08 Jun 2019, 08:31 AM

STA, 7 June 2019 - Slovenia has condemned a map published on an official Twitter profile of the Hungarian government that appears to suggest Slovenia and other countries had appropriated Hungarian lands in the aftermath of the 1920 Treaty of Trianon.

The map "does not contribute to the strengthening of the EU values of cooperation and good-neighbourly relations. The EU has emerged to overcome the burdens of the past and hostility among nations," the Slovenian Foreign Ministry said on Twitter.

The reaction comes in response to a Tweet from @abouthungary, a Twitter profile managed by the International Communications Office of the Cabinet Office of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

The tweet shows a map of Hungary in 1920 and several hands reaching in to grab territory with the caption "2/3 of the country was taken away".

The tweet was released to mark Hungarian Day of National Unity, commemorating the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Trianon, when the Kingdom of Hungary lost 72% of its territory.

Romania, Czechoslovakia, and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians made big territorial gains at the time, with Slovenia for example getting Prekmurje.

The Hungarian map as well as the Italia irredenta map posted by a Trieste councillor on Facebook a few days ago also drew response from President Borut Pahor, who called for redoubling efforts for respect between nations.

italian dalmatia map.jpg

Related: Slovenia Protests After Trieste Councillor Posts Map of Italy Claiming Parts of Slovenia, Croatia

"It is understandable and right that the publication of maps that could be understood as an expression of territorial claims is met with concern and rejection by the democratic public and politics," Pahor was quoted as saying by his office.

"It is due to such attempts that we must make the greater effort to establish best practice of respect and cooperation, both within national frameworks and between them," said Pahor.

"A president I will endeavour for mutual respect, cooperation and understanding to prevail in particular in relations between neighbouring nations and countries, for the benefit of peace and prosperity," he said.

The maps were also criticised by Prime Minister Marjan Šarec, who said on Twitter it was "neither European nor peaceful. It is a knife in the heart of Slovenia."

Šarec also made broader reference to recent revisionist comments by outgoing EU Parliament Antonio Tajani and a motion by a far-right Italian MP to take census of ethnic Slovenians in Italy.

"The question of Hungarian and Italian maps and proposal to census Slovenians is a question for the portion of Slovenian politics that rushed to accept Tajani's 'apology'," he added.

The Hungarian move also drew condemnation from political parties, in particular on the left.

The Social Democrats (SD) and the Left, which said Slovenia had to issue a strong response, described Hungary's move as signalling "territorial designs".

The NSi demanded that the government issue a protest note against what are no longer just provocations but, in the words of MP Jernej Vatovec, "a plan, perhaps even intimidation".

The Democrats (SDS), which have close links to the Hungarian prime minister and his party, said they would not comment on the issue.

All our stories about Hungary are here

07 Jun 2019, 15:18 PM

STA, 6 June 2019 - The government has confirmed a controversial legislative motion under which private primary schools are to get full state funding to teach publicly approved curricula, but what constitutes curricula has been effectively narrowed to the extent that private schools are calling it a betrayal of constitutional commitments.

The amendments to the act on the financing of education implements a 2014 Constitutional Court ruling mandating full rather than 85% state financing of publicly approved curricula at private primaries.

But 100% financing refers only to a narrowly defined mandatory programme, with services such as pre-school or after-school classes, which are otherwise a normal part of daily life at school, not financed at all. Similarly, any curricular content considered as above-standard will be exempted.

The amendments would apply to students who will start school next year, while those currently enrolled would be subject to the financing scheme currently in place: 100% financing of mandatory curriculum and 85% financing of expanded curriculum.

But private schools say that the bill contravenes the landmark Constitutional Court decision since it would affectively reduce financing from 85% to around 65%.

Education Minister Jernej Pikalo said that the proposal was based on the ministry's interpretation of the court's decision that what must be funded was the mandatory programme, and not also the extended programme.

The minister stressed that the primary school act did not define the latter as mandatory, although the state was currently financing it.

Regarding the premise that private schools would not be competitive if they did not provide pre-school or after-school classes, he said that the "network of public schools where all this is organised is available to every parent".

"They meanwhile have every right to enrol their children in a private school," Pikalo said, adding that the state did not want to limit the private initiative in education, "which must be present".

"But every country can decide on their own to what extent it will finance this private initiative and what the entry conditions will be," the minister said at a press conference as he presented the changes.

The centre-right opposition has long been vociferously opposed to the proposal arguing that it actually circumvents the Constitutional Court decision, and even some coalition partners have been reserved.

The Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) said that the motion must not reduce the existing rights of private schools in this respect, while the Modern Centre Party (SMC) will listen to the opinion of the parliamentary legal service.

Brane Golubović, the head of the deputy group of the ruling Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ), said the party believed the minister, adding that "we will examine all remarks from the public debate and make our decisions based on that".

On the other hand, opposition New Slovenia (NSi) president Matej Tonin said on Twitter that the government's proposal actually lowered the financing of private school "to the ridicule of children, parents and the rule of law".

07 Jun 2019, 08:30 AM

Day 1 can be found here

Three Seas Investment Talk calls for steps to close liquidity-investment gap

STA, 6 June 2019 - The Investment Talk panel, held on Thursday at the business forum of the Three Seas Initiative summit in Ljubljana, noted the major infrastructure investment gap affecting central and east Europe, and called for effective steps and funding instruments to bridge the glaring discrepancy between existing fiscal liquidity and actual investment.

The opening address was delivered by Slovenian Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek, who underlined Slovenia's view that it was key to also focus on innovation along with the three pillar areas of the Three Seas Initiative - infrastructure, energy and digital interconnectivity.

To achieve an investment breakthrough, "attracting and supporting investment in supply chains is simply not enough any more", said Počivalšek, while calling for open and transparent investment policies, for Three Seas' openness to private-public investment projects and to any source of capital and connectivity platform.

The panel featured the heads of the Slovenian and Polish promotional development banks, Sibil Svilan and Beata Daszynska-Muzyczka respectively, as well as European Investment Bank (EIB) vice-president Vazil Hudak and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) vice-president Jürgen Rigterink.

Looking at the drop in investment after the 2008 crisis that disproportionally affected eastern Europe and added to its infrastructure gap - estimated at EUR 500 billion - the panellists noted the discrepancy between current high liquidity and the amounts that actually get channelled into projects.

While the EIB and EBRD officials noted a lack of "bankable" projects, issues with implementation and the need for their institutions to preserve AAA credit ratings so that "cheap and long" can keep coming, Svilan and Daszynska-Muzyczka urged a change of the investment mindset away from short-term logic focused solely on profitability and returns.

The key challenge will be using the right combined instruments - national, supranational, private etc. - to secure appropriate risk sharing, and also to focus on quality projects as opposed to only quantity, added Svilan, who urged accountability and sustainability.

His Polish counterpart is also in favour of blending instruments, while she also wondered whether east European countries should not perhaps be allowed to engage in bigger deficits to speed up economic and infrastructure convergence.

She said it would take 100 years for this part of Europe to catch up if it only leant on the funding envisaged for infrastructure in the EU's new financial perspective. Thus, a kind of new mini Marshall Plan, but this time for Eastern Europe, would be in order, she added, while saying the emerging Three Seas Fund, "a private fund, based on the rate of return" could be one of the instruments complementing it.

Svilan argued the richness in diversity principle in Europe also applied to financing instruments. "We need different instruments to catch different situations and that is also what we're trying to do with this fund, we're looking for something new to combine it with what is already going on in Europe. But that does not mean we'll exclude anyone," he said, arguing that the EIB, World Bank, EBRD and others should also be included.

Hudak of the EIB meanwhile pointed out that EFSI, also known as Juncker's investment plan for Europe, was an example that addressed the risks sharing need, with guarantees generating billions in private investment.

Commenting on the note of panel moderator, Gorazd Renčelj of the Slovenian Foreign Ministry, that 82% of the signed contracts within EFSI had gone to the EU-15 member states, Hudak agreed that what seemed as unfair distribution should be modified, while he pointed to plans to apply the Junker plan principle, "a mini Juncker", within the Three Seas initiative.

Rigterink, who expressing his reservations about "setting up new funds every single time", emphasised the principle of additionality and the EBRD's strong belief that the market should not be distorted in any way.

As for profits, he said that "we do not want to maximise profitability but optimise it". The EBRD "also has this development angle, but we need to be profitable to grow" and keep the shareholders happy.

Three Seas business panel calls for concrete results, representation

STA, 6 June 2019 - The business part of the Three Seas Initiative summit concluded on Thursday with a panel which called for the agreements and plans by the 12 members of the initiative to be made concrete as soon as possible, and agreeing that the group should form a steering committee in order to communicate better with other organisations.

Opening the panel in Ljubljana, Slovenian Foreign Minister Miro Cerar said that now that the summit was ending, "we must deliver, we have had a lot of ideas and projects and we need to come up with some concrete results."

If the initiative makes concrete results, if it results in things that will connect people better with roads and rails, it will be more persuasive to the people, he said, adding that "this is our main task now."

Cerar's Polish counterpart Jacek Czaputowicz agreed, saying that "success of the initiative will be measured by kilometres of road" and that the meetings indeed discussed concrete projects of common interest.

As most of the countries of the Three Seas Initiative had "found themselves on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain", they are less developed than the western countries and have the common interest in the EU, he said.

Retired US General James L. Jones, a former US national security advisor, made the point that while Three Seas was a great strategic initiative which will benefit the region, its nations did not realise what it takes to make it work.

There is a lack of architecture, there is no single point of access, no staff, no website, and there is a lack of a steering group that can respond to inquiries, Jones said, adding that the 16+1 initiative was better organised.

The US feels very tied to Europe as the continents have common values and common history, and believes that the defence of Europe starts in the Black Sea. "We are faced with at least one country which tries to destabilise and fracture the relationship."

Cerar said that the idea should be considered of creating a steering committee, a "small administrative force that would communicate with other countries". Perhaps the next step is making a body which would represent the initiative, but not with too much bureaucracy, he added.

Czaputowicz agreed too, saying that practical steps were needed to change the formula of the initiative, including further institutionalisation, a kind of a secretariat. "This practicality is important", he said, endorsing the idea to make a steering group.

As for investments, Jones said that the US needed evidence that everybody in the initiative was in in terms of funding, and only then the private and public sector would take it seriously.

Czaputowicz said that Poland already had a terminal for US gas which was less expensive than Russian gas, while Cerar said that the initiative needed more investments "from our friends from the US", noting that most investments were concentrated with a few larger EU states.

"But we should never forget what connects us the most - our common values and the rule of law. Without this glue, Europe is not what it is, or what it used to be," the Slovenian foreign minister concluded.

The panel also featured Slovenian Minister of Education, Science and Sport Jernej Pikalo, who discussed how to keep talented people in the region. He said maintaining and nurturing talents was one of the biggest issues governments had.

He said countries had to invest in education, which was one of the most complex issues as education was always lagging behind the developments, changes in technology. "We need to create conditions in which talent can thrive".

Pikalo also pointed to gender balance as one of the most important things. "Women must have equal access and equal opportunities and chances also in terms of the later professional life," he concluded.

Three Seas Initiative Summit calls on EU to consider its goals

STA, 6 June 2019 - Presidents of the Three Seas Initiative called on the EU following a summit at Brdo pri Kranju on Thursday to incorporate the initiative's goals in its existing and future policies, with interconnectivity and energy security topping the list of the initiative's priorities.

Presenting the declaration after the summit, Slovenia's President Borut Pahor said that the initiative aimed not only to bridge the gaps between participating countries but also in the EU and strengthened transatlantic relations.

As a platform at presidential level, the initiative is an opportunity to create an equally strong voice in the EU for the participating countries and strengthens the democratic legitimacy of the EU.

Bringing together 12 countries situated between the Baltic, Adriatic and the Black Sea, the initiative aims to improve the competitive edge of member states and improve the life of its people with concrete projects, Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarović said.

To realise the projects, the initiative has established its own fund. While today no concrete figures were revealed about the Three Seas Fund, declared functional yesterday at the business forum accompanying the summit, it was said that the European Investment Bank had promised its support for the fund today.

According to a report by German news portal DW, the fund was established only days ago and has a balance of around EUR 500 million with the goal to reach EUR 4-5 billion.

Also present was the outgoing president of the European Commission, Jean Claude Juncker, who praised the initiative for its concrete projects, and also illustrated with figures how much the EU has already invested and will continue to invest in the region.

"Between 2014-2020, we have invested from the structural fund EUR 60 billion in this region. The Juncker plan has generated in these years EUR 42 billion for the 12 member states of the region. I believe that we have done and will do everything to support the efforts aiming at better cohesion and better connectivity in the region."

For the next financial perspective, 2022-2027, the Commission has foreseen EUR 42.3 billion to improve the interconnectivity in Europe and in particular in this region, said Juncker.

The press conference was also addressed by presidents of Romania and Poland, Klaus Werner Iohannis and Andrzej Duda, with the latter saying that the next summit of the initiative would take place in Estonia, where the presidents had been invited by President Kersti Kaljulaid.

The presidents expressed in their statements, as well as the declaration, an invitation to other potential partners, encouraging "the inclusion of actors from the Three Seas Initiative member states and the US to the existing network".

They were especially pleased that the two-day event hosted by Slovenia was attended not only by Juncker but also German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, as well as US Secretary of Energy Reick Perry. The latter took part in the presidential panel hosted by Pahor as part of an accompanying business forum yesterday, inviting participants to buy US gas.

06 Jun 2019, 14:50 PM

STA, 6 June 2019 - Slovenia has so far welcomed almost 300 refugees based on EU solidarity schemes, some from other EU members and others from third countries, government data shows.

As part of the relocation scheme, Slovenian had pledged to accept 567 applicants for international protection from Greece and Italy, but eventually accepted 253 during the scheme's duration in 2016-2018.

As for the resettlement programme for migrants residing in non-EU countries, Slovenia had pledged to accept 60 people, but eventually accepted only 34, all from Turkey.

Of the 253 foreigners relocated from Greece and Italy, 152 were Syrian citizens, 77 Eritrean, 17 Iraqi and one Yemeni citizen, whereas six were without citizenship.

A total of 234 foreigners were granted the refugee status and eleven subsidiary protection, the Interior Ministry said.

Five foreigners were denied international protection, one person was stripped of the refugee status, and the procedure was aborted in three cases, it added.

The majority of relocated refugees reside in the areas of Maribor and Ljubljana, whereas 47 left Slovenia after receiving the status, data from the Office for the Support and Integration of Migrants show.

Six Syrian families came to live in Slovenia as part of the resettlement scheme, which was carried out under the UN wing. All of them live in Maribor's integration centre.

All refugees accepted as part of the two schemes have taken part in a special three-month programme designed to facilitate their living.

As part of "the orientation programme", refugees learn the basics of Slovenian language, get to know various social systems in the country and get assistance in finding housing.

Although both schemes ended in 2018, Slovenia still occasionally expresses solidarity to share the burden of refugees with other EU countries.

Just recently the government has decided to accept up to five asylum seekers who meet the requirements for international protection from Italy.

In February, it decided to accept five asylum seekers from Malta, but they are yet to arrive here, while it accepted eight refugees from this island country in 2010.

06 Jun 2019, 10:58 AM

STA, 5 June 2019 - Montenegro's EU integration and the situation in the Western Balkans featured high on the agenda as Speaker Ivan Brajović began an official two-day visit to Slovenia by meeting his counterpart Dejan Židan in Ljubljana on Wednesday. The pair sees the visit as a means of strengthening the excellent relations.

Židan congratulated Brajović on Montenegro's progress towards the EU, hoping the integration process would be completed as soon as possible.

He is convinced this will contribute to stability in the region and give hope to some other countries aspiring to join the EU.

"Montenegro can count on Slovenia's support," Židan was quoted as saying in a press release from the National Assembly.

Brajović said Slovenia understood the situation in the Western Balkans very well, and was able to see the progress Montenegro had made since independence.

He also said that as NATO's contact point for Montenegro in 2011-2014, Slovenia had contributed significantly to the country's NATO membership.

He also pointed out that Slovenia still provided a lot of assistance to Montenegro on its path towards the EU.

Having closely followed the recent EU elections, Montenegro also hopes Slovenia's MEPs will be its supporters and allies who understand EU consolidation is a process parallel to the EU enlargement, Brajović was quoted as saying.

"We also believe they will contribute their share so that enlargement becomes a priority of the European Commission and the European Parliament."

Brajović said Montenegro counted on becoming the first new EU member when the EU expands.

The two speakers also discussed economic cooperation, with Židan noting bilateral trade was growing.

What is more, the two countries are also political allies "because we understand that the Western Balkans must have better prospects", he said.

Both speakers are convinced bilateral relations should be nurtured, which is why they agreed on today's visit as they met in March at a conference of speakers from countries of the Adriatic-Ionian Initiative in Montenegro's Budva.

Practically the same topics were also discussed as Brajović was received by Foreign Minister Miro Cerar.

Both officials noted Slovenia and Montenegro were interested in further expanding the positive and diversified cooperation, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Development cooperation was also highlighted as an area of common interest, with the ministry saying Montenegro remained a priority in this respect.

Brajović thanked Slovenia for the support it provided to his country on its way towards membership of Euro-Atlantic organisations, and Cerar pledged further support.

06 Jun 2019, 08:30 AM

Panel recommends diversification of energy sources

STA, 5 June 2019 - A high-profile panel on energy was held on Wednesday as part of the Three Seas Initiative Summit, with the participants pointing out to diversification of sources, decreasing dependence on one source of energy and investments in expansion of renewable energy as the most important measures in the field.

The panel was opened by Slovenian Infrastructure Minister Alenka Bratušek, who said that this year would be important as the country was adopting national energy and climate plans that will determine decarbonisation and energy efficiency policies.

Discussing the challenges in energy infrastructure, she said that "one can opt for more renewables, for more or less nuclear power, no coal and oil or natural gas," but the fact was that the supply would remain diverse due to a number of factors.

US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry was open about his country's interests, saying that the US would share its energy knowledge with the Three Seas Initiative countries to strengthen their energy security and increase their energy diversity.

You should not be "restricted to just one energy source, bound to just one nation for your energy needs", he said, stressing that the US was a competitive alternative to Russia when it came to liquefied natural gas (LNG), supporting multiple routes to deliver energy across Europe.

"We oppose using energy to coerce any country, we believe that obtaining energy from US is a highly attractive choice," said Perry, who also believes that it is essential that Europe prioritise its own energy projects.

As fro LNG, Croatian Minister of Environment and Energy Tomislav Ćorić said that the decision to build a terminal on the island of Krk was the right one, adding that the country was fully oriented towards a low-carbon economy and renewables.

"We are fully devoted to the production coming from wind, solar and hydro power," he said, adding that diversification was a very important tool for achieving energy independence of the twelve countries of the Three Seas Initiative, and one of the most important agendas of the EU.

Piotr Naimski, the Polish government's representative for energy infrastructure, noted that Poland was "still almost totally dependent on one monopolistic company which provides us with gas, but we are on the way to change this."

According to him, Poland needs more security, diversity and reliability of networks, and it plans to get connected to with Norway and to build a floating terminal in 2025 to gain supply from different sources and routes and start a competitive gas market.

Miguel Berger of the German Federal Foreign Office noted that Germany was cooperating with the US, as it would have two LNG terminals in Germany, adding that LNG was welcome in Europe, but stressing that it "has to be market driven".

"We reject sanctions in energy relations with Russia. There is a serious and real demand for energy and we want to develop our energy relations with Russia," he said, dismissing the notion that Russia was the only supplier for Germany since it accounts for only 40% of supplies.

Martin Novšak of the Slovenian power company GEN Energija discussed nuclear energy, stressing that the joint Slovenian-Croatian plant NEK had a low-carbon production, operated successfully and was stable, which was an important factor.

The company will also be investing in hydro power plants and in photovoltaic energy, as well as in a second unit of NEK, he said, while pointing to the importance of the price of capital, noting that Chinese capital was free, and European very expensive.

Robert Krklec of HEP said that the Croatian national power company would be investing heavily in electrification, energy efficiency and renewable sources, including hydro power plants, photovoltaics and wind power plants.

"HEP is going to get to 50% of renewables in the next three years," Krklec said, while also pointing to consumers, who will have an active role in the future in determining trends and selling auxiliary services to power companies.

Representing the Slovenian national power grid operator ELES, Uroš Salobir said that the 2050 targets were very challenging, adding that as "coal is slowly vanishing from the table, we will have a huge problem of flexibility."

The options are natural gas, dispersed action of consumers, distributed generation, platforms linked across the borders and decentralised solutions, but this requires good cooperation between the political and technical level, he concluded.

Three Seas initiative panel stresses importance of innovation, infrastructure

STA, 5 June 2019 - Innovation stimulates economic growth, while infrastructure plays a key role in facilitating connectivity in the Three Seas region, which still lags behind Western Europe, heard participants of a panel debate held as part of the Three Seas Initiative summit in Ljubljana on Wednesday.

"Innovation stimulates economic growth, creates new and better jobs, enables social mobility, combating climate change and poverty, and improves overall wealth," said Bulgarian Economy Minister Emil Karanikolov.

According to him, new technologies have the potential to bring about significant social, economic and environmental benefits.

He believes the challenges faced by this region, such as rapid technological development and changed economic relations, require active work and joint policies that address day-to-day problems of entrepreneurs and researchers.

Ian Brzezinski of the US think tank Atlantic Council, who moderated the debate, concluded that this was a region of high economic growth but to sustain this high growth innovation will be crucial.

"Infrastructure is key, because it facilitates connectivity, it facilitates the movement of products and above all of ideas ... Robust, modern, efficient infrastructure can facilitate innovation," he said.

Noting that the world was in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution, he said it was critical for this region to remain at the forefront of this revolution.

Sonja Šmuc, general manager of the Slovenian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GZS), called for innovation not only in industry but also in government.

She agreed that infrastructure is important. "Some say that with internet you don't need roads that much any more. That's not true. We still travel, we still have to exchange ideas in person."

In 2015, there was talk about suspending the Schengen area to protect the EU borders and back then it was calculated in Brussels that each truck that waits a minute at the border costs 2 euros, she noted.

"If we turn to the Western Balkans - two countries are in the EU, six are not - and look at the long lines at the borders. How much money is lost there," she said, pointing to "illogical processes that make us poorer".

She believes this is just a matter of decision. "Infrastructure is important, but infrastructure that is connected, and with IT solutions available we can achieve much better results."

Aleš Cantarutti, state secretary at Ministry of Economic Development and Technology, called for investments in society 5.0 - the transfer of the concepts such as internet of things, artificial intelligence and big data into every-day life. These technologies could be used also to tackle the problem of ageing population, he believes.

Mark Pleško, CEO and co-founder of the Slovenian high-tech company Cosylab, said that everyone wanted to have a monopoly position. Innovation is one way to get it, but until there are other, quicker ways such as cronyism or even corruption, people will chose the easiest way.

He called for opening of the markets and fighting dishonest business practices.

Both Cantarutti and Šmuc agreed that the Three Seas initiative could further strengthen innovation by creating a platform for more integrated cooperation of companies and a fund that would financially support projects to reduce the risks of failure that prevent a potential breakthrough of many innovative entrepreneurs.

Several bilateral meetings at Three Seas summit

STA, 5 June 2019 - President Borut Pahor and Foreign Minister Miro Cerar took the opportunity of the Three Seas Initiative summit taking place in Ljubljana for a number of bilateral meetings. Pahor met the presidents of Latvia and Poland, and Cerar met his Polish counterpart.

Pahor decorated Latvia's President Raimonds Vejonis with the Order of Exceptional Merit for strengthening bilateral relations and bilateral cooperation with a view to promote Europe's common and safe future.

In turn, Vejonis bestowed on Pahor the Latvian cross for strengthening bilateral relations, political dialogue and friendship between Slovenia and Latvia, Pahor's office said in a press release.

Pahor also met Polish President Andrzej Duda, with whom he opened an exhibition on Polish ethnographer Emil Korytko (1813-1839) at the National Assembly.

Foreign Minister Cerar and his Polish counterpart Jacek Czaputowicz hailed the political and economic relations between Slovenia and Poland.

They discussed cooperation within the Three Seas Initiative, sharing a view it could enhance the development of transport and energy infrastructure in Central Europe, which was key to the region's economic development.

Another topic Cerar and Czaputowicz discussed was cooperation within the EU, with the focus on EU enlargement.

Presidential panel suggests Three Seas Initiative moving from words to actions

STA, 5 June 2019 - The presidential panel at the summit of the Three Seas Initiative, which began in Ljubljana on Wednesday, was marked by calls for a move from words to action as part of this Central European cooperation project focusing on multiplying transport, energy, and digital interconnections.

The host of the meeting and moderator of the panel, Slovenian President Borut Pahor, started the discussion by pointing out that the 12 countries participating will have concrete proposals to present as the new team of the European Commission shortly takes office.

"It will be a kind of common list of goals presented and the Commission will be invited to consider them seriously," said Pahor, who has described the summit as one of the largest political and business meetings ever held in Slovenia.

Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarović, who was one of the initiators of the Three Seas, highlighted the fast progress of the initiative since what was only an explorative first meeting in 2015. "Today we are forming the fund of the initiative which means it is becoming a truly practical initiative," she said.

Grabar Kitarović, who said the initiative was looking to help achieve true cohesion in the whole of the EU but also beyond, "in the Atlantic space because we very much value the partnership of the US and of course of Germany, which has also become the partner of the initiative".

While German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will be joining the presidents for dinner tonight ahead of the summit tomorrow, US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry participated in the panel.

Underlining that time for talk is over, Perry said that the US supported the EU and "efforts to create this energy union, to better integrate Europe in these energy markets and improve energy security".

"It's time for us to be taking true action ... to send the message ... around the globe that we are going to be working closely together. That the Three Seas Initiative member nations are ready and willing and that we are going to meet our objectives."

He swore that the US would never use energy for political coercion, earning an applause from the audience. "It is for these reasons that we continue to oppose the North Stream 2 pipeline. The pipeline will weaken the energy security of Europe and the sovereignty of its nations, especially Ukraine."

Noting that the 75th anniversary of liberation of Europe will be commemorated tomorrow, Perry said he could think of "few greater ways to honour the US's commitment to defend and support freedom in Europe than continuing to work together for the betterment and prosperity of our nations and our people".

Polish President Andrzej Duda said it was time to move from analysis to action and illustrated that the journey from north to south eastern Europe takes days, while in the west it takes hours, adding that this affects not only travel and tourism but also economic and social relations in this part of Europe.

It is thus key that the countries pursue coherent investment policies to overcome transportation gaps. He announced that the initiative was launching in Ljubljana the Three Seas Fund.

"Poland and Romania have inaugurated the functioning of the fund. We see it as a new sources of financing for infrastructure investments. This will be a practical dimension of the Three Seas Initiative cooperation. A tool to make our plans and dreams come true."

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto stressed the need to come out as a winner in a what were times of turbulent global political and economic change that he felt made it fair to speak of a new world order.

Quick and common sense decisions will be key, said Szijjarto, who argued Central Europe "is and will be the engine of growth in Europe".

Stressing the need to address infrastructure shortcomings in the region, he said energy diversification must become more than just a word, with Hungary also being very vulnerable energy-wise.

"If we cannot change this infrastructure situation, then my country will be in a position again to engage in a long-term cooperation with Russia when it comes to gas supply," Szijjarto said.

Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid also noted the Commission's support, echoing Grabar Kitarović, as well as Bulgarian President Rumen Radev. She also hailed Slovenia's decision to bring innovation into the debate alongside the three main focuses of the initiative. She noted this was key to making transport and energy "not only competitive but also clean".

Kaljulaid, who is also in favour of dedicating attention to environmental topics as part of the initiative, meanwhile highlighted the need to leverage the private sector. "We politicians, we can start communication ... but nothing we create is durable unless you take over, then it is sustainable and durable, if you the private sectors of the initiative work together."

Bulgarian President Radev expressed satisfaction that the meeting in Ljubljana is not attended only by heads of states but also by government representatives, agencies, business representatives and strategic partners, such as the US, represented by Perry.

05 Jun 2019, 15:49 PM

STA, 5 June 2019 - A municipal councillor of the Italian city of Trieste Lorenzo Giorgi marked Italy's Republic Day, observed on 2 June, by posting on his Facebook a map of Italy which reincorporated parts of Slovenia as well as Croatia's Istria and Dalmatia. The Slovenian Foreign Ministry denounced his actions on Wednesday.


"Historical revisionism opposes the basic principles of the European system, while such actions do not benefit neighbour relations and coexistence between the two nations," reads the ministry's press release.

The ministry added that Slovenia rejected and denounced territorial claims, which were indicated in the Facebook post. It also expects that Italy's political representatives will act in line with common European values and the rule of law.

A similar reaction came from Prime Minister Marjan Šarec, who noted his criticism of European Parliament President Antonio Tajani's comments about "Italian Istria, Dalmatia and Rijeka". He also noted that he did not accept Tajani's apology at the time because it was not sincere.

"All such attempts and actions must be condemned. This doesn't mean the relationship between the two countries is deteriorating. Not at all. But it needs to be said what bothers us. Such things not only bother us but are an outright stab in the heart," Šarec commented on the sidelines of the Three Seas Initiative summit.

Giorgi, a member of Berlusconi's centre-right party Forza Italia, has been in charge of European projects as a councillor since the past week. According to the regional newspaper Primorski Dnevnik, apart from including the controversial map, Giorgi also wrote "Our Italy" in the post.

The map of Italian irredentism claims parts of Slovenia, Croatia's Istria and Dalmatia, French Corsica and parts of Provence as well as Swiss canton of Ticino as parts of Italy. All those territories used to belong to Italy in the past.

Related: European Parliament President Apologises for "Long Live Italian Istria”, But Salvini Remains Defiant

The incident comes in the wake of the Basovizza controversy, a similar incident when Antonio Tajani, the president of the European Parliament and a member of the same party as Giorgi, caused controversy in Slovenia and Croatia with his revisionist statements at the ceremony commemorating Italian victims of World War II massacres in February.

Slovenia and Croatia accused Tajani of territorial claims and World War II revisionism.

05 Jun 2019, 15:42 PM

STA, 5 June 2019 - The United States is keen on selling Slovenia technology for small modular nuclear reactors, US Energy Secretary Rick Perry said Wednesday as he made a stop in Slovenia for a summit of the Three Seas Initiative.

Related: Slovenia Hosts Three Seas Initiative Summit Wed, Thu (Background)

Slovenia is "an excellent potential market for this game-changing technology," said Perry. Asked why Slovenia, which is considering building a second reactor in Krško, should choose a US-made reactor over designs from France, China or Russia, Perry said "US nuclear technology is the best in the world" and "Westinghouse makes the best reactors in the world."

Perry noted that since the existing reactor in Krško had been build, the technology had changed, while adding that this was not only about the best technology but also about safety and non-proliferation.

"We want to be your partner. Slovenia may not show up on everybody's radar screen as the country you want to do business in, but for the United States it is an important country," he said, noting that the expansion of the Krško plant was "an opportunity for the US and US companies".

Perry also said that next month the first US-EU forum on small modular nuclear reactors will take place in Brussels and it will be a great opportunity "for the region to come together to hear some exciting things that are going on in the small modular reactor world."

Both President Borut Pahor and Prime Minister Marjan Šarec have been invited to the conference in bilateral talks earlier today and they are "both very interested," he said.

Pahor's office said the talks revolved around diversification of energy sources, which both said were important, while also highlighting the need for protecting the environment.

Šarec meanwhile stressed that Slovenia and the US were strategic partners which should continue deepening political, economic and security ties.

Cooperation in energy with the aim of providing "safe, sustainable and competitive energy" was also highlighted by Šarec's office, which quoted the prime minister as saying that nuclear energy was important for reliable energy supply in Slovenia.

Another major US interest, not just in the Three Seas region but also in Europe in general, is to export liquefied natural gas (LNG), which Perry framed as Europe's change to diversify energy sources and routes, and reduce its dependence on Russia.

As Perry pointed out, the US made 40 shipments of LNG to Europe in the first quarter alone, which is "an astonishing number". But the availability of US gas is also pushing down global prices, which is why the notion that US LNG cannot compete with Russian gas is not true.

He pointed out that the US is not saying Europe had to buy its gas, as countries such as Qatar and Australia can also act as suppliers. "The multiple supplier formula is very good for Europe," he said.

Another component of the US energy policy on Europe is opposition to North Stream 2, a new proposed gas pipeline from Russia into Europe.

The Trump administration is considering imposing sanctions on companies behind the project, which Perry confirmed was an option. But he was also quick to point out there is opposition to the project in Europe as well, since many countries "do not want to rely on a single source of fuel".

05 Jun 2019, 10:30 AM

STA, 4 June 2019 - Modern Centre Party (SMC) president Miro Cerar has notified the party he founded in 2014 he would not seek re-election at the congress he called for autumn after SMC performed dismally in the election to the European Parliament.

Cerar made the announcement at the outset of a session of the party's executive committee on Tuesday, according to SMC's official Twitter profile.

He will stay on as foreign minister and "help the party remain a firm member of the coalition and an important factor in the Slovenian political arena," the party said.

The news comes after the SMC won less than 2% of the vote, by far the worst showing of any parliamentary party in the elections to the European Parliament.

The share of the vote is in stark contrast with almost 10% the party won in the general election a year ago and the nearly 35% it got just after it was founded in 2014.

Just days after the EU vote, Cerar announced a congress for autumn where he planned to "see whether I still enjoy the party's trust".

Cerar was prime minister in 2014-2018, a period of rapid economic growth. He has been credited with returning the country to calm after a turbulent crisis period, but the stint has also been described as a missed opportunity due to the absence of real reforms.

In the Marjan Šarec government, the party has had trouble finding its footing in the company of several coalition partners with similar, centre-left platforms.

It has also been plagued by corruption allegations going back to its stint running the government, which appears to have tarnished its image among voters.

Cerar's announcement comes just a day after Šarec proposed that Slovenian members of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe (ALDE) join forces in order to prevent fragmentation.

While SMC was reserved about the proposal, Cerar's withdrawal might pave the way for a potential merger with the Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ).

The exit might also make Cerar a contender in coalition talks about Slovenia's candidate for EU commissioner, which are supposed to start in earnest next week.

04 Jun 2019, 11:01 AM

STA, 3 June - President Borut Pahor will host on Wednesday and Thursday a summit of the Three Seas Initiative, to be attended by eight presidents of the member countries, the president of the European Commission and the US secretary of energy. PM Marjan Šarec will meanwhile host a business forum of the initiative, expected to feature more than 550 guests.

The 4th summit of the Three Seas Initiative, an informal forum of twelve EU members from Central and Eastern Europe, is one of the largest meetings at the presidential level in independent Slovenia.

Coming to Ljubljana are eight presidents of the member states - Rumen Radev of Bulgaria, Miloš Zeman of the Czech Republic, Kersti Kaljulaid of Estonia, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović of Croatia, Raimonds Vejonis of Latvia, Dalia Grybauskaite of Lithuania, Andrzej Duda of Poland and Klaus Iohannis of Romania.

Austrian President Alexander van der Bellen has excused himself because of the government crisis in Austria, as have Janos Ader of Hungary and Andrej Kiska of Slovakia. Hungary and Slovakia will be represented by deputy prime ministers, while Austria will be represented by its ambassador to Slovenia.

Coming as a guest of the initiative after visiting Slovenia less than a month ago is German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, while European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and US Acting Assistant Secretary of European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Reeker have also confirmed their attendance.

The summit will also feature the vice-presidents of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the European Investment Bank (EIB), Jürgen Rigterink and Vazil Hudak.

More than 130 representatives of governments and international organisations in total are expected to come to Ljubljana.

This summit is expected to be the largest meeting so far of the initiative connecting the countries on the Adriatic, Black and Baltic seas, whose beginnings go back to 2015.

The first summit of the Three Seas Initiative was held in Dubrovnik in 2016, followed by summits in Warsaw in 2017 and in Bucharest in 2018.

The initiative has enjoyed clear support from the US, with President Donald Trump attending the summit two years ago. What speaks about the influence of the US in the initiative are plans to diversify energy supply with liquefied gas from the US.

Many perceive the initiative as a counter-weight to the Chinese initiative 17+1, which promotes business and investment cooperation between China and 16 countries of Central and Eastern Europe, and Greece.

The idea of the Three Seas Initiative is to strengthen regional dialogue and connect EU member states on the north-south axis through the promotion of investments in business, transport connections, energy infrastructure and digital communications.

Due to strong interest from the US, many initially perceived the initiative as an "American Trojan Horse" in the EU, but the initiative has since developed, according to its backers, into a regional forum of integration within the union, which is also important for strengthening the trans-Atlantic ties.

Since the initiative is becoming more important also from the economic aspect, as the member states are trying to promote strategic projects in the region, a business forum will be held in Ljubljana along with the summit.

Hosted by the Slovenian government and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GZS), the forum is expected to feature at least 585 guests discussing energy, transport, digitalisation and innovation, and networking.

At the summit, the attending presidents are expected to adopt a statement calling on the European Commission to place emphasis on the investment projects promoted by the initiative. It is meant to call for a reduction of the region's development lag behind the western EU members, according to diplomatic sources.

The event will start with the opening of the business part, followed by a panel debate featuring all visiting presidents, the US secretary of energy and Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto. The debate will be moderated by President Pahor himself.

The panel debate is expected to discuss geo-political challenges of the EU between the Baltic, Black and Adriatic seas, the results of the recent elections to the European Parliament, and what they will bring for the future of the bloc.

The presidential meetings will continue behind closed doors in Brdo pri Kranju on Thursday, with Pahor expected to present the result of the talks at a press conference together with Duda, Iohannis and Grabar-Kitarović as the hosts of previous summits. They will be joined by Juncker.

The summit has attracted significant interest from the media, with around 170 media representatives from 50 media houses, including 30 foreign reporters, accredited for the event.

01 Jun 2019, 15:24 PM

The covers and editorials from leading weeklies of the Left and Right for the work-week ending Friday, 31 May 2019

Mladina: The poor election results of the Left

STA, 31 May - Analysing the poor showing of the opposition Left in Sunday's EU election, the weekly Mladina says that rather than by a negative attitude it received from the media, the party was affected by the choice of candidates on its list, in particular Violeta Tomić as the frontrunner.

Although faced with constant opposition from all parties bar the Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ) and Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) and a negative attitude of the media, the Left has managed to create a base of voters for itself among intellectuals, urban population and leftists.

Its cooperation with the government also did not harm its public ratings, Mladina editor-in-chief Grega Repovž notes in Friday's editorial.

So the reason for the party's election result must lay in its list of candidates, which was topped by Tomić, who has not been received well by the voters.

"People are put off by her appearance, which intentionally or unintentionally comes across as rough and thus unpleasant to most voters of the Left."

Although the views she advocates are completely in order, she simply does not leave a positive impression, Repovž says. "A large part of voters of the Left will not vote for her or would do so with unease. She is therefore simply not the right top candidate."

If a stronger candidate topped the list, which was solid and no worse than those of other lists running in the election, the Left might have won more votes. But with Tomić in the lead, the whole list lost credibility.

"Unfortunately that was not the only mistake. The party put its president (Luka) Mesec in the last spot - as a kind of public recognition that the party itself does not believe in its list. Voters perceived this as underestimating."

Winning a seat in the European Parliament is important and the Left was left without one entirely by its own blame. The poor election result also made the party weaker in the domestic political arena, Repovž says under the headline The Left.

Demokracija: EU elections mean PM on his way out

STA, 30 May 2019 - Examining the Eurovote results in its commentary on Wednesday, the right-wing weekly Demokracija says that the days of Prime Minister Marjan Šarec are numbered because he would not form alliances with other parties. This cost Igor Šoltes, the grandchild a late senior Communist Party official, his seat in the European Parliament.

Demokracija editor-in-chief Jože Biščak says under that headline Tick-Tock, Tick-Tock, Tick-Tock... that Šarec will never be forgiven by the deep state for costing Edvard Kardelj's grandchild his MEP seat.

The paper says that the people who "made a comedian a prime minister" failed at creating a liberal bloc that would comprise the Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ), the Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB), the Modern Centre Party (SMC) and the Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) for the Eurovote.

Despite support from the mainstream media, Šarec's support has dropped. He lost the election and his party only got two seats in European Parliament.

"If Slovenia was a functioning democracy and the land on the sunny side of the Alps had a rule of law, Šarec would offer his resignation, dissolve the coalition and demand an early election."

"In a year and a half, he lost as many as four elections and with the exception of the presidential vote (which is special), he was always defeated by the Democrats (SDS).

"But because Slovenia is ruled by the deep state and the uncles drawing all the strings do not want to give up their transitional advantages, measures had to be taken to repair the damage."

This meant that left-leaning political analysts went on to proclaim the SD and the LMŠ winners of the election, while the SDS, which ran on a joint ticket with the People Party (SLS) was the loser because one of the three seats won by the coalition went to the SLS.

This perverted logic indicates a poor understanding for how the Eurovote works, Biščak says, going on to explain that election coalitions are a logical decision for EU elections, where success threshold is much higher than in the national parliamentary election.

He says that if New Slovenia (NSi) joined the SDS+SLS coalition, they could have won as many as five of Slovenia's seats in European Parliament. But the "whisperers from the background" managed to persuade NSi president Matej Tonin that he should not be in SDS head's Janez Janša's shadow.

Biščak says that the SDS would get the three MEP seats even if it did not cooperate with the SLS, while the latter could not have gotten a single MEP on its own. This alliance will allow the SLS to become a major national player once again.

Šarec's days are numbered because he refuses to listen, Biščak says, explaining how his refusal to connect with other parties cost Šoltes, who has served as MEP in the previous term, his seat in Brussels.

All our posts in this series can be found here


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