenia is aiming for."

03 Dec 2018, 12:50 PM

STA, 2 December 2018 - Slovenian voters appear to have opted for change in the mayoral run-off on Sunday as they showed many incumbents the door to usher in newcomers that promised a sea-change in the way their communities are managed.

With elections held in 56 municipalities, perhaps the biggest surprise came in Koper, where radio host Aleš Bržan appeared to have defeated incumbent Boris Popovič.

But after Popovič already conceded, the local electoral commission revealed the gap was only twelve votes - more than 25,000 ballots were cast, so there is still a chance postal ballots, which will be counted tomorrow, may change the result.

In Maribor, businessman Saša Arsenovič convincingly defeated former mayor Franc Kangler after the incumbent, Andrej Fištravec, was drubbed in the first round.

When the final tally was made, Arsenovič carried the vote with 58%, having campaigned on his record as successful businessman and promising to turn the city's economic fortunes around.

The vote pitted the more urbane Arsenovič against the more rural Kangler, who had been ejected from office in 2012 under a cloud of corruption allegations that he has mostly deflected in court since then.

Changes in all other run-off races

All other municipalities classified as urban holding run-offs also got new mayors tonight.

In Kranj, Matjaž Rakovec, the former chief executive of insurer Zavarovalnica Triglav, will fill the mayoral seat vacated by Boštjan Trilar. He won 68% of the vote against the independent Zoran Stevanović.

In Nova Gorica in the west, the 43-year-old Klemen Miklavčič defeated two-term Mayor Matej Arčon with 51.6% of the vote, despite Arčon having a 12-point lead in the first round.

Tilen Klugler, an independent endorsed by centre-left parties, emerged victorious in Slovenj Gradec in the north-east, edging the incumbent Andrej Čas with 52% to 48%.

And in eastern municipality of Ptuj, Social Democrat (SD) Nuška Gajšek has become the sole woman mayor in one of Slovenia's 11 urban municipalities as she surprisingly defeated the former mayor Štefan Čelan with nearly 67% of the vote.

Several larger cities that are not classified as urban municipalities got new mayors as well.

Prime Minister Marjan Šarec's party lost primacy in its home base in Kamnik as his chosen successor at the mayoral office, Igor Žavbi, was defeated by the candidate of the conservative New Slovenia (NSi) Matej Slapar.

In Jesenice in the northwest, Blaž Račič, 44, a correspondent for the daily Delo, ended the 12-year reign of Tomaž Tom Mencinger with a convincing 64.6% of the vote, having already narrowly won the first round.

And in Črnomelj in south Slovenia, a staunch anti-immigrant platform did not help Democrat (SDS) candidate Maja Kocjan, who was defeated by businessman Andrej Kavšek with a clear 72.9% of the vote, having already convincingly carried the first round.

All in all, only 11 incumbents who entered the run-offs secured re-election, a stark contrast to the first round, when incumbents posted serial wins.

But it was not all upsets, as Tržič, where the campaign was bitterly fought, delivered a resounding win for the incumbent Boštjan Sajovic against former mayor Pavle Rupar.

In Brežice, long-serving mayor Ivan Molan stood his ground, as did Toni Dragar in Domžale.

At the cumulative national level the trend has changed little, albeit keeping with a long trend.

The People's Party (SLS) remains the strongest force with 26 mayors in 2012 municipalities, largely thanks to a strong base in small, rural communities. The Democrats (SDS) have 17 and the Social Democrats (SD) 16.

The three dominant political forces on the local level have long been losing ground to mayors who are running as independents (although some have very clear political pedigrees).

There are now 123 mayors classified as independents, up from 115 four years ago, with another eight fielded by multiple parties, the same as in 2014.

However, there has been a reversal of the trend of declining voter engagement, as turnout stood at 48.4%, almost two points below that of the first round but five points higher than in the run-off in 2014.

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