STA, 28 February 2019 - President Borut Pahor was received by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace on Thursday in what is considered the highlight of his official visit to the UK. The conversation with the queen was longer than had been expected, according to Pahor's office.
Predsednik republike Borut Pahor se je v Buckinghamski palači srečal s kraljico Združenega kraljestva Velike Britanije in Severne Irske, njenim veličanstvom kraljico Elizabeto II. pic.twitter.com/3btg0QiXQg— Borut Pahor (@BorutPahor) February 28, 2019
Pahor said the queen had been extremely friendly and very much focussed on the talks, telling TV Slovenija that he was surprised by how well informed she was. "Substantively the talks were much richer than I would have expected."
Even though the monarch does not take sides on political issues, Pahor said she did this time, and she induced him to share his views on issues that concern her.
Pahor started the second day of his official visit to the UK by laying a wreath to the memorial to innocent victims of war and oppression in front of Westminster Abbey. He then went on a tour of the 11th century abbey, which is one of the best known religious buildings in Europe.
He also met several British MPs and lords, including Labour MP Paul Farrelly, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary British-Slovenia Group, and Lord Speaker Norman Fowler.
The talks focussed on Britain's exit from the EU, which is planned for 29 March, although the divorce process may be extended.
Pahor told TV Slovenija he had been acquainted with a variety of views on Brexit, noting that his wish was to express support for those who are looking for solutions that benefit London as well as Brussels and Ljubljana.
"It is probably not possible to find a solution that will be good just for one side, such a solution would not be sustainable," he said.
Predsednik republike se je srečal s predsedujočim Lordski zbornici lordom Normanom Fowlerjem. pic.twitter.com/q9PF0lThTy— Borut Pahor (@BorutPahor) February 28, 2019
Pahor said it was in Slovenia's interest to find a solution that will enjoy the support of the British Parliament and Ireland, whereby it may not divide the EU. "Chaotic exit from the EU is a danger for both sides, for Great Britain and EU countries."
A no-deal Brexit could prove problematic for an estimated 5,000 Slovenians living in the UK. Pahor will meet some of them at a reception hosted by Slovenia's Ambassador Tadej Rupel in the evening.
On the final day of his visit, on Friday, Pahor will visit the City to ring the bell of the London Stock Exchange and meet financiers at Goldman Sachs. He will also meet Lord Mayor of the City of London Peter Estlin and expectedly also British Prime Minister Theresa May.
Predsednik Pahor je drugi dan uradnega obiska v Združenem kraljestvu Velike Britanije in Severne Irske začel s položitvijo venca pred obeležje vsem nedolžnim žrtvam vojn pred Westminstrsko opatijo. Ceremonialu je sledil ogled opatije. @wabbey pic.twitter.com/RMqrl2Szku— Borut Pahor (@BorutPahor) February 28, 2019
Pahor started the visit on Wednesday by meeting Prince Edward and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt. Pahor and Hunt praised the relations between Slovenia and the UK as very good, with Pahor saying that Slovenia had "genuine interest" for the bilateral relations to strengthen also after Brexit.
The talks with Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, focussed on the the Duke of Edinburgh's award for young people as part of the MEPI programme. The awards are annually conferred in Slovenia as well.
According to Pahor's office, Prince Edward, who visited Slovenia in 2013 with his wife Sophie, accepted Pahor's invitation to visit Slovenia again soon.
All our stories on Slovenia and the UK can be found here
STA, 27 February 2019 - Slovenia has not seen progress in healthcare, long-term care and the pension system, the European Commission said as part of its European semester winter package and country reports released on Wednesday. It also assessed the updated draft budget plan for 2019 remains at risk of non-compliance with the requirements of EU budget rules.
The Commission argues that Slovenia's economy, currently experiencing strong growth, could become even more resistant to future shocks by strengthening investment and resolving challenges related to the ageing population.
The report features mixed findings as regards progress in the implementation of recommendations issued in 2018.
Progress is for instance acknowledged in privatisation, alternative financing sources for fast growing companies, while limited progress was established in public procurement and the employment of older and low-skilled workers.
Considered as seeing no progress are healthcare, long-term care and the pension system, areas that are all burdened by the ageing population.
The Commission indicated that expenditure related to the ageing population could rise by 6 GDP percentage points between 2016 and 2070, which is one of the biggest increases in the EU. In the 2020-2050 period public pension costs could rise from 11% to 15.6% of GDP.
However, the Commission said Slovenia was performing well in most social indices, while saying that fairness in the system could be improved further.
Another finding says that Slovenian SMEs rely strongly on bank loans and that major administrative burdens as well as shortcomings related to public procurement persist despite an improved business environment.
Despite the good progress in the privatisation of the country's no. 1 and no. 3 banks, the Commission said the state continued to play a dominant role in a number of sectors, which entailed competition distortion risks.
Also, Slovenia is not on course to meeting renewable energy goals for 2020 and goals for investment in research and development. It is on other hand nearing its employment rate target.
Meanwhile, in an assessment of Slovenia's budget plans for 2019, the Commission said that the last draft remains at risk of non-compliance with the requirements of the preventive arm of the Stability and Growth Pact.
The Commission said the draft could lead to a substantial deviation from the adjustment path towards reaching medium-term budgetary objectives.
European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs Pierre Moscovici said these findings may come as a surprise, as the public finances situation improved substantially in nominal terms and as public debt is falling. However, high economic growth has played a crucial role in this, he added.
The plan's structural effort is not compliant with the 2018 June recommendation that the nominal growth rate for primary expenditure must not exceed 3.1% this year, which would require an annual structural effort of 0.65% of GDP.
Commission data indicates a 0.7% of GDP gap between the plan and the target as regards expenditure, and a 0.8% of GDP gap as regards the structural effort.
The Commission's and the government draft budget plan data diverge markedly, with the latter assessing the expenditure gap at 0.5% of GDP and the structural effort gap at 1.3% of GDP.
Meanwhile, the Commission highlighted pressure on expenditure, mostly due to wages and social services, as key challenges for Slovenia's public finance in the coming years.
The opinion on the recently updated plan comes after the draft submitted to the Commission under the no policy change scenario last October had already been deemed at risk of non-compliance.
In a first review on the updated draft on 1 February, the Commission acknowledged the plan projected the budget to remain in surplus, at 0.8% of GDP in 2018 and 0.6% of GDP in 2019, but argued, among other things, that the planned rate of expenditure growth exceeded the recommended maximum increase.
STA, 27 February 2019 - Lavishing praise on the work of Environment Minister Jure Leben, Prime Minister Marjan Šarec announced on Wednesday that they had come to a conclusion that it would be hard for Leben to continue in his job whilst investigation is under way over his role in the previous term in a tender related to the Koper-Divača rail project.
"We made this decision with a heavy heart," said the prime minister, underlining that they had made the decision together after a lengthy talk.
He added that he would be happy to work together with Leben in any other capacity in the future if no fault is found with the outgoing minister for the tender for a scale model of the Divača-Koper track, a project Leben oversaw in his capacity as Infrastructure Ministry state secretary.
Šarec said that Slovenia had not had an environment minister like Leben for 15 years. "He was the first after a long time to start moving things [at the department], the first to be out in the field, the first to regularly report to me about all activities, be it Saturday or Sunday or any other day of the week. He really cares about this department."
The prime minister underlined that he would demand that Leben's successor kept up the work he started and the pace he had set.
He believes that the Modern Centre Party (SMC), which got the department in coalition talks, would provide a good candidate but "I will reserve my right to decide whether the candidate is appropriate for the job".
Šarec: Leben did a good job, surprise that complaints were not voiced earlier
"Minister Leben has done a very good job, he will continue doing it until his successor is appointed and I want the same work continue at the ministry."
The prime minister also expressed surprise that the alleged wrongdoings had only been voiced now, wondering why the people who "now claim to have known a lot" had not acted earlier.
Today's announcement comes after weeks of speculations about a 2017 tender for the track scale model in which the more expensive of the two bidders got the order, only to hire the cheaper bidder to actually make the model, which had ultimately not been paid.
Šarec also said he expected the resignation of Damir Topolko, the head of the Infrastructure Agency, which handled the scale model tender. If Topolko refuses to resign, Infrastructure Minister Alenka Bratušek should dismiss him, Šarec said.
Šarec said that his insistence on Topolko's resignation was logical, as he himself had said that the tender chose the wrong bidder due to an algorithm error in an Excel table. He also said that other people involved in an email correspondence about the tender should take their responsibility.
He was referring to an email correspondence including several officials at the agency, as well as representatives of a PR agency that handled the project and of the companies that made the model, as well as the former prime minister's office.
Nonetheless, Šarec said that the correspondence had not persuaded him that Leben had "ordered to choose this or that bidder".
Moreover, Šarec said he expected of Bratušek to make sure that Leben would not be the only one shouldering political responsibility.
The prime minister also warned against drawing parallels among the three ministers who offered their resignation since the government was sworn in in mid-September 2018.
While Cohesion Minister Marko Bandelli and Culture Minister Dejan Prešiček both had to go because of mistakes they made while serving as ministers in Šarec's government, Leben's alleged wrongdoings stem from his work in the previous government, said Šarec.
STA, 27 February 2019 - President Borut Pahor started his official three-day visit to the UK on Wednesday by meeting Prince Edward and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt. Pahor and Hunt praised the relations between Slovenia and the UK as very good, with Pahor saying that Slovenia had "genuine interest" for the bilateral relations to strengthen also after Brexit.
The pair assessed that the two countries would be bound by many joint values and tradition also after the UK leaves the EU.
The UK will remain Slovenia's important business partner and an alley within NATO. The two countries share the awareness of the importance of multilateralism, security and stability, and progress in the world in general, especially in Europe, Pahor's office said in a press release.
Predsednik republike Borut Pahor se je v okviru uradnega obiska v Združenem kraljestvu danes sestal z ministrom za zunanje zadeve Jeremyjem Huntom. pic.twitter.com/LsmKKZon1f— Borut Pahor (@BorutPahor) February 27, 2019
Slovenia and the UK are enhancing their cooperation in business, tourism, investment, science, education and culture. Trade between the countries has been rising and has exceeded EUR 1bn for the first time last year.
Hunt presented to Pahor the parliamentary procedure for the passage of the Brexit agreement and the UK's possible scenarios for the future.
Pahor stressed the importance of finding appropriate solutions both for the EU and the UK and the responsibility in the efforts for the passage of the Brexit agreement as the best possible compromise solution that would enable an orderly Brexit and mitigate the potential negative consequences for the people and the economies.
Apology accepted over “vassal state” remark, Pahor will meet the Queen
Hunt raised some dust during his visit to Slovenia last week for referring to Slovenia as a former "Soviet vassal state". He and Pahor discussed the issue today with Pahor saying on Twitter that Hunt had started the conversation by offering an explanation, which Pahor accepted as an apology.
The Slovenian Foreign Ministry told the STA today that the British side had turned to the ministry about the matter after Hunt's visit. The ministry explained it to the British ambassador that Hunt's statement had been inappropriate and had caused unease.
Foreign Minister Miro Cerar is expected to discuss this with Hunt at the next meeting of EU foreign ministers, the ministry added.
Pahor's talks with Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, earlier in the day focussed on the the Duke of Edinburgh's award for young people as part of the MEPI programme. The awards are annually conferred in Slovenia as well.
Princ Edward se je z veseljem spomnil obiska v Sloveniji, ko sta s soprogo Sophie, grofico Wesseško, leta 2013 prvikrat obiskala Ljubljano in se srečala s predsednikom Republike Slovenije Borutom Pahorjem in gospo Tanjo Pečar. pic.twitter.com/FP40f1xyfX— Borut Pahor (@BorutPahor) February 27, 2019
According to Pahor's office, Prince Edward shared his memories of his visit to Slovenia in 2013, during which he and his wife Sophie had been received by Pahor.
The prince also accepted Pahor's invitation to visit Slovenia again soon.
Later in the afternoon, Pahor gave a lecture on the global positioning of Europe at Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs.
He will continue his official visit on Thursday by meeting Queen Elizabeth II, the representatives of both houses of the UK Parliament and expectedly also PM Theresa May.
He will address Slovenians living in Britain at a reception in the evening.
All our stories on Slovenia and Brexit are here
February 27, 2019
In an article by Siol, published today and titled “He talked about ‘Soviet vassals’ and lobbied for ‘fracking’ in Pomurje” (Govoril o "sovjetskih vazalih", lobiral pa za "fracking" v Pomurju), the authors claim that one of the main reasons behind the British Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt’s visit to Slovenia last week was to lobby for environmental permits for the ecologically controversial gas extraction in Pomurje.
Although most of the Slovene public remembers Mr Hunt’s visit last week for his patronising appraisal of Slovenia’s progress from a “Soviet vassal state” to an EU and NATO member, little has so far been said about the alleged other purpose of his visit, nor the topics of discussion with his Slovenian counterpart, the Foreign Minister Miro Cerar, beyond Brexit-related matters.
Hunt brought up environmental permits for “fracking” at Petišovci
However, the Slovenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has confirmed to Siol.net that the Petišovci project was one of the topics discussed during the visit. Siol quotes the Ministry’s response to their inquiry as follows:
"The Foreign Minister also addressed investment cooperation, including the investment of the British company Ascent Resources in Petišovci. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Slovenia, Miro Cerar, explained that the procedures in this case are in line with Slovenian legislation, in accordance with the prescribed high environmental standards.”
According to information Siol claims to have obtained from diplomatic circles, the Petišovci project was one of the priority topics in Hunt’s meeting with Cerar. Furthermore, Ascent Resources CEO Colin Hutchinson was also in Slovenia last week, albeit only meeting with partners on the project. Hutchinson emphasised that he did not meet with the British Ambassador on this trip, and has never met Jeremy Hunt.
Environmental permits for “fracking” at Petišovci
ARSO (Agencija Republike Slovenije za okolje, the Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning) is currently deciding on two environmental permits applied for by Ascent Resources and a local partner and minority shareholder Geoenergo: a permit that would allow for the operation of a gas processing plant, and another to boost production of the two existing wells by the method of “hydraulic stimulation”.
Although ARSO refused to comment on the possible results, Siol reports that based on unofficial information it will order the applicant to carry out an environmental assessment, which in turn means that no “fracking” permits will be granted for now.
Meanwhile Leben offers his resignation to PM Šarec
Hunt’s visit coincided with what Siol termed a “media war” against Jure Leben due to controversial second-rail model public procurement when he still served as a state secretary at the Ministry of Infrastructure of the previous government. Jure Leben offered his resignation to the Prime Minister Marjan Šarec yesterday. The news of his departure has been met with approval on social media by Ascent Resources shareholders, who have seen Mr. Leben as one of the main obstacles for gas extraction in Petišovci.
Siol also claims that the British Ambassador, Sophie Honey, met with Mr Leben last year to discuss the issue, a meeting that the report says ended with “raised voices”. Leben then made a report to the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption (Komisiji za preprečevanje korupcije), while the British Embassy in Ljubljana issued a strong denial that it had attempted to influence the decision of the Slovenian authorities.
All our stories on fracking in Slovenia can be found here.
STA, 25 February 2019 - Following President Borut Pahor's recent assessment that the work of the government commission for mass graves has "become not only socially acceptable but also socially accepted", substantial progress in the field has also been confirmed by the commission's vice-president Mitja Ferenc.
So far 233 mass graves and post-WWII execution sites have been confirmed and registered in Slovenia. Full or partial reburial was performed at 129, while the the existence of body remains has been confirmed for the remaining 104, Ferenc told the weekly paper Reporter.
The historian attributes major importance to the 2015 act on concealed mass graves and the burial of victims, adopted under a centre-left coalition at the initiatives of the centre-right opposition New Slovenia (NSi).
In the last three years, 162 summary execution sites were marked and tended to. The remains of at least 2,532 bodies were discovered in them and 1,615 were buried, he said.
The commission's main project presently is the Larch Hill mass grave in the south-east of the country, where he hopes exhumation will already start in the spring.
Expecting to discover around 1,500 victims, Ferenc said "the objects found near the pit indicate that Slovenian victims lie inside".
While asserting that the EUR 480,000 allocated to the commission by the state annually suffice for its tasks, Ferenc is not happy with the attitude of the Economy Ministry.
He said legislation tasked the commission with a large number of tasks that are demanding and require assistance. A key issue are delays in tenders and unreasonable deadlines, which for instance give the commission six weeks for reburial on demanding terrain and winter conditions.
Meanwhile, Ferenc said that concealed mass graves are not the only problem in Slovenia: "We have a neglectful attitude to all grave sites, including those of the Partisan forces. They are not looked after, the registry is not systematic, there are also sites that do not really contain any victims."
Ferenc, who said it was time to stop looking away, announced an initiative to establish an institute for war graves, to be presented on the occasion of the nearing tenth anniversary of the entry into Huda Jama, a site which contained 1,416 victims.
STA, 26 February 2019 - A group critical of the government's Koper port rail project has filed a criminal complaint with the police against Environment Minister Jure Leben and several other officials over their role in the scandal around the 2018 scale model tender for the project, the commercial broadcaster POP TV reported on Monday evening.
The group that filed the complaint includes Jože Duhovnik of the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering who had proposed an alternative, much cheaper solution for the Koper-Divača rail upgrade back in 2017.
Apart from Leben, who was in charge of the Koper-Divača project at the Infrastructure Ministry in the previous term, the list of those the group says misled the public and caused great damage to public finance includes the former Infrastructure Minister Peter Gašperšič and top officials of the roads and infrastructure agencies.
The leadership of the state-owned company managing the rail investment, 2TDK, and its supervisory board are also on the list along with Infrastructure Ministry State Secretary Nina Mauhler.
Duhovnik told POP TV last night that the investment programme for the Koper-Divača project had shown that those in charge had been "systematically misleading the public, fixing and adjusting data" all along.
The group is accusing Leben and company of "grand fraud, misrepresentation of data and misleading of the public", which led to "tremendous financial damage to public finances". They have estimated the damage at EUR 1.5bn-2bn.
Meanwhile, Leben and Gašperšič announced that they would report the group to the police for making a false criminal complaint.
A press release sent out by the Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning on Tuesday afternoon said Leben and former infrastructure minister were convinced that the complaint was based on "groundless lies and malicious imputations" and was filed with the intention to attract media attention.
Police revealed in mid-February that they were investigating the commission of the scale model of the 27-kilometre track that had been revealed in early 2018 and turned out to be a major PR fiasco for the previous government, to the extent that the government abandoned the promotional activities and refused to pay for the model.
Media also reported of the email correspondence among those involved, purportedly proving that the commission of the scale model was effectively coordinated by a PR agency retained by the ministry to do promotional activities for the rail project.
While there was no smoking gun shown to point the finger at Leben, several emails revealed close coordination by the PR agency, Futura, and the public relations officer at the ministry, Nataša Pelko, who is now in charge of public relations at 2TDK.
Leben pointed his finger at Pelko on several occasions, but yesterday she struck back, according to POP TV. She wrote a letter to the supervisors and the entire leadership of 2TDK, saying she did not act on her own but "exclusively under instruction" from her then bosses, Minister Gašperšič and the project head, Leben.
Pelko says in the letter she was not involved in the talks on the scale model, did not know who the bidders were or who was picked in the end. She also denies having cooperated with Futura.
STA, 26 February 2019 - Frans Timmermans, the lead candidate of the Party of European Socialists (PES) for president of the European Commission, argued in an interview with the STA that the European Commission had been "crystal clear" in its reaction to the Slovenian-Croatian border dispute. He also warned against the instrumentalisation of history by politicians.
The first vice-president of the European Commission, who is to visit Slovenia on Thursday as part of the EU election campaign, does not share the view that the European Commission allowed politics to get in the way of law in the case of Croatia's refusal to implement the border arbitration award.
"Thank you for this open and very unbiased question... First of all, this is a bilateral matter. Second, we've been very clear the award needs to be implemented," the Dutch politicians said, arguing that Slovenia and Croatia could "not discharge responsibility and say the Commission should resolve this".
"This is not our role," he added, also dismissing claims about the Commission completely ignoring the opinion of its legal service that confirmed a link between the arbitration award and EU law.
"This is an oversimplification. The link is that if you don't have clarity on the border, you have problems with EU policies, such as fisheries and other policies. This is the link with EU law. These are the consequences of the award not being implemented and the parties should start implementing the award."
"The Commission has been crystal clear about that and I really don't understand why our position is not understood."
Commenting on the state of social democracy in Europe, Timmermans said he does not "believe this doom and gloom about social democracy".
"There's a more general point that the traditional popular parties on the centre left and centre right are both no longer the huge parties they used to be. It's not just a problem of social democracy but of the European People's Party (EPP) as well. So we are not alone in that.
"I want to warn about the temptation in both, centre left and centre right, to think that you can regain your position by going to the extremes. I don't agree with that analysis because if you want to go to the extremes there's already somebody there and they are the original.
"Or you stay true to your own soul and you stay centre left and that's what we are. Looking at Europe today, the central left is staying more in the course of the lines we believe in than the central right which is courting to the extreme right everywhere," Timmermans said, adding he was constantly warning the EPP against getting its soul changed by extremes.
Asked in this context about the statements by European Parliament President Antonio Tajani that were understood as Italy's territorial claims against Slovenia and Croatia, Timmermans said he hates it when politicians start instrumentalising history or rewriting history.
"And this is what Tajani did. I disagree with him fundamentally. I'm not asking for his resignation but I want to make it clear that I strongly disagree with him.
"As Churchill put it, the history of Europe is written by rivers of blood and we overcame rivers of blood after the Second World War...Please, please leave history to the historians, they deserve to be writing history not the politicians."
Timmermans, who said he was aiming for the post of European Commission president and had, contrary to rumours in Brussels, "no interest whatsoever in being the EU's high representatives for foreign affairs", also elaborated on his call for a new social contract for Europe.
"We're in the fourth industrial revolution, everything is changing, which means the relationship between people and states also needs to change and adopt to this new reality," he said.
People across Europe feel "that our society is not fair for many reasons", he said, listing fairer taxation as the first step towards changing this.
"It's completely inadmissible that the biggest corporations in the world would make profits here but don't pay a single euro of tax. You don't allow your local café to live like that, so why would you let Google, Facebook or Amazon do it?"
Other necessary steps listed by Timmermans include fair minimum wages in all members state, EU legislation that would secure fair job contracts for the young, and affordable housing.
STA, 25 February 2019 - Slovenian President Borut Pahor will be received by Queen Elizabeth II as he makes an official visit to Britain from Wednesday to Friday designed to enhance the friendly relationship between the two countries ahead of Brexit.
Speaking to reporters ahead of his trip, Pahor said one of the main reasons for the visit was that Slovenia would like to continue to foster the excellent relationship with the UK after the country leaves the EU on 29 March.
The UK remains an important partner and a close ally of Slovenia as well as a reliable advocate of the rule of law and multilateralism in the world, the president's office said, expressing the hope that the visit would give fresh impetus to bilateral relations.
Pahor will start the visit on Wednesday with a meeting with Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who visited Slovenia last week. After talks with his Slovenian counterpart Miro Cerar, Hunt said the two countries were trying to protect the status and the rights of both countries citizens in case of a hard Brexit.
Pahor is scheduled to meet Slovenians living in the UK on Thursday. Data from the Slovenian Foreign Ministry size the Slovenian community in Britain at around 5,000.
The Slovenian president will discuss the challenges that the European continent is facing as well as his vision for the global positioning and future of Europe in a lecture at Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, on Wednesday.
On Thursday, he will be received by Queen Elizabeth II, the world's longest serving monarch, who has been on the throne since 1952 and who, as Pahor told reporters during his recent visit to Brussels, co-shaped the post-war period.
Pahor understands his meeting the British monarch as an expression of respect for Slovenia. Queen Elizabeth II visited Slovenia on a state visit in 2008.
Pahor will also meet several members of both chambers of the UK Parliament, the House of Commons and House of Lords, on Thursday, including House of Commons Speaker John Bercow.
It is possible that he will also meet Prime Minister Theresa May, expectedly on Friday, provided the developments related to Brexit will allow such a meeting.
On Friday, the final day of his visit, Pahor will visit the City to ring the bell of the London Stock Exchange and meet key financiers. He expects them to assess how Brexit will affect City's role as a major global financial centre.
Apart from Brexit, other topics of the visit will include the future of Europe, the prospects of membership of the EU and NATO for West Balkan countries and global challenges, in particular migration, new security threats and climate change.
All our stories on Slovenia and Brexit are here
STA, 24 February 2019 - Slovenia's Foreign Minister Miro Cerar has expressed regret after UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt described Slovenia as a former "Soviet vassal state" during his visit to Ljubljana last Thursday.
Hunt made the comment as he commended on Slovenia's progress over the past 30 years during a joint press conference with Cerar.
"I'm really happy to be here, because as a fellow European country the UK is very proud of the transformation there has been in Slovenia over the last 30 years.
"A really remarkable transformation from a Soviet vassal state to a modern European democracy, a member of the EU, a member of NATO, a country with a flourishing economy, growing its tourism year in, year out, and this is really an example of Europe at its best," Hunt said.
Before declaring independence in 1991, Slovenia had been one of the six republics of the former Yugoslavia, a socialist country that was not part of the Soviet bloc but formed part of the Non-Aligned Movement.
It was Cerar's former party colleague and former speaker of the National Assembly, Milan Brglez, who spoke out to criticise both Cerar and Hunt for what he called an "arrogant insult".
In a post on his Facebook profile, Brglez, an MP for the coalition Social Democrats (SD) after defecting from Cerar's Modern Centre Party (SMC), said the minimum he expected of the country's representatives was a prompt and adequate reaction to insults directed at the country and its citizens.
In a press release issued by his party on Sunday, Cerar said that Hunt came to Slovenia to discuss the UK's future relations with Slovenia and other EU countries after Brexit and the rights of Slovenian citizens living in Britain and British citizens living in Slovenia.
Cerar noted that Hunt complimented Slovenia on its transformation and that he also talked about Slovenia as a partner country from the perspective of the UK as an architect of peace after Second World War.
"This is why during his public address at the press conference I didn't want to respond and interrupt him as a guest.
"Unfortunately, the Soviet vassal assessment was an inappropriate and inaccurate one ... at the first opportunity with my British counterpart, on the sidelines of the EU ministerial meeting, I will talk with him about the matter and instruct him about our past. I believe there will be no similar rhetorical awkwardness in the future," Cerar said.
This was not the first embarrassing error for Hunt. During his debut visit to Beijing as the UK foreign secretary last year, he referred to his Chinese wife as Japanese.
TSN seems to have broken this story in the English-language media, which soon ended up in The Guardian, Independent, Daily Mail and other sources. Read our original article here
Jeremy Hunt – the British Foreign Secretary who replaced the gaffe-prone Brexit-booster and serial adulterer Boris Johnson in mid-2018, the latter resigning to spend more time with his latest mistress and snipe at the government from the side-lines for being unable to enact the have cake, eat cake policy he promoted for nakedly careerist reasons – visited Slovenia on Thursday for bilateral talks on Citizens’ Rights. The headline result was a pleasing one, with assurances from both sides that as much continuity as possible would be provided in the event of a deal or no-deal Brexit.
However, Mr Hunt, a man who by now is surely well aware of the dangers of a slip of the tongue, perhaps failed to make the best impression while on the Sunny Side of the Alps. Indeed, it seems that while travelling from Berlin he and his team did little to prepare for the trip, making at least two unforced and undiplomatic errors in public, and who knows how many more in private.
First the tweet marking his landing in Slovenia referred to the country’s Foreign Minister as Karl Erjavec, the man who left this position after last year’s election to be replaced by the former Prime Minister, and Mr Hunt’s supposed focus for the day, Miro Cerar.
The tweet was deleted, and this screenshot comes from the excellent Pengovsky, who you really should be reading, with his take on the incident here.
But these things happen – after all, Mr Hunt once referred to his Chinese wife as Japanese – and the tweet was soon corrected. More serious, in terms of being indicative of the lack of preparation or historical and geopolitical understanding that seem to surround the entire Brexit project, was what came in the public statement that Mr Hunt made while standing next to Mr Cerar:
This is my first visit to Slovenia as Foreign Secretary, not the first in my life but my first in a professional capacity. And I’m really happy to be here, because as a fellow European country the UK is very proud of the transformation there has been in Slovenia over the last 30 years. A really remarkable transformation from a Soviet vassal state to a modern European democracy, a member of the EU, a member of NATO, a country with a flourishing economy, growing its tourism year in, year out, and this is really an example of Europe at its best.
Now leaving aside the general patronising tone here – why is the UK proud of Slovenia? – or that while being a leading Brexiteer Mr Hunt seems to suggest that being a member of the EU is a good thing, there’s the simple factual error that Slovenia, even when part of Yugoslavia, was never a Soviet vassal state.
Thursday was not the first time Mr Hunt made use of the USSR to insult his negotiating partners
During the Second World War Yugoslavia was occupied by the Germans and Italians, but the partisans, led by Tito, managed to liberate the country with little help from the Russians, and thus the land was never part of the of the Soviet empire. And while in the immediate post-war period there was seen to be an uneasy alliance between Stalin and Tito, this broke in 1948. From then on Yugoslavia took a famously independent approach, receiving aid from the Marshall Plan as well as founding the Non-Aligned Movement. In short, Yugoslavia was never a Soviet vassal state, while Slovenia was always the most open of the socialist republics that made up the federation, a matter not only of historical fact but also considerable pride.
Of course, Mr Hunt’s statement did not go unnoticed in the country, once again proving that just because British politicians can’t understand what foreigners are saying, this doesn’t mean that foreigners can’t understand what they’re saying. For example, Milan Brglez, former Speaker of the National Assembly, made the following comment on Facebook that was then widely reported in the media:
Take a look at the footage below (somewhere around 14:30). A guest (the British Foreign Minister) comes to us with a request (to discuss with our Foreign Minister how to avoid a hard Brexit if the UK doesn’t sign the Withdrawal Agreement with the EU) and arrogantly insult. We have never been "the vassal state of the Soviet Union".
At a minimum what I expect and demand in international relations from my representatives (diplomats and those who have general powers to represent and bind the state under international law – i.e. the president, prime minister and foreign minister) is that they will react immediately when someone insults the state and its citizens. And not that they are meekly silent, perhaps not even noticing the insult.
With President Borut Pahor due in the UK next week, and Britain in desperate need of friends and allies as the March 29 Brexit deadline looms, one can only hope that his hosts in London are a little better informed, and a little better prepared for his visit.
All our stories on Brexit and Slovenia can be found here.