14 Sep 2019, 10:40 AM

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

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This summary was prepared by the STA:

FRIDAY, 6 September
        LJUBLJANA - Representatives of all three branches of government taking part in a debate on the state of the rule of law in Slovenia agreed that the separation of powers was key for the implementation of the rule of law. Judges were critical of interference in the judiciary and failure to implement Constitutional Court rulings.
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenia's largest banking group, NLB saw its half-year-net profit fall by 10% year-on-year to EUR 94.3 million despite higher interest and non-interest income. Profit before impairments and provisions was up 13% to EUR 116 million.
        LJUBLJANA - The German-owned Slovenian carrier Adria Airways reached a deal with pilots to prevent a series of strikes that were due to begin in two days, agreeing a draft of a new collective bargaining agreement, which now needs to be endorsed by members of the pilots' trade union.
        LJUBLJANA - Infrastructure Minister Alenka Bratušek denied the allegation that she personally interfered in a procedure to appoint the CEO of SODO, the state-owned electricity distribution system operator, while defending the government's decision on 14 August to change the SODO articles of association so that the supervisory board needs the government's consent to appoint or dismiss the CEO.
        BILBAO, Spain - Slovenia proved a cycling tour superpower as Tadej Pogačar (UAE Emirates) won the 13th stage of the Vuelta ahead of Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma), who increased the overall lead. In the all-Slovenian finish on the hellishly steep final climb, Pogačar won his second stage victory to advance to the 3rd spot overall and put on the best young rider's white jersey.

SATURDAY, 7 September
        LJUBLJANA - Foreign companies accounted for 5.6% of all companies in Slovenia in 2017 but created over 27% of value added, roughly on a par with 2016. These companies employed almost 26% of all workers, and allocated 39% of their expenses in Slovenia for R&D, the Statistics Office's data show.

SUNDAY, 8 September
        ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar - Pope Francis visited Akamasoa, a village founded by the Slovenian missionary Pedro Opeka in Madagascar as part of his south African tour, meeting Opeka and several other Church dignitaries along with several thousand people.
        METLIKA - Several thousand firefighters and other visitors gathered to celebrate the 150th anniversary of organised firefighting in Slovenia. In his keynote, Prime Minister Marjan Šarec, himself a volunteer firefighter, stressed that the umbrella Firefighters' Union was the biggest humanitarian organisation in the country.
        PODLESJE - A mass and commemoration were held on the site of a short-lived forced-labour camp near Kočevje at which post-war Communist authorities interned women. It was in operation from July 1949 and October the same year and held 800 women and girls, either suspected of having been associated with the anti-Communist Home Guards or deemed politically dangerous.

MONDAY, 9 September
        BRDO PRI KRANJU - Coalition party officials and government members conducted the last joint debate on the budget for 2020 and 2021 before the government submits budget documents to parliament. Finance Minister Andrej Bertoncelj said the government would wait until a fresh economic outlook is released on 19 September. Public spending in 2020 is capped at EUR 10.45 billion.
        LJUBLJANA - National Assembly Speaker Dejan Židan hosted his Latvian counterpart Inara Murniece for talks, after which the pair called for a strong and effective EU where the voice of each member counts. The Latvian speaker, who also met President Borut Pahor and Prime Minister Marjan Šarec, thanked Slovenia for taking part in NATO's Enhanced Forward Presence mission in Latvia.
        LJUBLJANA - A poll by Delo gave the government an average rating of 2.96 on a 1-5 scale in September, up from 2.91 in August and 2.16 when it took office a year ago. The improvement in the government rating was also reflected in higher ratings for PM Marjan Šarec's LMŠ party, which gained more than two points to 18.9%, over 5 points ahead of the opposition Democrats (SDS).
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenia exported EUR 3.962 billion worth of goods in July, the highest monthly value on record as the trade surplus hit a record level of EUR 937 million. Merchandise exports were 46.3% higher than in July 2018 and imports rose by 16.4% to EUR 3.025 billion, the Statistics Office reported.
        LJUBLJANA - Lek, a subsidiary of the Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis, inaugurated new development laboratories at the Slovenia development centre in Ljubljana. Valued at EUR 7.5 million, the investment will allow development sterile solid dosage forms to treat cancer patients.
        VRHNIKA - The Environment Ministry annulled the August decision by the building inspectorate which forced hazardous waste treatment company Kemis to suspend its operations. Kemis can resume business, while the inspectorate need to decide on the matter again.
        LJUBLJANA - History of Love (Zgodovina Ljubezni), a meditative drama by Sonja Prosenc, was picked as Slovenia's candidate for the nomination for the 2020 Academy Award for Best International Feature Film by a judging panel of the Association of Slovenian Filmmakers.
        LJUBLJANA - The national football team scored a third consecutive win in the qualifiers for the 2020 Euro by defeating Israel at home 3:2 to advance to second place in Group G behind the leading Poland, whom they beat 2:0 in Ljubljana on 6 September.

TUESDAY, 10 September
        BRUSSELS, Belgium - President-elect of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen announced the distribution of posts in the new commission, assigning the crisis management portfolio to Slovenia's commissioner-designate Janez Lenarčič. First political reactions indicate the portfolio is perceived as lightweight, although the opposition Democrats (SDS) leader Janez Janša said it was one of the hardest and most thankless because it involved dealing with the controversial issue of migration.
        MOSCOW, Russia - Prime Minister Marjan Šarec paid an official visit to Russia with a sizeable government and business delegation. After talks, Russian PM Dmitry Medvedev suggested Slovenia should help in the restructuring of now mostly Russian-owned Croatian conglomerate Agrokor and its Slovenian subsidiary, the retailer Mercator. Šarec also attended the unveiling of a monument to Slovenian soldiers who perished on Russian soil in both world wars. Accompanying Šarec, Foreign Minister Miro Cerar commented that the visit was important from the economic aspect, but he did not think it would affect Slovenia's relations with the US or the EU.
        MOSCOW, Russia - The energy company Petrol signed cooperation contracts with Russia's T Plus Grupa and Schneider Electric on the sidelines of Prime Minister Marjan Šarec's visit. The projects will focus on optimisation of district heating.
        CELJE - The 52nd International Trade Fair got under way, hosting more than 1,500 exhibitors from over 30 countries and almost all continents until 15 September. A sizeable delegation came from Montenegro, this year's partner country, headed by Economy Minister Dragica Sekulić.
        LJUBLJANA - The latest survey by temping agency Manpower put Slovenia's seasonally-adjusted net employment outlook for the final quarter of the years at 17%, one of the most upbeat forecasts in the region and level with a year ago.
        KOPER - The 34th Vilenica International Literary Festival got under way with an event featuring the Vilenica Prize winner Dragan Velikić, one of the most esteemed Serbian authors, and the Slovenian author in focus, rebel poet Esad Babačić. The festival brought together more than 20 authors from 15 countries.

WEDNESDAY, 11 September
        LJUBLJANA - A group of 28 scholars urged President Borut Pahor to resign or be impeached over his comments at the Bled Strategic Forum which suggested that Turkey and Ukraine should not count on full-fledged EU membership. Pahor's office said the stance on a special status of Turkey and Ukraine within the EU had been known at home and abroad for several years, while Foreign Minister Miro Cerar reiterated that Slovenia supported Turkey's accession to the EU.
        LJUBLJANA - The parliamentary Defence Committee green-lighted the national security strategy resolution for the plenary discussion, but passed an amendment of the opposition Democrats (SDS) to throw out a provision granting additional powers to the SOVA intelligence service.
        LJUBLJANA - The government and public sector trade unions launched a fresh round of talks aimed at reforming the public sector pay system toward a more performance-based remuneration system. One of the government's proposals is that employees could get up to 30% higher pay based on performance, but it would also slow down their promotion to higher pay brackets, which is now all but automatic.
        LJUBLJANA - The EU's statistics office Eurostat projected that Slovenia's population will decrease by 13% to below 1.8 million in 2100. Almost a third of the population is projected to be aged 65 or older at the end of the century.

THURSDAY, 12 September
        LJUBLJANA - The government's economic think-tank, IMAD, downgraded Slovenia's GDP growth forecast for 2019 by 0.6 points to 2.8% for 2019 and by 0.1 points to 3% for 2020. In response, Finance Minister Andrej Bertoncelj announced cuts in planned budget expenditure in 2019 and 2020.
        LJUBLJANA - Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, chairman of the NATO Military Committee, started an official visit to Slovenia ahead of a two-day conference of the chiefs of defence from NATO member countries. Meeting Chief of the General Staff, Major General Alenka Ermenc, President Borut Pahor and PM Marjan Šarec, the officer commended Slovenia and its armed forces on their 15 years of contribution in support of the alliance's values and mission.
        LJUBLJANA - On the back of the news that the Supreme State Prosecution had asked the Constitutional Court to examine whether the parliamentary inquiry into prosecution of former Maribor Mayor Franc Kangler may be in breach of the constitutional provision of division of power, the Judicial Council said it would do the same, arguing that the legislative branch overstepped its powers.
        LJUBLJANA - The government dismissed Dragica Hržica as chief environment ans spatial planning inspector, replacing her with Dragan Matić, a former MP of the coalition Modern Centre Party (SMC). Hržica's office had been criticised over its allegedly faulty oversight of waste processing facilities.
        LJUBLJANA - The commercial broadcaster POP TV said it had sacked a sports journalist after he was arrested by police on the border with Croatia on suspicion of smuggling illegal migrants to Slovenia.
        LJUBLJANA - Despite slightly improving its economic freedom, Slovenia remained 67th among 162 countries in the latest Economic Freedom of the World report, compiled by the Canadian libertarian Fraser Institute.
        MARIBOR - Andrej E. Skubic won the Večernica Prize for best youth and children's book, conferred by the newspaper publisher Večer, for Grandma Does's Have Phone Any More, the second part of his book series Trio Golaznikus.
        LJUBLJANA - The Men's European Volleyball Championship got under way in Slovenia, one of four host countries. Slovenia hope to win the tournament, an improvement on the 2015 silver medal.


13 Sep 2019, 13:53 PM

STA, 12 September 2019 - Parliamentary Speaker Dejan Židan received on Thursday Yang Chuantang, vice chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, for talks that focused on bilateral parliamentary cooperation.

The officials highlighted good bilateral relations that have grown stronger in recent years with the increased frequency of visits, the National Assembly said in a press release.

Acknowledging that cooperation has been particularly intense in agriculture, Židan and Yang said ties could be deepened in other fields as well, in particular in education and culture.

Yang said deep cooperation with the EU was very important for China, which sees Slovenia as an important partner in Western Balkans markets and in the Chinese-led Belt and Road initiative.

He also highlighted close political ties between the two countries and expressed satisfaction at increased trade, the National Assembly said.

Yang is paying a multi-day visit to Slovenia at the invitation of National Council President Alojz Kovšca and is also scheduled to hold talks with Infrastructure Minister Alenka Bratušek.

All our stories on China and Slovenia are here

13 Sep 2019, 10:54 AM

STA, 12 September 2019 - The Institute of Macroeconomic Analysis and Development (IMAD) has downgraded its projection of Slovenia's gross domestic product (GDP) growth for this year to 2.8%, down 0.6 percentage points compared to its spring forecast, which will seriously affect government budget planning.

 The government's macroeconomic think tank has also downgraded by 0.1 points its GDP growth forecasts for 2020 and 2021, to 3% and 2.7%, respectively.

IMAD said the downgrade was the result of a slowdown in Slovenia's major trading partners, in particular Germany, which will affect exports and capital spending; consumer spending is expected to remain robust.

"Confidence indicators in the international environment have been deteriorating since the start of last year, which has had a negative impact on export orders and demand. The prospects until the end of the year are worse than we expected in spring," IMAD director Maja Bednaš said.

Finance Minister Andrej Bertoncelj noted at a press conference after the government session that the government had prepared the supplementary budget for 2019 based on the spring forecast, which had projected the economy growing at 3.4%.

The minister added that the new projection had been downgraded based on the second quarter of the year, when there had been major changes in inventories. The situation is expected to improve somewhat in the third and fourth quarters.

"Let me be clear and say that growth of either 2.8% or 3% is very solid economic growth, which is still more than double of the eurozone average," Bertoncelj said.

The minister stressed that the downgrade should be followed by appropriate measures. The government has already frozen the budget, with all major expenditures by ministries needing to get the stamp of approval from the Finance Ministry.

"I have called on the ministers to save money and cancel non-essential measures," said the minister, who believes that a part of the drop in the expected revenue could be compensated by austerity measures.

He added that the ministries had been saving money since last September. "I'm not talking about obligations under the law, but about non-essential measures. One needs to act responsibly these days and limit expenditure in this segment."

For 2020, the minister will reduce the amount of planned expenditure by EUR 100 million to EUR 10.35 billion. "The 2020 and 2021 budgets will be drafted in accordance with the fiscal rule," Bertoncelj added.

"I don't want to sound pessimistic. We have solid economic growth, we follow IMAD forecasts, but I expect that a correction might take place, and if necessary, we will adjust immediately."

The minister explained that the expected EUR 100 million cut would be made in a linear fashion, with each department losing around 1% of the funds.

Bertoncelj noted that the state budget returned to the black in August to record a surplus. A surplus of 0.8% of GDP is planned for next year, and a 1.2% surplus in 2021.

"It's important that we maintain the trend of budget surplus, further reduce general government debt and go for structural balance in these three years," he said, adding that this was also important for credit ratings.

Prime Minister Marjan Šarec said the IMAD downgrade had been expected and would require reducing budget expenditure, which the government will do to comply with the constitutional balanced-budget rule.

And although he said each department would have to sacrifice one percent of its budget, he indicated that generous social benefits would have to be restructured to make the budget more sustainable.

"Denmark has a high standard of welfare but our social transfers are 25% higher. We're absolutely going to have to change some things to survive in the long term," he told Radio Slovenija in an interview.

In his first reaction to the announcement, Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek stressed that growth remained robust and was above the eurozone average.

He said he remained an optimist, since Slovenian companies are less indebted than they had been before the previous crisis, they are also more innovative and export-oriented.

13 Sep 2019, 09:49 AM

STA, 12 September 2019 - Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, chairman of the NATO Military Committee, started an official visit to Slovenia on Thursday, commending the country and its armed forces on their 15 years of contribution in support of the alliance's values and mission.

 The British air chief marshal will chair a conference of the chiefs of defence from NATO member countries as part of the NATO Military Committee, held in Slovenia on Friday and Saturday.

Sir Stuart was formally received by the chief of the general staff of the Slovenian Armed Forces (SAF), Major General Alenka Ermenc, with a guard of honour, after which he delivered a lecture to senior SAF staff.

According to a press release from the Defence Ministry, he described NATO as a flexible organisation, one continuously adapting to modern security challenges in order to be able to jointly make decisions, command and act, which he said made the alliance unique, effective and exceptional.

The alliance is strengthened and enriched by every joint task, "which is why Slovenia's experience makes us all richer", the officer was quoted as saying.

He noted the work of Slovenian Lieutenant Colonel Matjaž Bizjak, whom he decorated with a medal for his exceptional contribution in his work at the NATO Military Liaison Office in Belgrade.

The NATO official was also received by President Borut Pahor and Prime Minister Marjan Šarec today.

According to the president's office, Pahor and Peach talked about NATO's role in maintaining security and stability in the future, as well as about NATO's 70th anniversary and 15th anniversary of Slovenia's membership.

On the occasion, the senior most NATO military officer again acknowledged Slovenia's contribution to the alliance and praised Slovenian troops' engagement in missions abroad.

Peach thanked Pahor for Slovenia's hosting the NATO Military Committee's annual conference. In his capacity as the SAF supreme commander Pahor will address the chiefs of defence at Friday's dinner.

Pahor and Peach also talked about Slovenia's role in providing peace and security in the Western Balkans and the chief marshal inquired about the president's view of the situation in the region.

The conference of NATO's top military authority in Ljubljana on Friday and Saturday is expected to be attended by some 400 participants.

The Military Committee forms consensus-based advice to the North Atlantic Council and the Nuclear Planning Group on military policy and strategy, and provides guidance to the two strategic commanders - supreme allied commander Europe and supreme allied commander transformation.

As such, it is an essential link between the political decision-making process and the military structure of NATO.

NATO chiefs of defence meet three times a year. Two of these conferences take place in Brussels, while one each year is hosted by a member state.

The SAF takes it as a great honour to host the meeting in the year when NATO is observing its 70th anniversary, as well as 15 years since Slovenia joined the alliance.

12 Sep 2019, 10:08 AM

STA, 11 September 2019 - Foreign Minister Miro Cerar does not believe PM Marjan Šarec's official visit to Russia could worsen Slovenia's relations with allies, either the US or the EU. The visit is very important, especially from the economic aspect, Cerar told the STA on the margins of the prime minister's first visit to Moscow.

The visit, during which Šarec has already met his counterpart Dimity Medvedev, is a follow-up to the story which began at July's session of the Slovenia-Russia commission, which plans joint business projects, said Cerar.

"We can see these projects already bringing concrete results," Cerar said, noting Slovenian energy company Petrol signed two contracts with Russian partners on Tuesday.

"In this way we preserve geopolitical relations and create room for our businesspeople. Slovenia is a responsible and trustworthy EU member and joined the sanctions [against Russia], but our business, cultural and political ties must live on."

In this context Cerar highlighted the role of a memorial to all Slovenians who died in the territory of Russia in WWI and WWII which Šarec and Medvedev inaugurated yesterday. "This is a very important element which brings us closer together in a historical, cultural and human manner."

The minister rejected second thoughts voiced by some that the high-profile Russia visit, featuring three ministers in Šarec's entourage, could in any way deteriorate relations with Slovenia's allies.

He stressed that as foreign minister in the Šarec government, he set himself a goal of balancing relations with the US, after Slovenia's foreign policy had been criticised for favouring Russia under his predecessor Karl Erjavec. "I've made an effort to intensify relations with the US."

Cerar also stressed the US was still the third largest investor in Slovenia, the two countries cooperated in many fields, and were allies in NATO.

He believes the visit does not worsen Slovenia's relations with either the US or other allies in any way. "On the contrary, I think that with a successful foreign policy in business diplomacy and through many contacts, we have opened Slovenia to all parts of the world."

As for Russia's annexation of the Crimea, Cerar said that "despite the amicable relations with Russia, we are critical towards it whenever it comes to the respect for international law".

Cerar notes other EU states also had very intense political and economic relations with Russia. "We are no exception here. And we do it with a feel for our EU allies. Slovenia is doing absolutely nothing wrong."

He said he was pursuing the policy he had started as prime minister in 2014-2018 to be in close contact not only with Germany, France and Italy, but also with the Benelux countries as some of the core EU members, so he sees the Russia visit could not jeopardise Slovenia's position in the EU in any way.

All our stories on Slovenia and Russia are here

11 Sep 2019, 16:18 PM

STA, 11 September 2019 - A group of 28 Slovenian scholars has urged President Borut Pahor to resign for his recent statement suggesting that Turkey and Ukraine should not count on full-fledged EU membership. Should he fail to do so, parliament should impeach him.

At the Bled Strategic Forum (BSF) last week, Pahor made "an inappropriate, unreasonable and xenophobic statement, a statement that is extremely harmful for Slovenia politically and diplomatically", the group writes in the open letter.

By making such statements, Pahor contributes to Slovenia's foreign policy's credibility being further undermined, says the group, featuring Slavko Splichal, Boris Vezjak, Svetlana Slapšak, Niko Toš, Maca Jogan, Vlado Miheljak and Rudi Rizman.

"I would make a difference between Western Balkans on one side and Turkey and Ukraine on the other side. I would go with a special status as far as Turkey and Ukraine are concerned and full membership as far as countries in Western Balkans are concerned," Pahor told the BSF.

Responding to the appeal, Pahor's office said the stance on a special status of Turkey and Ukraine within the EU had been known at home and abroad for several years.

During Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's 2015 visit to Slovenia, Pahor said that "given how slow the negotiating process is, it would also be worth thinking about a sui generis status. But as long as EU law does not envisage such a status, Slovenia will advocate Turkey's EU membership," the office said.

It explained that such a stance is an attempt to find a solution to the slow pace, unclarity and absorption incapacity on the part of the EU in the enlargement process, particularly in relation to large countries.

Pahor has excellent relations with Turkish and Ukrainian leaders exactly because he is politically in favour of the two countries, which has however sometimes earned him even criticism in Slovenia, according to his office.

The intellectuals, however, believe such views could also be a reason why Slovenia has not been assigned the enlargement portfolio in the new European Commission.

Pahor's statement does not only deny his previously expressed support for Turkey's EU prospects, it also considerably exceeds "his presidential powers", the says.

He has once again proved to be a completely untrustworthy politician who cannot enjoy the trust of Slovenian citizens or European and international partners.

The group also believes that every European country meeting EU membership criteria deserves to join the EU.

It notes that closing the EU door encourages a rise in authoritarianism in the countries which lose the prospect of joining the bloc.

Pahor is also accused of bypassing the declaration and strategy on Slovenia's foreign policy, which were passed in parliament and which Slovenia's political representatives are bound to respect.

He is moreover accused of neglecting the document on Slovenia-Turkey strategic partnership which he signed with Turkish President Erdogan in 2011.

"As many times before, Pahor showed that instead of serving ... in a responsible, respectful and dignified way, he opted for populism modelled on Trump, Johnson or Salvini."

By making this statement, Pahor not only degraded the office of the president yet again but directly jeopardised the security and welfare of Slovenia and its citizens.

"This is the reason for which he should irrevocably resign as president of the republic.

"If his sense of responsibility lets him down again, the National Assembly must launch a constitutional impeachment against him, because in doing his job, he overstepped his powers from Article 107 of the Slovenian Constitution," the letter says.

Pahor's office also said that at the BSF, the Turkish foreign minister told Pahor that Erdogan would wish to visit Slovenia soon.

At a recent brief meeting in Warsaw, Pahor and new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also agreed to meet soon.

"So it is possible that both Erdogan and Zelensky will pay official visits to Slovenia at the end of this year or at the beginning of 2020," the office announced.

11 Sep 2019, 12:10 PM

STA, 10 September 2019 - Economic relations topped the agenda as Prime Minister Marjan Šarec paid an official visit to Moscow on Tuesday. Ways to increase trade were discussed and investments were also broached, including the politically sensitive expansion of the Krško nuclear power station, a project of interest to Russian investors.

 Šarec and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev came out of talks calling for a strengthening of cooperation, noting that bilateral trade could increase despite ongoing EU sanctions against Russia.

Merchandise trade rose by nine percent last year and similar results are expected this year, Medvedev said. Both prime ministers said that it should be diversified

Both said investments should be strengthened as well, with Šarec noting that Russia is Slovenia's fifth largest destination for outward foreign investments, the goal being that it climb even higher.

Šarec was told Russian investors are interested in rail projects in Slovenia and the planned construction of a second unit at the Krško nuclear power station.

"The Russians are interested in participating. Russia is already building a nuclear power station in Hungary. I told them that we have a long procedure ahead with regard to the second unit at the nuclear power station, a process that may take as much as ten years," the prime minister told Slovenian reporters.

Šarec refused to say at whose initiative nuclear energy was broached, and when quizzed how it might affect Slovenia's relations with the US if Russia was to build unit two at Krško, he said: "Slovenia is neither pro-American nor pro-Russian, Slovenia is pro-European and pro-Slovenian."

Another major issue on the agenda was Slovenian retailer Mercator and its parent company Agrokor. The healthy assets of Agrokor are in the process of being transferred onto a new entity, Fortenova, and the Russian bank Sberbanka is among the largest creditors.

Medvedev suggested Slovenia should help in the restructuring of Agrokor, saying that "it would be good if we agree how to proceed."

Šarec said Slovenia would not oppose Mercator being transferred to Fortenova "under the condition that Slovenian suppliers remain within the system".

The government "can play its role within the bounds of the legislation and its jurisdiction... All the conditions must be fulfilled, bearing in mind that we are part of the European legal order. The Slovenian government will not oppose what is in line with the law."

While both Šarec and Medvedev acknowledged that economic cooperation was hampered by the sanctions introduced by the EU after Russia annexed the Crimea, both voiced the conviction that they would not significantly impact bilateral economic ties.

Šarec also said Slovenia and Russia did not see eye-to-eye on such issues, but stressed that dialogue needed to be preserved.

In a press release circulated after the meeting with Medvedev, Šarec's office emphasised that the two countries had diverse relations across a range of fields.

It said the prime ministers had discussed topical foreign policy issues and events in the international community, with Šarec stressing that Slovenia supported Ukraine's territorial integrity and the Minsk agreements.

He called for dialogue between all those involved and welcomed the recent prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine, stressing that it was necessary to build on the creation of trust.

"The prime ministers also touched on the situation in Western Balkans and the Middle Eastern region, focusing in particular on Syria. They exchanged views on the state of the Middle East peace process and the implementation of the Iranian nuclear deal," Šarec's office said.

As part of the visit, a monument to Slovenian soldiers who perished on Russian soil in both world wars was unveiled at Moscow's Victory Park, in a gesture seen as having great symbolic importance.

Both Šarec and Medvedev stressed the importance of history and the preservation of memory of Russian and Slovenian soldiers in their respective countries.

11 Sep 2019, 09:45 AM

STA, 10 September - Janez Lenarčič, the Slovenian EU commissioner-designate, has been assigned the portfolio of crisis management in the next European Commission, as President-elect Ursula von der Leyen announced the distribution of posts. First political reactions indicate the majority perceive the portfolio as lightweight.

As Von der Leyen announced, the job assigned to Lenarčič would correspond to the portfolio of humanitarian aid and crisis management in the outgoing commission, which has been the responsibility of the Cypriot Hristos Stilianides.

Lenarčič, so far Slovenia's ambassador to the EU, said that crisis management was a significant but demanding field of the EU's work, involving the saving of lives and helping people in need.

The department he will head is in charge of European civil protection and humanitarian aid, as part of which Lenarčič will have the role of the European coordinator for rapid response. He will be supported by the directorate general for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO).

"The number of people in need of help keeps increasing world-wide due to the consequences of ever more dramatic climate change and violent conflicts," Lenarčič said, adding that growing humanitarian needs should be matched by proper and effectively applied funding.

He believes that the portfolio he was entrusted with addresses a vital part of the EU's response to topical global challenges, which call for sustainable, coordinated and innovative action by the EU and member countries.

Lenarčič understands the portfolio assignment as an acknowledgement of Slovenia's "strong tradition in providing humanitarian aid and civil protection".

But first political reactions indicate the majority perceive the portfolio as lightweight compared to other departments in the new Commission, even as they acknowledge that this is an important area for the EU.

The coalition Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ) and Social Democrats (SD) were the only parties to label the portfolio as an important department. Other parties, even in the ranks of the coalition, were more critical.

Analysts provided a range of views about the relative importance of the department, with one saying this was not a department with political weight, and other that "Slovenia's role in Brussels is small" due to a lack of strategic policy.

Among the eight Slovenian MEPs, the news invited mixed reactions, with some members of the EPP finding the portfolio not to be one of the key ones, as it was one of the last to be announced by the Commission president-elect.

The four MEPs from the ranks of the coalition Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ) and Social Democrats (SD) welcomed the pick as a serious and demanding portfolio, saying that crisis management was an exceptionally important field.

Some MEPs from the EPP meanwhile said that the portfolio does not bring value added, and that it was obviously not a key one, while others believe that it is an exceptional opportunity for Slovenia, a demanding job involving a lot of responsibility.

Pm Marjan Šarec said the portfolio was good. "Crisis management includes humanitarian aid, civil protection - helping people in accidents and during crises. Slovenia is famous for having a good relief and protection system," he said.

"It reacts very well in crises that hit the population and others learn from us. I am confident the Slovenian commissioner will be able to contribute a lot in this field," Šarec added in a statement while visiting Russia.

Defence Minister Karl Erjavec, whose department covers civil protection and disaster relief, similarly said the Lenarčič portfolio was "important for Slovenia and the EU".

The commissioners-designate will undergo hearings before the European Parliamentary committees between 30 September and 8 October, after which the plenary is to take a vote on the line-up as a whole at a session running between 21 and 24 October.

Lenarčič said he would use his time over the next few weeks to prepare thoroughly for the hearing.

Five years ago, Slovenia's original commissioner nominee Alenka Bratušek failed to pass the committee hearing, so she withdrew her bid. The government then nominated Violeta Bulc, who went on to become transport commissioner.

10 Sep 2019, 11:29 AM

STA, 9 September 2019 - The coalition reaffirmed its commitment to honour the fiscal rule in drafting the budgets for the next two years as it met in Brdo pri Kranju on Monday. The ceiling for total expenditure was set in April, but the budget bills will be endorsed only after the latest economic forecasts are released, said Finance Minister Andrej Bertoncelj.

"We're waiting for the last economic forecast and then we'll be able to complete the puzzle with greater certainty," Prime Minister Marjan Šarec said after the meeting of senior coalition officials.

The government macroeconomic forecaster IMAD will release its latest forecasts for the next two years on 19 September.

This is also the date of the government session dedicated to the budget bills, which must be sent into parliamentary procedure by 1 October.

Bertoncelj warned coalition officials today that both the Slovenian and foreign economies were cooling. "Let's hope that the economic forecasts will not change much or else a new round of talks will be needed," he said.

However, he noted that Slovenia's economy had been expanding nicely and that its GDP growth would stand at around 3% in 2020.

The ceiling for the government spending in 2020 had been set at EUR 10.45 billion and coalition officials agreed today to stick with it. The talks on the ceilings for individual departments also concluded last week.

"We're committed to drawing up the two budgets in line with our domestic fiscal rules and our priorities, which are development, welfare and wages," the finance minister said.

The appetites of budget users are always bigger than the possibilities and "it's our job to put it in the frame of our economic growth and fiscal rule," he added.

Neither Bertoncelj nor Šarec would go into detail but the issue of too high social transfers was highlighted.

Šarec said the Labour Ministry was a very big budget user. People have a hard time accepting the fact that the monthly minimum wage matches monthly welfare allowance, he said.

"It's clear that the measures introduced during the crisis do not make sense today. But if the economic situation deteriorates, a different kind of measure will be on the table," Šarec said.

The bill abolishing a special bonus for welfare recipients engaged in part-time work is already in parliamentary procedure, but the head of the Modern Centre Party (SMC) deputy group, Igor Zorčič, said there was no particular eagerness about this, even within the coalition.

Statements after the meeting suggest that the new budget documents will allow for the renovation of cultural buildings, investments into development, and defence.

Šarec expressed regretted that there were so many legal restrains. The dynamic part of the budget is extremely small, mainly because of the fiscal rule. "We have the most rigorous fiscal rule in the EU and this is something we should discuss," the prime minister said.

Šarec also said the opposition Left had not promised to support the budget yet.

The Left, which supports Šarec's minority government, made its support for the budget conditional on the implementation of an agreement to abolish to-up health insurance this year.

The Left has also been criticising the government for raising defence spending. But Šarec said today that if Slovenia has an army it must be well equipped, also because of the country's international commitments.

"We cannot simply abolish the army if the Left says we don't need it," he added.

In contrast, Defence Minister Karl Erjavec thinks defence spending should be higher than 1.08% of GDP as planned for next year. He said the army must be modernised regardless of Slovenia's commitments to NATO.

Šarec, who had indicated he may seek a confidence vote on the budget documents for 2020 and 2021 as a way of checking support for his minority government, has not reached a final decision on the matter yet.

The coalition wants the budget documents to be backed by 46 MPs to avoid being overrun by a veto in the upper chamber. But in order to secure such a support, it will need to get the Left or some other party on board.

06 Sep 2019, 18:11 PM

The covers and editorials from leading weeklies of the Left and Right for the work-week ending Friday, 06 September

Mladina: Health insurance a difficult problem

STA, 6 September 2019 - The left-leaning weekly Mladina argues in its latest editorial that the system of top-up health insurance in Slovenia is an example of systematic corruption par excellence. It is clear that the lobbies and politicians involved will not give up this money easily, the paper says.

Editor-in-chief Grega Repovž is very sceptical of the message coming from the coalition and the Left - that they have found common ground on abolishing top-up health insurance by folding it into mandatory health insurance.

It is not that their intentions are not sincere, it is simply that health insurance is very much an ideological issue, linked with the opposition New Slovenia (NSi) and its predecessors, SKD and SLS, and the opposition Democrats (SDS), he notes.

Since its introduction the top-up health insurance has been an "additional contribution or tax for healthcare" and health insurers have been acting as "some kind of private tax administration collecting only this tax".

Citizens can seemingly choose which insurer they want - initially there were just two insurers, Adriatic Slovenica and Vzajemna, Triglav entered the marked much later. Adriatic Slovenica was initially let into the game only to disguise the true nature of Vzajemna.

The system, conceived by long-term head of the ZZZS national public health insurance fund, Franc Košir, has subsequently turned out to be one of the worst cases of privatisation of public money ever.

"Vzajemna seemed like the best idea in the world. Its founding was overseen by ZZZS itself." It was conceived as a company whose manager and shareholder becomes anyone who pays the insurance and thus becomes a member. And formally, this still holds true today. "Can anyone even object to this concept?"

But in fact, the legislation was amended already when Vzajemna was founded to allow a group of people manage a part of public funds and it has remained so until this day.

"Vzajemna is controlled by the same lobbies today only the people who run things are different."

Its powers expand beyond any political borders today and stretch into the business world, with the former CEO of poultry producer Perutnina Ptuj, Roman Glaser, holding a great deal of power.

Vzajemna also has some EUR 100 million of reserves in deposits and other financial investments and can invest them in line with the wishes of those who have power.

"It is therefore clear that all these lobbies and lobbyists, hired consultants and also politicians and public office holders work against any government that attempts to sort out this issue. It has been so for the last sixteen years. It is such easy money that nobody will give it up easily," Repovž says under the headline It's Systemic Corruption.

Reporter: Gov’t staffing scandal deserves a closer look

STA, 2 September 2019 - Looking at the downfall of Brane Kralj, the secretary general of the ruling Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ), the right-leaning weekly Reporter says that this is Šarec's first serious mistake since taking office and a signal from networks of power that he should not be too single-minded.

"Nobody is innocent in the political drama that unfolded last week. But it appears this was a carefully planned skirmish involving networks that control state property, whereby Šarec received a rap on the knuckles for the first time," the paper says in Final Warning.

The scandal shows that the government is engaged in the same sort of political staffing as its predecessors. "Prime Minister Šarec cannot say any longer that he is different, that such things do not happen under his watch."

Delving into the details of the fateful call Kralj made to the chief supervisor of the Official Gazette, Irena Prijović, Reporter says DeSUS president Karl Erjavec soliciting the call is less likely than the theory that the chief supervisor of Slovenian Sovereign Holding (SSH), Karmen Dieter, told Kralj to contact Prijović directly.

"Irena Prijović is not a woman that would falter as soon as she gets a call from the secretary general of a ruling party, and neither is she a flawless Virgin Mary. Her statements about 'brutal pressure' have to be taken with a dollop of salt: Prijović is considered the right hand of Borut Jamnik, the greying wonder boy of the (para)state sector, the nephew of the once influential SocDem politician Breda Pečan."

The commentator describes Jamnik and Prijović as having "literally kidnapped corporate governance", weaving a web of power that has political backing from the SocDems. "They are both political appointees and for years they have been wandering from one post in state-owned companies to the other."

"Since Jamnik has grown over politicians' heads, they have clipped his wings and now he is striking back. The Official Gazette scandal is probably revenge for loss of influence at Telekom Slovenije," Reporter says.

Looking at the uncertainty in autumn, with the looming passage of the budget bills and the Left making its support for the minority government conditional on health insurance reform, the paper says the Official Gazette scandal was "a warning of sorts to the prime minister that networks will bring down his government if he is too single-minded".

All our posts in this series are here

06 Sep 2019, 12:30 PM

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

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

FRIDAY, 30 August
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenia's economy expanded at an annual rate of 2.5% in the second quarter of the year in real terms, or by 2.6% when adjusted for season and working days, the Statistics Office said. Both figures indicate a considerable slow-down compared to the previous quarter.
        LJUBLJANA - The shareholders of Telekom Slovenije, the majority state-owned telecoms incumbent, endorsed dividends of EUR 4.50 per share, which makes for a total dividend payout of EUR 29.3 million. This is in line with the proposal by management and significantly below EUR 14.30 per share that the shareholders secured last year.
        LJUBLJANA - The group around fuel retailer Petrol reported sales revenue rising by 15% to EUR 2.73 billion in the first six months of the year, with its net profit up by 4% to EUR 40.7 million year-on-year. Operating profit rose by 23% to EUR 66.1 million.
        MEŽICA - Tab, the Mežica-based maker of starter batteries for cars and industrial batteries, said it was mulling a partnership to branch out into the production of lithium-ion batteries of the kind used in electric cars. CEO Bogomir Auprih said the decision would be made by the end of the year.
        BLED - A Ljubljana-based company reportedly in Chinese ownership bought two four-star hotels, Kompas and Lovec, in the popular holiday resort of Bled. The value of the deal is not known, but news portal Siol said it could be around 10 million euro.

SATURDAY, 31 August
        DENVER, US - Defence Minister Karl Erjavec and Major General Alenka Ermenc, the chief of the general staff, visited the Colorado Army National Guard, the Slovenian Defence Ministry said, noting Colorado is a US federal state with which the ministry has been cooperating within the State Partnership Programme for 26 years.
        LJUBLJANA - Pilots at Adria Airways, Slovenia's airline in German ownership, announced the were planning three three-day strikes next month starting on 8 September. They want to force the management to sign a new collective bargaining agreement.
        LJUBLJANA - Some 200 animal rights and environmental activists urged Agriculture Minister Aleksandra Pivec to resign, as they protested against the authorities' plans to cull endangered brown bears and wolves. They believe she is unaware of the role of sustainable agriculture and only promotes the arguments of farmers.

SUNDAY, 1 September
        WARSAW, Poland - President Borut Pahor was among world leaders that took part in a ceremony in Warsaw marking the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War on Sunday, commenting that the thought accompanying him throughout the commemoration was Antigone's "I am not here to share in hate, but in love".
        ANDORRA LA VELLA, Andorra - Slovenian rider Tadej Pogačar won the 9th stage of the Vuelta, the tour of Spain, in his biggest career achievement to date. His compatriot Primož Roglič came in third to advance to 2nd in overall rankings.

MONDAY, 2 September
        BLED - The two-day Bled Strategic Forum (BSF) opened with addresses by senior Slovenian and UN officials who highlighted stability and sustainability as well as fighting climate change as the main factors for Slovenia and the EU and the world. PM Marjan Šarec called for a unified and coordinated approach to global challenges such as climate change, water supply and food security.
        LJUBLJANA/BLED - President Borut Pahor and his visiting Estonian counterpart Kersti Kaljulaid noted genuine friendship between the two nations and many shared interests, as they addressed reporters after holding official talks. Pahor labelled the two countries as success stories. Kaljulaid said that Estonia and Slovenia advocated a strong Europe with clear goals such as the fight against climate change.
        PREVALJE - Lek, the Slovenian subsidiary of drug maker Novartis, aborted its EUR 150 million investment into expanding production in the northern town of Prevalje where Lek has been present for more than 40 years. The decision appears to have been made due to lower demand for generics.
        LJUBLJANA - Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek was announced as the only candidate for the top job at the Modern Centre Party (SMC). The election congress will be held on 21 September.
        LJUBLJANA - Eligma, the Slovenian company providing smart commerce solutions, announced it had received a EUR 4 million investment from the Swiss Pangea Blockchain Fund and Bitcoin.com to finance its expansion in the global market.

TUESDAY, 3 September
        BLED - President Borut Pahor met a number of foreign senior officials on the sidelines of the Bled Strategic Forum, including Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto and Matthew Palmer from the US Department of State. Foreign Minister Miro Cerar met his Spanish counterpart Josep Borrell as well as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, Secretary General of the Union for the Mediterranean Nasser Kamel and Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto.
        LJUBLJANA - In the wake of a rift between the minority government and its opposition partner the Left, there have been speculations about the coalition turning to New Slovenia (NSi) for cooperation, but the conservative NSi dispelled any doubts by saying it did not support the government and that there had been no talks about possible cooperation.
        LJUBLJANA - The parliamentary Commission for Oversight of Intelligence and Security Services will draw up a report on illegal migrations in collaboration with the Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance (DCAF) to propose a set of measures, including stricter asylum legislation, its chair Matej Tonin told the press after the commission debated the impact of illegal migrations on organised crime on the basis of a DCAF report.
        LJUBLJANA - Two Slovenian researchers were among the of starting grants awarded by the European Research Council (ERC). Nejc Hodnik from the Chemistry Institute received EUR 1.5 million for a project which focuses on the development of very stable nanostructure electrocatalysts. Matjaž Human from the Jožef Stefan Institute will get EUR 1.5 million to explore whether it is possible to successfully integrate lasers into living cells.
        PAU, France - Slovenian cycling star Primož Roglič won the tenth stage of the Vuelta a Espana race, the 36.2-km individual time-trial in France's Pau, taking the race leader's red jersey.

WEDNESDAY, 4 September
        ŠIBENIK, Croatia - President Borut Pahor has addressed a renewed appeal to Croatia to accept the final ruling of the arbitration tribunal on the Slovenian-Croatian border, indicating that this would affect the Slovenian government's decision on its membership of the Schengen zone.
        LJUBLJANA - The Infrastructure Ministry released an improved draft of the National Energy and Climate Plan, a key document setting the course of action for ten years until 2030, which should be sent to Brussels by the end of the year. Most notably, the country's goal is now to increase the share of renewables to "at least" 27% by 2030, as opposed to "a 27% share" in the first draft.
        LJUBLJANA - A group of activists helping asylum seekers accused Slovenian police of systematic infringement of international conventions by pushing illegal migrants back to Croatia and preventing them from filing asylum applications. Asylum Taskforce claims that refugee camps in Bosnia-Herzegovina are full of people who had been pushed back across the border, often in very violent ways.
        BLED - Iran does not see a chance of negotiation with the US until the US returns to the Iran nuclear deal and until it lifts sanctions, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi has told the STA. He believes it is still possible to save the historic 2015 deal, but it will not be easy.
        LJUBLJANA - The ruling coalition and the opposition Left, which has been threatening to withdraw support for the minority government, have brought closer together their views on the Left's proposal to abolish top-up health insurance by folding it into mandatory health insurance as of 2021. However, detailed calculations are yet to be made taking into account long-term macroeconomic and demographic projections.
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenia is up five spots in the latest biannual global Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report, standing at 36th place among 140 countries surveyed by the World Economic Forum (WEF). In the 2019 survey, Slovenia scored an average of 4.3 out of seven points based on assessments in 14 elements of competitiveness in four key categories.

THURSDAY, 5 September
        LJUBLJANA - Interior Minister Boštjan Poklukar is known for saying the Slovenian police are fully in control of migration. "If this was not the case, we would have more illegal migrants in the country, at railway stations, cities and abandoned buildings," he told the STA in an interview. He also praised police cooperation with Croatia and Italy.
        BLED - The executive director of the European Asylum Support Office (EASO), Slovenian Nina Gregori, told the STA that asylum procedures should be made more efficient and swifter, and member states' standards for granting the asylum status should be unified.
        LJUBLJANA - The government adopted a first draft of Slovenia's priorities during its stint at the helm of the EU in the second half of 2021. The priorities are divided into three groups, focusing on a safe and sustainable EU which is based on the rule of law, State Secretary Igor Mally said.
        LJUBLJANA - The government adopted legislative amendments to provide effective legal remedy against infringements in public contracting procedures and boost the independence of the National Review Commission. The amendments will make it possible to challenge decisions by the National Review Commission at the Administrative Court.
        LJUBLJANA - The Court of Audit lambasted the Health Ministry for poor planning of ten emergency departments around Slovenia, an EU-subsidised investment valued at around EUR 76 million. It said the project was not based on factual analysis, disregarded the geographical needs for new casualty departments, and was planned in such a way the departments could not be completed in time or within the budget.
        LJUBLJANA - President Borut Borut Pahor conferred the Golden Order of Merit on the world-renowned Indian conductor Zubin Mehta, who was recognised for his contribution to music and the inspiring effort to connect people and nations with this form of art. The ceremony came ahead of a concert by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Mehta, which wrapped up the 67th Ljubljana Festival.

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