Politics

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.

19 Sep 2019, 17:03 PM

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.

Today Pahor was also due to address a Slovenian-Swiss business conference in Zurich entitled Slovenia, the Country of Niche Business Champions.

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

19 Sep 2019, 10:30 AM

STA, 18 September 2019 - Police are 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 General Police Administration confirmed the news for the STA on Wednesday.

"Police are checking certain circumstances in these cases and if we find grounds to suspect that a criminal act was committed ... we will act accordingly," the Police Administration said after the newspaper Finance reported on the matter.

The news of the write-off of the debt by the companies Electa Inženiring, Electa Naložbe and Electa Holding, owned by the mayor's sons Damijan and Jure Janković, has provoked public outcry and led to calls to change bankruptcy law.

Simplified debt restructuring was originally designed to speed up bankruptcy procedures for small firms and sole proprietors, but the rules are so lax that even companies with millions in assets, including financial holdings such as Electa Holding, can take advantage of the procedure.

The decisions on simplified debt restructuring for Electa Inženiring and Electa Naložbe have become final, while in the case of Electa Holding, the Ljubljana District Court is challenging the decision in its capacity as a claimant over unpaid court tax. The appeal will now be deliberated on by the Ljubljana Higher Court.

According to Finance, in all three cases, the decisions on simplified debt restructuring had been made thanks to debtor-friendly companies owned by Jan Bec, who has purchased the claims that one of the creditors, Heta Asset Resolution, had to the three companies. Thus he had the main say on the future procedures.

Web portal Siol.net also reported today that the Notary Chamber is checking the work of notary Miro Košak in the three cases. Košak made all the notary work related to the debt restructuring procedures.

The question is whether Košak acted with due care and made sufficient effort to stop the manoeuvres with which Damijan Janković planned to achieve the debt write-offs, Siol says.

Notaries are also obligated to report any suspicion of a crime.

The portal also suggests that Košak must have known that some of the biggest creditors of Electa Inženiring, Electa Naložbe and Electa Holding were in fact controlled by Damijan Janković, which means that the simplified debt restructuring should not be valid.

19 Sep 2019, 09:06 AM

STA, 18 September 2019 - UKC Ljubljana, the country's leading hospital, incurs an annual loss of seven to eight million euro because their services and programmes are underrated, consequently receiving less funds then necessary, its director general Janez Poklukar told the press on Wednesday.

To improve the situation, UKC Ljubljana has asked the ZZZS public health fund to expand some of its programmes and raise prices, but is still waiting for reply.

The hospital makes a loss of up to EUR 5,000 per procedure for which it has no adequate funding, or even up to EUR 50,000 per patient for external mechanical circulatory assistance and mechanical ventilation assistance, the director explained.

One of such treatments is a newer procedure to replace the aortal valve without incision in the chest.

Another is the DaTscan brain imaging test to help diagnose Parkinson's disease or radiofrequency ablation in patients with arrhythmia, to name but a few.

Having enough staff and equipment, UKC Ljubljana could perform more aortic valve procedures than approved by the ZZZS, said Poklukar.

However, it met the approved quota for this year before August, so any new procedure the hospital would perform without ZZZS funding approved generates loss.

Poklukar would also expect more understanding from the state in radiofrequency ablation, a procedure performed largely on active population, which in the long run reduces healthcare costs.

The waiting time for this procedure at UKC Ljubljana, one of only three Slovenian hospitals performing it, is the longest in Slovenia, up to three years, he said.

"Regardless of all organisational measures and streamlining, it's impossible to break even with the treatment of patients with severest conditions, so we make a EUR 5,000 loss per procedure on average," he said.

Poklukar explained that the majority of underrated services are carried out only by both university clinics - UKC Ljubljana and UKC Maribor and by one other hospital.

"And this is why they are underfunded. The services are often hidden in a package of payments of tertiary services so that nobody at the ZZZS actually deals with them, which consequently makes us inefficient," he complained.

He said UKC tried to change the situation as part of talks on changes to the healthcare system over the past year, but had not been successful.

18 Sep 2019, 10:45 AM

STA, 17 September 2019 - President Borut Pahor will pay an official visit to Switzerland on Wednesday and Thursday. Talks with his counterpart Ueli Maurer are expected to focus on political and economic cooperation between Slovenia and Switzerland, and the country's relations with the EU. A business conference will also be held.

 Pahor will start the visit in Bern by meeting parliamentary Speaker Marina Corabbio Gusceti, who paid an official visit to Slovenia this May.

On Thursday, the president will be received by his host, Swiss President and Finance Minister Maurer, according to Pahor's office.

The topics to be discussed include regional issues, climate change, environment, and science and research.

The presidents will exchange views on topical international political issues, including the situation in the Western Balkans, as Slovenia and Switzerland both advocate for stability in this region.

EU topics will also be discussed. Switzerland is an EU partner country, and has signed more than 20 important agreements with the bloc, and more than a hundred other technical agreements allowing it to cooperate in the EU's internal market.

This will be Pahor's first visit to Switzerland, and the continuation of political dialogue with top-level Swiss politicians. Pahor hosted former Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga in Ljubljana in September 2015.

According to Pahor's office, the two-day visit confirms the interest of both countries to enhance cooperation and friendly relations. It will also be an opportunity to further strengthen political and economic cooperation.

Trade in goods between Slovenia and Switzerland has been on the rise since 2013. Last year, it reached EUR 1.48 billion, which is almost 50% more than the year before.

In the first half of this year, bilateral trade in goods topped EUR 2 billion.

In 2018, pharmaceuticals represented the bulk of both exports and imports.

On Thursday, Pahor is scheduled to address the participants of a Slovenian-Swiss business conference in Zürich entitled Slovenia, the Country of Niche Business Champions.

Heinz Karrer, executive director of the Switzerland's biggest economic organisation Economiesuisse, executive director of the Slovenian Business Club Goran Novkovič and Economy Ministry State Secretary Eva Štravs Podlogar will also take the stage.

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