Politics

01 Oct 2019, 10:38 AM

STA, 30 September 2019 - The coalition has agreed on a proposal from the health and finance ministries that the abolition of top-up health insurance be made in two steps, with the first being to transfer the collection of all contributions to the jurisdiction of the public health insurance fund ZZZS.

The second step would be making a so-called solidarity scale for the collection of health insurance contributions, Health Minister Aleš Šabeder told the press on Monday on the sidelines of the government session.

He explained that this was an alternative idea prepared by the two ministries after the opposition Left had filed into parliamentary procedure a proposal of its own last week, which the coalition has rejected.

In the first phase, the collection of what are currently contributions for top-up health insurance, paid to insurance companies, would be transferred to the jurisdiction of the ZZZS, making them mandatory contributions.

For starts, the contribution would be the same for all, while in the second step a progressive scale, which the minister called a "solidarity scale", for the collection of the contribution would be created.

According to Šabeder, the transfer of the payment of the contribution to the public health insurer would not change the current total amount of contributions paid.

The health purse would actually have more funds available, as a part of the collected contributions for top-up health insurance is currently being spent for costs of the insurance companies collecting them, he added.

The minister said that the proposal had not been discussed yet with the Left, the minority coalition's partner in the opposition, with a meeting expected to take place in the coming days.

The proposal comes after the Left last week tabled a motion that would in effect abolish top-up health insurance and replace it with a progressive levy, having failed to find common ground with the coalition despite weeks of talks.

Šabeder said that after the coalition had agreed to the proposal today, all details would now be sorted out, adding that the motion would be filed only after the parliamentary procedure for the Left's proposal started.

It would go through the usual procedure, with the government formally proposing it before it goes into public debate and debate at the Economic and Social Council. He expects heated debate and a negative campaign from the insurance companies.

Left head Luka Mesec said that the party had not seen the proposal yet, and invited the minister to present it to the Left.

"We are, of course, ready to talk about additional solutions and we kindly invite them to have a talk and try to include that in the proposal which has been 90% complete and which can be passed in the next two months, i.e. the proposal from the Left."

What is important for the party is that the final outcome is not an "MP and a pensioner with a monthly pension of EUR 400 still paying the same amount for insurance", as one can conclude from the minister's proposal, Mesec added.

01 Oct 2019, 09:34 AM

STA, 30 September 2019 - Slovenia posted a general government surplus of EUR 124 million or 1% of GDP in the second quarter of the year but revenue growth was outpaced by growth in expenditure in a first sign of economic slowdown. Consolidated general government gross debt at the end of 2nd quarter amounted to EUR 31.803 billion or 67.7% of GDP.

In absolute figures, the state of government finance worsened slightly compared to the second quarter of 2018, with the government surplus decreasing by EUR 7 million, the Statistics Office reported.

"The state of public finance has already reflected in a slow-down in growth," Nina Stražišar from the office told reporters on Monday, pointing to the slowed growth in revenue.

At EUR 5.331 billion, general government revenue increased by 4.6% year-on-year, as expenditure expanded by 4.8% to EUR 5.207 billion. The growth in expenditure outpaced the growth in revenue for the second straight quarter.

Revenue from social contributions rose by 7.2% to EUR 128 million, and revenue from taxes on production and imports was up by 2% to EUR 33 million.

Revenue income from current taxes on income and wealth decreased by 1.4%, while revenue from capital transfers grew by 65.6% to EUR 27 million.

General government expenditure has been increasing since the first quarter of 2017. In the second quarter it was up due to a 22.8% increase in gross fixed capital formation, a 7.4% increase in the public wage bill, and a 4.9% increase in welfare payments.

The cost of debt servicing continued to decrease with interest expenditure decreasing by 17.1% from the the second quarter of 2018.

The surplus for the first half of the year amounted to EUR 61 million or 0.3 of GDP, which compares to EUR 127 million or 0.6% of GDP a year ago.

By the end of the year, the surplus is projected to increase to EUR 391 million or 0.8% of GDP.

Consolidated general government gross debt increased by EUR 232 million year-on-year to EUR 31.803 billion or 67.7% of GDP. Debt in short term loans and short term debt securities was up the most.

As a proportion of GDP, the debt decreased by 2.7 percentage points from December 2018, which Stražišar attributed to the economic growth.

National government debt was estimated at EUR 31.227 billion (66.5% of GDP) and local government debt at EUR 794 million (1.7% of GDP). Social security fund debt remained at EUR 0.5 million.

The Finance Ministry expects the public debt to decrease further to 66.3% of GDP by the end of the year.

28 Sep 2019, 09:39 AM

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

Mladina: If Germany can rescue its companies, why can't Slovenia?

STA, 27 September 2019 – Mladina, the left-wing weekly, criticises Slovenian governments for failing to protect the interests of Slovenian companies, including Adria Airways, saying they usually give EU rules as an excuse not to act, whereas engines of capitalism such as Germany always help their companies. What is more, they are indirectly buying Slovenian companies.

Due to the government's inactivity, nearly 600 Adria staff will lose their jobs and at least another 600 jobs will be lost indirectly, while the budget will suffer a loss of EUR 20 million, the weekly says in its editorial on Friday.

When Economy Minister Zdarvko Počivalšek met on Wednesday a group of Adria workers who are seeking a solution, he said the state was not indifferent to its troubles, and mentioned Adria's irresponsible owner, which had put at stake the company's operating licence.

But it is surprising he became aware of Adria's troubles only now when the rest of Slovenians realised how deeply in trouble it was much earlier, and that he forgot to mention he was the economy minister in the Miro Cerar government, which sold Adria to Germany's 4K Invest in 2016.

At the time, the government argued the sale would enable Adria to "develop, expand and provide for Slovenia's new links to the world", and those who warned this would not be the case because Adria was sold to a speculative venture capital fund were said to be ignorant of the very basics of capitalism.

When Počivalšek visited Adria, Germany announced it would help the airline Condor get a loan to prevent its bankruptcy. Two days before the German rescue effort, former Adria director Peter Grašek proposed a similar solution for Adria to the Slovenian government.

But the government is actually not seeking a solution, it is waiting for the situation to calm down so that it may start pointing fingers and complain about its hands being tied by EU rules. Yet, the same rules do not prevent Croatia or Estonia to help their airlines, or Germany to immediately rescue an airline or car factory when in trouble.

Mladina says that Slovenia's national airport operator Aerodrom Ljubljana was not sold just to any company in 2014, it was sold to Germany's Fraport, which is indirectly in majority ownership of Germany.

"Isn't it strange that we are being constantly told it is vital to sell companies and banks for the state to be successful and efficient, while at the same time it always turns out that the countries which are considered the culmination of capitalist efficiency and success, are buying our companies and banks?"

What is more, they purchase our companies in collaboration with their private companies, Mladina says, noting Fraport is partly owned by Lufthansa, the airline which will most certainly take over Adria's business.

Mladina says it is clear Počivalšek knew Adria was sold to speculative funds which would drain it. And as prime minister, Alenka Bratušek also knew airport operator Aerodrom was actually bought by the German state.

"She also knew that as soon as the national airport is sold, there will be an end to the complementarity between the airport and Adria, which will be fateful for Adria in five years' time," editor-in-chief Grega Repovž says in They Knew.

Reporter: Bratušek attempting power grab in corrupt energy sector

STA, 23 September 2019 - The right-wing weekly Reporter says in Monday's commentary that a recent failed attempt by Infrastructure Minister Alenka Bratušek to be given the final word in the appointment of executives at two state-owned energy companies had not been about wanting to end rampant corruption but merely about trying to seize control over it.

While managing to subjugate SODO, the state-owned electricity distribution system operator, to the government in this way, Bratušek failed to get same statue change proposals passed by the government last week for ELES, the transmission system operator, and for power market operator Borzen.

While Reporter's editor-in-chief Silverster Šurla says that Bratušek, whose proposal had been rejected by Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) president and Defence Minister Karel Erjavec while the remaining ministers abstained, should in fact be believed when she speaks of rampant corruption in the sector.

However, in any normal state accusations of such gravity as the ones issued by her would immediately be examined by authorities specialised in the prosecution of organised crime.

"The minister should report these things to the police immediately and share everything she knowns, including with all the names," Šurla says.

He argues Bratušek has not done that because she is part of one wing of the energy lobby herself. The two wings are engaged in a struggle for the executive posts and thereby for control over the bountiful money flow in state-owned energy companies.

Šurla says under The Fox and the Sour Grapes that Bratušek "is a cunning political fox, who will stop at nothing to reach her goals and is possibly even ready to bring down the government".

All our posts in this series are here

28 Sep 2019, 09:32 AM

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

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

This summary was prepared by the STA:

FRIDAY, 20 September
        LJUBLJANA - Iztok Purič stepped down as the head of the Government Office for Development and European Cohesion Policy, citing personal reasons.
        LJUBLJANA - The Civil Aviation Agency grounded two Adria Airways Bombardier CRJ900 planes, after lessors terminated lease contracts for the two planes due to payment default.
        LJUBLJANA - Media reported that the national motorway company DARS selected for further talks three out of the five bidders vying to build the second tube of the Karavanke tunnel: Turkish builder Cengiz, a consortium of Kolektor CGP, Riko and Turkey's Yapi Merkezi, and Implenia Österreich, a consortium including Implenia Švica and CGP Novo Mesto.
        LJUBLJANA - Culture Minister Zoran Poznič welcomed the government's decision to endorse a "culture euro" bill which envisages additional funds for culture to promote its development through investment. The price tag of the new bill for 2021-2027 is EUR 122.6 million.
        METLIKA/KOSTEL - Thirteen municipalities along the border with Croatia joined forces in urging the government to start renewing local roads that have been damaged from heavy use by the police patrolling the border and to start cleaning the border fence.
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenia's consumer confidence deteriorated for the second month running in September to a level last seen in late 2016. Nevertheless, the index remains eight percentage points above the long-term average.
        BLED - The Pergam confederation of trade unions marked the 150th anniversary of the formation of Slovenia's first trade union at a general assembly in Bled that saw Prime Minister Marjan Šarec stress the importance of social dialogue.

SATURDAY, 21 September
        LJUBLJANA - Modern Centre Party (SMC) members unanimously elected Zdravko Počivalšek the SMC's new leader at a congress. Taking over from party founder Miro Cerar, Počivalšek called for economic stability, a fair welfare state, a liberal approach and sustainability.
        MARIBOR - The SNG Maribor was honoured with the Golden Order of Merit for its outstanding contribution to performing arts and Slovenian cultural identity as the theatre, bringing together drama, opera and ballet, marked its centenary at a high-profile ceremony.
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenia's information and communications technology (ICT) sector generated EUR 4.4 billion in revenue last year, 3.9% more than in 2017. Growth was slower than the year before, when revenue increased by 6.4% year on year, according to data from the Statistics Office.

SUNDAY, 22 September
        LJUBLJANA - Banks will have to adapt to changes in the business environment, Slovenian central bank Governor Boštjan Vasle said as he commented on a recent set of measures taken by the ECB to revive inflation. Without the ECB measures, inflation would have been even lower and the economic cooling even stronger, he told Radio Slovenija.
        LJUBLJANA - Stories from the Chestnut Woods, a debut feature film by up-and-coming Gregor Božič, won eleven of a total of 23 Vesna awards given out at the 22nd Festival of Slovenian Film, plus the audience award.

MONDAY, 23 September
        NEW YORK, US - Prime Minister Marjan Šarec started a five-day visit to New York where he will address the general debate of the 74th session of the UN General Assembly on Friday. He started the trip by attending the UN Climate Summit and a World Economic Forum (WEF) debate on sustainable development.
        NEW YORK, US - Former President Danilo Türk told the STA that US foreign policy was being undermined due to President Donald Trump's unpredictable and poorly thought through decisions.
        LJUBLJANA - Interior Minister Boštjan Poklukar expects Slovenia to see a rise in the number of people crossing the border illegally before the winter, but not to the extent seen in 2015 and 2016, he said during questions time in parliament.
        LJUBLJANA - Prime Minister Marjan Šarec, his party and the government all saw their popularity ratings fall in the latest poll commissioned by the private broadcaster POP TV, with voter support for the government falling below 50% for the first time this year.
        LJUBLJANA - Roman Kirn, a seasoned diplomat who until recently served as the foreign policy adviser to PM Marjan Šarec, was critical in an interview for Reporter of Šarec's recent visit to Russia, in particular because it had not included a meeting with President Vladimir Putin.
        KOPER - Logistics company Intereuropa said that Pošta Slovenije, the state-owned postal operator, plans to acquire a 72% stake in Intereuropa at EUR 1.45 per share for a total of EUR 28.75 million.
        LJUBLJANA - Sales of new housing properties have dropped to the lowest level on record in the second quarter of 2019, according to data from the Statistics Office. Meanwhile, more than 1,360 second-hand houses were sold this second quarter, the most since the second quarter of 2017.
        VIENNA, Austria - Klagenfurt-based Slovenian-Austrian author Maja Haderlap is to receive an Austrian Art Prize which comes with EUR 15,000.

TUESDAY, 24 September
        LJUBLJANA - Carrier Adria Airways suspended virtually all its flights due to a shortage of cash, in what is the biggest upset in Slovenian civil aviation in decades. On 25 September it was given a week to submit to the Civil Aviation Agency a credible financial restructuring plan or lose its operational licence. Meanwhile, a bill was drafted that would allow the government to subsidise selected routes to and from Ljubljana Airport.
        NEW YORK, US - PM Marjan Šarec addressed the first summit dedicated to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the UN General Assembly, highlighting Slovenia's ambitions pursuit of the agenda's goals. Šarec also attended the opening of the general debate of the 74th General Assembly session.
        NEW YORK, US - Foreign Minister Miro Cerar took part in a EU-hosted high level meeting on Syria, held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session, condemning attacks on civilians. In his address, Cerar said that the solution to the Syria conflict could only be a political one.
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenia's business sentiment deteriorated in September to 4.8 percentage points, down 1.2 percentage point on the month before and down 3.4% year-on-year, data from the Statistics Office showed.
        BRUSSELS, Belgium - Infrastructure Ministry State Secretary Bojan Kumer rejected the recent allegation by several NGOs that Slovenia is planning new subsidies for fossil fuels, arguing that such subsidies will be phased out.

WEDNESDAY, 25 September
        NEW YORK, US/LJUBLJANA - Commenting on reports about Croatia getting a go-ahead to enter the Schengen area in October, Foreign Minister Miro Cerar said it was in Slovenia's interest to see Croatia joining, but only if the neighbour showed respect for all EU democratic and legal standards. Indicating a potential veto over Croatia's ignoring of the border arbitration decision, PM Marjan Šarec added on Thursday that should the EU Commission act politically, so would Slovenia.
        LJUBLJANA - The Left tabled a legislative motion that would in effect abolish supplementary health insurance and replace it with a progressive levy, having failed to find common ground with the coalition parties despite weeks of talks.
        LJUBLJANA - The newspaper Dnevnik reported that Justice Minister Andreja Katič had reported Maribor Labour Court president Stanko Omerzu to the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption for having employed at the court a daughter of a witness who testified in his favour in a case in which he stands accused of stalking his ex-lover.
        MARIBOR - The teachers' trade union SVIZ told University of Maribor Chancellor Zdravko Kačič to consider resigning over contentious payments at the university. The union blames Kačič for failing to immediately present all the facts to the public and notify the police of potential irregularities related to EUR 50 million being paid through works contracts.
        BRDO PRI KRANJU - The Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GZS) conferred awards for breakthrough innovations at the 17th Innovation Day. Pharma company Lek won two top awards, for a new procedure for the purification of biopharmaceuticals and a new generation of probiotics, while its rival, Krka, was honoured for an innovative generic drug.
        LJUBLJANA - General government receipts from taxes and social contributions increased for the fifth year running last year, by 7.2% to EUR 17.3 billion, according to the Statistics Office. Tax revenue rose by 7.4% to EUR 10.1 billion and the take from social contributions increased by 6.8% to EUR 7.2 billion in 2018.

THURSDAY, 26 September
        NEW YORK, US - PM Marjan Šarec has expressed regret about the developments at Adria Airways, sympathising with the passengers and the employees' families, but also noted that the air carrier is no longer state-owned and that the outlook for its rescue is not good. Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek on the other hand said potential solutions were still being examined to rescue the company and preserve Slovenia's air links with the rest of the world.
        NEW YORK, US - PM Marjan Šarec underlined Slovenia's support for multilateralism and the need to honour human rights and agreements as he met UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in New York.
        LJUBLJANA - The National Assembly passed the Resolution on National Security Strategy with 46 votes in favour and 29 against after the opposition SDS and the Left succeeded in throwing out an expansion of powers of the intelligence service to fight home-grown terrorism.
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenia defeated Poland 3:1 in the semifinal of the European Volleyball Championship to qualify for the final in Paris.
        LJUBLJANA - Retailer Mercator saw group sales revenue increase by 0.4% to EUR 1.06 billion in the first half of the year. Group net profit rose by 58.4% to EUR 2.4 million. EBITDA increased by almost 73% to EUR 83 million and operating profit by over 76% to EUR 29.9 million.
        LJUBLJANA - The Slovenian Foreign Ministry paid its tribute to late French President Jacques Chirac by describing him as an important ally of Slovenia in its accession to the EU and NATO.
        PODGORICA, Montenegro - Foreign Minister Karl Erjavec and his Montenegrin counterpart Predrag Bošković sought ways to further deepened already close defence cooperation. The Slovenian Defence Ministry announced defence attaches would be sent by both countries to Podgorica and Ljubljana respectively.
        LJUBLJANA - Bank Asset Management Company (BAMC) generated EUR 17.9 million in net profit in the first half of the year, which was 12% less than in the first half of 2018. The company attributed the decrease to a shrunken portfolio.
        LJUBLJANA - The parliament passed a legislative proposal dealing with the indexation of transfers to individuals and households under which such transfers worth around EUR 1.25 billion will be indexed to inflation once a year. The opposition Democrats (SDS) and the Left were the only parties to oppose the amendment.
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenia gained two spots on the IMD World Digital Competitiveness ranking over 2018, placing 32nd this year.

All our posts in this series are here

26 Sep 2019, 11:23 AM

STA, 25 September 2019 - Responding to the scandal involving millions in contentions payments at the University of Maribor, the SVIZ teachers' trade union urged Chancellor Zdravko Kačič to consider resigning for failing to immediately present all the facts to the public and notify the police of potential irregularities.

By resigning, Kačič would facilitate a process in which the payment of some EUR 50 million would have to be cleared up, the union said on Wednesday.

"It is completely unacceptable that the chancellor of the public university Zdravko Kačič did not immediately notify oversight institutions and law enforcement of the findings of the audits into fees payments and of other irregularities which point to suspicion of crime and liability for payment of damages," it said in a release.

The union believes that by failing to act on time, Kačič, chancellor since June 2018, is responsible for major damage the scandal has caused to the country's second-largest public university and its staff.

The SVIZ recalled that a few years ago, the Supreme Court had ruled the university's pay system was unsuitable, failing to remunerate staff in line with academic titles.

The university thus broke the law and saved a lot of money on the back of many of its junior staff, while its elite has been receiving indecent fees, the SVIZ said.

Responding to the appeal, Kačič said he had acted as soon as he received the report, so there was no need for his resignation. "I didn't 'misplace' the document, forget about it or conceal it ... but immediately started dealing with it," he said in a release.

He reiterated that he checked the document, which is neither an audit report nor a legal or expert opinion, on 20 June 2018, the day he took office, then talked to auditors to discuss reviewing the financial transactions, presented it to deans in January and then handed it to university members for comments.

"I kept the university board up to date on all steps and handed all the papers on 9 May to an independent institution for a comprehensive review and a final audit report, which will serve as a basis for the university to take action," the chancellor explained, adding the final report is expected next month.

The SVIZ trade union also called on Education Minister Jernej Pikalo to ask the Court of Audit to review the university's financial operations.

Also responding to the scandal, the VSS trade union of university teachers said it expected Kačič to present documents proving the payments were justified and to sanction the cases when staff had abused office for personal gain.

The VSS urged the state as the founder of the university to change legislation and improve oversight to prevent such cases and to enable science and university education to develop even if they brought no short-term profits.

The head of the VVS shop at the university, Marija Javornik Krečič, said university staff was both disappointed and shocked at the controversial fees.

While the media report about payments worth millions of euro, the trade union had to fight legal battles for proper pay of many of university staff, she said.

The alleged abuse is not just a result of vague rules, but of their disrespect coupled with wild corporate logic penetrating universities and some university teachers appropriating certain faculties and areas of research.

Yesterday, Kačič came out strongly against Friday's media report questioning around EUR 50 million euro in payments to its professors through works contracts.

He said the TV Slovenija report was based on incomplete facts from two reports rather than on audits as stated by TV Slovenija.

The chancellor said he had not been acquainted with the 2017 report by the previous leadership, while he knew about the second one from February 2018.

While stressing that neither had found any irregularities, but merely pointed to potential risks, Kačič said he would present the second report once it was reviewed by an independent institution and became final. Only then would the university take action if necessary.

As for the sum of EUR 50 million, Kačič said it referred to the works contracts for the entire period between 2010 and 2016.

23 Sep 2019, 14:42 PM

STA, 21 September 2019 - Some EUR 50 million in payments to University of Maribor professors through freelance contracts is contentious, an issue auditor Ernst & Young highlighted back in March 2017, according to last evening's report by TV Slovenija.

It was very high payments to university professors and the university and its faculties' deals with certain companies that Ernst & Young found rather suspicious.

According to TV Slovenija, some professors received almost EUR 30 million in various fees.

Another EUR 20 million was paid to university staff who were treated as external staff (outsourcing).

Five million euro went to various suppliers connected with the university.

The auditors warned of a number of possible irregularities, including tempered calls for applications, tax evasion and fictitious payments.

They even urged a criminal investigation in some cases, according to the public broadcaster.

To double check Ernst & Young's findings, then Chancellor Igor Tičar commissioned a forensic audit, but before he could present its findings to the university's board, he had to retire.

"In line with the law, my contract terminated as of 2018, and I've had no information about what is going on ever since," he explained.

The audits were then shelved until they have recently been sent to some e-mail addresses, according to TV Slovenija.

Opposition Democrat (SDS) MP Anže Logar, who chairs the parliamentary Commission for the Oversight of Public Finances, said he had alerted the Education Ministry, Court of Audit and police about the case and "now I'm waiting for their answers".

Education Ministry State Secretary Jernej Štromajer said one should get to the bottom of the case to make sure public universities spend funds transparently.

When Chancellor Zdravko Kačič, who was in charge of finances at the university at the time, commented the allegations of irregularities the last time in June, he disputed Tičar and the auditors' views.

"We've decided to do another ... audit and we've asked the Institute for Business Accounting ... to give its opinion," he said.

Kačič was now unavailable for comment for TV Slovenija, which reported that the case would be discussed by the university's board later this month.

The case is also being processed by the Court of Audit and investigated by law enforcement.

TV Slovenija said the Education Ministry was waiting for a report from the university, which it should get by the end of September, before it took action.

23 Sep 2019, 12:00 PM

STA, 21 September 2019 - Modern Centre Party (SMC) members elected unanimously Zdravko Počivalšek new leader at a congress in Ljubljana on Saturday. Počivalšek, the economy minister, is taking over from Miro Cerar, the SMC founder who currently serves as foreign minister.

More than 400 participants, including 210 SMC delegates, gathered at the congress. Before the election, Cerar once again backed Počivalšek, the only candidate for the SMC top position.

In his keynote address before the election, Počivalšek highlighted the importance of being committed to social dialogue, saying that "concern for development is the responsibility of parties, industry and trade unions".

He called for economic stability, a fair welfare state, liberal approach and sustainability, urging the party to go "neither left, nor right, not backwards, only forward".

Commenting on the fact that the party has been having low support for a while, he said that current opinion polling is not to be trusted completely. Remaining optimistic, he said the party should not feel dismayed by its past election results since they still trumped opinion poll figures.

According to him, the party's core is strong, consisting of its members, innovative ideas, breakthrough visions, useful know-how and ambitious targets - everything that is needed "to improve the party's opinion poll indicators".

Moreover, at the congress, Cerar was elected honorary leader of the party at Počivalšek's initiative and accepted this honour upon stepping down.

In his keynote after the election, Počivalšek highlighted the importance of progress for the party and the well-being of all Slovenian citizens as well as the importance of cooperation between parties.

He said he would lead the party in cooperation with its deputy group, local committees, secretariat and ministers, adding that a rejuvenated local network will make the party less dependant on opinion polling.

Počivalšek believes the SMC is about to transform itself and regain voters' trust. He has decided to run for the top position upon realising he had support of the entire party.

He thanked Cerar for his support and accomplishment including in bringing the SMC to life at a turning point in Slovenia's political history, saying that he had an affinity with the party because of its centrist views and lack of interest to rehash historical events.

Moreover, Počivalšek pointed out before the election that he only became the SMC member last year because he had been delusional before, thinking he could take action alone. "Nonsense. It's hard to play for a team if one is not wearing its kit," he said.

"I wish to only upgrade the party's successful work so far," Počivalšek told the congress, highlighting the party's consolidated role in the coalition and parliament.

As one of his top priorities, the economy minister listed economic stability and rejected the imposed divide between booming industry and welfare state, saying the two were interconnected.

Pointing out that in times of healthy economy people vote left-wing parties, whereas in time of financial crises they turn to the right, he said his goal was then "to maintain economic stability since this ensures people are considering the well-being of every individual".

Another target of his is a just welfare state - fair pay for fair work, elderly care, including in letting the elderly decide between active or more peaceful autumn years, decent pensions, as well as youth empowerment.

He will also focus on a liberal approach since, according to him, liberal parties are agents in the fight against inequality, exclusion and other extremist stances.

Another mainstay of his leadership will be sustainable economy and environmental efforts, including promoting circular economy in terms of waste management.

Počivalšek will also strive to strengthen the role of the SMC local as well as programme committees. He also wishes this government would continue doing its work until the end of its term.

The 61-year-old entered the Slovenian political arena at the invitation of the then Prime Minister Cerar at the end of 2014, taking over as the economy minister. He has kept this position in Prime Minister Marjan Šarec's government and has been a strong advocate of a prudent privatisation principle.

Cerar said he believed in Počivalšek's vision for the party, which was in sync with its values. He trusts that the new leader will rejuvenate the social-liberal party and make it more popular.

The first SMC leader pointed out that the party had ten MPs and four ministers upon his departure from the top position but also conceded that the party had been having low support in opinion polls and that this would have to be tackled.

Commenting on the view by some that the SMC was politically dead, he noted the party's important role in Slovenia's political arena. "We're here today to show Slovenia and Europe that the SMC is and will remain an active and constructive part of Slovenia's politics."

Cerar said he would remain a loyal member of the party, but he would also like to focus even more on his work as the foreign minister.

Leaders or representatives of almost all parliamentary parties attended the congress as well, with both Počivalšek and Cerar pointing out that this meant the party was willing to cooperate.

What stood out was that the event was attended by representatives of opposition parties as well, including Franc Breznik of the Democrats (SDS) and Jožef Horvat of New Slovenia (NSi).

Moreover, Počivalšek confirmed that he had been in contact with SDS leader Janez Janša, who excused himself for not attending the congress due to his being away for work.

Šarec, also in attendance, highlighted the importance of cooperation between parties, particularly those in the coalition, in his keynote as well. He thanked Cerar for all his work so far as the first SMC leader, foreign minister and the previous prime minister.

Related: Elections 2018, Party Profiles: SMC – “Lukewarm Centrists” (Feature)

21 Sep 2019, 09:08 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.

This summary was prepared by the STA:

FRIDAY, 13 September
        LJUBLJANA - Interior Minister Boštjan Poklukar proposed that Slovenia and Austria form joint police patrols to police the Slovenian-Austrian border, as he hosted his Austrian counterpart Wolfgang Peschorn. Saying it was a good proposal, Peschorn said the Austrian government would examine it to see if it could fully contain the migration pressure.
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenian central bank governor Boštjan Vasle urged authorities to employ a diverse set of measures since monetary policy is not enough in the current complex situation. Risks to the global economy are growing, threatening to further curb growth and further reduce inflation, he said, pointing to trade wars, China's cooling and Brexit.
        LJUBLJANA - The Civil Aviation Agency received the annual report for 2018 from Adria Airways, which the struggling German-owned airline had to submit as a condition to keep its operating licence. Civil Aviation Agency director Rok Marolt told the STA that the decision on whether the carrier would keep the licence would probably be taken by the end of October.
        CELJE - Foreign Minister Miro Cerar announced an expansion of the commercial diplomacy service and Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek measures to help reduce businesses' dependence on EU markets, as they addressed Day of Slovenian Diplomacy at the International Trade Fair in Celje.
        SEŽANA - Ivan Šopov of North Macedonia received the Central European Initiative prize as part of the Vilenica International Literary Festival. He impressed the jury with the draft for his debut novel, in which he intends to explore the topics of individual responsibility and collective madness.

SATURDAY, 14 September
        LJUBLJANA - The two-day meeting of the NATO Military Committee concluded with a commitment that the alliance will continue to carry out the Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan in its present form, as confirmed by the Chairman of the Military Committee, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach. He said that NATO remained committed to Afghanistan and that it would continue to carry out the mission, as part of which NATO member states are training soldiers of the Afghan army.
        AJDOVŠČINA - More than 4,000 people gathered to celebrate the day 72 years ago when the Primorska region became part of Slovenia. The ceremony, held on the eve of Primorska Reunification Day, was addressed by PM Marjan Šarec, who said that the people of Primorska were the greatest example of how a "glorious victory, a victory of good over evil eventually gets born out of the biggest sorrow and suffering."
        LJUBLJANA - The opposition New Slovenia (NSi) called for a new national consensus in a bid to digitalise Slovenia. NSi leader Matej Tonin called on President Borut Pahor to assume the role of a coordinator on the path to the consensus, which Pahor later said he was willing to do.

SUNDAY, 15 September
        MADRID, Spain - Cycling sensation Primož Roglič (Team Jumbo-Visma) became the first Slovenian to win a Grand Tour race, as he climbed the podium of the Vuelta. His 20-year-old compatriot, Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), completed the three-week race in third place to claim the white jersey of the best young rider.

MONDAY, 16 September
        LJUBLJANA - Damir Črnčec, a senior aide to PM Marjan Šarec, became the target of scrutiny after the news portal Požareport revealed he employed the head of Slovenia's Westinghouse office as head of his private institute, raising concern about possible influence in fledging plans to construct a second reactor at the Krško Nuclear Power Plant.
        LJUBLJANA - President Borut Pahor and his Indian counterpart Ram Nath Kovind reaffirmed their commitment to boost cooperation and friendship between the countries during the first visit by an Indian president to Slovenia. They stressed the importance of global partnership and multilateralism.
        LJUBLJANA - After several failed attempts to implement the late-2014 Constitutional Court ruling mandating full financing of private primary schools, the Education Ministry said it would try to break the impasse by inviting various stakeholders, including all parliamentary parties, to form a task force to build a broad consensus on the issue. Parties were reserved about the plan.
        ZGORNJE JEZERSKO - Mountaineer and extreme skier Davo Karničar, 56, died in a logging accident in his native Jezersko area. Karničar made history on several occasions while skiing down the world's highest peaks; in 2000, he skied non-stop down Mount Everest as the first person ever.

TUESDAY, 17 September
        LJUBLJANA - A report by the Court of Audit found that the government had been unsuccessful in providing access to long-term care services to all those who need them. Only 9% of the 395,127 eligible received care in 2016 and the state had no data on nearly 90% of potential claimants. The government said it was working on long-term care legislation to address these issues.
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenian parliamentary Speaker Dejan Židan hosted his Cypriot counterpart Demetris Syllouris, with the pair announcing a bilateral initiative for cooperation of small countries. The initiative would aim to support the rule of law in the EU and "the end of double morals" in Europe, according to Syllouris.
        BELGRADE, Serbia - The Serbian newspaper Danas reported that NLB, Slovenia's leading bank, submitted a non-binding bid for a 83.2% stake in Komercijalna Banka, the second largest bank in Serbia, offering EUR 450 million, the highest of three bids.
        LJUBLJANA - The government and municipalities failed to agree on the amount of local government funding for the coming two years, so Finance Minister Andrej Bertoncelj set the initially proposed amount of EUR 589.11 per capita in 2020 and EUR 588.30 in 2021, an average of local government expenses over the past four years. The municipalities had wanted a higher amount.
        LJUBLJANA - Adria Airways signed a new collective bargaining agreement with pilots, a move the airline says that "calms down the labour situation at the company" and "allows management to remain focused on stability of operations and provision of services". The Trade Union of Commercial Pilots said they were happy with the terms of the deal.
        LENDAVA/MURSKA SOBOTA - Lendava and Murska Sobota remembered local Jewish families that perished in the Holocaust, as Stolpersteine, granite cubes bearing the names of the victims, were installed in various locations around the two north-eastern cities in high-profile commemorations.

WEDNESDAY, 18 September
        LJUBLJANA - Almost 200 organisations and more than 8,000 individuals, including environmental NGOs, trade unions, associations representing pensioners, youth and municipalities, made an urgent appeal to the government to recognise climate change as a national crisis and start dealing with it in a comprehensive fashion now. Trade unions called for a new economic model focusing on green jobs.
        LJUBLJANA - Jorge Domecq, chief executive of the European Defence Agency (EDA), paid a visit for talks with foreign and defence ministry officials. He praised Slovenia's cooperation with the EDA but called for increased participation of Slovenian industry in EDA programmes.
        LJUBLJANA - In a bid to end a conundrum about the financing of private primary schools, the coalition Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB) announced it would start collecting signatures to call a referendum as the issue remains unresolved almost five years after the top court decided the state must fund them 100%, not just 85% as is the case now.
        BERLIN, Germany - Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek met his German and Portuguese counterparts to discuss preparations for the EU presidency that the three countries will consecutively hold starting in the second half of 2020. Among the possible priorities, Počivalšek, Portugal's Pedro Siza Vieira and Germany's Peter Altmaier highlighted strengthening the EU's internal market.
        KOPER - The Amber Rail Freight Corridor, which connects industrial centres and inter-modal terminals in Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia, was formally launched. It connects the Adriatic Sea with the Poland-Belarus border, and represents an alternative to the transport routes between the north and south of Europe.
        LJUBLJANA - Police confirmed they were looking into three cases of simplified debt restructuring that would allow companies owned by Ljubljana Mayor Zoran Janković's sons to write off about EUR 29 million in debt. The Notary Chamber is checking the work of notary Miro Košak in the cases of debt restructuring of Electa Inženiring, Electa Naložbe and Electa Holding.

THURSDAY, 19 September
        LJUBLJANA - The government adopted the draft budgets for 2020 and 2021 after ministries reduced the planned expenditure for next year by a combined EUR 100 million following a downgrade of Slovenia's GDP growth forecast to 2.8% for 2019 and 3% for 2020. Budget users will still have a record EUR 10.35 billion at their disposal in 2020, and almost all of them will get more money than this year.
        BERN, Switzerland - President Borut Pahor met his Swiss counterpart Ueli Maurer on second day of his official visit to Switzerland with the pair calling for deepening what they said to be already good cooperation between the two countries. Maurer offered digitalisation and new technologies as two areas where cooperation could be enhanced. They also discussed topical EU matters.
        LJUBLJANA - The Court of Audit issued a rebuke of consecutive Slovenian governments after determining that strategic planning regarding the exploitation of nuclear energy at the Krško Nuclear Power Plant (NEK) had left the NEK owner in limbo about whether a new reactor at NEK would be built or not. Despite the shortcomings, the court only issued a set of recommendations to several stakeholders.
        LJUBLJANA - The parliamentary Privileges and Credentials Commission decided that a parliamentary inquiry into prosecutions of former Maribor Mayor Franc Kangler would not be initiated until after the Constitutional Court weighed in on the matter at the behest of the prosecution and judiciary.
        LJUBLJANA - The Ljubljana mosque got an operating permit. It is expected to open for prayers after the New Year; however, the official inauguration ceremony is planned for the end of May 2020.
        MUNICH, Germany - The Slovenian men's national basketball team received a special invitation to play in one of the four qualifying tournaments for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, to be played next June.

 

20 Sep 2019, 20:34 PM

STA, 19 September 2019 - Slovenian right-wing parties and a number of civil initiatives will stage a protest in Ljubljana on 10 October under the slogan Let's Save Slovenia. The demonstration will be held at the initiative of former Maribor Mayor Franc Kangler in cooperation with the non-parliamentary People's Party (SLS).

According to social media comments and media reports, the protest will be joined by the opposition Democrats (SDS) and the non-parliamentary party Greens of Slovenia as well.

The SLS has registered the protest which will address environmental, social, judicial and security issues as well as include music performances.

According to the party, a number of civil initiatives and movements, including 16 organisations in total so far, have decided to join the protest.

Kangler has told the national broadcaster that the protesters wanted to highlight inequality before the law, lowering climate standards to benefit rich companies and escalating poverty despite better economic indicators.

According to him, the protest will be a peaceful one, with protesters wearing yellow vests to honour the populist yellow vest movement that started in France last year.

The SLS leader Marjan Podobnik has told the STA that the protest brought together numerous initiatives which had emerged in the past few months including those tackling illegal migration and environmental issues.

"This is a protest against abnormalities, wrongdoings and greed," said Podobnik, adding that the demonstration was a way to criticise the government since it was its task to tackle those issues and corruption.

He hopes the protest will serve as a wake-up call for the government.

The prime minister's office has responded by saying that everybody has the right to stage a protest, pointing out that it should be held in line with regulations though.

20 Sep 2019, 11:47 AM

STA, 19 September 2019 - The Court of Audit has issued a rebuke of consecutive Slovenian governments after determining that strategic planning regarding the exploitation of nuclear energy at the Krško Nuclear Power Plant (NEK) had left the NEK owner in limbo about the future of nuclear energy in the country.

The auditors examined government strategic planning between 2006 and 2016 and determined that strategic documents had been ignored on several occasions and new ones drawn up in disregard of previous commitments or deadlines.

For example, the decision to build a second unit at NEK was made by the government in 2006, but it took years before it ever made it into downstream strategic and operational programmes.

And in 2014 the government started drafting a new national energy programme, but it was not adopted in 2014 or until the extended deadline of 30 June 2016. In fact, it has not been adopted yet, the deadline having been pushed forward several times.

As a result, Gen Energija, the state-owned company which manages the Krško power station, was "left in uncertainty as to whether construction of the second unit at NEK will be possible", the court said in a decision released on Thursday.

The court also criticises Slovenian Sovereign Holding (SSH) for not alerting the government to the potential hazards of not giving Gen Energija clearer guidance.

Gen Energija, meanwhile, has been criticised for commissioning, between 2007 and 2016, as many as 122 studies concerning the second unit, half of which were not subject to public calls for bids.

This constitutes violation of public procurement rules and risks curtailing competition between bidders, the auditors said.

Despite the shortcomings, the Court of Audit stopped short of issuing an adverse opinion.

Instead, it issued a set of recommendations on how Gen Energija should improve its operations while requesting corrective measures from the government, Infrastructure Ministry, SSH and Gen Energija.

The Infrastructure Ministry sees the report as a call to all parties to act in a coordinated and prudent manner in planning the long-term use of nuclear energy.

It stressed that the country's energy concept was already in the making and should be debated by the government in the second half of 2020.

But the ministry also noted the report covered 2006-2016, whereas the new infrastructure minister had to first deal with delays in drafting several strategic documents, including the energy concept but also the National Energy and Climate Plan, when taking the office over a year ago.

Gen Energija interpreted the report as a call for a comprehensive and long-term planning of energy production. Changes are already under way, it added.

"Gen Energija has started introducing changes in the areas where the need arose for systematic improvements already during the audit, and we will report to the Court of Audit on the implementation of the remedy measures," the company said on its web site.

20 Sep 2019, 08:38 AM

STA, 19 September 2019 - President Borut Pahor met his Swiss counterpart Ueli Maurer in Bern on Thursday with the pair calling for a deepening of what was said to be already good cooperation between the two countries. "The Swiss and Slovenians are similar and we want to cooperate," Pahor said as he and Maurer addressed the press.

Maurer, who serves as the president of the Swiss confederation and head of the Federal Department of Finance, hailed good bilateral cooperation, offering digitalisation and new technologies as two areas where they would like to enhance it.

"The two countries share ideas and views. This is a good basis to build our cooperation on," the Swiss president said, describing Slovenia as a reliable and important partner.

"Switzerland has always been an inspiration to Slovenians, and it still is in a sense," Pahor said, in a reference to a popular aspiration during independence efforts that Slovenia would be a second Switzerland.

"Tradition, identity, pride, a small country, that's what we share and I believe we've taken a big step toward further development of the relationship, which is strong economically even now," said Pahor.

According to a press release from Pahor's office, the presidents noted the excellent and problem-free political relationship between their countries and Pahor hailed regular bilateral political dialogue.

Economic cooperation ranked prominently and Pahor was happy to note that bilateral trade in goods increased by almost 50% to EUR 1.49 billion in 2018. He also noted scientific cooperation.

Pahor also hailed Slovenia's good experience with Swiss investors. Maurer agreed on the importance of people-to-people relations for business, saying akin views was what made the cooperation between two business communities even better.

The two presidents agreed that Switzerland was a close and important partner for the EU, and noted the significance of the institutional framework agreement.

They agreed that the EU should be made stronger to be able to provide external, internal, economic and social security. They found that a no-deal Brexit would be the worst-case scenario for everyone.

At the outset of his official two-day visit on Wednesday, Pahor met Marina Carobbio Guscetti, president of the Swiss National Council, and took part in the council's session.

They talked about Brexit, the EU's enlargement to the Western Balkans, and illegal migration.

Guscetti agreed with Pahor that the two countries maintained good cooperation, including at the parliamentary level.

Pahor also addressed a Slovenian-Swiss business conference in Zurich entitled Slovenia, the Country of Niche Business Champions.

In his address Pahor spoke about the opportunities afforded by Slovenia to foreign investors, noting that it has been one of the fastest growing economies in recent years.

Despite signs of a slowdown in the EU, Slovenia is well prepared for a potential recession, much better than it had been before the last economic and financial turmoil, he said.

"We are aspiring to sustainable development and I believe we are similar to each other there," the president was quoted as saying by his office.

The conference was attended by more than 30 representatives of 19 Slovenian companies and representatives of the Switzerland Global Enterprise, an investment promotion organisation.

There is still a lot of potential for growth because Slovenia and Switzerland are not as linked as they could be, said Goran Novković, executive director of the Slovenian Business Club (SBC).

"Almost 40 out of the 202 SBC members already do business or have capital links with Swiss partners," said Novković in his address to the conference.

Pahor is being accompanied by Education Minister Jernej Pikalo, Foreign Ministry State Secretary Dobran Božič and Economy Ministry State Secretary Eva Štravs Podlogar.

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