04 Jan 2020, 09:53 AM

STA, 3 January 2020 - One year into her term, Slovenian Police Commissioner Tatjana Bobnar is happy to report that crime clearance rate has increased to over 50%. However, cybercrime is a problem, in particular because the police force lacks the powers to investigate it.

The clearance rate increased from 47% in 2018 to 50.2% in 2019, which Bobnar says is the success of the system, not just individuals. Speaking to the STA in an interview, the commissioner compared the police force to a postage stamp: "It sticks onto the envelope until it reaches its destination."

Bobnar, who a year ago became Slovenia's first woman police force chief, says that the police now handle many more cases of corruption, and that cracking down on corruption crimes is a priority.

Cybercrime in Slovenia

Cybercrime is a problem, in particular on the dark web "where criminals use electronic currencies, leaving behind dispersed digital traces, which we cannot secure. Applying classic investigation tools, we are not a couple of metres behind, but far behind [the criminals]," says Bobnar.

Last year the police acquired equipment to examine huge amounts of data on seized electronic devices, and the force has also established a computer forensic investigation centre and special cybercrime divisions at police departments. "But we are lagging behind in terms of powers, and that is the problem."

The Slovenian police are able to monitor telephone communications, but not encrypted communication. The Constitutional Court has banned them from using IMSI catchers, devices that mimic mobile phone towers to intercept mobile traffic, as well as the system for automatic license plate recognition.

"Slovenia is one of few EU countries that doesn't have the legal basis in place for that. We absolutely need that, also to provide road traffic safety. In the short time that we had that power, we detected many offenders who drove faulty vehicles," the commissioner notes.

The police are not demanding to be allowed to exercise general surveillance, "it's not about having the freedom of a fox in a hen house", but "security in the broadest context is a key asset that we mustn't squander", the commissioner warns.

"Luckily, we haven't witnessed a lorry ploughing into a mass of people, we don't have child kidnappings ... We still have time to ponder year in year out how much safety we want at the expense of privacy. It's not one or the other, it's both. You don't realise safety is a human right until it's gone."

The police force will push for amendments to the police tasks and powers act again this year, taking into account the Constitutional Court's guidance in annulling the respective provisions.

However, Bobnar wondered "whether it may be in someone's interest in this country that police should not be effective enough in cracking down on a portion of crime".

In fighting cybercrime, which as a rule spans across borders, legislation that is adjusted at the EU level is of exceptional importance, says Bobnar, adding that Slovenian police can benefit from exchange of data with other police forces as well as Europol and Interpol.

The police have been detecting an increase in reported cases of internet child sex abuse and pornographic material dissemination. The number of cases reported by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children rose from 2,000 in 2018 to 3,000 in 2019.

"We are raising awareness among people that sharing such a video is a renewed sex abuse against the child involved," says the commissioner.

The police have also been busy cracking down on illicit drugs trade, with some of major heroin and cannabis drug busts made last year. Slovenia remains a transit country for illicit drugs, and new synthetic drugs are appearing on almost a weekly basis.

Staffing issues remain a problem

The force has been grappling with staff shortages with round 900 staff leaving over the past ten years. However, they have been applying active staffing policies over the past four years to attract as many new police candidates as possible.

"We want to boost traffic police, special police unit, the security and protection centre, as well as the ranks of border patrol units and other units," says Bobnar, adding that another goal is to rejuvenate the force, whose average age at the moment is 42.

Talks have been under way for three years to let army members beyond the age of 45 continue their careers in the police force. "Everyone who meets the legislative requirements is welcome. However, some laws will need to be amended so the soldiers can bring promotions and pay brackets with them from the army."

Amending the police career system remains a challenge for this year, while Bobnar is happy that the government has secured an extra EUR 15 million per year for bonuses for police officers managing migration.

Difficult work on the border

That is a demanding task with Bobnar saying that the police manage migration as a security problem and as a humanitarian issue. However, she also noted the gap between the expectations from one part of the public who would like to open borders wide to everyone, and those who would want to shut them tight.

None is possible. Even the Hungarian border is not impenetrable, with Slovenian police assessing that the migration flow has changed direction from Slovenia's southern border toward Hungary, says the commissioner.

Last year, the Slovenian police handled almost 16,000 foreigners who entered the country illegally, returning roughly 11,000 to law enforcement authorities in neighbouring countries, most to Croatia.

"The police are investing a lot of effort an energy in preventing illegal migration so I'd like to deny any allegation of our southern border being porous and of the state being ineffective in the field," says Bobnar, noting purchases of surveillance drones and more fencing to fight the problem.

The commissioner also commended cooperation with the security authorities in the neighbouring countries, the Slovenian Armed Forces and the national intelligence and security agency SOVA, including in the efforts to detect potential former Islamic fighters, smugglers and those intending to commit other crimes.

The police last year handled 455 smugglers of migrants in 317 such cases. "It's the activity of organised criminal rings who profit at the expense of vulnerable people who seek a better life in the west."

The smugglers are "mostly citizens of third-countries, Bosnia, Serbia, North Macedonia, Kosovo, but there are also Italian, Slovenian and Croatian nationals. They include asylum seekers who have abused international protection."

Growing migration is met with spreading hate speech. In cooperation with the Web Eye the police have detected a slight increase in reported hate speech cases in 2019. "In particular on forums, social networks where there's a lack of regulations and which afford anonymity," says Bobnar.

However, she does not think repression alone is the answer. "All other stakeholders, including the primary family, should do their job first. Society must say no to intolerance loud and clear (...) Equal treatment and equal opportunity should be society's key guiding principle, or else we'll never make progress."

03 Jan 2020, 15:02 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, 27 December
        LJUBLJANA - Bank NLB and Belgian KBC, NLB's former owner, sold their life insurance company NLB Vita to the country's second biggest insurer Sava Re for an undisclosed amount believed to be in the EUR 20-30 million range. The sale means that NLB met the last of several conditions attached to the 2013 bailout.
        ZAGREB, Croatia - Bankrupt Croatian conglomerate Agrokor, the owner of Slovenian retailer Mercator, turned to the EU to complain about the seizure of Mercator stock by Slovenian anti-trust authorities. In a letter to Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, Agrokor chairman Fabris Peruško said the procedures ran contrary to EU and Slovenian law and were motivated by "national political reasons".

SATURDAY, 28 December
        LJUBLJANA - PM Marjan Šarec criticised some of his coalition partners in an interview with Dnevnik. He suggested he would not yield to pressure by DeSUS leader Karl Erjavec to act against Agriculture Minister Aleksandra Pivec, his main challenger for the party presidency, until there is firm evidence of any wrongdoing.

SUNDAY, 29 December
        LENZERHEIDE, Switzerland - Slovenian cross-country skier Anamarija Lampič dominated the World Cup freestyle sprint in Lenzerheide, the second event of the Tour de Ski series. This was the second World Cup win for the 24-year-old.

MONDAY, 30 December
        LJUBLJANA - President Borut Pahor offered to help the government undertake much-needed reforms, even as he acknowledged that structural reforms may lead to the demise of the Marjan Šarec government. He told TV Slovenia the government should pick a handful of projects and try to achieve consensus with his help.
        CELJE - Three companies that form the heavily indebted retail group Tuš entered preventive financial restructuring. The restructuring for the holding company Tuš Holding, its retail arm Engrotuš and its real estate arm Tuš Nepremičnine was initiated at the request of the companies themselves and with the support of creditors.
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenia recorded an above-average general government surplus in the third quarter of the year, as it reached EUR 193 million or more than triple that in the same period last year, the Statistics Office said. The surplus represented 1.6% of Slovenia's GDP.
        MORAVČE - A giant wooden sculpture resembling US President Donald Trump, which stirred controversy in late summer when it was erected in the village of Sela, was officially unveiled at its new home in Moravče, north-east of Ljubljana. The night before the second unveiling, the effigy was defaced in an effort to add a Hitler-like moustache.

TUESDAY, 31 December
        LJUBLJANA - A Vox Populi public opinion poll commissioned by Dnevnik showed that Slovenians are quite satisfied with their lives, with the respondents assessing the quality of life with an average mark of 3.38 on a one-to-five scale. It shows that persons younger than 30 are the most satisfied with their lives and that satisfaction correlates with the level of education.

WEDNESDAY, 1 January
        LJUBLJANA - Tens of thousands of Slovenians ushered in the new year in the open, with the largest crowd of 55,000 gathering in four squares in Ljubljana. The capital also saw the traditional fireworks, while some major cities this time opted for quieter celebrations without fireworks.
        LJUBLJANA - Uniform cigarette and tobacco packaging rolled out on New Year's Day under new rules, bearing graphic warnings of the adverse health effects of smoking and donning the Pantone 448 C dark brown hue, known as the ugliest colour in the world, to further deter anyone from picking up the harmful habit.

THURSDAY, 2 January
        LJUBLJANA - The Foreign Ministry condemned attacks on coalition forces fighting Islamic State militants in Iraq and an attack on the US Embassy compound in Baghdad in the strongest terms, urging the Iraqi authorities to ensure security of diplomatic missions in the country. In a response echoing the position of the EU, the Foreign Ministry expressed its condolences to the governments of the US and Iraq and to the families of those killed in the attacks.

All our posts in this series are here

03 Jan 2020, 11:24 AM

STA, 3 January 2019 - The Slovenian Foreign Ministry has condemned attacks on coalition forces fighting Islamic State militants in Iraq and an attack on the US Embassy compound in Baghdad in the strongest terms, urging the Iraqi authorities to ensure security of diplomatic missions in the country.

 In a response echoing the position of the EU, the Foreign Ministry also expressed its condolences to the families of those killed in the attacks and to the governments of the US and Iraq.

In a release issued last night, the ministry said that State Secretary Dobran Božič had spoken with US Ambassador to Slovenia Lynda Blanchard in connection to the attacks.

Several thousand protesters attacked the US Embassy compound on Tuesday angered by US air strikes targeting an Iran-backed militia in Iraq and Syria.

The strikes were in retaliation for a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base in Kirkuk on Friday in which an American civilian contractor was killed.

In a major escalation of tensions between the US and Iran, General Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran's elite Quds Force, was killed in a US air strike in Iraq early on Friday.

In response to the development, the Slovenian Foreign Ministry issued a travel alert on Friday advising against travel to parts of Iran.

The ministry also called on Slovenian citizens in Iran or heading there in the coming days to avoid public rallies, events or funeral ceremonies held in the wake of Soleimani's death.

The ministry noted that the general's mortal remains would shortly be brought to Iran and that mass funeral ceremonies and protests were planned throughout the country.

"Due to the population's emotional reactions we advise Slovenian citizens not to take part in such events and to limit their movements in public spaces," reads the ministry's release.

The ministry advised against any non-urgent travel to parts of Iran, including within a 100 kilometre perimeter of the Iranian-Afghan border and a 10 kilometre perimeter along Iran's border with Iraq.

The ministry also identified as risky the area along the Pakistani border and advised against travel to the Hormozgan Province along the Persian Gulf.

Travellers to eastern Iran are advised to stick to main thoroughfares and to avoid travelling at night, in particular outside major towns.

The ministry also advised against any travel to the south-eastern provinces of Sistan and Baluchestan and Kerman due to abductions of tourists and travellers there.

29 Dec 2019, 10:07 AM

The covers and editorials from leading weeklies of the Left and Right for the work-week ending Friday, 27 December

Mladina: Decline in reading shows intellectual regression

STA, 27 December – The left-leaning weekly Mladina says in its latest commentary that the Slovenian nation as a whole has received a slap in the face with the results of a recent reading culture survey, which actually does not speak about reading of books, but is a cruel report about intellectual regression of the nation.

The survey shows that Slovenians have continued to regress when it comes to reading habits in the last five years, with half of the nation failing to read a single full book in a year.

"No, the trends are not similar in other countries and even our trends were not such in the post-independence period," Grega Repovž, the editor-in-chief of the left-leaning weekly, says in State as a Company.

He notes that Slovenia has also fared very poorly comparatively, with five more books per capita being sold in Norway than in Slovenia.

The survey is actually a cruel report about intellectual regression of the nation, as reading of books is one of the indicators showing the state of intellect and power of thought in a country.

The situation is a result of mistakes made in state politics in a longer period of time, and the current government will have no impact. "But alarms should be blaring all over the country, from the academy of sciences and arts to the prime minister's office."

The survey clearly shows that "we are in the phase in which the nation is becoming stupid - which is something that we do not feel, something we are not aware of, but which is happening and showing only in the long run."

Reporter: Snap election unlikely

STA, 23 December - Despite the tight result in the vote on the appointment of Angelika Mlinar as cohesion minister last week, the right-leaning magazine Reporter argues in the latest editorial that the opposition does not hold the key to a snap election.

In a piece headlined Pre-Christmas Drama, editor-in-chief Silvester Šurla notes that the minority government's tally of votes in the National Assembly has been reduced to just 42, which even when adding the two minority MPs, does not make a simple majority in the 90-strong National Assembly.

Šurla also notes that after an MP defected from the National Party (SNS) to the opposition Democrats (SDS), the largest opposition party increased its tally of votes to 26, twice as many as the LMŠ party of PM Marjan Šarec.

"The question is, however, whether the SNS defector will get Janez Janša any closer to a new centre-right government in this term or at least a snap election he likes predicting so much."

Šurla remembers similar "manoeuvring" two decades ago when an SNS MP and one from the Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) defected to the centre-right bloc, which made it possible for the late Andrej Bajuk to form a centre-right government, but it only lasted half a year, after which the right bloc lost the election.

Wondering who holds the key to a snap election today, Šurla says that the right bloc does not, nor does the Left, but the key is held by the coalition party leaders, who "could leave the Šarec boat early out of their own calculation or on the advice of uncles from behind the scenes.

"Primarily the prime minister, whose LMŠ party could probably enhance its position considerably judging by opinion poll results (...). However, Šarec is not (yet) prepared to risk such a move."

Šurla agrees with economist Matej Lahovnik, who expects that Šarec will wait until after Slovenia's spell as president of the Council of the EU, that is until early 2022 just a few months ahead of a regular election, to pull a "Cerar", that is do as Miro Cerar did when he stepped down shortly before the 2018 election.

"There is no other 'hero' in sight within the coalition for the time being because the leaders of all other parties are trembling with fear about their political survival. In a snap election they could be swept away to the scrapheap of history."

As for the Left, Šurla says that even if the party is trying hard to prove its position in the opposition, the party would back the government if there was a risk of Janša returning to power. "That is, if the uncles from behind the scenes ordered them so".

All our posts in this series are here

29 Dec 2019, 09:32 AM

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, 20 December
        LJUBLJANA - Angelika Mlinar, new cohesion policy minister, took over at the Government Office for Development and European Cohesion. She said the key challenges were speeding up EU funds absorption and opening dialogue with other ministries.
        LJUBLJANA - Lidija Ivanuša, an MP for the opposition National Party (SNS), defected to the opposition Democrats (SDS), a move that could further complicate the operational ability of the minority government.
        LJUBLJANA - The coalition Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) indicated it could part ways with MP Robert Polnar who was the only coalition MP to vote against appointing Angelika Mlinar cohesion policy minister. A decision was expected after New Year's.
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenian police processed more than 15,200 illegal crossings of the border by the end of November this year, a 70% increase compared to the same period in 2018, fresh statistics showed.
        LJUBLJANA - The supervisory board of the motorway company DARS endorsed the selection of Turkish bidder Cengiz as the contractor to build the Slovenian section of the second tube of the Karavanke motorway tunnel for EUR 98.5 million, VAT excluded.
        NOVO MESTO - Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek announced that TPV, an automotive industry supplier, will receive EUR 6.5 million in state incentive for a EUR 49 million investment into production expansion after it reached two major deals with car makers Volvo Cars and BMW last year.
        LJUBLJANA - Matej Pirc, the chief executive officer of the Bank Assets Management Company, told the STA that the bad bank could build rental apartments and retirement homes and provide for an additional 5,000 housing units, provided its mandate is extended beyond the currently planned end of operations in 2022.
        LJUBLJANA - Home price growth accelerated in the third quarter of 2019, with average prices rising by 8.5% year on year and 3.1% over the previous quarter on the back of strong growth in prices of used flats, show Statistics Office figures.

SATURDAY, 21 December
        LJUBLJANA - An audit conducted by the Environment Ministry found serious shortcomings in approval procedures for a stretch of an EU-subsidised sewerage project that some say could jeopardise the source of drinking water for 300,000 residents of Ljubljana.
        PLANICA - Swede Jonna Sundling and France's Lucas Chanavat won respective Cross-Country World Cup sprint freestyle events in extremely bad weather conditions in Planica.

SUNDAY, 22 December
        ERBIL, Iraq - Major General Alenka Ermenc, the chief of the general staff, visited Slovenian troops in Iraq.
        ENGELBERG, Switzerland - Ski jumper Peter Prevc finished second at a World Cup event in Engelberg in what was his first podium result this winter.
        ALTA BADIA, Italy - Slovenian alpine skier Žan Kranjec bagged his second podium finish in giant slalom World Cup this season, finishing third in Alta Badia.

MONDAY, 23 December
        LJUBLJANA - President Borut Pahor invoked independence-era unity as he called on political stakeholders to engage in dialogue and cooperation as a safeguard against potential threats against society and state in an address to the Independence and Unity Day ceremony.
        LJUBLJANA - Deputy Speaker Jože Tanko of the opposition Democrats (SDS) pinpointed the judiciary as the most problematic area 29 years after Slovenia opted for independence. Addressing the parliament's ceremonial session before Independence and Unity Day, he said equality before law was not guaranteed to all.
        LJUBLJANA - President Borut Pahor decorated constitutional jurist Peter Jambrek with the Golden Order of Merit and Austrian politician Erhard Busek with the Silver Order of Merit for their contribution to Slovenia's independence and international recognition.
        CELJE - The Celje District Court sentenced Uroš Rotnik, the former boss of the Šoštanj coal-fired power station (TEŠ), to ten months suspended for stealing an income statement from the Financial Administration in November 2013.
        LJUBLJANA - The owner and editor of the pozareport.si news portal, Bojan Požar, was ordered to pay Viktor Knavs, the father of US first lady Melania Trump, EUR 5,000 in damages and almost EUR 2,000 in litigation costs. He also has to publicly apologise for alleging Knavs was in prison due to tax evasion and illicit trade.
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenian researchers working abroad gathered for a symposium designed to establish and strengthen networking opportunities between Slovenian scholars abroad and those researching in Slovenia.
        LJUBLJANA - Alfi, a private equity fund, acquired an 80% stake in Prevent & Deloza, Slovenia's leading maker of protective garments, for an undisclosed sum, a move it said would improve the company's development prospects and strengthen innovation.

TUESDAY, 24 December
        LJUBLJANA - The National Council vetoed changes to the tonnage tax act which extend by ten years a special regulation under which shippers pay an alternative form of corporate tax.
        LJUBLJANA/ZAGREB, Croatia - Agrokor, the owner of retailer Mercator, made good on its plan to challenge the seizure of 70% of Mercator shares by Slovenia's competition watchdog, as it appealed the decision at the Ljubljana Local Court.

WEDNESDAY, 25 December
        LJUBLJANA - News portal 24ur.com reported that a brand new police helicopter, delivered in mid-October, was out of commission because of problems with the main rotor's transmission.

THURSDAY, 26 December
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenia observed Independence and Unity Day, a bank holiday, remembering the 1990 independence referendum, in which people voted overwhelmingly for Slovenia to leave Yugoslavia.

All our posts in this series are here

23 Dec 2019, 16:20 PM

STA, 23 December 2018 - Slovenia started annual celebrations of its independence on Monday, which marks the 29th anniversary of the independence plebiscite that culminated in the declaration of the results on 26 December 1990, now celebrated as Independence and Unity Day.

The main national Independence and Unity Day ceremony will be held this evening at Cankarjev Dom with a keynote address by President Borut Pahor, preceded by a ceremonial session of the National Assembly.

Prime Minister Marjan Šarec will host a reception for the relatives of those who died in the independence war, while Archbishop of Ljubljana Stanislav Zore will say homeland mass at the Ljubljana cathedral.

The rightist Association for the Values of Slovenian Independence (VSO) marked the independence anniversary last Monday with a ceremony featuring Democrat (SDS) leader Janez Janša as the keynote speaker.

Janša said the independence referendum almost three decades ago was the highlight in the history of the Slovenian nation.

Slovenians voted overwhelmingly in favour of independence in the 23 December 1990 referendum, endorsing leaving Yugoslavia with a majority of almost 95%, equalling 88.5% of all eligible voters.

Three days later, on 26 December 1990, the National Assembly declared the outcome, triggering a milestone year that included the declaration of independence in June 1990 and a ten-day war.

Legally speaking, the independence efforts were completed on 23 December 1991, when the National Assembly declared the Slovenian Constitution. This is why 23 December is observed as Constitution Day.

23 Dec 2019, 14:15 PM

STA, 23 December 2019 - A severe crisis in Venezuela has prompted the government to engage in repatriating Slovenians who would wish to leave the Latin American country. This has proved a major effort as Slovenia did not have a working repatriation system for a large number of people, despite a law governing repatriation having been passed in 2006.

Slovenian Interior Ministry data shows there are 335 Slovenian citizens in Venezuela, whereas the total number of people of Slovenian descent is estimated at 1,000.

Slovenian citizenship is not a condition for repatriation, which entails a special status and rights for 15 months, but Slovenian origin is.

Based on the expressed willingness of Slovenians in Venezuela to return home, the government assessed only up to 70 persons would ask to be resettled in Slovenia.

Until mid-December, 17 repatriation applications were granted for 30 people, Dejan Valentinčič, deputy head of the task force in charge of repatriation at the Office for Slovenians Abroad, told the STA.

He said that another eight applications for 23 people, which had been initially incomplete, were still being processed.

Valentinčič also said that the first group was expected to arrive in Slovenia before Christmas holidays and the second one after the holidays.

"The pace of arrivals will depend on individuals, on their or their families' obligations in Venezuela," he explained.

The office is issuing repatriation decisions on the basis of a detailed action plan it had drafted and which the government adopted in mid-November.

The cost of repatriation until 2021 was estimated at 1.2 million euro, State Secretary Olga Belec from the office, explained when the action plan was endorsed.

She did not discuss where exactly the repatriated people would settle, this being a sensitive issue.

However, she highlighted areas with good employment prospects alongside areas where the repatriated persons have relatives.

For instance, a 16-member family would be accommodated with their relatives.

Belec said this "pioneer project" was "an extremely demanding and complex matter" and a result of collaboration of seven government offices.

Until now, Slovenia had very limited experience with repatriation - one family from Syria was repatriated in 2013 due to the civil war there.

As for integration into society, the persons from Venezuela will have a 15-month repatriation status.

During this time they will be entitled to free healthcare and to a work permit as well as favourable treatment compared to third-country job seekers.

They will also have the right to Slovenian language courses and to more favourable higher education enrolment conditions.

But if they get a job, their repatriation status ends before the expiration of the 15-month period.

However, those who do not find a job after the 15 months will have different status options at their disposal.

Slovenian citizens will enjoy all rights stemming from citizenship, those without Slovenian citizenship but of Slovenian descent will be able to obtain a formal status in line with the law on relations with Slovenians abroad.

The third group - those who are not even of Slovenian origin, for instance spouses - will be subject to the law on foreigners.

The repatriation process from Venezuela remains open-ended. To close it, the government would have to take a decision to that effect, explained Velentinčič.

The project united Slovenian politics in that politicians from left and right agreed the country should help those who would like to leave crisis-stricken Venezuela.

The first cases of Slovenian immigrants in Venezuela date back to the time between the two world wars, but a larger wave was recorded after WWII, in the period until the end of the 1960s.

Slovenian Foreign Ministry data shows that an estimated 550 to 800 Slovenians, mostly from the western region of Primorska, emigrated there in that period.

The reasons were economic and partly political, but there was also a desire for adventure and the existing ties to Slovenians already in Venezuela.

22 Dec 2019, 09:28 AM

The covers and editorials from leading weeklies of the Left and Right for the work-week ending Friday, 20 December

Mladina: Chinese-owned Gorenje seen as threat by Germany

STA, 20 December - The left-wing weekly Mladina is concerned about whether the Slovenian government is aware of the geostrategic interests involved in Gorenje becoming a Chinese company, predicting that Germany will make an all-out effort to prevent Hisense from making a foray into the European market through Slovenia.

In the latest editorial, headlined Angela Merkel Watching Gorenje, editor-in-chief Grega Repovž writes that Hisense has been unsuccessfully trying to get into the German market for almost two decades as all its attempts have been blocked by Germany and its industry, in particular the Bosch - Siemens group.

He says that this complicates the situation for the Slovenian household appliance company, because the moment it was acquired by Hisense, Gorenje became the company that the European industry and countries, in particular Germany, will do everything to stop in its expansion efforts.

"This is a big game that is not necessarily bad. Wise countries, especially small ones play at several sides, cooperate with various global superpowers thus establishing its power internationally.

"The German government does not feel any true sympathy for Slovenia, we are part of its interest but not its friends. To them, Hisense Slovenija is in fact a more important player than Slovenia," writes Repovž.

He goes on to say that China cares equally little about Slovenia, except when its geostrategic interests are concerned, wondering whether the Chinese government is extorting Slovenia over Gorenje into adopting Huawei's 5G technology, which he infers from Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi's visit.

He wonders whether the Slovenian government and intelligence services think ahead far enough, including how Slovenia's position in the eyes of the German government has changed and what will the consequences be for Gorenje.

"It is intriguing that Slovenia is getting involved in these big geostrategic games, but the fundamental question is whether it is fit to play. We are a country without long-term alliances, we do not have an ally of our own like the Croatians, who have Germany, or the Serbs France (and Russia)."

Repovž also notes the geostrategic interests related to retailer Mercator, where it says Slovenia has become vulnerable against Russia, which controls Mercator.

Or Ljubljana airport, where Lufthansa, one of the shareholders of the German operator of the airport, has now taken over most of the air traffic to and from Slovenia. "There was no coincidence in Adria Airways's collapse, only a clear business plan on the part of the competition."

Reporter: Poor governance at state-owned companies

STA, 16 December 2019 - The right-wing weekly Reporter writes about corporate governance at Slovenian state-owned companies in the latest editorial, finding that the executives affiliated with former President Milan Kučan are on their way out.

"Members of Kučan's table on the front page of the latest issue of Reporter (...) are the part of the deep state that is on its way out, their businesses are being taken by a new guard, rift apart into several networks that fight each other ruthlessly for control of the (para)state sector," writes editor-in-chief Silvester Šurla.

He writes that, 20 years ago, three close "adjutants of Kučan ruled" in the energy company Petrol, which "has always been and will continue to be a political company, as long as the state has a major say there. A big sack of money that many of the chosen ones feed from (...)

"Two months ago Petrol saw a showdown between 'red' networks, the losing side being the Borut Jamnik clan, an important member of which was Tomaž Berločnik, who rose to the post [of Petrol CEO] eight years ago with the help of politics and will now likely leave the same way."

Šurla offers Petrol as well as retailer Mercator and household appliances maker Gorenje as examples of how deep in the doldrums Slovenian corporate governance at state-owned companies is.

He says that Mercator and Gorenje were driven to such a poor state by domestic owners and managers that they are now being salvaged by foreigners.

"These days it is priceless to hear and watch how representatives of Russian Sberbank and Chinese Hisense are trying to drive home to the Slovenian public that socialism is over."

Šurla goes on to say that a person from China, the cradle of Communism, had to come to Velenje to spell it out that socialism is over once and for all, that there will be no future for Gorenje without a profit.

Under the headline Thin Red Line, the editor concludes that Mercator and Gorenje are "paying the toll of the notorious 'national interest'. Other 'flagship' state-owned companies are bound to face a similar fate in the future. Once they have turned into a heap of rust and politics is forced to sell them."

All our posts in this series are here

21 Dec 2019, 16:00 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, 13 December
        BRUSSELS, Belgium - PM Marjan Šarec expressed satisfaction that nearly all EU members had reached an agreement on carbon neutrality by 2050, saying Slovenia was happy that each member state determines its own energy mix in sustainable energy transition, indicating it would substitute nuclear energy for thermal. He warned however that carbon neutrality should not come at the expense of cohesion funding.
        BRUSSELS, Belgium - Commenting on the Conservatives' landslide victory in the UK general election, Prime Minister Marjan Šarec said Brexit by the end of January was probable and that a trade agreement with the UK could be reached next year if talks were conducted quickly.
        LJUBLJANA - The opposition Left made a renewed appeal on the government to push for Palestine's recognition at EU level, saying that in the EU failed to reach a consensus on the matter by the end of March 2020, Slovenia should take steps to recognise Palestine itself.
        SEOUL, South Korea - Slovenia was ranked 13th in the Global Sustainable Competitiveness Index compiled by Solability, a sustainability think-tank based in Switzerland and South Korea, among a total of 180 countries. The country fared best in terms of governance efficiency, and worst in natural capital and resource management.

SATURDAY, 14 December
        LJUBLJANA - Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi urged protecting multilateralism against unilateralism as he visited Slovenia for talks with his counterpart Miro Cerar and the country's top officials. Both ministers also welcomed a preliminary trade agreement reached between the US and China. Cerar said China was an indispensable strategic partner of the EU even if the two sides did not always share the same positions.
        LJUBLJANA - Seasoned diplomat Andrej Logar told the weekly Večer that he had been tasked with reviving the Ljubljana-based International Center for Promotion of Enterprises, founded in 1974 at the UN's initiative to promote international cooperation of developing countries. "Since Slovenia does not have intensive contacts with African and Asian countries as potential ICPE members, the centre could be an important instrument of Slovenia's foreign policy," Logar said.
        KOČEVSKA REKA - A ceremony attended by several independence-era figures marked the lining up of a territorial defence unit seen as a precursor to the Slovenian army on 17 December 1990, just a week before the country held its independence referendum. The keynote speaker, Igor Bavčar, the then interior minister who is now serving prison for money laundering liked to shares trading, said that challenges faced by the EU and NATO undermined the foundations of the EU as had been known for 30 years.

SUNDAY, 15 December
        MADRID, Spain/LJUBLJANA - In response to the UN Climate Change Conference COP25 in Madrid, which put off a decision on a rulebook for meeting Paris Agreement targets to 2020, Environment Minister Simon Zajc said the event was "a disappointment, as expected". Climate expert Lučka Kajfež Bogataj called the conference far from noteworthy, except for the fact that negotiators ignored calls for action by millions of young people and other citizens who demand change.
        LJUBLJANA - The December Vox Populi poll showed the coalition Marjan Šarec Party (LMŠ) at the top of the party rankings with the support of 20.2% of respondents. The opposition Democrats (SDS) calme second at 16.6%. Moreover, 50.4% of respondents believe the government is doing a good job.

MONDAY, 16 December
        LJUBLJANA - Prime Minister Marjan Šarec told reporters that incorporating a new airline in full or partial state ownership after flag carrier Adria Airways went into receivership was not very likely, because of the highs risks entailed. The Bank Assets Management Company later said it was in talks with several European regional carriers to increase flight frequencies on major routes connecting Ljubljana.
        LJUBLJANA - European Commissioner Janez Lenarčič urged the implementation of the European Green Deal, outlined by the European Commission the week before, as he met Slovenia's senior officials in his first official visit to the country as commissioner. He deems environmental issues one of Slovenia's major challenges for the future.
        MADRID, Spain - Foreign Minister Miro Cerar presented Slovenia's stance on multilateralism and efforts related to climate change, sustainable development and gender equality on the final day of the Asia-Europe Meeting, he also held several bilateral meetings.
        TRIESTE, Italy - Slovenian Consul General in Italy's Trieste Vojko Volk condemned the posters on which an Italian neo-fascist movement labelled five Slovenian victims of fascism as terrorists on 14 December, the eve of an event commemorating the victims, executed in 1941.
        LJUBLJANA - Just over a year after its launch, the Ljubljana-based European Blockchain Hub, a cooperative designed to act as a platform bringing together blockchain stakeholders, declared bankruptcy, the main reason being that some stakeholders had failed to deliver.
        PARIS, France - Slovenian painter Gregor Pratneker won the Eugene Boudin Prize at the Salon de Beaux Arts in Paris, a major international art showcase. He received the honour for his oil painting Spring in Mountains.
        LJUBLJANA - The Youth Committee of the European Trade Union Confederation elected Slovenian Tea Jarc its president, making her the first Slovenian to elected president of a European trade union confederation.
TUESDAY, 17 December
        NOVI SAD, Serbia - Prime Minister Marjan Šarec promised Slovenia's further assistance to Serbia in efforts to join the EU, as he visited the country with five ministers for a joint session of the two governments. Šarec said there was no alternative to Serbia joining the EU. His counterpart Ana Brnabić thanked Slovenia for its political and technical support.
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenia's central bank downgraded its projection for the country's economic growth for the year by 0.6 percentage points to 2.6%, decreasing the forecast for 2020 by 0.4 points to 2.5%, the level it is expected to remain in 2021 and 2022. The rates are above the euro area average.
        PULA, Croatia - The Croatian media reported that Croatia's fisheries inspectors had imposed over 270 fines worth over EUR 490,000 on Slovenia fishermen for fishing in what Croatia claims is its part of the Piran Bay since 15 March 2018. Since Slovenia implemented the arbitration award in December 2017, it issued over EUR 1 million in fines against Croatian fishermen in Slovenian waters.
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenian troops serving in international missions and operations discussed security situation in an annual video conference with the Slovenian president, defence minister and the chief of the general staff. They reported being satisfied with their equipment, except for those in Latvia, who complained about the light armoured vehicles.
        LJUBLJANA - The Ljubljana Stock Exchange marked its 30th anniversary with a ceremony at which its current boss Aleš Ipavec said the desire was to make the exchange more appealing to investors. The exchange was launched on 26 December 1989 as the Yugoslav Stock Exchange.
        BELGRADE, Serbia - The Serbian newspaper Blic reported that Slovenia's largest bank, NLB, had submitted a binding bid to take over the Serbian state-owned bank Komercijalna Banka, along with Austria's Raiffeisen Bank International and Serbia's AIK Banka.
        LJUBLJANA - Cyclist Primož Roglič, sport climber Janja Garnbret and the men's national volleyball team were declared athletes of the year by the Association of Sports Journalists.

WEDNESDAY, 18 December
        LJUBLJANA - The Competition Protection Agency confirmed it had temporarily seized 70% of shares of retailer Mercator shares from its owner, Croatia's Agrokor, so that Agrokor pay a EUR 53.9 million fine for failure to notify its 2016 takeover of Slovenian-based bottled water company Costella. The decision is not yet final and Agrokor's successor, Fortenova said it would fight it with all means available. Fortenova described the agency's move as a coordinated effort to secure Slovenian suppliers of Mercator favoured position in Mercator group.
        LJUBLJANA - The National Assembly endorsed a bill securing up to EUR 777 million in state loan guarantees for the construction of a new rail link connecting the Koper port and Divača, and two sections of an expressway connecting the north and south of the country.
        LJUBLJANA - The National Assembly reviewed a report on the 2015 wiretapping scandal during the Slovenia-Croatia border arbitration process behind closed doors. The report, compiled by the parliamentary Intelligence Oversight Commission, finds that the Slovenian government and the intel agency SOVA were not involved in the violation of the arbitration agreement, attributing the blame for the scandal, which Croatia used as an excuse to withdraw from the arbitration, on Simona Drenik, Slovenia's agent in the procedure.
        WOLFSBURG, Germany - Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek and representatives of Slovenian automotive industry suppliers visited the headquarters of the Volkswagen Group in a bid to boost cooperation, especially in e-mobility and innovative solutions for carbon-neutral society.
        WASHINGTON, US - Slovenia placed 35th in the 2019 Human Freedom Index, level with last year. Austria is the only neighbour doing better, ranking 13th.

THURSDAY, 19 December
        LJUBLJANA - The National Assembly voted 44:43 to appoint Angelika Mlinar, an ethnic Slovenian from Austria, minister without portfolio in charge of cohesion policy, as the government secured a slim minority after several days of uncertainty. Mlinar said the vote showed that "we want to overcome borders".
        BRUSSELS, Belgium - Environment Minister Simon Zajc called on the EU to take taking into account specific circumstances of individual EU countries regarding their large-carnivore management, especially in cases like Slovenia's where animal populations are booming. He suggested the EU habitats directive may have to be changed.
        LJUBLJANA - The National Public Health Institute said that the number of confirmed cases of measles infection in Slovenian population this year rose to 40 plus two in foreigners. In one outbreak, unofficially at the Škofja Loka company Knauf Insulation, a person got infected in Belgium before infecting six more people, one of whom infected a further eight.
        LJUBLJANA - Archbishop of Ljubljana Stanislav Zore told the STA he would like the Catholic Church to settle practical matters with the state, so they do not change with every change of government. Some of the things that needs addressing are education, social security contributions for priests and financing of heritage.
        LJUBLJANA - The Commission for the Prevention of Corruption issued an opinion finding Infrastructure Minister Alenka Bratušek was in conflict of interest in 2014, when she nominated herself for EU commissioner. Bratušek said she would challenge the claim, just as she had successfully challenged a previous opinion, which was dismissed by courts on procedural grounds.

All our posts in this series are here

21 Dec 2019, 09:32 AM

STA, 20 December 2019 - Police processed more than 15,200 illegal crossings of the border by the end of November this year, as much as some 70% increase compared to the same period in 2018. A total of 3,640 migrants have asked for international protection.

Citizens from Pakistan, Algeria and Afghanistan were processed by police officers most often.

This year's situation shows a steeper increase year-on-year. August saw the greatest surge of illegal crossings of the border per month since the 2016 mass migrations, with the situation getting more manageable in autumn when the temperatures started dropping.

The police has recorded an increase in the number of asylums requests as well - in 2018, 2,875 asked for international protection, while in the first eleven months of 2019, 3,640 did the same. Most of those procedures have been completed, with 67 persons granted asylum.

Considerably more illegal migrants were handed over to the Croatian authorities this year as well - some 10,640 compared to 4,590 in 2018. Most of them were from Pakistan.

20 Dec 2019, 12:55 PM

STA, 19 December 2019 - The budget of the ZPIZ pension fund will stand at EUR 5.8 billion in 2020, but the state will have to chip in almost EUR 680 million to balance revenue and expenditure.

Under ZPIZ's financial plan for next year, adopted by the fund's council on Thursday, 84.2% of all revenue or EUR 4.9 billion will go for pensions.

Another EUR 145 million is planned to be spent on the annual holiday allowance for all pensions, up EUR 4.6 million from this year.

Almost 82% of the ZPIZ's revenue will come from contributions for social security and other taxes, with EUR 50 million expected from the state-owned KAD fund.

Pensions are planned to rise twice - by 3.5% in February, and by EUR 6.5 at the end of 2020 as part of an extraordinary rise if economic growth exceeds 2.5%.

Deputy ZPIZ director general David Klarič said as he outlined the plan the EUR 6.5 rise could still change as the upper chamber of parliament had filed a bill to rise pensions not in an absolute sum but as of percentage. In this case, the rise would amount to 1%.

The financial plan will now be sent to the government for approval. The government's representative on the council, Simona Poljanšek, said it was well prepared.

Klarič, however, said the budget would probably have to be overhauled in mid-2020 to adjust it to the latest pension changes which are expected to cost EUR 33 million.

The only council member voting against the financial plan was Frančiška Ćetković, who represents pensioners.

The plan does not envisage pensioners getting back what was taken from them due to the 2012 austerity legislation, which she assessed at 7.2%.

"We won't accept this share not being paid out," she said.

In response, Katja Rihar Bajuk from the Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities Ministry announced the ministry would analyse retirement conditions as those retiring during the crisis were more affected than others.

Council president Dušan Bavec, who represents employers, said more pension revenue could be collected with more effective measures against grey economy.

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