15 Oct 2019, 11:19 AM

STA, 14 October 2019 - Reacting to the prison sentences handed in Spain to Catalan leaders, Foreign Minister Miro Cerar said Spain was a sovereign country and that Slovenia "must not interfere". Ex Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel on the other hand spoke of an "enormous scandal" and analyst Luka Lisjak Gabrijelčič of "distinctively political" judicial arguments.

Cerar, a constitutional law expert, said it was natural that Slovenians experienced the situation emotionally, with everybody still gratefully remembering the time when the Catalan people were strong supporters of Slovenia's independence efforts.

However, the position that Cerar finds crucial is the one that Slovenia needs to take as a country, arguing this needs to be done responsibly and by taking all facts into account.

Spain is a democratic country, a law-governed country and a member of the EU that secures basic human rights to all of its citizens, Cerar said on the sidelines of a ministerial in Luxembourg.

Cerar said the case of Catalonia was in no way comparable to Slovenia's, since in 1990 and 1991 Slovenia had been striving to first even become a democracy and an EU member.

"Comparing these two processes is misguided, even if people may draw this comparison sometimes emotionally, which is understandable," he said, while assessing the decision would likely be appealed.

"We will have to see how things pan out, but at the same time we need to respect Spain's sovereignty, the sovereignty of its internal legal order, just like others respect it when Slovenia is concerned. Thus, we must not interfere," he said, saying Spain's Constitution defined Spain as a sovereign and integral country.

A very different view is held by Former Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, who labelled the verdicts an "enormous scandal", even if he had expected this.

In a statement for the STA, the member of the international team observing the Catalan independence referendum in October 2017 called on Slovenian PM Marjan Šarec to ask Spain at the European Council how it intended to "eliminate this scandal".

"I would propose that the prime minister ... asks such a question. This would be an effective measure, this would be an effective path towards gradual resolution of a paradox. This is a paradox which tarnishes the image of democracy in Europe."

While no one must directly interfere in the work of courts, the Spanish government should be asked this question, because "I think that ... all of us are of the same opinion - that organisation of elections, referendums belongs to human rights."

Slovenian historian and political analyst Luka Lisjak Gabrijelčič also said that the arguments used for handing the leaders to between nine and 13 years in prison were "distinctively political", although he expected such a decision too.

"Perhaps it is slightly surprising that very high sentences have been pronounced for all the accused, including both representatives of civil society," the expert in Spanish politics told the STA.

Lisjak Gabrijelčič believes that they have received such sentences "by error, so to say", for using political instruments to apply citizen pressure.

He noted that a majority of legal experts believed that sedition meant a "small-scale rebellion" of sorts, and that all indicators for a rebellion were also applied for sedition, only to a lesser extent.

There is no case law in this field at all, which is why a number of experts have been warning that the case is worrying, as the relevant article may be used for any act directed against legal order even if there is no violence in the process.

The last resort is the European Court of Human Rights, said Lisjak Gabrijelčič, who thinks that the developments will "certainly aggravate" the solving of the Catalan issue. "It is certainly an element which excludes a solution in the medium run.

14 Oct 2019, 17:40 PM

STA, 14 October 2019 - The Environment and Spatial Planning Ministry presented a new housing bill proposal on Monday. The document aims to make housing more accessible to those in precarious jobs, young families and the poor, as well secure more effective management of apartment blocks. It also makes it harder for owners to rent out their apartment through Airbnb.

 The bill abolishes non-profit rent and replaces it with what it calls a cost rent, which would amount to up to 5.2% of the cost price of a new apartment.

Depending on location, the cost rent would stand between EUR 5 and EUR 7.30 per square metre, Environment and Spatial Planning Minister Simon Zajc and state secretary at the ministry Aleš Prijon told the press.

Under the new system, those renting out apartments are to make more in rent, however nothing is to change for those renting the apartments, as the difference in rent will be covered by a housing allowance.

This will bring in more money to the national Housing Fund and municipal housing funds, which is to be used for maintenance and construction of new apartments.

Eligibility of renters is to be checked annually, which has not been the case in the past. If the renter will exceed the income limit, they would be able to remain in the apartment but would have to pay a higher rent, up to 1.5 times as high as the cost rent.

Last year, municipalities spent EUR 12.4 million for housing subsidies, while the state contributed EUR 3.8 million.

Under the new system, municipalities will contribute EUR 12.3 million for the housing allowance, while the state is to provide EUR 28.5 million.

Moreover, the national Housing Fund is to establish a rent-out service, a kind of national real estate agency that would facilitate the renting out of empty apartments.

The public service will pay rent, find a renter and make sure that the apartment is returned to the owner in the state it was in before it was rented out, said Prijon.

The ministry expects that this would put between 20,000 and 30,000 apartments on the market, out of 170,000 apartments that are officially empty.

The bill also introduces state guarantees for the young and young families, who are unable to acquire a housing loan with banks.

In case that the loan-taker would no longer be able to pay off the loan, the Housing Fund would become the owner of the apartment, however, the loan-taker would still be able to live in the apartment and pay cost rent.

Moreover, the bill will increase the municipal funds' borrowing limit from 10% of its capital to 50%.

It also changes multi-dwelling management rules, for instance making it easier for residents to change the apartment block management firm.

New restrictions on Airbnb

Also, those who will want to let out their apartments through platforms such as Airbnb, thus changing the intended function of their flat from private to commercial, will have to get the approval of all apartment owners in their building, said Prijon.

The bill also lays out the conditions for housing cooperatives. The Housing Fund would likely contribute plots, while members of the cooperatives would each contribute a part of the cost of construction.

The rest of the funds needed would come from loans taken out with a guarantee from the Housing Fund. Members, who would want to withdraw from the cooperative, would get their contributions returned.

14 Oct 2019, 16:36 PM

STA, 14 October 2019 - The Constitutional Court has annulled part of the controversial amendments passed in January 2017 that define a special temporary regime on the border in the event of mass migration.

The Court annulled sections of clause 10.b which would effectively allow the country to suspend asylum law in special circumstances that would have to be endorsed by absolute majority in parliament.

The special system, imposed for a six-month period with the possibility of extension in a pre-defined area, would involve refusal to admit foreigners who do not meet entry criteria and the expulsion of those who have already entered the country unlawfully.

If they expressed the intention of asking for asylum, requests would be rejected by police as unfounded unless there were systemic shortcomings with regard to asylum in the EU country from which such a person entered.

Such systemic shortcomings would include the risk of torture, inhumane or degrading behaviour.

The amendments were passed despite concerns raised by NGOs, the Council of Europe and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees that they were in breach of international treaties.

Due to the concerns, the amendment was challenged at the top court by the human rights ombudsman in April 2017.

The Constitutional Court announced on Monday that it several sections of clause 10.b violated the Article 18 of the Constitution, which guarantees the principle of non-refoulement.

Clause 10.b does not guarantee, neither in Slovenia nor a neighbouring EU member, access to fair and effective legal procedure that would guarantee a substantive assessment that refoulement could not put the person in jeopardy of non-humane and degrading treatment.

A country may return an individual to a third country only if the third country is deemed safe; however, trust between countries should not be absolute. The person requesting asylum must get the opportunity to challenge the presumption of safety in this country.

Moreover, the contentious clauses also narrow the number of reasons that can be cited by those who are challenging the assumed safety of the neighbouring EU member state, the court said.

Also, the rejection of intention to request for asylum by one country does not obligate the neighbouring EU member state to accept this person, the court said.

The decision was adopted with eight votes in favour and one against, with judge Klemen Jaklič also issuing a dissenting opinion. In it he said that he had been subjected to "unacceptable" pressure due to his dissenting position in this case.

The Interior Ministry, which had drafted the 2017 changes to the foreigners act, said it would respect the Constitutional Court decision. Vesna Györkös Žnidar, the then interior minister, has not commented on the decision.

The Human Rights Ombudsman Peter Svetina, who challenged the changes in Constitutional Court, is happy with the decision. He sees the decision as a "welcome confirmation of constitutional and convention standards ... Being a country government by the rule of law, we cannot just bypass them when this may seem convenient".

Most political parties meanwhile seem reluctant to comment on the decision. The opposition Left labelled the decision on the "obnoxious" legislative changes made by the Miro Cerar government as appropriate.

The party moreover said that this alone would not suffice, as reports suggested that migrants were being returned and prevented from requesting asylum also without the contentious changes in force.

Also happy was MEP Milan Brglez, former parliamentary speaker and a former MP for the then senior coalition Modern Centre Party (SMC). He was one of several coalition MPs who voted against the changes in January 2017.

While Karl Erjavec, the president of the coalition Pensioners' Party (DeSUS), said he could not yet comment because he had not read the decision yet, Zmago Jelinčič, the leader of the opposition National Party (SNS) said that the Constitutional Court should first and foremost protect the Slovenian state and its citizens.

Democrats (SDS) head Janez Janša tweeted that "the left majority" at the Constitutional Court "abolished the safeguard in the foreigners act at a time when we are in danger of a refugee wave once more due to the Turks. There is no end to betrayal and anti-Slovenian policy of the leftists."

12 Oct 2019, 08:20 AM

The covers and editorials from leading weeklies of the Left and Right for the work-week ending Friday, 11 October

Mladina: The government moves to the right

STA, 11 October 2019 - There is little chance the Left does not pull out of its cooperation deal with Marjan Šarec's minority government, the left-wing weekly Mladina says in Friday's editorial, as it takes a look at how the government will turn right as it tries to justify its break with the opposition party.

"It has been clear since the early summer that the reactionary and neoliberal views will prevail in the coalition over the progressive views promoted by the Left."

Mladina's editor-in-chief Grega Repovž says the Left's views could hardly be labelled extremist, saying they are aligned with contemporary trends in Europe.

The only difference is that in Europe, such views are also promoted by conservative governments, which understand the role the state must play to secure long-term stability.

However, the Šarec coalition is starting to go down a similar path like Eastern European governments.

It has started with an economic policy cutting taxes for the rich and for companies and leaving industries and companies of national importance to the mercy of market forces.

This will be followed by an ideological shift towards the right, Repovž says under the headline Political Shift to the Right.

The funny thing is the shift will not happen for political or ideological reasons, but because this is the easiest way, enabling the government to avoid a conflict with centres of power and the public.

The more the government assumes neoliberal views in the coming months and the more it tries to justify its break with the Left, the more populist and conservative rhetoric it will use, resembling ever more those on the right.

This will bring it exactly to the point where the previous Miro Cerar government had found itself. Šarec's government will continue to avoid change, while neglecting the contemporary political agenda, which also includes the climate crisis.

Demokracija: Support for Save Slovenia protest in the face of “great replacement”

STA, 10 October 2019 - The right-wing weekly Demokracija expresses support in its commentary on Thursday for the Save Slovenia protest, a rally to be held in Ljubljana this afternoon.

Under the headline Rebellion, its editor-in-chief Jože Biščak draws parallels between Slovenia and "ominous" regulation planned in New York that might spark a civil war in the US "which might be much bloodier than the one a century and a half ago".

The magazine refers to reports that New York is to ban the use of words "illegal alien", saying that this would encroach on the 1st amendment. This, alongside the 2nd amendment, which allows US citizens to carry weapons, is the last bulwark of freedom in the US, Biščak says.

Things are even worse in Europe, where "a 'great replacement' scheme is taking place right before our eyes" in which European natives are being replaced by Arab and African immigrants, with the latter enjoying increasingly more rights than the natives.

"European taxpayers are forced to pay for their integration. I use integration here because the intention of illegal immigration is not assimilation. At the same time, the all-encompassing climate change hysteria is leading to measures that go against common sense, and above all, raise taxes."

This sparked the yellow vests protests in France, while Dutch farmers have also taken to the streets because the "politically correct want to lower animal production, because farm animals are supposedly one of the main culprits for nitrogen emissions".

"The globalist elites have crossed the Rubicon and sparks of rebellion are flying across Europe. Slovenians are joining this trend with the all-Slovenian protest Save Slovenia."

The state has been drowning and the leftist elite, while stealing from the people, has been responding [to the criticism] with attacks about racism, xenophobia and fascism.

"They are spreading fear among people, nobody dares to say what they think and how they want to live any more. The right to self-defence has been criminalised and tyranny has become embedded everywhere."

The weekly hopes that protests for the rule of law, freedom and protection of the people will become regular weekly events. "There is still time to destroy the seed of evil sawn by the devastating cultural Marxism without a civil war, which has already broken out in some parts of Europe."

"I truly hope that I never have to start this commentary with the words: 'Slovenians, patriots, brothers and sisters, time has come'."

All our posts in this series are here

11 Oct 2019, 18:02 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, 4 October
        LJUBLJANA - The parliamentary Labour Committee nodded to a government proposal abolishing a special bonus for working welfare recipients. While the Left, also upset by the proposed tax reform, threatened to withdraw its support to the minority government, PM Marjan Šarec insisted the government remained welfare-oriented. He said the allowance plus bonus had come too close to the minimum wage.
        LJUBLJANA - The ZSSS trade union confederation stressed it did not support the government-proposed package of changes to tax legislation that are meant to reduce taxes on labour. The changes are supported by employers, with the Slovenian Business Club arguing that "wages in Slovenia are among the most taxed in the EU".
        ZAGREB, Croatia - Reports confirmed that career diplomat Vojislav Šuc had taken over as the new Slovenian ambassador to Croatia on Thursday.
        MARIBOR - Večer reported that the Maribor Higher Court had upheld a guilty verdict against Andrej Šiško, the leader of Štajerska Guard militia. In March, he was found guilty of trying to subvert the constitutional order through armed resistance and sentenced to eight months in prison, but has since been released after having served much of the sentence in detention.
        LJUBLJANA - A Slovenia-Japan business forum heard that economic cooperation between the countries is good, but there is still ample room to deepen it, for instance in the industrial sector, in energy and in ICT.
        KOPER - An officer of the Koper Police Department who was, according to unofficial media reports, the head of the district's narcotics task force, was arrested on charges of drug trafficking.

SATURDAY, 5 October
        LJUBLJANA - Coalition SocDems head Dejan Židan said the clash between the minority coalition and the opposition partner Left over social security issues was harmful and called for a meeting to iron out the differences. The SocDems sided with the Left in opposing the scraping of a bonus for working welfare recipients.
        BOLOGNA, Italy - Slovenian cyclist Primož Roglič of the Dutch team Team Jumbo-Visma won the single-stage Giro d'Emillia race to add to his numerous feats this year, which include the overall win at the prestigious Vuelta a Espana.

SUNDAY, 6 October
        TEHARJE - Retired Celje Bishop Stanislav Lipovšek stressed at the annual Teharje ceremony remembering an estimated 5,000 victims of war and post-war summary executions the need "for true reconciliation with the past" if Slovenia wants to build a safe and happy future. He expressed gratitude to all who made sure the execution sites around the country are finally being tended to.
        EDINBURGH, UK - Lučka Rakovec became the European lead champion in Edinburgh, adding another highlight to what has been a spectacular season for Slovenian sports climbing.
        LJUBLJANA- Slovenian boxer Ema Kozin won five world titles, having out-boxed Swedish Maria Lindberg at Stožice Arena in Ljubljana and defended her World Boxing Federation (WBF) Women's World Champion title of the Super Middleweight class.

MONDAY, 7 October
        LJUBLJANA - PM Marjan Šarec and Finance Minister Andrej Bertoncelj presented the 2020 and 2021 draft budgets in parliament, noting that, despite the expected slowdown of economic growth, the budgets would see a surplus, and that more money would be available than earlier. The National Assembly is expected to vote on both budgets at the end of November.
        BRNIK - The official receiver of Adria Airways started serving notices of job termination to the airline's employees, while pilots and cabin staff are reported to be interviewed with potential new employers. Adria's audited financial statement, released on 8 October, showed the German-owned Slovenian airline ended 2018 with a net loss of EUR 18.6 million, up from EUR 5.4 million in 2017.
        LJUBLJANA - The parliamentary inquiry into the operations of the Bank Asset Management Company (BAMC) began its work by quizzing several individuals in charge of critical developments in 2013, when the country's bad bank was incorporated. The first hearings focused on the contentious selection of Deloitte as the auditor and on the criteria for the transfer of bad claims.
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenian trade unions urged employers to provide for decent work and reflect on the workers' contribution to economic growth and prosperity as World Day for Decent Work was observed. The Movement for Decent Work and Welfare State moreover highlighted young workers in precarious jobs, who earn less than half of their colleagues working on permanent contracts.
        LJUBLJANA - Former Health Minister Tomaž Gantar confirmed he had stepped down as vice-president of the coalition Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) in September. Gantar, who is returning to medical profession and remains a DeSUS member, was critical of the way Karl Erjavec is leading the party, saying his style was increasingly less democratic.
        LJUBLJANA - The women's section of Slovenian PEN honoured Neda Rusjan Bric with this year's Mira Prize, an award it introduced in 2013 to honour outstanding women authors. An actress by profession, Rusjan Bric, 57, is an author who has directed a number of multimedia productions based on her own texts.

TUESDAY, 8 October
        BRUSSELS, Belgium - Slovenia earned a new reproof for the slow uptake of EU funds as the country's member of the European Court of Auditors Samo Jereb reported that by the end of 2018 the country had only used 24.2% of funding available for 2014-2020. The Government Development and Cohesion Policy Office said Jereb had considered only the final phase of EU funds uptake and that Slovenia was on track to securing all of the funds available.
        LJUBLJANA - PM Marjan Šarec helped end the boycott of social dialogue by employers and trade unions - caused by bills being filed into parliamentary procedure without having been discussed by the industrial relations forum - with a deal that will allow the Economic and Social Council (ESS) to also debate bills filed by the opposition.
        LJUBLJANA - It was confirmed that a consortium of Slovenian construction companies Pomgrad, Kolektor, SŽ-ŽGP, GH-Holding and Gorenjska Gradbena Družba has been chosen to build a new section of the rail line between Maribor and the Šentilj border crossing with Austria, a project valued at EUR 101 million.
        LJUBLJANA - The financial fund Alfi, the biggest creditor of the Tuš group with about a third of the claims, was reported being in talks for acquiring about 27% more of the claims to the struggling group around grocer Engrotuš.
        LJUBLJANA - The news web portal Siol reported that Fortenova, the successor of the bankrupt Croatian food conglomerate Agrokor, is devising a secret plan to slash up the Slovenian retail group Mercator into parts and take control of the cash flows between the core company and its subsidiaries in Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia.
        LJUBLJANA - The Month of Design event, bringing together around 300 participants from 19 countries in Southeast Europe, got under way in Ljubljana with the Design Expo fair.
WEDNESDAY, 9 October
        LJUBLJANA - PM Marjan Šarec and his Belgian counterpart Charles Michel, the next president of the European Council, were optimistic the UK and the EU could still reach an agreement on Brexit as Michel visited Slovenia as he prepares to assume the new EU top job. Šarec expressed confidence the new president of the EU Council would respect the rule of law, including in Schengen zone enlargement.
        LJUBLJANA - Bilateral ties and Schengen zone expansion topped the agenda as Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok met his counterpart Miro Cerar, with the pair urging respect for international law and dedication to multilateralism. As for Schengen zone expansion, with Croatia tipped as the next country to enter, the ministers stressed new members needed to meet all conditions.
        LJUBLJANA - The parliamentary foreign policy and EU affairs committees met for a joint session behind closed doors to discuss Slovenia's position on the expansion of the Schengen area. No formal decisions were expected to be taken, with the idea being to notify the committees and invite them to help form a position.
        LJUBLJANA - After issuing a set of recommendations last November to warn against imprudent consumer lending practices, Banka Slovenije said it will introduce binding restrictions in November which also stiffen conditions for consumer as well as housing loans.
        LJUBLJANA - The national intelligence agency SOVA, declined to give the parliamentary Intelligence Oversight Commission information on the agency's staffing, requested in the wake of allegations PM Marjan Šarec had intervened to secure a job to a female friend. While SOVA referred the investigation to the public employees inspectorate, the opposition-controlled commission insisted SOVA staffing also fell under its purview. SDS head Janez Janša demanded that SOVA head Rajko Kozmelj resign.
        LJUBLJANA - Representatives of the Slovenian minority in Italy expressed concern over the law that will drastically reduce the number of seats in the Italian parliament as of next election, and believe that the urgent next move should be to secure parliamentary representation of the minority with a relevant law.
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenia remained 35th in the 2019 World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report, scoring 70.2 points on a scale from 0 to 100, up from 69.6 points in 2018.
THURSDAY, 10 October
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenia called on Turkey to end its military operation in north-eastern Syria, protect civilians and respect international humanitarian law.
        LJUBLJANA - The government endorsed a bill on state guarantee for the loans taken out to fund the planned Koper-Divača rail expansion, and an expressway connecting the north and south of the country, two major infrastructure projects in Slovenia. The guarantee for the rail project was restricted to EUR 417m, and for the Third Development Axis at EUR 360m.
        LJUBLJANA - According to unofficial information obtained by the weekly Mladina, constitutional judges have annulled a controversial clause of the aliens act that would allow the country to take steps to suspend asylum law in the event of mass migration. The court told the STA the review was still ongoing.
        LJUBLJANA - A bill that would allow the government to subsidise air links vital to Slovenia after flag carrier Adria Airways was sent into receivership was defeated by the parliamentary Infrastructure Committee. On the same day, Adria's receiver published an invitation for bids for all remaining assets of the insolvent airline.
        SKOPJE, Macedonia - Relations between Slovenia and North Macedonia were in focus as PM Marjan Šarec visited Skopje. He reiterated Slovenia's support that North Macedonia be allowed to launch EU accession talks.
        LJUBLJANA - Right-wing parties organised a rally, headlined Save Slovenia. Protestors called against corruption and expressed their dissatisfaction with PM Marjan Šarec.
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenia exported EUR 2.32 billion worth of goods in August, which is 4.9% more year-on-year, while imports were up by 4.3% to EUR 2.3 billion. Trade surplus thus stood at EUR 20 million in August, for an exports-to-imports coverage of 100.88%.
        LJUBLJANA - The value of industrial output in Slovenia in August was 2% down compared to July and 0.8% higher year-on-year.
        MARIBOR - Marinka Štern was announced as the recipient of this year's Borštnik Ring for lifetime achievement, the highest accolade conferred in theatre acting. The 72-year-old stage and screen actor worked at the Mladinsko Theatre (SMG) and as also performed in television and radio productions and cooperated with other national and independent theatres.

All our posts in this series are here

11 Oct 2019, 15:58 PM

STA, 10 October 2019 - Slovenia has called on Turkey on Thursday to end its military operation in north-eastern Syria, protect civilians and respect the international humanitarian law. It has also expressed deep concern over the operation. President Borut Pahor meanwhile labelled the operation unacceptable. 

The Slovenian Foreign Ministry pointed out in a press release on Thursday that the operation could jeopardise the stability of the region, and the progress achieved in the battle against Islamic State and other terrorist organisations.

It also undermines the political process for the solving of the Syrian crisis, the ministry added.

Turkey launched a planned military offensive into north-eastern Syria on Wednesday, launching airstrikes and artillery fire across the border just days after the US announced it was pulling its troops back from the area.

The operation is aimed at pushing Kurdish forces, who were a key ally of the US in the fight against Islamic State, away from Turkey's border.

According to data provided by activists, 15 people have been killed so far, including eight civilians, among them two children. The international community has condemned the operation.

As a result of the operation people's lives are in danger and the humanitarian situation in the country is deteriorating, which could lead to more refugees, the Foreign Ministry said.

It also stressed that a permanent solution of the Syrian conflict could be reached only if Syria's territorial integrity is respected in the political process led by the UN in line with the 2015 UN Security Council resolution 2254.

Pahor, who is in Greece for the Athens Democracy Forum, told the Slovenian press that the international community must do everything it can to deter Turkish President Reccep Tayyip Erdogan from using force against Kurds.

He added that he had brought up his concerns about Kurdish issues with Erdogan several times. Pahor also said that some ten years ago Erdogan, in the capacity of prime minister, was instrumental in bridging the conflict between Turks and Kurds.

But cooperation between Erdogan and Kurds has soured since then to a degree that they are now on opposite sides.

Everything must be done to preserve dialogues between the international community and Turkey and between Turkey and Kurds, Pahor underlined.

11 Oct 2019, 07:30 AM

STA, 10 October 2019 - The specialised state prosecution dealing with the most demanding while collar crime and corruption cases has lodged two new indictments against Ljubljana Mayor Zoran Janković, the web portal MMC reported on Thursday. He is allegedly suspected of tax evasion and abuse of office.

The first case dates back to 2006, with the prosecution suspecting that the former CEO of retailer Mercator performed a series of complex business transactions in order to evade taxes by selling 47,000 Mercator shares through a company owned by his sons.

Investigators believe that the company was actually controlled by Janković at the time and that he was the actual owner of shares that he parked at the Electa Inženiring company until he sold them.

According to MMC, charges were filed against three persons and a legal entity in this case last week.

The second case goes back to 2009, when Janković is suspected of abuse of office to acquire EUR 1.4 million in illegal gains for Grep, the main constructor of Stožice sports park.

Moreover, he is suspected of document fabrication to allow Grep acquire a EUR 5.5 million loan from Banka Koper. Charges have been filed against five persons and a legal entity, the names reportedly include former Deputy Mayor Jadranka Dakić and Uroš Ogrin and Zlatko Sraka of Grep.

10 Oct 2019, 19:59 PM

STA, 10 October - Right-wing parties organised a rally in Ljubljana Thursday afternoon, headlined Save Slovenia. Protestors, who filled the Prešeren Square, called against corruption and expressed their dissatisfaction with Prime Minister Marjan Šarec.

Organised by the non-parliamentary People's Party (SLS) and former Maribor mayor and upper chamber member Franc Kangler, the rally was also backed by the Democrats (SDS), the biggest opposition party, as well as several non-parliamentary parties and civil initiatives.

In his address to what the SLS said were 5,000 protestors, Kangler talked about unequal treatment. Millions of euro of debt have been written off for some people, while others are being punished for helping out a neighbour, he said.

He also accused the government of disrespecting the Constitutional Court and called on Šarec to resign. Slovenia needs a prime minister who shows respect for everybody, not just "first class" citizens. "Enough is enough," he said, adding "it smells like spring" in a reference to the start of Slovenian independence efforts dubbed as the Slovenian spring.

SDS head Janez Janša also addressed the protestors, saying the rally was about making a stop to double standards and the deep state. "This is the beginning of the end of anti-Slovenian comedy... After today, nothing will be as it was."

He called for debt write-offs to "first-class" citizens to be audited, that privileges for some be weeded out of the pension system, a complete block on the border for illegal crossings and lustration of corrupt judges.

He also called for de-centralisation of state institutions, more money for municipalities, abolishment of unnecessary agencies and funds, a drastic reduction in the number of regulations, order in health care, among other things.

Janša also demanded responsibility of those who stole from state-owned banks twice, laundered terrorist money in them and shamed Slovenia around the world.

The SDS head said the protestors will insist on their demands, coming together again next time in even greater numbers and not only in Ljubljana, but across the country.

Other speakers also took the floor; demanding the resignation of Environment Minister Simon Zajc, whose department is viewed as having failed to control bear and wolf populations in Slovenia, and criticising the government's ineffectiveness in shoring up illegal migrations.

At the rally, signatures were also collected under a petition listing the protestors' demands.

Before the rally, the key organisers were received by upper chamber President Alojz Kovšca, after which a mass for the homeland was given in the Franciscan Church in Prešeren Square, followed by a concert of patriotic songs.

10 Oct 2019, 18:05 PM

STA, 10 October - President Borut Pahor expressed solidarity with Ireland in the face of Brexit as he met President Michael D. Higgins ahead of the Athens Democracy Forum on Thursday. Slovenia supports efforts for an orderly Brexit, which is in the interest of the EU and the UK.

The pair talked about the future of the EU and other topical global issues, but special attention was given to Brexit.

Pahor said that Slovenia would only support a deal acceptable to Ireland, this means only a legal solution that would avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, protect the economy of the island and preserve a single market in Ireland.

Pahor also underlined that Slovenia was fully supportive of the approach adopted by the EU and its head negotiator Michel Barnier.

Higgins noted that Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is meeting UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson today to discuss Brexit, Pahor's office said in a press release.

The press release also said that the presidents shared the view that the EU is at a cross roads and that serious reflection is needed about its future.

In this respect Higgins said that he advocated the eco-social economic policy, which he believes can strengthen the EU.

Higgins and Pahor agreed that bilateral relations between their countries were friendly and without open issues. They want to see closer cooperation in the future, with Pahor inviting Higgins to visit Slovenia.

The presidents are guests at the Athens Democracy Forum organised by the New York Times under the auspices of Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos. This year, the event focuses on alternative forms of governance.

All our stories on Brexit are here

10 Oct 2019, 09:55 AM

STA, 9 October 2019 - Bilateral ties and Schengen zone expansion topped the agenda as Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok met his Slovenian counterpart Miro Cerar in Ljubljana on Wednesday. The pair shared a view that bilateral relations were excellent and urged respect for international law and dedication to multilateralism.

Cerar thanked Blok for the support from the Netherlands and the other Benelux countries in 2017 when Slovenia took the position that the arbitration decision on the course of its border with Croatia must be respected and implemented.

The Slovenian foreign minister added that "with the Netherlands, as with all Benelux countries, we share related, democratic values, efforts for multilateralism and above all efforts for the rule of law".

Cerar and Blok also pointed to the need to respect international law. "This is what, alongside good economic relations, connects us very strongly and enables good relations also in other fields", according to Cerar.

Blok said he admired Slovenia for its focus on the respect of the rule of law, as well as on environmental and other topics the Netherlands found important.

What is common to both countries is the effort for a stronger influence of the EU at home and in the world, he said, also emphasising the importance of a strong internal market as a key for sustainable growth and development.

As regards the Schengen zone expansion, with Croatia being tipped as the next country to enter, the ministers stressed that new members needed to meet all conditions.

Cerar reiterated Slovenia's position that the country supported Croatia's entry in principle if all conditions were met: border security, illegal migration prevention, technical conditions and respect for the rule of law.

Asked whether Croatia met these conditions, he only said that "we're still waiting for a report" from the European Commission, and that it was a question for the Interior Ministry.

Blok said the Netherlands wanted to be fair in deciding on any expansion of the Schengen zone and wanted to assess whether the border control procedures were adequate. It will be very strict in this assessment, he added.

The Netherlands will treat every application, including from Croatia, consistently and fairly, and it will not be a political judgement, but a judgement on whether the country is ready to protect the external border, he said.

Cerar and Blok also confirmed that Slovenia and the Netherlands had very good economic relations, with the latter being one of Slovenia's key trade partners, with trade exceeding EUR 1.6 billion annually.

The country is the sixth largest investor in Slovenia and Cerar also pointed to Slovenia's wish to get connected in many fields, adding that development in the fields of artificial intelligence and energy would be supported.

Cerar also told Blok that integration of the Western Balkans in the EU was one of Slovenia's foreign policy goals and one of the priorities for the country's EU presidency in the second half of 2021.

Slovenia advocates for EU accession talks to start with North Macedonia and Albania, Cerar said, adding that the Western Balkan countries should be assisted in gradually entering the EU by implementing reforms and meeting all criteria.

As for other EU presidency priorities, he said Slovenia would advocate common European values, in particular sustainable development, and green and circular economy, where the Netherlands is a "champion".

09 Oct 2019, 16:14 PM

STA, 9 October 2019 - Prime Minister Marjan Šarec and his Belgian counterpart Charles Michel, the next president of the European Council, expressed optimism on Wednesday over the Brexit situation as Michel visited Slovenia. The pair believes the UK and the EU could reach an agreement.

Šarec also said that he was convinced Michel as the new president of the EU Council would respect the rule of law including in Schengen zone enlargement.

Michel, Belgium's caretaker prime minister who will take over at the helm of the EU Council in December, hopes London and Brussels could reach a Brexit deal, highlighting that both sides would need to show willingness for finding a solution in the coming weeks.

"I'd like to send an optimistic and positive message," said Michel at the press conference after the talks. "Willingness is not a guarantee for success; it's not a guarantee that a solution will be possible. However, without willingness there will be no solution in any case."

The Slovenian prime minister was likewise optimistic about the UK and EU reaching an agreement, adding "the matter has been dragging on for too long and is standing in the way of tackling important issues ahead of us".

"Naturally, we would all be most pleased if we could forget about this sad chapter of EU history and find another solution," said Šarec.

But in politics one needs to be a realist and Slovenia has always pursued this path, added the Slovenian prime minister.

"Slovenia is always aspiring to the rule of law; a manner which has been slightly stunted recently when some political connections have rather taken centre stage. I believe that the new European Commission will act differently," said Šarec.

"I know Michel is a politician who respects the rule of law and advocates EU values, and I'm convinced he will remain such as the president of the EU Council," responded Šarec when asked about his expectations regarding the new president's attitude towards the Slovenian-Croatian border arbitration dispute.

"However, every member state has a duty to consider whether this EU community should be based on the rule of law or on the principle of everybody trying to gain the most for oneself regardless of law or the rights of others. I believe we will definitely cooperate on this grounds in the future," Šarec said.

The pair also discussed the EU's multi-annual financial framework for the 2021-2027 period.

Šarec presented in more detail to Michel Slovenia's key views and expectations regarding the budget negotiations, which are expects to be wrapped up under the new EU Council presidency.

The Slovenian prime minister called for a swift agreement and said that Slovenia wanted a balanced financial framework which would properly tackle current EU challenges and would not lead to a further reduction of cohesion and rural development funds.

Meanwhile, Michel said that it was important to him as well to be aware of Slovenia's priorities in the negotiations.

The pair also discussed the situation in the Western Balkans - Šarec again highlighted the importance of an EU future for the region and said he expected that North Macedonia and Albania would get a go-ahead for the start of EU accession talks at a summit next week.

Michel's visit to Slovenia is part of his preparations for assuming his new EU top job. He said that the visit was very important since he wanted to lend an ear to Slovenia and find out about the country's concerns regarding current issues.

The next EU Council president highlighted that doing so he could then make more informed decisions "to lead the EU in the right direction and to be closer to citizens of Slovenia and other EU countries".

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