28 Nov 2019, 12:00 PM

STA, 27 November 2019 - The parliamentary Health Committee has surprisingly endorsed legislation that would effectively end the current system of compulsory and supplementary health insurance as of 2021 in favour of a fully-fledged single-payer system.

The committee was discussing Wednesday amendments to the health insurance act tabled by the opposition Left that would fold the supplementary insurance contribution, which is paid as a lump sum regardless of income, into higher employer and employee payments.

It was widely expected the amendments would simply be voted down since the government said the bill was not appropriate. Its reluctance to back it was also the main reason why the Left terminated its cooperation agreement with the minority government.

Instead, the original proposal was transformed with coalition amendments into a bill that folds the lump sum, roughly EUR 29 per month, into the existing compulsory payments.

This means that supplementary health insurance contributions of individuals would increase by the same amount regardless of income, in what the government says is "the first step" of a more comprehensive solution.

Even the Left in the end backed the government solution, with party leader Luka Mesec arguing that this would "keep the bill open" and provide an avenue to find better solutions in the coming days and months.

Despite the surprise endorsement today, the legislation faces obstacles down the line.

For one, the parliament's own legal department voiced apprehension about the bill being changed so thoroughly with amendments. It also has qualms about how clear the provisions are.

Marjan Sušelj, the head of public health insurer ZZZS, which would manage all health insurance payments under the new system, said the solutions were not defined clearly enough.

He also noted that the government had recently agreed with social partners to steer all legislation through the Economic and Social Council prior to adoption.

And even if these issues are resolved, the three companies that provide supplementary health insurance, two private firms and a mutual insurer, have indicated they will put up a fight against legislation that would effectively kill their business.

These insurers currently collect roughly half a billion euro in health insurance premiums, money that would be handled by the ZZZS if the legislation is passed.

27 Nov 2019, 16:10 PM

STA, 27 November 2019 - Janez Lenarčič, Slovenia's former ambassador to the EU who has taken over as crisis management commissioner, is a seasoned diplomat. He has served as ambassador to the OSCE, director of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, secretary of Slovenia's permanent mission at the UN, and the PM's diplomatic adviser.

Lenarčič, who speaks English, French and Serbian, was born in Ljubljana on 6 November 1967. He graduated in international law in Ljubljana in 1992 and started working for the Foreign Ministry the same year.

Between 1994 and 1999 he worked with Slovenia's permanent mission at the UN, initially as the third and then as the first secretary. In 2000 he started serving as adviser to the foreign minister and the following year he became the diplomatic adviser to the prime minister, the late Janez Drnovšek.

In 2002 and 2003 Lenarčič worked as state secretary in the prime minister's office, to be appointed in 2003 the head of the Slovenian mission to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). During Slovenia's OSCE presidency in 2005 he headed the organisation's permanent council.

In 2006 he was appointed state secretary for European affairs, serving also during Slovenia's first presidency of the EU in 2008 during the centre-right government of Janez Janša. He was the head of the task force in charge of preparing Slovenia's EU presidency.

In July 2008 he was appointed the director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and confirmed for a second and final term at the same post in May 2011.

In September 2014 Lenarčič became state secretary in the office of the then Prime Minister Miro Cerar, where he was in charge of foreign and European affairs.

He served under Cerar's centre-left government until July 2016, when he took over as Slovenia's permanent representative to the EU.

Lenarčič decided to quit the Foreign Ministry after 19 years last month. He criticised a legal provision that financially penalises diplomats who suspend their status at the ministry to serve abroad and then return to the ministry for a period shorter than half of the duration of the absence.

Lenarčič is considered apolitical. In his opening address at the committee hearing in the European Parliament, Lenarčič listed improved crisis response, prevention and preparedness as his priorities. He also called on MEPs to support a 30% increase in the humanitarian aid budget for the next multi-year budget.

27 Nov 2019, 09:13 AM

STA, 26 November 2019 - The government adopted legislative amendments on Tuesday designed to crack-down on the activity of self-styled village guards and militias patrolling the border with the intention to stop illegal migrants.

The government proposes for parliament to pass amendments to the protection of public order act and to the state border control act as a matter of urgency.

The government says securing the border is in the sole jurisdiction of the police, while the so-called guards are trying to interfere in police powers and duties, obstruct police work and are upsetting the public.

The proposed amendments would ban any conduct by an individual or group conducted with the intention of controlling the border in the same or similar way as conducted by police in controlling the border.

Also banned are activities that impede the police in conducting border surveillance.

Violations of the ban carry a fine of at least EUR 1,000 for an individual or at least EUR 1,500 when the act is committed by an individual as part of a group.

The government also proposes banning the carrying, display or use of decorative weapons, imitation weapons, signalling weapons or other objects that look like weapons, in a way as to make it look as if police or army members perform their duties.

The ban would not apply when the objects are used as props by performers at events organised in accordance with the public assembly act.

A breach of this latter ban carries a fine of between 500 and 1,000 euro when committed by an individual or between 1,000 and 2,000 when the individual commits the act as a member of a group.

The government also proposes introducing a new offence for the use of camouflage clothing, uniforms or clothing that looks like police or army uniform, when the person wearing such a piece of clothing appears as if they are performing the duties of police or army personnel.

The use of such clothing as props by performers is again exempt from the ban, which carries fines of between 500 and 1,000 euro when committed by an individual or between 1,000 and 2,000 euro when committed as a member of a group.

The amendments come in the aftermath of increased activity by militias including the Štajerska Guard, whose leader Andrej Šiško was sentenced to eight months in prison earlier this year on the charge that he attempted to subvert the constitutional order.

Presenting the amendments to reporters, Interior Minister Boštjan Poklukar declared "zero tolerance of any initiative by individuals or groups to assume the duties in the jurisdiction of the state".

He expects that the amendments will meet with approval, saying that shortcomings in the valid law caused concern among the public and hindered police work.

Police have been reporting on their findings on militia activity to prosecutors but these have not established any crime in any of the cases. The government is now giving the police the tool to punish the perpetrators, he said.

Poklukar announced that the Interior Ministry would also draw up amendments to legislation dealing with associations, and the Justice Ministry proposed amendments to the penal code provisions on impersonating a police or army force member and on taking the law in your hands.

The United Slovenia movement, which is headed by the leader of the Štajerska Guard Šiško, responded to the changes by saying Slovenia was seeing "fascism and unconstitutional actions by an important segment of the very top echelons of the state and the state apparatus"

It argued MPs should do all in their power to "prevent such unacceptable conduct and to restore the rule of law and constitutional order of the Republic of Slovenia".

26 Nov 2019, 16:09 PM

STA, 26 November 2019 - Prime Minister Marjan Šarec visited the Government Office for the Support and Integration of Migrants and the appertaining asylum centre in the Ljubljana Vič borough on Tuesday, praising their efforts.

Accompanied by Interior Minister Boštjan Poklukar, Šarec visited the Reception and Support Division and was acquainted with accommodation procedures.

A release from the Government Communication Office said that the issue of integration of persons with recognised international protection status ranked prominently during the visit.

It said that the main challenge in the field was preparing action plans of integration for the implementation of the government's migration strategy.

The release said that, in dealing with the challenges of migration, Slovenia remained committed to preserving a right balance between solidarity and security.

Šarec also visited the division for families where he met the youngest residents of the asylum centre. Commenting on his visit, he said that asylum seekers were being accommodated and attended to in accordance with Slovenian and EU legislation.

He found that the accommodation capacities were not overcrowded and that apart from regular psychosocial care the asylum seekers benefited from many other activities provided by NGOs. The prime minister praised the efforts put in the integration of migrants.

Upon his visit, the asylum centre accommodated 201 residents, most of them coming from Morocco, Algeria and Iraq.

26 Nov 2019, 10:27 AM

STA, 25 November 2019 - The Slovenian Intelligence and Security Agency (SOVA) has reported Matej Tonin, chair of the parliamentary commission overseeing intelligence services, to law enforcement for having disclosed intelligence, the public broadcaster TV Slovenjia reported on Monday, citing an unofficial source.

Tonin, leader of the opposition New Slovenia (NSi), is accused of releasing intelligence as part of a public section of a classified report his commission had compiled about SOVA's activity in Slovenia's preparations for border arbitration with Croatia, TV Slovenija said.

Tonin had said the report contained no intelligence, but SOVA maintained it contained the intelligence it had sent to the Commission for the Oversight of Intelligence and Security Services as part of the latter's inquiry into the circumstances leading to Croatia withdrawing from the border arbitration process.

The commission had examined the circumstances of the 2015 wiretaps of communication between Slovenia's agent in the border arbitration procedure and the Slovenian member of the panel of arbiters. The scandal led to Croatia declaring the procedure compromised and withdrawing from it.

After a months-long inquiry, the commission adopted the 150-page report on 8 November and made 16 redacted pages public a few days later.

According to TV Slovenija, SOVA has also notified the president of Slovenia, the prime minister and the parliamentary speaker of the Tonin case.

Tonin took to Twitter to say it was "bizarre" that SOVA had reported the commission to the law enforcement after the report cleared it of having done anything wrong.

"The report shows the Slovenian government and SOVA did not cheat in arbitration. It proves there is no Slovenian conspiracy against the Croats. The report strengthens Slovenia's position."

He attributed SOVA's move to Damir Črnčec, state secretary at the prime minister's office and SOVA's former boss, implying it was another of his smear campaigns.

25 Nov 2019, 12:00 PM

STA, 24 November 2019 - Slovenian police appear to have stepped up activities against a self-styled militia that says it wants to protect the border from migrants. In an encounter Saturday near Krško, a group of officers confiscated seven pieces of weapons from 41 members of a militia known as the Štajerska Guard.

The weapons will be sent for analysis and the individual will be prosecuted if they are found to have broken the law. The encounter was also reported to the prosecution but the prosecutor did not detect elements of criminal activity, said the head of the border department at the Novo Mesto police, Anton Štubljar.

The encounter comes days after the government said it was in the process of changing legislation to be able to tackle the activities of groups such as the Štajerska Guard, a paramilitary formation led by Andrej Šiško, who has already served prison time for trying to subvert the constitutional order.

Andrej Šiško – Football Fan, Attempted Murderer, Presidential Candidate and Paramilitary Commander

In recent weeks the group has spent weekends at camps along the border, patrolling the border area in fatigues and carrying weapons that its members says are replicas.

While their activities have raised concern about the possibility of violent altercations with migrants, they cannot be prosecuted under existing law since nothing they do is technically illegal.

The legislative changes under consideration, strongly opposed by politicians on the right who see the militia as a harmless attempt by citizens to protect themselves, would make it illegal for such groups to present themselves as a type of a military structure trying to imitate the actions of the police or the army.

Štubljar said police support changes that would make it possible to "effectively detect and prevent such deviations, which constitute a security threat".

All our stories on militias in Slovenia are here

24 Nov 2019, 11:42 AM

STA, 23 November 2019 - Slovenian President Borut Pahor attended in Novi Sad on Saturday a youth forum of the Western Balkans with his Serbian and North Macedonian counterparts, Aleksandar Vučić and Stevo Pendarovski. He expressed support in his address to enlargement of the EU to the Western Balkans and the initiative for the so-called "mini Schengen" zone.

Addressing young leaders from the Western Balkans, Pahor said he was a friend of the region, a "big advocate of a strong and integrated EU, its enlargement, first and foremost to the Western Balkan countries."

He told them that they had the right for "such relationships between people and nations in the region to continue to ensure peace and security. You are the most important factor of the future of this region," Pahor was quoted by his office.

The Slovenian president endorsed the efforts to create the so-called "mini Schengen" zone in the region as an idea based on cooperation and mutual trust. He believes that it may succeed only if trust and respect between the countries in the region is strengthened.

It was on the initiative of Serbia's Vučić that Serbia, North Macedonia and Albania signed an agreement to establish a joint market with free flow of goods, services, capital and people.

"The so-called mini Schengen is something fresh, it inspires hope that the time of the entry in the European community, despite the enlargement slowing down, will not be missed in these countries," Pahor said.

He sees the initiative as precious, as it puts an emphasis on cooperation and strengthens trust, which he believes countries in the region need to implement reforms faster and resolve open bilateral issues more successfully.

Pahor stressed that the initiative was not an alternative to joining the EU, but that it should be understood as complementary to the European vision of the region.

"Values which are also the values of the EU need to be developed in the region: reconciliation, coexistence, cooperation and respecting differences between us and emphasising what is common to us."

Pahor also took advantage of the visit to Novi Sad to hold bilateral meetings with Pendarovski and Vučić.

The office of the North Macedonian president said that Pahor and Pendarovski had agreed that bilateral relations, which were based on friendship and understanding, were excellent.

They talked about how to further improve cooperation, the North Macedonian press agency Mia reported, adding that Pendarovski had thanked Slovenia for its open support for North Macedonia on its way to the EU and NATO, and that there was no alternative to the EU membership.

The three-day event, which will conclude on Saturday, is being attended by more than 200 young people from the region, who are discussing topical issues and challenges as part of panels with presidents, prime ministers and mayors.

According to the Serbian press agency Tanjug, the mayors' panel was attended by Ljubljana Mayor Zoran Janković and Novi Sad Mayor Miloš Vučević, who announced that the Serbian city would officially endorse Ljubljana's bid for the European Capital of Culture title.

23 Nov 2019, 09:36 AM

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

Mladina: Slovenia’s weakness at applying for EU funds

STA, 22 November 2019 - The left-wing weekly Mladina criticises Slovenian ministries for doing a poor job of preparing projects eligible for EU funds. The only exception seems to be the Justice Ministry, which has led to a situation in which Slovenia will be building a massive EUR 68 million prison, but not much-needed retirement homes and not-for-profit flats.

The prison project has been in the works since the term of former Justice Minister Lovro Šturm (2004-2008), Mladina editor-in-chief Gregor Repovž notes, adding that experts have said it resembled a prison serving medieval inquisition.

But surprisingly, the project was continued by Šturm's successor Aleš Zalar, who had said that the situation in Slovenian prisons was so poor that the country was paying compensation to prisoners. And then Justice Minister Goran Klemenčič stated the most important reason: Slovenia could get EU funds for the project.

When the next EU financial perspective is being negotiated countries pitch their plans and Brussels approved for Slovenia EUR 50 million for prisons in Slovenia in this perspective.

So the Justice Ministry made a simple calculation: the EU funds can cover up to 75% of the investment, thus Slovenia will be building a EUR 68 million prison. The project and its price are not based on actual needs but on the amount of EU funds available.

"And the most absurd thing? If this project goes through, Slovenia will once again be good at drawing of EU funds and the Justice Ministry (and the Prison Administration) will be the golden birdie."

Slovenia could also be drawing EU funds for much-needed retirement homes, but not a single retirement home has been built in the country for 15 years. "Simply because the Social Affairs Ministry has not stepped up in the recent years."

"The same could be said for the Infrastructure Ministry, which has failed for the past 20 years to become more active in building public flats, creating a crisis for 20 people who are unable to buy their own flat."

This shows it is very important what sort of a person heads a ministry. "Because the Justice Ministry has had two strong ministers in recent years, we will be building a disproportionately big prison, but not retirement homes and flats."

Demokracija: Deep state should be voted out of office

STA, 21 November 2019 - The right-wing weekly Demokracija calls on "the good people" in Thursday's editorial to go to the polls in the next election to vote out of office "the bad guys" who are in power in Slovenia, which it says is ruled by the deep state.

The magazine gives several examples, including Ljubljana Mayor Zoran Janković's being untouchable for courts because he has "a membership card of the mafia deep state".

To join "this elite of first-class citizens", it takes publicly displaying hatred to opposition Democrat (SDS) leader Janez Janša, editor-in-chief Jože Biščak says.

But it is not enough to hate Janša, he and his SDS must also be excluded from public life, which Prime Minister Marjan Šarec did by not inviting him to a recent session of the National Security Council, says Biščak.

The leader of the largest opposition party was not invited to the session nor was he informed about it, which Biščak says amounts to a coupe d'etat with which the largest opposition party was excluded from parliamentary democracy.

Biščak sees similar "stiffness" at the Constitutional Court, which has recently prevented a hearing in parliament in which prosecutor Niko Pušnik could reveal "the mafia workings of the deep state" by explaining how State Prosecutor General Drago Šketa exerted pressure on him in a case related to former Maribor Mayor Franc Kangler.

"If the Government Palace has turned into a swamp under Šarec, then the Constitutional Court under its president Rajko Knez and the State Prosecution under Šketa and Zvonko Fišer are turning into a sewage system populated by rats. And these will never allow their comrades to be found guilty, giving each other immunity."

Biščak thus urges people to "clean Augeas' stables, to topple the bad boys ... so that a bad and corrupt government voted into office by the good people who do not go to the polls happens never again".

He says in the editorial Mafia Sends Cheques by Mail this is the only way "to give justice a chance and for mafia cheques to be no longer delivered by couriers."

All our posts in this series are here

22 Nov 2019, 18:07 PM

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

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.

FRIDAY, 15 November
        LJUBLJANA - Supreme State Prosecutor Zvonko Fišer reported opposition SDS MP Žan Mahnič for defamation over the MP's statement that likened the Constitutional Court to mafia after the court imposed another temporary injunction on the Mahnič-chaired parliamentary probe into potentially politically-motivated prosecution of former Maribor Mayor Franc Kangler.
        LJUBLJANA - The Economic and Social Council (ESS) signed an agreement changing the rules of operations so as to allow Slovenia's main industrial relations forum to discuss not only government-sponsored bills but any draft legislation. The move comes after a recent protest of employers against parliament passing opposition-sponsored labour-related bills without prior consultation with the ESS.
        LJUBLJANA - Energy group Petrol posted a net profit of EUR 80.1 million in the first three quarters of the year, up 16% from the same period in 2018, as sales rose by 10% to EUR 4.19 billion. The interim management said business was running smoothly and in line with the strategy despite the recent change of management.

SATURDAY, 16 November
        LJUBLJANA - Catalan Foreign Minister Alfred Bosch called on Slovenian officials to support dialogue between Barcelona and Madrid as he took part in a debate organised by the youth wing of the coalition Social Democrats. The youth wing's leadership resigned just days before, one of the reasons reportedly being the invitation extended to Bosch.
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenia failed to qualify for the UEFA Euro 2020 despite defeating Latvia 1:0 at Stožice Arena, as Austria defeated North Macedonia to claim the second place in Group G.

SUNDAY, 17 November
        MARIBOR - The opposition New Slovenia - Christian Democrats (NSi) met for a congress to confirm its move to the centre-ground by endorsing the party's overhauled platform after it announced the shift in August. Leader Matej Tonin argued the NSi was a centrist party in terms of values and principles.

MONDAY, 18 November
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenia and Taiwan do not have diplomatic ties, but this does not mean they cannot strengthen cooperation, Vanessa Shih of the Taipei Economic and Culture Office in Austria, told the STA. But she expressed regret at having only limited access to Slovenian authorities, convinced the Chinese Embassy was the likely reason for the situation.
        LJUBLJANA - PM Marjan Šarec said Slovenia was no exception when it came to immigrants from third countries, with some other parts of the EU faced with the same situation. Šarec answered an opposition MP's question about an alleged major rise in third-country immigrants in Slovenia and a consequent rise in welfare claimed by them. He said the majority of third-country immigrants came to Slovenia from Bosnia to work.
        LJUBLJANA - The Higher Court in Ljubljana annulled the simplified debt restructuring of Electa Holding, the parent company of the Electa group owned by the sons of Ljubljana Mayor Zoran Janković. The procedure had caused a public stir, seen as a way for the Janković family to have the majority of its debt written off. The District Court will now have to decide on the matter again.
        DOL PRI LJUBLJANI - National grid operator ELES launched a high-tech diagnostics and analytics centre designed to provide a systematic approach to energy infrastructure management. The primary goals include the planing, construction, expansion, modification and maintenance of energy infrastructure.
        LJUBLJANA - The Ljubljana city council endorsed a zoning decree allowing the government to build a much-anticipated men's prison on the outskirts of Ljubljana. The new facility will accommodate almost 390 inmates and replace the one in Povšetova Street. It is estimated at some EUR 68 million and its construction could start in 2021.

TUESDAY, 19 November
        BRUSSELS, Belgium - The foreign ministers of Slovenia, Austrian, Czechia, Italy, Poland and Slovakia urged the European Commission to define by January 2020 concrete proposals on how to "enhance the effectiveness of the accession process as an instrument to support reform and integration efforts" in the Western Balkans. They would like the EU to endorse accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania in March.
        MOSCOW, Russia - Timur Rafailovic Eyvazov was appointed Russia's new ambassador to Slovenia, the press agency Tass reported. It is not yet clear when Eyvazov will take over from Ambassador Doku Zavgayev, who has served in Ljubljana since 2009.
        LJUBLJANA - The Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB) announced plans to nominate Angelika Mlinar, an ethnic Slovenian politician from Austria, as minister for cohesion policy after Iztok Purič has recently resigned. However, her bid may be jeopardised if Austria does not allow her to hold dual citizenship.
        MARIBOR - The Slovenian and Hungarian automotive clusters signed an agreement to develop cutting-edge technologies which could make them leaders in the transition to e-mobility. The University of Maribor is already involved in the development of Hungary's test track for conventional and autonomous cars.
        LJUBLJANA - NLB bank announced it had completed the issue of EUR 120 million worth of subordinate bonds, with demand far surpassing. The papers from the first bond issue after the bank was privatised a year ago were listed on the Luxembourg stock market on the day of the issue.
        LJUBLJANA - The business newspaper Finance reported the Ljubljana-based energy equipment maker Kolektor Etra had acquired the Polish company Weltech, a manufacturer of power tanks and traction tanks, for EUR 7 million.
        NOVA GORICA - Denis Koršič, 41, was given a six-month suspended sentence by the Nova Gorica District Court for an attack by car on a TV crew in Nova Gorica in August 2018. The Slovenian Journalists' Association was shocked at what it said was a rather mild sentence.
        LJUBLJANA - A study conducted by Deloitte into the audiovisual industry in Slovenia shows the sector has positive effects on the economy and creates new jobs, while incentives from the state are far from sufficient. The sector's multiplication effect is 1.8, meaning 80 jobs in various sectors for every 100 people working in AV.

WEDNESDAY, 20 November
        BRUSSELS, Belgium - Foreign Minister Miro Cerar endorsed Germany's proposal to form a group of experts to work out proposals to reform NATO, while he called French President Emmanuel Macron's recent statement that NATO is "brain death" unproductive.
        BRUSSELS, Belgium/LJUBLJANA - The European Commission said Slovenia's draft budgetary plans for 2020 were at risk of non-compliance with EU budget rules. The Finance Ministry responded by saying the view was a result of the Commission having based its calculations on different projections of GDP growth and the output gap than Slovenia.
        LJUBLJANA - The National Review Commission annulled a public tender to procure EUR 1.1 billion worth of medicines for Slovenian public pharmacies in four years because it did not allow bidding based on the lowest price. The Chamber of Pharmacies, which published the tender in July, now fears a shortage of medicines.
        LJUBLJANA - Tourism holding Sava boss Gregor Rovanšek told the STA the company sold off its non-strategic assets, consolidated strategic investments and reduced debt as part of a court-mandated financial restructuring to become Slovenia's largest tourism group and expecting to post record results this year.
        LJUBLJANA - Jurist Alenka Šelih and mathematician Josip Globevnik were honoured for their contributions to science as the national Zois Prizes for lifetime achievements in science and research were handed out.

THURSDAY, 21 November
        PARIS, France - The OECD downgraded Slovenia's GDP growth forecast for 2019 from 3.4% to 3.1% after already downgrading it slightly in May. Forecast for 2020 and 2021 indicate similar growth of 3.0% and 3.1%, respectively.
        LJUBLJANA - The government postponed the adoption of legislative changes meant to simplify the prosecution of paramilitary militias, but a senior aide to the prime minister indicated that all actions through which such groups manifest themselves as a type of a military structure trying to imitate the execution of police or army powers and tasks would be penalised.
        LJUBLJANA - The National Assembly endorsed legislation that curtails pay rises in the public sector but also brings an unscheduled increase in pensions in December 2020 assuming GDP growth exceeds 2.5%. The increase will be a flat 6.5 euro for all pensioners, rather than a percentage increase.
        ZAGREB, Croatia - The leader of the opposition Democrats (SDS), Janez Janša, urged the EU to start accession talks with North Macedonia and to admit Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia to the Schengen zone, as he addressed a congress of the European People's Party. He warned against double standards and called for promises to be met.
        NOVO MESTO - Pharmaceutical group Krka generated EUR 1.09 billion in sales revenue in the first nine months of the year, up 12% from the same period last year, while net profit increased by 42% to EUR 171.9 million. Sales went up in all regions and for all groups of products and services.

All our posts in this series are here

22 Nov 2019, 14:00 PM

STA, 22 November 2019 - The National Assembly voted 49:41 on Friday night to pass the budget acts for 2020 and 2021, in what was the first major vote for the minority government and an important test of the coalition's strength. The populist National Party (SNS) and both minority MPs provided the missing votes.

The vote was on the agenda just weeks after the Left walked away from an agreement that provided the government with a parliamentary majority, raising the possibility that the budget bills will not be adopted in time.

Tellingly, the opposition staged a show of force in committee last week when it joined forces to outvote the government and swell budget spending, mostly on account of a EUR 140 million increase in the annual budget transfer to municipalities.

But with the help of the SNS, the coalition voted down the amendment to bring the budget within the framework that the Finance Ministry says complies with the constitutional balanced-budget rule.

Budget revenue and expenditure will be at record levels both years, a reflection of the long period of economic growth, but slightly below original plans, as the treasury heeded warnings that growth is gradually slowing down.

For 2020 budget expenditure is capped at EUR 10.36 billion and revenue at EUR 10.77 billion, making for a surplus of EUR 415 million.

In 2021 expenditure will rise to EUR 10.45 billion and revenue is projected to climb to EUR 11.1 billion, with the surplus swelling to EUR 657 million.

Finance Minister Andrej Bertoncelj, who had threatened to resign unless the budgets remain within the treasury's bounds, said after the vote that spending was focused on social issues and development. He said the budgets would "improve the prosperity of everyone".

While the EU Commission has recently said Slovenia's budgetary plans for next year contain risks that could lead to non-compliance with EU budget rules, Bertoncelj said the budgets were putting Slovenia on track to leave the group of countries at risk of breaching EU budget rules.

As for the political aspect, Bertoncelj said the budgets were "a major step forward" that "shows the coalition is strong". "It's important that we have the budgets and that the government continues doing its job."

Whereas the coalition was able to deflect the increase in budget transfers to local communities, the opposition nevertheless squeezed through amendments that raised spending by a few million.

Even the coalition contributed the votes earmarking EUR 400,000 to the Celje Mountaineering Association which will be spent on rebuilding two mountain huts destroyed in separate fires last year and last month.

An additional EUR 6 million has been set aside for investments in preschool buildings and EUR 5 million for remediation works on a landfill in the Savinja Valley.

And a million euros each this year and next will be spent restoring the Žiče Charterhouse, an earmark proposed by the SNS. Žiče is located in the district where SNS leader ran in the 2018 election.

These amendments were confirmed as part of the budget implementation act, a technical piece of legislation that gives the government authority on budget management and borrowing.

This act also contains a ceiling on borrowing, which is set at EUR 1.6 billion for 2020 and EUR 2.7 billion for 2021. The majority of the borrowing will be used to refinance existing debt in order to reduce debt servicing costs.

The government will also be allowed to issue state guarantees of up to EUR 800 million in both years.

Most of the guarantees will go towards building a new rail track to the Koper port, but a quarter is to be spent on a special guarantee for housing loan that the government plans to put in place after the central bank severely tightened rules on consumer lending.

The budget package includes a special piece of legislation that curtails pay rises in the public sector, adopted after the government forecaster, IMAD, downgraded its GDP growth forecast for the year and warned that the economy was slowly cooling down.

To shave an estimated EUR 100 million off the annual public sector wage bill, senior civil servants will forfeit a portion of performance bonuses and limits will be put in place regarding payment for higher workload.

The act also includes a 6.5-euro across-the-board increase in pensions in December 2020, assuming GDP growth exceeds 2.5%; the latest forecasts indicate Slovenia's economy should expand by just under 3% next year.

22 Nov 2019, 11:30 AM

STA, 21 November 2019 - The National Assembly endorsed on Thursday legislation that curtails pay rises in the public sector but also brings an unscheduled increase in pensions in December 2020 assuming GDP growth exceeds 2.5%.

Related: Slovenia's GDP Forecast Downgraded by 0.3pp to 3.1%

Despite opposition from pensioners' associations and several parties, the increase will be a flat 6.5 euro for all pensioners, rather than a percentage increase.

If GDP growth is significantly higher, 3.5%, which is unlikely according to the latest forecasts, pensions would rise by 9.75 euro.

The portion of the bill dealing with curbs on public sector pay was adopted after the government forecaster, IMAD, downgraded its GDP growth forecast for the year and warned that the economy was slowly cooling down.

To shave an estimated EUR 100 million off the annual public sector wage bill, senior civil servants will forfeit a portion of performance bonuses and limits will be put in place regarding payment for higher workload.

The bill forms part of the 2020-2021 budget package that the National Assembly is debating today. With dozens of amendments to process, the budget debate is likely to drag well into the night.

All our stories on the elderly in Slovenia can be found here

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