22 Nov 2019, 18:07 PM

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

If you’d like to keep up on the daily headlines then follow those here, or get all our stories in your feed on Facebook.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All our posts in this series are here

22 Nov 2019, 14:00 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

22 Nov 2019, 11:30 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

21 Nov 2019, 12:16 PM

STA, 20 November 2019 - Slovenia's draft budgetary plans for next year contain risks that could lead to non-compliance with EU budget rules, the European Commission said on Wednesday, adding the country might still end up complying with the rules considering the high degree of uncertainty in output gap estimates.

Today marks the first time since 2002 that none of the eurozone countries is subjected to excessive public finance deficit procedure, which means that all of them managed to contain their deficit under 3% of GDP.

The Commission found that the budgetary plans of Germany, Ireland, Greece, Cyprus, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands and Austria are compliant with the 2020 requirements under the Stability and Growth Pact, Estonia and Latvia are broadly compliant, while the plans of Slovenia and seven other countries contain risks of non-compliance.

The budgetary plans of Slovenia, Belgium, Spain, France, Italy, Portugal, Slovakia and Finland "might result in a significant deviation from the adjustment path towards their respective medium-term budgetary objective," the Commission said.

Slovenia is expected to soon bring its general government debt below 60% of GDP and with its surplus in nominal terms the country is far from the deficit limit of 3% of GDP.

However, the country is not making progress fast enough, said Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis, who is in charge of financial stability.

Taking into account the country's surplus of 0.5% of GDP and the uncertainties in the output gap calculations, Slovenia may come closer than expected to its medium-term budgetary objective, Dombrovskis said, adding that this may be confirmed in spring.

Slovenia's medium-term budgetary objective is a structural deficit of less than 0.25% of GDP, however, the Commission's autumn forecast for the country in 2020 puts the deficit at 0.9% of GDP.

According to unofficial sources, the Commission is not too worried about Slovenia and the country could become broadly compliant with the Stability and Growth Pact in the spring.

In a response, the Finance Ministry pointed to the differences in certain calculations in Brussels and Ljubljana which result, among other things, from different projections of economic growth and the output gap.

The Commission has estimated that Slovenia will record a nominal surplus of the general government sector of 0.5% of GDP this year and keep it at this level in 2020. The ministry has meanwhile assessed that the surplus will be at 0.8% this year and at 0.9% next year.

The ministry added that the assessments of the draft budgetary plans were based on the Commission's autumn projection of 2.6% GDP growth for this year and 2.7% growth for 2020.

This is a downgrade compared to the Commission's spring forecast and to the autumn forecast by the government macroeconomic think tank IMAD, which was used to draft the budgetary plan for 2020, it said.

"Since the Commission's projection is more pessimistic, its assessments of revenue and nominal balance are consequently somewhat lower."

21 Nov 2019, 08:55 AM

STA, 19 November 2019 - Timur Rafailovic Eyvazov was appointed Russia's new ambassador to Slovenia by President Vladimir Putin on Monday, the Russian press agency Tass reports.

Eyvazov will take over from the long-serving Ambassador Doku Zavgayev, who came to Ljubljana in 2009.

There is no information as to when Eyvazov will take over.

Eyvazov has so far served as a counsellor at the Russian Embassy in France, according to the portal Russia Beyond.

The appointment of Zavgayev, the first pro-Russian leader of Chechnya, raised a lot of dust ten years ago over alleged human rights violations.

Zavgayev became the first pro-Russian leader of Chechnya in 1994 after Russian troops were sent to the restless republic. He had to leave his office in 1996 when the capital Grozny was taken by Chechen rebels, his stint marked by serious human rights violations in Chechnya.

He entered the Russian diplomatic service after leaving Grozny, and served as Russian ambassador to Tanzania from 1997 to 2004. He came to Slovenia from the post of Russian deputy foreign minister.

All our stories about Russia and Slovenia are here

18 Nov 2019, 12:40 PM

STA, 18 November 2019 - Slovenia and Taiwan do not have diplomatic ties, but this does not mean they cannot strengthen cooperation, Vanessa Shih of the Taipei Economic and Culture Office in Austria, has told the STA in an interview. The 23-million nation provides great business opportunities for Slovenian companies, she believes.

Shih expressed regret that she has only limited access to Slovenian authorities. She has had some contact with Slovenian government representatives but not complete access to ministries and government offices and believes that the Chinese embassy in Ljubljana is the likely reason for this situation.


Vanessa Shih. Source: Wikipedia, Voice of America, public domain

China insists that Taiwan is one of its provinces and that sooner or later a unification would take place; it has not ruled out the use of force if necessary. Taipei has been losing its battle for allies with Beijing and now has diplomatic contact with only 15 countries.

Shih said that relations between Slovenia and Taiwan, which share the same values and have a similar political system, are focused above all on cooperation in economy, education, culture and tourism.

Merchandise trade is rather modest, amounting to just over US$200 million last year, with imports from Taiwan accounting for US$170 million or 0.4% of Slovenia's imports.

Slovenia exported US$36 million to Taiwan last year, which accounted for less than 0.02% of Taiwan's total imports.

"We can see that the figures are still very low, which means that there is a lot of potential in economic cooperation," she said.

Direct investments by Taiwanese companies in Slovenia are very limited as well; Shih believes that the reason for limited investments and trade of goods lies in poor mutual understanding and poor direct exchange of information.

She expressed regret that Slovenia, unlike most European countries, does not have a representative office in Taiwan.

Slovenia and Taiwan do not have a double taxation agreement either, even though Taiwan has signed such agreements with 16 EU members, said Shih, adding that lack of incentives was a problem in promotion of Taiwanese investments in Slovenia.

Cooperation between Slovenia and Taiwan is at a much higher level when it comes to education. Universities in both countries have signed a number of memoranda of understanding.

"Our office in Vienna provides grants for studying and researching in Taiwan," said Shih, adding that an increasing number of Slovenians are studying in Taiwan.

She also pointed out that the number of Taiwanese tourists in Slovenia was increasing, including due to the abolishment of visas for Taiwanese citizens in the Schengen zone.

If a Slovenian wants to travel to Taiwan for a longer period of time, they must apply for a visa at the Taiwanese representation, not at the Chinese embassy, she said, adding that this was proof that Taiwan is a sovereign country.

15 Nov 2019, 19:12 PM

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

If you’d like to keep up on the daily headlines then follow those here, or get all our stories in your feed on Facebook.

FRIDAY, 8 November
        BERLIN, Germany - German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier thanked Slovenia for being a committed member of the EU along with Germany after meeting President Borut Pahor amid celebrations of the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Pahor laid a wreath at the Berlin Wall Memorial and addressed a conference, describing the Berlin Wall fall as one of the most inspiring historical milestones of the 20th century.
        LJUBLJANA - The Foreign Ministry expressed regret over the US formally pulling out of the Paris Agreement, highlighting that the climate accord represented a historical agreement which globally opened up a new platform for promoting sustainable development.
        LJUBLJANA - Defence Minister Karl Erjavec denied Slovenia intended to buy more than a dozen Valuk 6x6 armoured personnel carriers (APCs). Speaking at a session of the Defence Committee called by the opposition Left, Erjavec said the ministry Valuk APCs had been discontinued and had not been available for purchase for years.
        LJUBLJANA - The parliamentary Home Policy Committee debated illegal migration, with police representatives assuring the MPs that the situation was under control and that there was no need for time being to provide soldiers with additional powers to help the police control the border. A total of 13,832 illegal crossings were recorded by the end of October, up 69% year-on-year, says the report discussed at the session.
        LJUBLJANA - The opposition-dominated parliamentary Public Finance Oversight Commission issued recommendations to the government to prevent political interference in state-owned companies as it debated the controversial resignation of the management of energy company Petrol. It urged the government to prevent any interference of political interests in staffing or decision-making in such companies and to resume privatisation.
        LJUBLJANA - The Telekom Slovenije group said it had posted a net profit of EUR 29.4 million in the first nine months, a 25% increase year-on-year despite a 6% drop in net sales revenue, which stood at EUR 507.4 million. EBITDA rose 9% to EUR 166.2 million and EBIT was up 29% to EUR 35.9 million.
        BRDO PRI KRANJU - Intra Lighting, a family-run business providing architectural luminaires and smart lighting solutions, won the third iteration of the Delo Business Star award. The company from Miren (W) generates 88% of its sales abroad. Between 2015 and 2018, its net profit increased from EUR 140,000 to EUR 3.1 million.

SATURDAY, 9 November
        VELENJE - Around 300 delegates of the junior coalition Social Democrats (SD) gathered for a programme and statute congress to confirm guidelines for future work based on social, green and development packages. SD president Dejan Židan said he wanted to take the SD further, as he had a clear and convincing vision, adding that the party would make a shift to "green and to the left".
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenia's first President Milan Kučan told Delo that the fall of the Berlin Wall 30 years ago was a historic moment, with Europe being ready to overcome divisions from the Cold War, but that the subsequent processes have not been as reciprocal as some had hoped.
SUNDAY, 10 November
        LJUBLJANA - A public opinion survey commissioned by the commercial broadcaster Nova24TV saw the senior coalition Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ) topping the party rankings with the support of 25.9% of respondents. The opposition Democrats (SDS) follow with 24.8%, and the opposition Left is in third place with 8.9%.

MONDAY, 11 November
        LJUBLJANA/MARIBOR - Employees at the national postal company went on strike, demanding a 10% rise in wages and some 300 new staff. The first ever strike at Pošta Slovenije ended after two days as it was agreed the wage bill for workers handling mail would increase to EUR 7.5 million, much less than the EUR 12 million initially estimated.
        LJUBLJANA - Simona Drenik, a Foreign Ministry official who represented Slovenia in the Slovenian-Croatian border arbitration procedure, was singled out as the person whose actions allowed Croatia to obtain wiretaps that ultimately led to Croatia rejecting arbitration, showed a classified report compiled by the parliamentary Intelligence Oversight Commission.
        LJUBLJANA - The senior coalition Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ) remained the most popular party in the Delo poll (15.4%), but it is now almost neck and neck with the opposition Democrats (SDS), which got 15.2%. The opposition Left has climbed to third place (11.2%), seeing its support rating double.
        LJUBLJANA - Former PM Alenka Bratušek and her FinMin Uroš Čufer, who served from mid-March 2013 to mid-September 2014, defended the decision to bail out banks in December 2013, which cost taxpayers some EUR 5 billion, as they were interviewed by a parliamentary inquiry. Bratušek said the bailout had been key to avoid the European troika and encourage economic growth.
        KOPER - The supervisors of logistics company Intereuropa dismissed director general Ernest Gortan, citing a delay in introducing an adequate system of corporate governance and corruption detection and prevention. The portal Siol meanwhile said the real reason was EUR 1.6 million in suspicious payments by the company's subsidiary in Croatia.
        LJUBLJANA - Figures released by the Employment Service showed that the job market in Slovenia remains tight as the number of job vacancies remains high, with demand being particularly high for skilled workers with technological know-how.
        LJUBLJANA - A study by the EOS international organisation for claims management showed that Slovenian companies wait to get paid by their business clients for an average 81 days, highlighting this period is the longest among 17 participating countries. Nonetheless, companies do not consider this a threat to their business.

TUESDAY, 12 November
        LJUBLJANA - After the latest meeting of parliamentary parties on electoral law changes, it seems that a preferential vote system will be introduced. Public Administration Minister Rudi Medved said that the proposal enjoyed sufficient support to be passed in parliament, with the SocDems coming on board for the change.
        GENEVA, Switzerland - Slovenia presented the progress it made in human rights protection in the past five years at a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC). The member states praised Slovenia for meeting almost all of suggested targets given to the country during the previous review round - 138 out of 142.
        LJUBLJANA - Five bids came for the bankruptcy estate of Adria Airways, with the media reporting that ultralight aircraft maker Pipistrel was interested in the former flag carrier's flight school, Joc Pečečnik, who owns a gaming products maker, in the entire estate, and produce importer and real estate developer Izet Rastoder in the carrier's air operator's certificate (AOC).
        BRUSSELS, Belgium - Defence Minister Karl Erjavec said after a meeting with his EU counterparts that the recent statement by French President Emmanuel Macron about NATO being brain dead was not helpful. He shared the view that cooperation between the EU and NATO had never been as good, and that there was a clear emphasis that NATO needed to be nurtured and strengthened.
        LJUBLJANA - Several civil initiatives turned to the OECD over the plans of the British oil and gas company Ascent Resources for hydraulic fracturing in eastern Slovenia. The move comes after the company announced it would demand massive damages from Slovenia for delays in obtaining a permit for the controversial gas extraction project.
        BRUSSELS, Belgium - Defence Minister Karl Erjavec announced Slovenia would join one of the 13 additional 13 confirmed as part of the Permanent Structured Cooperation on Security and Defence (PESCO). The project in nuclear, chemical, radiological and biological oversight will be carried out together with Croatia, Hungary and Austria.
        VELENJE - The mayor of Velenje appealed to PM Marjan Šarec to prevent the head office of the household appliances maker Gorenje being moved to Ljubljana as planned by its new Chinese owners. Bojan Kontič sees the plans, announced by Gorenje in late October, as yet another step to centralisation.
        MARIBOR - The Maribor Higher Court said it had overturned the January conviction of two executives of the now defunct bank Probanka, who had been found guilty of fraud, quoting serious violations of procedure. Romana Pajenk, CEO of Probanka until September 2012, and Milana Lah, a member of her board, had received suspended sentences of 23 months with a four-year probation for defrauding two businessmen. The case will now go into retrial.
        LJUBLJANA - The designers of the Planica Nordic Centre received a gold medal for an architectural achievement by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Association for Sports and Leisure Facilities (IAKS).
WEDNESDAY, 13 November
        LJUBLJANA/KOPER - Reporers were told that Slovenian customs officers and police had seized 730 kilos of heroin at the port of Koper in October, the largest heroin bust in the history of modern Slovenia. The shipment from Iran, the street value of which is estimated at up to EUR 87 million, was bound for a company in Budapest.
        LJUBLJANA - The National Security Council called on the government to table legislation that would allow law enforcement to prosecute paramilitary militias, which have recently sprung up and started to patrol the border. The appeal comes the leader of the Štajerska Guard, Andrej Šiško, was sentenced to eight months in prison earlier this year for attempting to subvert the constitutional order.
        LUXEMBOURG, Luxembourg - The General Court of the EU will start with oral hearings related to Slovenia's legal action against the European Commission for granting Croatia a derogation enabling it to use Teran, the name of red wine protected by Slovenia, on 3 December, showed the court's calendar.
        LJUBLJANA - The Constitutional Court imposed another temporary injunction on the law and rules governing parliamentary inquiry. This means that, pending final decision, the inquiry into prosecution of former Maribor Mayor Franc Kangler will not be able to interview prosecutors after the same restriction was imposed last month in relation to judges.
        ZAGREB, Croatia - High representatives for succession to former Yugoslavia held their first meeting in four years to review the implementation of the 2001 succession agreement and to broach all open issues. The next meeting is to be held in North Macedonia in June 2020.
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenian employers agreed at their annual get-together that the latest changes to the minimum wage called for a new pay model, which should be fair and agreed in social dialogue. They also called on the ministries of labour and economy to help them come up with measures to mitigate the expected consequences of the minimum wage raise, as they fear that many companies will be affected.
        LJUBLJANA - Pošta Slovenije, the state-owned postal operator, completed the acquisition of a 72% stake in logistics company Intereuropa, which cost it EUR 28.75 million. The company will now publish a takeover bid for the outstanding Intereuropa stock and for its subsidiaries in Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
        LJUBLJANA - An OECD report on health indicators showed that life expectancy in Slovenia of 81.1 years is slightly above the OECD countries' average of 81 years. However, the country's cancer mortality and suicide rates are above the average, as 243 persons die from cancer out of 100,000 citizens in Slovenia.

THURSDAY, 14 November
        LJUBLJANA - Matjaž Merkan, the chairman and CEO of the state-owned telecoms incumbent Telekom Slovenije, resigned after less than two months on the job effective immediately. TV Slovenija has quoted anonymous people privy to information that he was not up to the job, while company rejected these reports and said he was resigning for personal reasons.
        LJUBLJANA - The government adopted an action plan that lays the groundwork for accepting persons of Slovenian descent who have asked for repatriation from Venezuela. A total of EUR 1.2 million has been set aside for a project as part of which 17 requests for a total of 53 individuals have been received.
        LJUBLJANA - Zavarovalnica Triglav, Slovenia's largest insurer, said it had posted group net profit of EUR 59.1 million for January-September, a 1% year-on-year increase. Gross written premiums rose by a tenth to EUR 905.5 million.
        LJUBLJANA - 2TDK, the state-owned company managing the construction of the new rail track between the port of Koper and the Divača hub, announced a two-stage tender process for the EUR 1bn-plus project. Bids are scheduled to be opened on 20 December and, absent major issues with appeals, construction could start in the second half of 2020.
        LJUBLJANA - Agriculture Minister Aleksandra Pivec announced she would run for the leader of the Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) at the election congress in January, thus challenging DeSUS long-standing leader Karl Erjavec, the defence minister.
        LJUBLJANA - The Fiscal Council repeated its concerns about the risks inherent in the budget documents for the coming two years, even after these have been amended by the government. It said that there were still discrepancies between the projections of some items and the measures valid or proposed.
        LJUBLJANA - The government adopted amendments to the classified information act in a bid to improve security of such data, with the circle of officials with access to such data being narrowed in line with NATO and EU standards. The major aim was to improve the efficiency of the classified information system and enhance the protection of such data.
        LJUBLJANA - The spouses Iza Sia Login and Samo Login, the main founders of Outfit7, the company which has developed globally popular apps, continued to top the list of the richest Slovenians the 6th year running, with their assets estimated at EUR 689 million, the magazine Manager reported.
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenia's showpiece at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition in Venice next year will be Common in Community, a project exploring the 70-year history of co-operative homes as centres of small-town social life, created by architects Blaž Babnik Romaniuk and Rastko Pečar, the Culture Ministry announced.

All our posts in this series are here

15 Nov 2019, 10:56 AM

STA, 14 November 2019 - The government adopted on Thursday an action plan that lays the groundwork for accepting persons of Slovenian descent who have asked for repatriation from Venezuela. A total of EUR 1.2 million has been set aside for a project that has been months in the making.

The Office for Slovenians Abroad has so far received 17 requests for a total of 53 individuals, while the money covers a maximum of 70 persons over the 15-month validity of the repatriation status, Olga Belec, state secretary at the Office for Slovenians Abroad, told the press about the "pioneering project".

Now that the action plan has been adopted, formal decisions will be issued immediately, but when exactly they start arriving also depends on individual arrangement of those who asked for repatriation.

The government has a list of 30 accommodation options around the country. One extended 16-member family has arranged accommodation with relatives, according to Belec.

To facilitate integration, the repatriated individuals will be accommodated in towns with good job prospects or places where their forebears come from. The majority of the expected arrivals are of working age and some have already been offered jobs.

Those who do not speak Slovenian will be immediately enrolled in Slovenian courses.

The repatriation status covers 15 months after arrival. After that, they will either be able to request permanent residence or citizenship; spouses who are not of Slovenian origin will be subject to the provisions of the aliens act.

The government decided in late August that it would help a number of Venezuelans of Slovenian origin settle in Slovenia under a law that permits repatriation from countries hit by a severe political or economic crisis.

Official data show 335 Slovenian citizens live in Venezuela, with another several hundred who are of Slovenian stock but do not have citizenship.

14 Nov 2019, 14:18 PM

STA, 13 November 2019 - The Slovenian National Security Council has called on the government to table legislation that would allow law enforcement to prosecute paramilitary militias, which have recently sprung up and started to patrol the border to keep illegal migrants out.

Changes to the penal code and misdemeanour regulations are needed to "appropriately sanction association and activities by various organisations that encroach on the powers of state authorities", the National Security Council said after Wednesday's session.

The appeal comes in the aftermath of increased activity by militias including the Štajerska Guard, whose leader Andrej Šiško was sentenced to eight months in prison earlier this year for attempting to subvert the constitutional order.

Šiško is no longer in prison, having served out most of his sentence in pre-trial detention, and in recent months his group has stepped up activities.

When he was arrested in September last year, his Štajerska Guard had only gathered for training in the woods near Maribor; in recent weeks they have been patrolling the border with Croatia in fatigues and wearing airsoft rifles, posing as defenders of the southern border.

This is the same area, along the river Kolpa, where a local family has taken it upon themselves to "protect the border" by patrolling the riverside.

Concern about their activities has been rising, with the police, which have been keeping an eye on militia activities, for example writing on Tumblr today that they were opposed to such militias, whose activities "constitute a certain degree of security risk".

The Interior Ministry said it had "zero tolerance" to such actions, noting that "the law gives the state monopoly over the use of force". It said the police would immediately act on suspicion of criminal activity and misdemeanour.

The statements by police and the Interior Ministry suggest the authorities think they cannot crack down on such conduct under existing law, hence the appeal for tougher regulation.

The fact is that the court did not find Šiško guilty of any unlawful conduct of his militia, he was convicted for trying to subvert the constitutional order by calling for a coup against the government.

All our stories on militias in Slovenia are here

09 Nov 2019, 10:35 AM

The covers and editorials from leading weeklies of the Left and Right for the work-week ending Friday, 8 November

Mladina: Govt, Left must find common ground or face demise

STA, 8 November 2019 - The left-leaning weekly Mladina warns in its latest commentary that if the minority coalition and the opposition Left fail to come to a new agreement in the coming weeks, the government will not even survive until the spring, with Janez Janša of the Democrats lurking from behind and waiting for a snap election.

If the heads of the coalition parties and the Left do not start to actually talk to each other, instead of flexing muscles and promoting their own importance and self-confidence, the "government will fall, loudly," editor-in-chief Grega Repovž says in Risky Game.

Opposition leader Janez Janša, who has a (malicious) historical memory, is probably watching the elbowing within the coalition with a smile on his face, and he will definitely "help" bring the chaos in a few months to the point when snap election will be an option.

And if election is to be held soon, no party of the current coalition would gain from it, and would instead be severely punished by voters. The same is true for the Left, as voters will not care about details, having voted for a coalition and stability for the next four years.

According to Repovž, the absence of memory in the coalition party and the Left is astounding: they do not remember that the promise of normality was what attracted voters who did not want a coalition of hatred, but a normal government.

"And after one year they are not capable of talking to each other, everybody praises only themselves, and pointing finger at others? The only person who has managed to control himself ... is [DeSUS president Karl] Erjavec. Everybody else are throwing spanners in the works."

In the eyes of voters, including their own, the Left could become the party which has brought the government down and undermined stability, and made it possible for Janša to take over the government in a few months, with or without an election.

"They can ease the tensions and make a new agreement. But they can also destroy what looked like an achievement after the 2018 election in the increasingly nationalist Europe. They are putting a lot at stake. Of course, everybody has the right to miss their own historic opportunity," concludes the commentary.

Reporter: Petrol management resignation political move

STA, 4 November 2019 - Energy company "Petrol has always smelled not only of oil and petrol but also of politics," the weekly Reporter says in its commentary on Monday, more than a week after the company management resigned at a marathon supervisory board session.

The state owns a controlling 30% stake in Petrol and there is no point in pretending that the tentacles of politics do not reach the company, the magazine says under the headline Smell of Oil and Gunpowder.

The company's most recent CEO Tomaž Berločnik was appointed to the position because this was decided by the ruling politicians, in February 2011 this was the government of Borut Pahor, the then president of the Social Democrats (SD).

Berločnik was considered a key link in the network of Borut Jamnik, the wonder boy of the SD, who has been making staffing decisions in state-owned companies for a decade.

"Jamnik's clan has become a state within the state, a network that has grown over-ruling politicians' heads. The only thing above them was the blue sky.

Berločnik is likely not the angel the media is making him out to be. Apparently, there is a binder full of documents relating to allegedly harmful moves and plans, say sources close to the supervisory board.

The question remains the reason for the management's resignation. Innocent people do not just leave their jobs in a haste, allegedly also without severance.

There are many rumours: from Berločnik's links to Croatian tycoon Emil Tedeschi to contentious businesses in Russia. Maybe more details will surface in the future throwing more shadows on Berločnik's management and Jamnik will be even paler in his TV interviews.

After Telekom, this is the second blow to Jamnik's clan in the war among party networks in state companies. A political dimension cannot be denied in Petrol resignations, although all politicians have been denying involvement.

All our posts in this series are here

09 Nov 2019, 08:12 AM

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

If you’d like to keep up on the daily headlines then follow those here, or get all our stories in your feed on Facebook.

FRIDAY, 1 November
        LJUBLJANA - A group of unidentified persons stormed Tiffany Club, a popular venue for LGBT events at the Metelkova Mesto alternative arts centre in Ljubljana, in what circumstances suggest was an attack motivated by hate. No one was injured in the attack and the perpetrators fled the scene when the police arrived.

SATURDAY, 2 November
        LJUBLJANA - Veronika Stabej, former ambassador to France, has been charged with abuse of office and forgery and is expected in court next month, Delo reported. Stabej was recalled as ambassador to France in July 2015 on suspicion she misappropriated embassy funds.

SUNDAY, 3 November
        KUČIBREG, Croatia - Milan Kučan, Slovenia's first president, criticised political elites in Slovenia and Croatia for their lack of initiative to resolve issues troubling bilateral relations, as he addressed a ceremony commemorating WWII battles in which Croatian, Italian and Slovenian Partisan resistance members fought German forces together.
        MARIBOR - A 500kg World War Two bomb was safely defused in Maribor after hundreds of people were evacuated from their homes in the vicinity, the largest such operation in Slovenia's second largest city since 1945.

MONDAY, 4 November
        LJUBLJANA - The Slovenian and Italian police forces will further enhance cooperation in fighting illegal migrations, as the number of joint police patrols, launched on 1 July, will be doubled from four to eight, the General Police Department said. This was agreed in Trieste on 24 October.
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenian Sovereign Holding (SSH) sent a response to the government regarding the 24 October resignation of the Petrol management. The report, requested by the government, brings no new insight into the reasons for the move. Shareholders now expect to get more information at a shareholder meeting.
        LJUBLJANA - President Borut Pahor hosted parliamentary parties for a debate after a new initiative for devolution of government was launched by the National Council. The meeting showed differing opinions regarding the territorial division as well as the question of provinces' powers and financing.
        LJUBLJANA - PM Marjan Šarec met the mayors of border municipalities to discuss ways to reduce the impact of illegal migration on the lives of people living in border areas. They agreed to set up a task force that will prepare systemic solutions.
        LJUBLJANA - The ruling Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ) declared that the time had come to ease up on the fiscal rule which was introduced to put constraints on public spending in mid-2015. It announced an amendment to relax the fiscal rule, which would need a two-thirds majority in parliament to pass.
        LJUBLJANA - The parliamentary inquiry into suspected abuse of office at the bad bank interviewed the former chairmen of NLB and NKBM, Janko Medja and Aleš Hauc, who said that the banks had no power in determining which assets were going to be transferred to the bad bank and which not as part of the 2013 bailout.
        LJUBLJANA - Telekom Slovenije, the telecoms incumbent, confirmed it had been ordered to pay EUR 17.6 million plus default interest to its Greek partner Antenna Group for its remaining 34% stake in a media joint venture that the Greeks have long sought to exit. The decision was handed down by the Court of Arbitration of the International Chamber of Commerce on 31 October.

TUESDAY, 5 November
        PRAGUE, Czechia - A summit of the Friends of Cohesion, an informal group of EU members opposing cuts to cohesion funds, urged the EU to adopt a 2021-2027 budget with a sufficient amount of cohesion funds. Slovenian PM Marjan Šarec said that a strong EU needed a sufficient and future-oriented budget.
        PRAGUE, Czechia - PM Marjan Šarec strongly criticised the central bank's curbs on consumer loans out of fear that it might impact economic growth. He voiced the hope that Banka Slovenije and its governor, Boštjan Vasle, would take a step back.
        LJUBLJANA - The Russian-owned steel maker Sij dismissed speculation it was interested in taking over energy trader Petrol. It said it did not and that it does not have such an interest and also does not plan to enter Petrol's ownership structure in the future.
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenia's first prime minister Lojze Peterle and Olympic medallist Jure Franko received Japanese state decorations for their work in promoting relations between Slovenia and Japan. Peterle received the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun and Franko the Order of the Rising Sun, Silver Rays.

WEDNESDAY, 6 November
        LJUBLJANA - The opposition Left declared its partnership with the minority government over after the coalition made its support for a key health insurance bill tabled by the Left conditional on adoption of amendments that would significantly change the Left's intention. PM Marjan Šarec said the government would complete its term in office, but acknowledged this would not be possible without compromise.
        OSLO, Norway - President Borut Pahor met King Harald V and Norway's senior officials as he started his two-day state visit to Norway. King Harald V decorated Pahor with the Grand Cross of the Royal Norwegian Order of Saint Olav, while Pahor presented Haakon with the Golden Order of Merit for his efforts in the diplomatic and international fields. Pahor and Prime Minister Erna Solberg highlighted the excellent bilateral relations and shared views on a number of global challenges.
        OSLO, Norway - Foreign Minister Miro Cerar met his Norwegian counterpart Ine Marie Eriksen Soreide discussing cooperation, the Western Balkans, topical EU issues, the rule of law and migrations. Cerar and Soreide expressed satisfaction with what they labelled as excellent relations between the countries in various fields of cooperation, in particular in multilateral cooperation.
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenia's central bank rejected criticism of lending curbs on households that took effect on 1 November, with its leadership arguing that lending trends simply had become too risky and threatened to undermine financial stability. The aim of the measure is to "prevent excessive crediting activity in the consumer loan segment," Banka Slovenije vice-governor Primož Dolenc said.
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenia's top court annulled provisions of the media act under which commercial radio stations were required to dedicate 20% of their airtime to Slovenian music, reasoning the provisions were too vague and incompatible with the rule of law. Radio stations and media experts alike welcomed the decision as a fitting end of a poorly conceived system.
        LJUBLJANA - The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) downgraded its forecast for Slovenia's GDP growth for this year by 0.3 a percentage points to 3%, while keeping the projection for 2020 at 2.8%. The bank said that the main risk was weaker demand by the main trading partners.
        LJUBLJANA - Medex, Slovenia's biggest honey producer, said it had found traces of antibiotics in 2.5 tonnes of honey it bought from three Slovenian beekeepers last summer. The contaminated honey was destroyed before it could enter production.

THURSDAY, 7 November
        BRUSSELS, Belgium - The European Commission forecast that Slovenia's economy will grow by 2.6% GDP in 2019 and 2.7% in 2020 and 2021, a downgrade of 0.6 and 0.1 percentage points respectively compared to its spring forecast. "Growth is cooling down but remaining robust," the Commission said.
        AMMAN, Jordan - Foreign Minister Miro Cerar met his Jordanian counterpart Ayman Safadi and several other high-ranking officials as he started the first official visit by a Slovenian foreign minister in almost two decades. Cerar and Safadi talked about the combat against terrorism, development aid, the countries' cooperation in the Union for the Mediterranean and the situation in Syria.
        HANOI, Vietnam - A Slovenian government and business delegation led by Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek started a two-day visit to Vietnam. The second session of the intergovernmental commission for economic cooperation and a Slovenia-Vietnam business forum were held.
        LJUBLJANA - Telekom Slovenije reported a group net profit of EUR 29.4 million for the first nine months of the year, a 25% increase year-on-year despite a 6% drop in net sales revenue to EUR 507.4 million.

All our posts in this series are here

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