Politics

18 Feb 2019, 10:20 AM

STA, 16 February - Alenka Bratušek was unanimously re-elected to lead the Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB), as more than 200 delegates got together for an electoral congress in Ljubljana on Saturday, four and a half years after the party was established. She was the only candidate for the post.

Addressing the delegates before the vote, Bratušek said the packed Old Power Station was proof the SAB was there to stay after it had already made a mark in politics.

"We're proud of our achievements ... nothing was given to us, what is more, many have tried to undermine us. That's why we are still here and even stronger."

She also reiterated the coalition party would insist on the government taking measures to improve the pensioners' financial standing and the situation in healthcare.

The party, which has three ministers and five MPs, will also push for improving the situation in public education, for a successful economy and human rights.

Bratušek said that as party president she "will always put first the state, people and our common goals which will make Slovenia a better place".

She recalled the time when she entered politics, including when she took over as prime minister (March 2013-September 2014) at the time of the deepest economic crisis.

Thanking all who had helped her and contributed to Slovenia's exiting the crisis, Bratušek could not avoid mentioning the massive bank bail-out in late 2013.

She admitted it had not been easy to decide to inject five billion euro into the banking system, "yet it was necessary if we wanted to avoid the troika and bankruptcy".

However, she was critical that those who had caused the massive bank shortfall had not yet been brought to justice.

She said those who should have been punished were now using the media to divert attention from the bank shortfall to those who had helped save the country.

"We're talking about those who solved the problem instead of those who became rich due to the bank shortfall or sank our flagship companies," she said.

The congress also elected four vice-president; MP Maša Kociper was re-elected and joined by Tatjana Voj, Slavko Šterman and Cohesion Minister Iztok Purič.

Marko Bandelli, who had had to step down as cohesion minister because of interference in the campaign for local elections last year, did not stand for re-election.

To support the fellow coalition party, senior representatives of three coalition parties attended the congress: SD leader Dejan Židan, and the SMC and LMŠ vice-presidents, Lilijana Kozlovič and Jerca Korče.

Židan recalled the times when Bratušek led the government, a member of which was also his Social Democrats (SD), noting they worked together during the hardest of times.

"We had the courage to rescue Slovenia, and this means we respect each other," said Židan.

Several of the speakers at the congress highlighted Bratušek's strong personality, notably her determination, self-confidence and courage, especially when had led the country.

17 Feb 2019, 09:59 AM

STA, 16 February 2019 - Prime Minister Marjan Šarec has criticised the conduct of senior Italian politicians in the aftermath of controversial statements made by European Parliament President Antonio Tajani and Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini last week, saying that historical revisionism was "completely misguided".

"This is reminiscent of Marshal [Pietro] Badoglio, who took over the government after Mussolini and succeeded in Italy hardly being recognised as a country in which Fascism was in power. Germany has gone through profound denazification, Italy has not had such a process," Šarec told Večer in an interview published on Saturday.

"As a Slovenian, I'm sensitive to falsification of history and in such cases things have to be said clearly. The Slovenian nation has never attacked anybody, it never had territorial designs, on the contrary, we lost a lot, which is why depictions of Slovenians as occupying forces need to be forcefully resisted," he said.

Šarec was among the first Slovenian officials to respond after Tajani and Salvini addressed a ceremony in Basovizza, Italy on Sunday marking the day of remembrance for Italian victims of post WWII-executions. He called the statements "unparalleled revisionism" and said Fascism's goal had been to destroy the Slovenian nation.

While Salvini has expressed surprise at Šarec's comments and reactions in Slovenia overall, Tajani issued several apologies, after his first comments were interpreted as a textbook example of a non-apology.

Šarec told the newspaper what Tajani had initially said was "not an apology. It sounded as if you called someone a complete idiot, they demand an apology, and you say: 'Sorry, you really aren't a complete idiot.' This is just saying the same thing differently."

In Slovenia disputes over postwar history are not rare and Šarec has faced his share of criticism for several speeches he has delivered at ceremonies commemorating the victims of WWII, but he says that he is "not the one bringing up history".

"I don't raise such issues, nor does the Marjan Šarec List, other politicians do it. But I will never not react to statements that do not belong in the 21st century. Polarisation is not good, we should learn from history by acknowledging what was wrong and celebrating what was good."

Slovenia not turning foreign policy towards the US

Asked whether Slovenia's support for Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido "is a turn of Slovenian foreign policy towards the US", Šarec said it was not.

"It's not a turn in foreign policy. We always try to have good relations with all. We also don't have very close relations or too many visits with Russia."

He added he did not consider the support for Guaido as turning in the US direction "because we are Europeans".

"The whole EU has problems with the US policy of President Donald Trump," Šarec said, noting "twitter diplomacy does not suit us". As a small country, Slovenia must also pay attention to its own interests, he told the Maribor-based newspaper.

17 Feb 2019, 09:24 AM

STA, 14 February 2019 - The Postojna city council has decided to demand full closure of the Slovenian Armed Forces' main training area known as Poček, a vast area of forests and meadows in the south-west of the country. The municipality's official stance is now expected to be the basis for the Defence Ministry to decide on further steps.

Given the long-standing opposition to the army's training in the Poček area, the decision was largely expected. It came after Defence Minister Karl Erjavec asked the mayor in January to lay down the parameters acceptable for Poček to continue operations.

Erjavec said at the time that if the demands were such as to prevent Poček from remaining the main training area, the ministry would try to find other solutions.

The Poček military ground features an almost 2,000-hectare unpopulated area owned by the government and managed by the ministry since independence in 1991.

The wider area subject to restrictions when war games are under way comprises some 8,200 hectares, enabling the Slovenian Armed Forces (SAF) to train there and occasionally have international exercises and training with NATO parter countries.

It is no coincidence that Poček is the SAF's main training area as it was a military training ground before, used from the mid-1970s until 1991 by the Yugoslav army.

While Poček had been used as pastures for horses of the Vienna royal court from the early 18th century until 1915, Postojna, being a border area, was heavily militarised between 1915 when Italy declared war on the Austro-Hungarian empire and occupied the area, and WWII.

Since the area was in state ownership, it was relatively easy for the Yugoslav army to turn it into its training area, having purchased some more land from private owners in the 1970s.

But in 2000 the municipality held a consultative referendum at which Postojna locals decided on Poček's gradual closure.

Despite the people's will, Postojna and the ministry reached in 2004 an agreement on the military infrastructure in the area setting down their interests.

The accord, from which Postojna withdrew last December, set some limits on military activity, for instance a ban on shooting at weekends and on holidays, or limiting night shooting to ten days a month and until 11 PM from the beginning of June to the end of September.

But Mayor Igor Marentič says the army does not always stick to this. "Shooting is being carried out all months and at all times, regardless of tourism, and it is annoying even if it is announced in advance."

Water safety among major concerns

There are four things that bother locals: the noise coming from shooting and low flyovers, closure of air space (which affects the local airport), closure of the Poček area during exercises, and most notably water pollution.

Although locals could perhaps put up with occasional air space closures, pollution of the Malenščica water source for Postojna and Pivka would be a risk to public health.

While Marentič says the municipality has not commissioned any water monitoring or tests, the Karst Research Institute says its research has proved that waters from the Poček area travel underground towards the source of the Malenščica.

It adds that rain water in sensitive karst areas seeps underground very fast without having the opportunity to be cleaned, so it urges preventive measures.

Meanwhile, soil tests carried out by the ERICO institute in 2006 and 2009 showed "a strongly increased content of some heavy metals, primarily lead and copper", but its monitoring since 2016 has shown the heavy metals have not increased compared to previous measurements.

Also, Malenščica water monitoring by the Environment Agency, the ministry and the local water suppler have proved the concentrations were in line with drinking water standards.

The ministry has told the STA it is preparing a risk analysis to establish if certain military activity could have negative consequences for water quality in the area, while the municipality is drafting a bill to protect the water source.

Is a different solution still possible?

Erjavec indicated at his meeting with the mayor the army could go abroad for major war games and transfer some of its activity to other parts of Slovenia.

But pundits believe the attitude to Poček might be different if the SAF strictly respected the agreed rules and if the locals felt they benefited from it in some way.

Some foreign partners cannot understand the locals' opposition, but a well-placed source says "not a single job in this area is connected with Poček and the SAF does not get its supplies locally".

"If Poček is of national importance then the government could finance that, it would be only fair if the burden was shared by the local community and the state."

The ministry says it does not pay the municipality any compensation. However, on the basis of the 2004 accord, it co-funded local public infrastructure to the tune of EUR 3.1m and transferred property worth EUR 1.5m onto it in 2004-2018.

At the moment, the two sides are at odds over EUR 300,000 the ministry should pay for the new fire and rescue centre in Postojna, while it is also contesting the payment of EUR 1.3m in the duty for the use of land in Poček for 2013-2015.

Asked whether Postojna is opposed to Poček because it wants to develop into a green tourist destination, the mayor says this is not entirely so and stresses they have absolutely noting against the Slovenian army as such.

He notes, however, that while it is practically impossible to get an environmental permit for anything, "there are planes coming from other countries, shooting above this small tourist town".

"It's no longer appropriate to carry out such large-scale shooting with such heavy weapons only a kilometre in air line from the first settlements," he told the STA before the city council opted for closure.

Just yesterday, Defence Ministry State Secretary Klemen Grošelj told the parliamentary Defence Committee "intensive dialogue" was under way with the local community.

15 Feb 2019, 18:00 PM

The covers and editorials from leading weeklies of the Left and Right for the work-week ending Friday, February 15, 2019

Mladina: EU election campaign to be dominated by fierce rhetoric

STA, 15 February 2019 - The magazine Mladina says the coming EU elections will be a clash, yet not a clash for a united Europe but a clash within Europe, of one nation against the other, as it comments on European Parliament President Antonio Tajani's recent revisionist statements at a foibe commemoration in Italy.

Editor-in-chief Grega Repovž says in Friday's editorial that superpowers America, Russia and China will also get involved because a weak EU is in their interest.

"These elections will be much more ground-breaking than we have hoped," Mladina says under the headline Tajani, Just a True European.

"We can he grateful to Antonio Tajani for his speech at Basovizza, since the majority of people has overlooked the fact that with a few exceptions, most European parties have started resorting to nationalist rhetoric over the past four years."

Nationalist populism has become s staple of political success in the West, even moderate politicians use it for fear of being accused no not being patriotic enough.

"This is of course a way to hell, but also the European political reality," says Repovž, recalling that in fear of losing the race against nationalists, some have gone as far as erecting razor wire on the border during the recent migration crisis.

Just before the elections to the European Parliament, Tajani showed very clearly that the election campaign will be pervaded by nationalist rhetoric. "Nobody will dare avoid it in order not to fall behind."

It adds that Tajani is no radical extremist, but a calculating politician with short-term goals in his mind who also has to adjust to the rhetoric of Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini which dominates Italy.

But his statements also show he apparently cares little about Europe currently being a fragile institution with an uncertain future where it can easily happen that European institutions themselves start using nationalist populism.

"Let us not be fooled by his apology," Repovž says, noting Tajani did not think his words would resound from a small village on the far east of Italy all the way to Brussels.

Demokracija: Vouchers could revitalise Slovenian culture and bring it closer to the people

STA, 14 February 2019 - The right-wing weekly Demokracija disputes the quality of Slovenian arts in response to the Culture Day ceremony address by Vinko Möderndorfer, the chairman of the Prešeren Fund board. It argues Slovenia should introduce a voucher system as proposed by James Heilbrun and Charles M. Gray in The Economics of Art and Culture.

"In his speech, Möderndorfer degraded and insulted Slovenians and Slovenia as few before him in a long while ... The recurring theme was the same: badmouthing the state over its stepmotherly attitude to culture despite an extra 30 million euro for culture in this year's budget.

"But it is not enough. It is never enough. Even if the Culture Ministry's budget increased by 100 or 200 million euro, they would still demand an increase in public spending; most on their own behalf," editor-in-chief Jože Biščak writes.

He agrees that Slovenian culture is in the doldrums. However, he says the reason is not underfunding but rather that "a bunch of people, self-styled artists have learnt that they can get money without trying at least a bit to justify it and satisfy the needs of culture consumers".

"Their works, whatever they are, are mostly an aim in itself, no one ever even thinks of fighting for the reader, viewer or buyer. Also because the taxpayers are forced to pay for something they are not interested in even in their nightmare," Biščak writes, offering Möderndorfer's latest film as a case in point.

He says that the only cure is market economy, but he also offers vouchers as a compromise that would suit those who believe culture should be financed from public funds and those who favour market logic.

He proposes that the roughly EUR 380m or EUR 190 per capita that is allocated for culture from the national and local budgets should be distributed among Slovenia's citizens so that everyone gets a EUR 190 voucher a year to spend it on culture of their own choice. The artists who get the vouchers would then exchange them for money from the budget.

All our posts in this series can be found here

15 Feb 2019, 16:30 PM

STA, 15 February 2019 - Slovenia's European Commissioner Violeta Bulc has invited European Parliament President Antonio Tajani to join her in paying respect to Slovenian victims of fascist and Nazi violence by visiting the former Nazi concentration camp Risiera in Trieste and the nearby village of Basovizza.

Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc issued the invitation in a letter after a Twitter exchange with Tajani in the wake of his recent contentious speech at a commemoration of Italian victims of WWII aftermath events.

While Tajani said "I'm ready" as the proposal was made by Bulc in the 11 February Twitter exchange in which the commissioner accused him of distorting historical facts, he has not yet responded to the letter.

All our stories about Facism in relations to Slovenia can be found here

Bulc is proposing they jointly lay wreaths at Risiera and at a memorial near the village of Basovizza to honour the deaths of three Slovenian and a Croatian anti-fascists at the hands of Italian soldiers in 1930. They are considered the first victims of fascism in Europe.

It was Basovizza where Tajani remembered the Italian victims of post-war executions and Italian exiles from the regions of Istria and Dalmatia last Sunday, calling out "Long live Trieste, long live the Italian Istria, long live the Italian Dalmatia" in the process. He has since apologised for these words.

In the letter, Bulc welcomes Tajani's willingness to accompany her and proposes that the gesture be made on "25 April to commemorate Italy's Liberation Day".

"In these challenging times for the EU it is more important than ever before to promote the EU as project for peace, solidarity and unity and as bringing prosperity to all our nations," Bulc wrote in the letter, which she also published on Twitter.

"History teaches us that aggressive nationalism can easily be misused for nationalistic conflicts and even fuel war. I believe that society is today ready to build its future on cooperation and respect for one another."

15 Feb 2019, 13:00 PM

STA, 14 February 2019 - Andrej Šiško, the self-styled leader of a paramilitary unit whose footage stirred Slovenia in mid-2018, pleaded not guilty to inciting to violent subversion of the constitutional order at a pre-trial arraignment held in Maribor on Thursday.

Šiško, who was apprehended last September after a video surfaced of a para-military group parading in the woods of north-eastern Slovenia, argued he was the only one in Slovenia who had actively called for the preservation of the constitution.

The 49-year-old former ultras leader announced he would present the reasons for his provocation during the trial, to start on 6 March.

All our articles on this story can be found here

Šiško, who had also called for the formation of other militias around the country and uttered a threat against then Prime Minister Miro Cerar in January 2017, is to be tried together with the man allegedly responsible for the footage, Matej Lesjak. The latter also pleaded not guilty.

The defendants' lawyers requested today that President Borut Pahor, Prime Minister Marjan Šarec, Cerar as well opposition leader Janez Janša appear for testimony during the trial.

Šiško's lawyer Lucija Ušaj argued Pahor, as commander in chief, could explain if Slovenia's Armed Forces could really be defeated by a "sports club whose members use airsoft guns", Cerar could say how threatened he really felt, while Janša could speak about his past proposals to form a national guard.

As to Šarec, the defence claim that his public calls constituted direct interference in the criminal prosecution of the defendants. Only after Šarec's calls were the conterminous actions labelled as a crime, one for which no case law exists in Slovenia.

This was rejected in the strongest terms by prosecutor Tilen Ivič, who hopes "nobody really believes that interfering" in the judicial branch of power is possible.

Šiško, the head of the nationalist non-parliamentary party United Slovenia, has been in custody since September because all his appeals for release failed.

He was apprehended on 6 September, three days after a video emerged of him lining up several dozen men, some allegedly armed, wearing balaclavas and conducting what appeared to be basic military training.

15 Feb 2019, 12:00 PM

STA, 14 February 2019 - Defence Minister Karl Erjavec expects Slovenia to increase defence spending in 2020 and 2021. "A step forward has been made, but I have high expectations when it comes to the budget for 2020 and 2021. That one will define how serious we are about modernising the Slovenian Armed Forces," he said in Brussels on Thursday.

Erjavec made the comments after a two-day NATO ministerial discussing the implementation of three key goals: for the allies to increase defence spending to 2% of GDP by 2024, to allocate 20% of their defence budgets for capability development, and to increase their contributions to missions and operations.

The plan submitted by Slovenia to NATO does not project defence expenditure increase to 2% of GDP by 2024. Unofficial information has it that the target will also not be met by Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy and Spain.

Slovenia's defence expenditure for this year is planned at 1.1% of GDP; the figure is currently at 1.05%. It is to increase to 1.5% by 2024, Erjavec noted, adding that this was the promise made to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg as he visited Ljubljana last year.

Erjavec is satisfied to have achieved a step forward in raising defence spending in a minority government whose partner in the opposition doe not favour such an increase, but he is aware the increase is not ideal. So he expects much from the budget for 2020 and 2021.

When it comes to the defence budget's structure, Slovenia currently allocates 4.5% of its defence budget for investment, a far cry from the 20% target.

Erjaves said it was important to increase the spending, but even more important to boost defence capabilities in order to be more resilient to new security challenges, and to buy dual-use equipment. He mentioned the planned purchase of helicopters that would also be used for emergency aid.

He said that the pay rise deal agreed with public sector trade unions also affected the defence budget "slowing down our desire to earmark more defence expenditure for investment".

He expects the mid-term defence plan to provide more detailed answers, but he did mention plans for procurement of troop equipment and for enhancing investment in military infrastructure, outdated army barracks and training grounds, as well as investing in making the army profession more attractive.

Commenting on delays in the procurement of eight-wheeled armoured personnel carriers, the minister said that the case had been put off and that he would like for a tactical study to be conducted to respond to questions as to how build a battalion-size battlegroup.

Erjavec also commented on Chief of the General Staff Alenka Ermenc's comment yesterday that the increase in funding in the supplementary budget for the year would not allow for the army's development breakthrough or for marked improvement in its readiness.

Erjavec said the army's readiness assessment for wartime action for 2018 would likely be negative again, because it could not be otherwise as things did not change overnight.

The supplementary budget itself was not any major step in modernising the force but without the extra EUR 40m for salaries this would have undermined the budget funds for material costs, which should not happened, he said.

When it comes to the implementation of NATO's mission and operations contribution target, Slovenia ranks among the top seven allied countries.

14 Feb 2019, 16:30 PM

STA, 14 February 2019 - Darij Krajčič from the ruling Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ) has resigned as MP after he recounted in parliament how he had shoplifted a sandwich.

 A newcomer to politics, Krajčič, 54, said on Tuesday he had left parliament to get a sandwich, waiting several minutes while three shop assistants were talking without paying any attention to him.

This promoted him to "check their system of control if you take something from the shop", he said during a session of the Agriculture Committee.

"I walked out and nobody came after me, nobody yelled. Which also means that where everything is under video surveillance ... now and then they overlook something."

Krajčič also said this was the first time had done such a thing. His story was met with laughter by fellow MPs.

Addressing the press on Thursday, LMŠ deputy faction leader Brane Golubović said Krajčič's act was "inadmissible, so he took responsibility for it and resigned of his own accord".

Golobović said Krajčič, whom he labelled an expert and a good person, had regretted the incident and apologised for it.

"If we want to follow the LMŠ's values and principles, then responsibility for this act must be taken. So he assumed it and stepped down of his own accord."

Krajčič did not attend today's news conference, but in a statement for POP TV earlier today he regretted the incident, which he said was not a theft but a social experiment.

He apparently also paid for the sandwich later on.

Krajčič, who holds a PhD in forestry, was elected to parliament in last year's election in the town of Mozirje in the Celje electoral unit, tendered in his resignation yesterday.

In the National Assembly he has chaired the EU Affairs Committee and has been a member of the infrastructure and agriculture committees.

At the time of election, he was a research fellow at the Slovenian Forestry Institute.

He has also taught at the University of Ljubljana and served as a director general at the Environment and Spatial Planning Ministry.

The MP could be replaced in the 90-strong National Assembly, where LMŠ has 13 deputies, by Nik Prebil, a 27-year-old MA student.

14 Feb 2019, 14:29 PM

STA, 14 February 2019 - The Slovenian government has recognised Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president after almost two weeks of internal disputes, joining 23 EU member states who have already done that.

Foreign Minister Miro Cerar said the sole purpose of the recognition was to "call free, democratic and legitimate elections as soon as possible." "This is not about recognising an alternative government, it is merely the recognition of an interim president, nothing more."

Cerar had proposed the recognition ten days ago, but the decision was delayed by divisions in the coalition as well as threats by the Left, which supports the minority government but is not formally in the coalition, that recognising Guaido could impact the Left's cooperation with the government.

He said the delay - 19 EU members made the decision within a day - had "undermined the credibility of the country" when it comes to making important decisions.

Slovenians living in Venezuela have urged the government to recognise Guaido and Cerar said the move was a show of support for the Venezuelan people, 85% of whom live below the poverty line.

Interestingly, the government and Cerar used the expression "prepoznati" for the decision, although "priznati" would be customary. Whereas the word can be translated as recognise, it can also signal mere acknowledgement of a situation.

As Cerar put it, the government's decision is "a declarative act" with which Slovenia acknowledges the situation on the ground in Venezuela. "We are not interfering in the country's internal affairs," he stressed.

Slovenia has used the same procedure when it recognised the interim government in Libya or the rebels in Syria and it is a procedure that does not include prior debate at the National Assembly.

While Cerar did not say how the ministers voted today he expressed the hope that the decision would not jeopardise cooperation with the Left.

The Left has claimed recognising Guaido was tantamount to a recognition of American imperialism and interventionism, but Cerar said opposition to the government's decision constituted "opposition to democracy and human rights."

However, he also stressed that if the situation in Venezuela changes, the government "may have to reconsider".

Left MP Violeta Tomić said the government's decision was inadmissible and announced her party would demand an emergency session of the Foreign Policy Committee in a bid to have the government decision revoked.

But she was reserved as to what this meant for the Left's continued cooperation with the coalition beyond saying that it did not contribute to better cooperation.

The decision also angered the coalition Social Democrats (SD), who have been apprehensive about recognising Guaido from the start and whose ministers did not back the decision.

The party's foreign policy point man, MP Milan Brglez, said that Slovenia would henceforth be responsible for "everything Guaido and the coalition of the willing" do.

He said an in-depth debate would have to be held in parliament about the decision, which he said SD ministers did not endorse.

14 Feb 2019, 12:00 PM

STA, 13 February 2019 - The statement European Parliament President Antonio Tajani made in Italy's Basovizza on Sunday can also be understood as territorial claims, so I reject it completely, President Borut Pahor said on Wednesday. Tajani has meanwhile apologised for the statement after meeting Slovenian and Croatian MEPs over the matter.

"I expect Tajani to fully distance himself from his words," Pahor said on the sidelines of his calling the elections to the European Parliament in Slovenia.

He expects Tajani to realise his words were wrong and distance himself from them, which should be done as soon as possible to calm down the debate they have sparked off.

Pahor referred to the statement "Long live Trieste, long live Italian Istria, long live Italian Dalmatia, long live Italian exiles" Tajani made at the commemoration of the remembrance day for the Italian foibe victims.

Related: Slovenian Officials Criticise Italian "Revisionism" Over Foibe Massacres

He believes that in politics this is not an unimportant matter but a major issue which justifiably worries those to whom it refers.

Pahor added that Europe, which is built on reconciliation and mutual respect, cannot turn a blind eye to such words.

This is not the first time that senior Italian officials expressed unacceptable stances and assessments, Pahor stressed.

"But it is the first time that this happened in the context of European politics, when the European idea of integration and cooperation is weak, when there are serious signs of its crisis, when such stances are increasingly worrying."

It is due to these circumstances that Pahor expects the European Parliament president to come up with an appropriate and clear response.

Tajani met the Slovenian and Croatian MEPs from the European People's Party (EPP) group today and apologised for Sunday's statements in Basovizza after the meeting.

Tajani sorry for any offense

"I sincerely regret and I apologise for using the words which may have offended your citizens and which have been understood as a kind of a territorial claim. I assure you that this was neither my intention nor position on the matter," he said in a statement.

Tajani added that he was referring to the Italian-speaking exiles from Istria and Dalmatia, their children and grandchildren, many of whom attended the ceremony in Basovizza.

He said that his political career offered much evidence of his friendship and respect of Croatia and Slovenia, and added that all forms of totalitarianism deserved resolute condemnation.

Slovenian MEPs Franc Bogovič (EPP/SLS) and Lojze Peterle (EPP/NSi) said after the meeting that they were satisfied with the apology.

The EPP meanwhile announced that Tajani would also send a letter in a similar vein to Slovenian Foreign Minister Miro Cerar, who wrote to the European Parliament president about the matter yesterday.

Pahor addressed a letter about the incident to Italian President Sergio Mattarella already on Monday.

14 Feb 2019, 10:30 AM

STA, 13 February 2019 - The party of Prime Minister Marjan Šarec (LMŠ) has decided to run independently in the 26 May elections to the European Parliament, while the Modern Centre Party (SMC) and Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB) will try to field a joint list of candidates.

 

SMC leader Miro Cerar and Bratušek announced the news after Wednesday's meeting of the leaders of the three Slovenian members of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE).

Cerar said the meeting was over in 15 minutes, after Šarec told them his party wanted to contest the Euro election on its own. Bratušek said this was said to be the desire of LMŠ membership.

Related: Elections 2018, Party Profiles - Šarec Aims to Benefit From Voter Discontent (Feature)

"We told him we'd want us to run together because we believe the liberal story is important for Europe," said Cerar.

He and Bratušek agreed to propose to their parties to form a joint list of candidates because they believe that together they could be stronger and more convincing.

The LMŠ's decision might have been prompted by its high voter approval ratings at the moment, with some polls indicating the party enjoys the biggest popularity among all parties.

However, Šarec said they were not entering the EU elections on their own "just because we might be complacent about poll results. We are driven by one desire only. We want to change Slovenia and Europe as well."

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

He looked back at the LMŠ's stellar rise from a local party in Kamnik to his forming Slovenia's first ever minority government against the odds and despite claims that the party lacked a platform and staff.

"The elections ahead are a new opportunity for us to prove what we can." Šarec said they wanted to have their fate in their hands, and however they fare they would be responsible for their result themselves.

Despite Slovenia's small size, Šarec said the country wanted its voice heard in the EU. "We're not promising the impossible ... but we will do our best to show people it's worth trying for a better Europe."

Related:

Bratušek found the meeting a disappointment. She said she could have heard what she heard at the meeting over the phone.

"It's our strong belief that the SMC and SAB are capable of compiling a quality slate and achieving an excellent result in the election," she said.

Unofficial information prior to today's meeting indicated that the LMŠ wanted to have the top three spots on a joint list of candidates and the option to veto the candidates of the other two parties.

Cerar had said before that his party's condition in forming the joint list was that all three parties should negotiate as equal partners.

Today, Šarec said that there had been strong pressure for the three parties to run in the elections together from other European ALDE parties ad well as from Slovenia.

Asked whether the SMC and SAB would now invite the Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) to join them for the EU elections, Bratušek said the two parties needed to agree technicalities first but that they had discussed that it was in their interest to invite another party.

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