23 Oct 2019, 19:10 PM

STA, 23 October 2019 - Slovenian President Borut Pahor met Shinzo Abe in Tokyo on Wednesday, with Pahor thanking the Japanese prime minister for the opportunity to hold a bilateral meeting in the days when the Japanese capital is hosting numerous world leaders who attended Emperor Naruhito's enthronement ceremony yesterday.

"Slovenia understands this as a recognition and gesture of special attention from Japan," the president's office quoted Pahor, adding that the meeting with Abe had been held in the spirit of excellent bilateral relations.

Abe meanwhile thanked Pahor on his attendance of the enthronement ceremony in Tokyo, with Pahor noting that he attended such events only exceptionally, according to his office.

It noted that bilateral economic cooperation had been boosted following the Slovenian president's visit to Japan in 2013 and the visit by Miro Cerar in 2016 in the capacity of prime minister in 2016.

Pahor stressed on the occasion that "what is more important than merely capital is business culture, and the Japanese business culture is close to Slovenians."

Abe meanwhile assessed that Slovenia was interesting to Japan, being a member of the EU and NATO and having excellent relations with all countries of the Western Balkans.

Pahor and Abe also talked about the situation on the Korean Peninsula, agreeing that effort should be invested to find a peaceful solution and achieve reconciliation.

The Slovenian president showed understanding for Japan's concern about the unpredictability of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the office added.

The Japanese prime minister said he would like to visit Slovenia, with Pahor saying he would gladly welcome him in his country.

On the last day of this two-day visit to Japan, Pahor also visited the High Energy Accelerator Research Organisation (KEK) in Tsukuba near Tokyo, where Slovenian scientists have been involved in an antimatter project.

Pahor met KEK director-general Masanori Yamauchi and Slovenian scientists and viewed the electron-positron supercollider. On the occasion, Pahor decorated professor Yamauchi with the Order of Merit for his contribution in promotion of Slovenian science in the world.

All our stories about Japan are here

23 Oct 2019, 13:16 PM

STA, 22 October 2019 - Commenting on the European Commission assessing that Croatia has met the conditions to enter the Schengen zone, PM Marjan Šarec regretted on Tuesday that such an important decision had been made right before the end of the Commission's term. Speaking of a political decision, Šarec expects Croatia to meet all technical and legal conditions.

"We had already said that if the decision was political, then Slovenia would also act politically and in line with its interests," Šarec reiterated at an event in Cankarjev Dom in Ljubljana.

He said that the European Commission had apparently put the issue on the agenda at the end of the term, which "seems disputable to us". It would be better if the new Commission dealt with that, he added.

The prime minister's office quoted Šarec earlier as saying that "Slovenia expects that Croatia will meet all conditions, both technical and legal, including the respect of the rule of law, to enter the Schengen zone."

It added that Croatia must show the ability to protect the external border effectively and thus ensure security of the entire EU.

According to Šarec, Croatia needs to carry out a number of activities to be able to ensure permanent and effective management of the external border of the EU and to fully meet the required technical conditions.

The prime minister also told the press in Cankarjev Dom that "we are a bit worried" regarding Croatia meeting the technical requirements, noting that "we have had 12,000 illegal migrants already this year."

He added that "this means that they are coming from somewhere and that the border with Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia is porous. This is why I doubt that this will change over night with the potential entry to Schengen."

Interior Ministry State Secretary Sandi Čurin meanwhile told the press that the green light from the European Commission was only an intermediate step in the process of Croatia's accession to the Schengen zone.

He noted that the assessment procedure was far from being concluded and that the "accession of a country to the Schengen zone is decided on by the member states with consensus."

"Today's message is exclusively intended for supporting Croatia in its efforts to enter the Schengen zone and encouraging it to make the steps needed to meet all standards and conditions," Čurin said.

He stressed that it was not an implementing act, as those were subject to discussion by the EU Council, and that it had no legal consequences whatsoever.

European Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc said that the report was only one of the steps in the process, adding that before any enlargement of Schengen, it needed to be secured that the system was fully functional.

Speaking to the press in Brussels, the Slovenian EU commissioner said that she had told the fellow commissioners at today's meeting that the Schengen area as it was known today was not functioning as a whole.

"There are still six Schengen countries - Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Austria and France - which have kept border checks within the Schengen area, including on the border between Austria and Slovenia," she noted.

Bulc believes that the final assessment should take into account the progress that needs to be made in the migration policy, protection of external borders, rule of law and good neighbourly relations.

Noting that consent of the EU Council was required for the decision that Croatia entered Schengen, the commissioner said that the member states, including Slovenia, would have the final say based on a technical report.

The parliamentary parties which have so far responded to the announcement expressed varied opinions.

Parliamentary Speaker Dejan Židan, the head of the coalition Social Democrats (SD), said that it was a "political decision" which makes "Europe lose reputation even more".

Židan believes that an outgoing European Commission should not adopt any major decisions and "as a European" he wished that the next European Commission would act differently.

Jožef Horvat of the opposition New Slovenia (NSi) said that it was somewhat unusual for the outgoing Commission to take such an important decision, adding that the precise conditions that Croatia needed to fulfil were known.

"If such a decision is made casually, the Schengen regime will definitely collapse, as it has already been strongly undermined with controls on internal borders", he added.

Horvat said that the NSi "is not on the side of those who would make ultimatums", which Zmago Jelinčič of the opposition National Party (SNS) agreeing, saying that "Slovenia will achieve nothing by extorting Croatia."

They were probably referring to speculation Slovenia could make its approval of Croatia's entry to the Schengen zone conditional on Croatia fully implementing the border arbitration decision.

Matej T. Vatovec of the opposition Left too said that blocking Croatia's entry to the Schengen zone would be counter-productive.

He supports Croatia entering the Schengen zone as soon as possible as the borders would be eliminated, which would make life in the border area easier and be followed by the elimination of border fences and razor wire.

Slovenian MEPs have expressed different opinions about the assessment, but a majority regrets that it has been made by an outgoing Commission. They also noted that the EU Council will have the final say on the matter.

"I regret the move by the outgoing European Commission. Instead of eliminating internal borders ... it is giving the false hope of the expansion of Schengen," said Milan Brglez (S&D/SD).

His party colleague Tanja Fajon added that the "message from the Juncker commission would be remembered as one of the most political ever," as it suggested that accession to the Schengen zone was no longer a technical process.

Irena Joveva and Klemen Grošelj (both Renew/LMŠ) also regretted the European Commission making a "political" decision right before the end of the term.

They agree that the expansion of the Schengen zone is in everybody's interest, including Slovenia's, but that there should not be a sliver of doubt in the professionalism of such a decision.

Ljudmila Novak (EPP/NSi) said the decision should have been left to the new European Commission. "Today's decision will not be able to avoid the connotation of political, and not professional decision-making."

Agreeing with Novak, Franc Bogovič (EPP/SLS) said that the decision was inappropriate and unfair as the readiness of Croatia to effectively protect its borders with Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia was being realistically doubted.

On the other hand, Romana Tomc (EPP/SDS) believes that the European Commission was unbiased and professional in its decision. She noted that the member states would have the final say in a consensual decision.

"This means that Prime Minister Šarec has the opportunity to prevent Croatia from entering Schengen if he thinks that there are reasons for this and if this benefits Slovenia," she added.

Her party colleague Milan Zver thinks that Croatia has taken the appropriate measures, and that the Slovenian public will welcome the elimination of the Schengen border between Slovenia and Croatia as this would mean smoother traffic.

All our stories on Croatia are here

19 Oct 2019, 10:20 AM

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

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

FRIDAY, 11 October
        ATHENS, Greece - Attending the Arraiolos meeting of presidents from 13 EU countries, President Borut Pahor said the EU had been much more successful in addressing the economic crisis than it was now in addressing the migration crisis. In a meeting with Italian President Sergio Mattarella, they agreed to attend a ceremony marking 100 years since the Fascists burnt down the Slovenian National Home in Trieste next year.
        KOPER - Yusen Logistics, a Japanese supply chain logistics company, opened its subsidiary in the port city, thus becoming the first Japanese freight forwarder in Slovenia. The launch was an important step for the Slovenian port operator Luka Koper as well since it promotes the transport route via Koper.
        BARCELONA, Spain - Foreign Minister Miro Cerar called for empowering youth through education and intercultural dialogue at the Regional Forum of the Union for the Mediterranean in Barcelona, which was attended by foreign ministers of northern and southern Mediterranean countries.
        LJUBLJANA - The parliamentary Defence Committee discussed the state budgets for 2020 and 2021, when funds for the national defence system will nominally rise. In 2020, the Defence Ministry will get EUR 545.85 million and in 2021 EUR 561 million. The latter figure is nominally higher but not if measured as a share in GDP, Defence Minister Karl Erjavec told the MPs.
        LJUBLJANA - The parliamentary Finance Committee decided to ask the Court of Audit to review the 2016 sale of now bankrupt carrier Adria Airways to the German turnaround fund 4K, and to present its findings to parliament as soon as possible. The Court of Audit said it might do so next year.

SATURDAY, 12 October
        GORNJA RADGONA - The border communities of Gornja Radgona in Slovenia and Bad Radkersburg in Austria marked the 50th anniversary of the bridge linking them with a high-profile ceremony that sent out a message that the countries would like to make their cooperation even better. The ceremony was addressed by Foreign Minister Miro Cerar and the Governor of Austrian Styria, Hermann Schützenhöfer.
        LJUBLJANA - Zmago Skobir, the CEO of Fraport Slovenija, told Dnevnik in an interview that Adria Airways's collapse would have consequences for Ljubljana airport stemming from Adria's debt as well as from a loss of income, but he said he was not in favour of incorporating a new state-owned airline.
        LJUBLJANA - The Hungarian low-cost carrier Wizzair announced it would fly between Ljubljana and Brussels in winter despite its initial decision to suspend flights. Flights are scheduled for Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 19 December on. On 16 October, SWISS launched scheduled flights between Zurich and Ljubljana.
        IDRIJA - Hidria Holding, the company controlling a group that mostly manufactures hi-tech products for the car industry, posted a net profit of EUR 12.3 million for 2018, down 21% over 2017 despite net sales revenue rising by 6.6% to EUR 266.1 million.

SUNDAY, 13 October
        VELENJE - Premogovnik Velenje, the mine operator supplying coal to the TEŠ thermal power plant, slipped back into the red last year after it managed to stay in the black for three years. It posted a loss of EUR 3.8 million, after generating a net profit of EUR 3.4 million the year before. Net sales revenue was down by 5.2% to EUR 108.6 million.
        TRIESTE, Italy - Sailor Gašper Vinčec and his crew won the Barcolana, the biggest mass start sailing regatta in the world. The crew also included Slovenia's best professional cyclist Primož Roglič.

MONDAY, 14 October
        LJUBLJANA - PM Marjan Šarec made a case for the EU enlargement to the Western Balkans in a letter to the European Council president and EU leaders. He argued that yet another postponement of the decision to start accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania should not be an option.
        LJUBLJANA - The Constitutional Court annulled part of the controversial amendments passed in January 2017 that define a special temporary regime on the border in the event of mass migration. The court believes that the provision violates the constitutionally-guaranteed principle of non-refoulement.
        LUXEMBOURG, Luxembourg/LJUBLJANA - Responding to the prison sentences handed in Spain to Catalan leaders, Foreign Minister Miro Cerar said after an EU ministerial that Spain was a sovereign country and that Slovenia should not interfere in its internal legal order. Ex-Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel on the other hand spoke of an "enormous scandal" and analyst Luka Lisjak Gabrijelčič of "distinctively political" judicial arguments. Cerar later called the sentences harsh and long.
        LUXEMBOURG - The European Court of Justice postponed by more than a month Advocate General Priit Pikamäe's independent legal opinion on the admissibility of Slovenia's lawsuit against Croatia over its refusal to respect the 2017 border arbitration award. Pikamäe's opinion will be released on 11 December.
        LJUBLJANA - The Environment and Spatial Planning Ministry presented a draft housing bill that aims to make housing more accessible to those in precarious jobs, young families and the poor, as well secure more effective management of apartment blocks. It also makes it harder for owners to rent out their apartment through Airbnb.
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenian and Croatian health minsters Aleš Šabeder and Milan Kujundžić agreed that their departments would relaunch cooperation in treating children with congenital heart disease. This comes after Slovenia gave up the plan to establish a regional treatment centre with the help of a US-based surgeon.
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenia's intelligence and security agency SOVA denounced "known and unknown perpetrators" to the State Prosecutor's Office and police on suspicion of unauthorized disclosure of classified information. The move comes after information about staffing at SOVA was leaked to the media following a visit by the parliamentary Intelligence Oversight Commission.
TUESDAY, 15 October
        LJUBLJANA - The International Monetary Fund downgraded its projection of growth of the Slovenian gross domestic product for this year from 3.4% to 2.9%, with the correction following the recent downgrade by the government macroeconomic think tank IMAD to 2.8%.
        LUXEMBOURG, Luxembourg - Foreign Minister Miro Cerar expressed regret over France's opposition to North Macedonia and Albania joining the bloc, which prevented EU affairs ministers from initiating accession talks for the two countries.
        LJUBLJANA - The parliamentary Intelligence Oversight Commission, which is examining allegations that PM Marjan Šarec intervened to secure a job at the SOVA intelligence agency for a friend, expressed expectation that the government would allow it to conduct an inquiry into the matter. However, Šarec insisted the next day that the public employees inspectorate and not the commission was responsible for investigating the allegations. The inspectorate is looking into the matter.
        LJUBLJANA - Constitutional Court President Rajko Knez denied the allegation by court judge Klemen Jaklič, who in his dissenting opinion to the court's decision on the amendments to the foreigners act accused fellow judge Matej Accetto of political bias and lying. Knez denied that Accetto mislead the court about his ties with the Modern Centre Party (SMC) when the court deliberated on whether he should exclude himself from decision-making about a 2017 referendum on the Koper-Divača rail project.
        FRANKFURT, Germany - Economy Ministry State Secretary Eva Štravs Podlogar, accompanied by the top executives of Slovenia's bad bank, met representatives of Lufthansa to analyse the aviation market in the wake of the receivership of the German-owned Slovenian flag carrier Adria Airways.

WEDNESDAY, 16 October
        LJUBLJANA - The parliamentary Foreign Policy Committee discussed the draft state budgets for 2020 and 2021, hearing that the Foreign Ministry's budget will increase from EUR 94 million this year to EUR 100.4 million in 2020 and EUR 112.6 million in 2021 mostly due to Slovenia's EU presidency in the second half of 2021, which is to cost the country EUR 80 million.
        LJUBLJANA - The parliamentary Finance Committee finalised a package of tax bills that slightly reduce the taxation of labour in favour of higher taxes on capital, after adopting last-minute amendments to counter criticism that the legislation amounted to a generous handout to the rich. The legislative package is slated for passage at the National Assembly plenary next week.
        LJUBLJANA - The Slovenian police recorded a drop in illegal migration in September, however the number of illegal border crossings in the first nine months of the year is still 70.5% above last year's figure, at 11,786.
        LJUBLJANA - The Slovenian PEN Centre joined the protest by PEN International against the prison sentences imposed on the Catalan writers and civil society leaders Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart by the Spanish Supreme Court.
        LJUBLJANA - Agriculture Minister Aleksandra Pivec ordered an internal probe at the Administration for Food Safety, Veterinary Sector and Plant Protection, over its belated reporting about the discovery of a banned additive in minced meat sold in five supermarkets.

THURSDAY, 17 October
        BRUSSELS, Belgium - Arriving for a two-day EU summit, Prime Minister Marjan Šarec welcomed the deal on an orderly Brexit reached by EU and British negotiators, expressing the hope that the deal would get support in the UK. He urged fellow EU leaders to give North Macedonia the go-ahead to start EU accession talks, or else the situation would get unpredictable.
        LJUBLJANA - The government got acquainted with two draft proposals for electoral reform after the current system was declared unconstitutional a year ago. Under the first proposal, electoral units would remain roughly the same, while electoral districts would be scrapped, and a non-obligatory preferential vote would be introduced. The other solution envisages changing the borders of electoral districts.
        LJUBLJANA - The Justice Committee discussed a report on courts' efficiency in 2018, mostly agreeing with the assessment by the Supreme Court president that courts were successful. MPs were meanwhile critical of lengthy court proceedings and the number of pending cases.
        LJUBLJANA - With the population of the jackal in Slovenia stabilising, the government struck the species from the decree on protected wild animal species, setting a transitional period until 1 May 2020 for the relevant rules to be adjusted.
        LJUBLJANA - A foundation stone-laying ceremony launched the construction of the long-awaited Ikea store in Ljubljana, the first in Slovenia. The store is to be completed in a year.

All our posts in this series are here

19 Oct 2019, 08:54 AM

The covers and editorials from leading weeklies of the Left and Right for the work-week ending Friday, 18 October, 2019

Mladina: Puzzled by inaction in corruption cases

STA, 18 October 2019 – Mladina, the left-wing weekly, takes a look at several cases of alleged corruption and wrongdoing, wondering how it is possible that none of the involved politicians has been found guilty, while an ordinary citizen would definitely be punished or at leased fined for similar crimes.

The weekly's editor-in-chief Grega Repovž lists on Friday a number of cases related to Ljubljana Mayor Zoran Jankovič, SDS leader Janez Janša, former Maribor Mayor Franc Kangler and former Koper Mayor Boris Popovič after TV Slovenija has recently run a story about Janković's old suspicious cases.

"Entire Slovenia has been witnessing these developments for years, and we all have a clear picture of things. We are also all aware that the destiny of an average Joe would have been sealed long ago, either with a prison sentence or at least a fine."

Repovž wonders why nothing has happened in these cases. Is it because of judges, are there too few of them and are they busy with other trivial cases, is it how the courts are organised, are there two few specialised prosecutors and experts on corporate crime, corruption and political corruption, do judges and prosecutors lack proper training.

Is it the fact that the professions of judge and prosecutor are ever less prestigious, or is it poorly written and dated legislation, the magazine wonders.

Meanwhile, the defendants are usually well off and can afford the best of lawyers and advisers who can dedicate hours and hours to their case, whereas for a prosecutor or a judge, this is just one in hundred cases and court hearings. Mladina also points a finger at the Constitutional Court for having annulled, to the benefit of the defendants, any attempt to tighten up legislation.

"This is all true and remains the basic challenge for Slovenian society, in which it is increasingly hard to believe. But for a society to be fully functioning, people have to believe in it," says Repovž.

He wonders how people should decide in such cases - along political lines or personal alliances. "Should people turn a blind eye to Janković because he is allegedly a good mayor or simply because he is at the helm of Ljubljana, because having an SDS mayor would make everything automatically worse?"

Repovž also wonders in his editorial headlined First-Rate what one should think when no other than Janša and Kangler attack Janković in a rally in the centre of Ljubljana saying he gets a preferential treatment by courts "because he is a first-rate citizen".

Demokracija: Reputation of Slovenia's top court compromised

STA, 17 October 2019 - The right-leaning weekly Demokracija argues in the latest commentary that constitutional judge Matej Accetto should step down because he undermined the court's reputation and authority after it transpired that he failed to disqualify himself for decision-making despite his ties with the Modern Centre Party (SMC).

Under the headline the Case of Judge Matej Accetto, editor in-chief Jože Biščak writes that the e-mails released this week prove that Accetto made extensive proposals and opinions in the creation of the SMC's platform in 2014 and acted as a "tacit supporter" for the party of Miro Cerar.

Biščak notes that Accetto has been involved in decision-making on two political cases, the 2017 referendum on the Koper-Divača rail track and the foreigners act, both of which had to do with what was the ruling party in the previous term.

The Constitutional Court rejected a request for the judge's recusal at least two times, satisfied with his explanation that he was not involved in the work on the SMC platform.

Biščak notes the Constitutional Court's key role for the country's rule of law, freedom and democracy, saying that the public's trust in its rulings depends on the judges' ethical conduct, and its belief that the judges are unbiased, independent and fair.

"Judge Matej Accetto trampled all that, he tarnished the reputation of the Constitutional Court. No one would take a grudge against him if he had recused himself in the mentioned (political cases). He would have demonstrated the high standards he abided by himself and could have expected the same from his colleagues.

"As it is, he lied not only to fellow judges but also to parties in procedure and the entire public. Now that it has all come to light he should resign. Irrevocably ... His is not just a case of likely bias but of political and ideological bias par excellence."

All our posts in this series are here

18 Oct 2019, 14:54 PM

STA, 18 October 2019 - Slovenia's MEPs have urged leaving the decision on Croatia's readiness to join the Schengen zone to Ursula von der Leyen's European Commission, arguing that such a strategic decision should not be taken by an outgoing Commission.

Ljudmila Novak (EPP), Franc Bogovič (EPP), Irena Joveva (RE), Klemen Grošelj (RE), Tanja Fajon (S&D) and Milan Brglez (S&D) say in their call it would be completely incomprehensible and hard to accept if a decision with long-term and strategic consequences for the EU was to be made by Jean-Claude Juncker's Commission, whose term runs out soon.

The Slovenian MEPs also believe the decision should be taken based on an objective expert assessment of whether Croatia meets all the technical and security conditions.

The Commission must also make sure there is absolutely no doubt the assessment of Croatia's ability to protect the Schengen border is not based on political reasons.

Aware of the advantages of Croatia's joining the passport-free zone for Slovenia and the EU, the six out of Slovenia's eight MEPs say its entry is "in our common interest", but must not pose a security threat to the EU.

The MEPs say there are very serious doubts about Croatia being technically and legally fit to protect the EU's external border.

What is more, there are very serious doubts about its compliance with EU standards, foremost in respecting and implementing treaties and court decisions.

The MEPs are also "deeply worried about statements coming from some media outlets and Croatian government officials which bring up serious questions about their privileged access to information and a serious doubt about relevant procedures being transparent, independent and based on expertise".

The appeal was addressed to Juncker and von der Leyen, to European Council President Donald Tusk and his successor Charles Michel as well as to Slovenian Prime Minister Marjan Šarec.

The Commission is expected to discuss Croatia's meeting the technical conditions to join the Schengen zone on Tuesday.

The appeal to the top EU officials was not signed by the two European People's Party (EPP) MEPs from the Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS).

Novak said that Romana Tomc and Milan Zver had not explained why they would not join the appeal. "We were only told they had decided not so sign it."

However, Tomc later took to Twitter, saying she agreed that Croatia's Schengen entry was in Slovenia's interest and that Croatia must meet all the conditions before joining the zone.

But she also believes that the answer to this very sensitive political question should be sought at the highest diplomatic level.

18 Oct 2019, 11:13 AM

STA, 17 October 2019 - Slovenian Prime Minister Marjan Šarec welcomed the deal on an orderly Brexit reached on Thursday by the EU and British negotiators and expressed hope that the deal will get support in the UK, as "time is really running out".

Šarec said he was happy with the deal as he spoke to the press on the sidelines of the two-day European Council meeting, which also discusses relations with Turkey, EU long-term budget and priorities for the next five years.

Related - The British Embassy answered your questions on Brexit

Asked whether Brexit would happen on 31 October, Šarec said that the EU leaders would first need to get acquainted with the report from the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier and to see what the sentiment was.

The Slovenian prime minister hopes that "this agreement, which is certainly a better result than no deal at all," would not be rejected by Britain as it is one of the last, if not the last options.

According to Šarec, everything depends now on the British parliament and the European Parliament, while the EU leaders also need to get acquainted with the deal in the first place.

He personally believes that Barnier has reached a good deal as a good and experienced negotiator.

Šarec was also asked about the media reports on the alleged request by British PM Boris Johnson that the EU leaders exclude the possibility of a new postponement of Brexit and effectively help him push the deal through parliament.

He said that he and his EU counterparts needed to get acquainted with details first and that the opinion of Ireland and the European Commission was important.

Šarec criticised the entire process of looking for a Brexit deal, which he believes does not contribute to the reputation of the EU and the United Kingdom.

"Three years have passed, with more important topics being pushed aside," he lamented, adding that "everybody would like to see a solution. If we are not capable of making this happen, let them stay."

The deal was first announced by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and later presented at a press conference by Barnier, who said that an orderly Brexit could be implemented by the end of the month.

The key difference compared to the agreement with the former British PM Theresa May is the elimination of the disputable Irish backstop, which would be replaced with a new approach.

Prime Minister Johnson has called on the British MPs to back the deal. The British parliament decided today in a narrow vote to hold an extraordinary session on Saturday to discuss the deal.

16 Oct 2019, 11:43 AM

STA, 15 October 2019 - The Slovenian public has been able to witness an unprecedented exchange between two Constitutional Court judges in a row over political bias after the court released the long-expected ruling on the foreigners act yesterday (details).

In a dissenting opinion opposing the court's decision to annul the controversial provision creating a legal basis to trigger a mechanism that would effectively suspend case-by-case handling of asylum seekers under special circumstances, judge Klemen Jaklič exposed his colleague Matej Accetto for trying to exert pressure on him, accusing him of lies and political bias.

He alleged that he had been pressured over his dissenting opinion "with suggestions that I change it", and that Accetto had announced he would counter in his own opinion Jaklič's claim that the judges had aimed for a certain result, in the "sense this is the right result, it only remains to ascertain the easiest way to arrive at the decision".

Jaklič accused Accetto of lying when he said that no judge had spoken about the result in that sense.

In his opinion endorsing the court's decision yesterday, Accetto denied "politically-motivated result bias" in any of the judges.

Jaklič also accused Accetto of lying in denying his being involved in the creation of the political platform of the Modern Centre Party (SMC) when the court was deliberating on a petition challenging the result of a 2017 referendum against the Koper-Divača rail project.

The referendum petitioner Vili Kovačič had called for Acetto's recusal at the time, arguing that Accetto had collaborated with the SMC of the then PM Miro Cerar in compiling the party's platform.

Accetto denied being involved in the creation of the platform, which is why the judges voted against his recusal at the time.

The web portal Požareport yesterday released correspondence between Accetto and senior SMC members allegedly confirming that Accetto made quite extensive and detailed proposals in the SMC platform compilation process.

Jaklič, said that he had known about the correspondence beforehand, so he voted in favour of his recusal. He said that in the correspondence Accetto expressed his "tacit support" for the SMC.

Both Acetto and Constitutional Court President Rajko Knez denied the allegations on Tuesday with Knez saying that Accetto did not mislead the court about his ties with the SMC. Knez found the attempt to publicly discredit Accetto unacceptable.

Knez explained that Accetto's role at the time before the SMC's foundation prior to the 2014 general election had been subject of deliberations at the court several times. "The judges always reached a majority decision that there were no reasons for his recusal." he said.

The SMC said in a statement that Cerar invited Accetto to help draft some opinions, but this was before the party was established, as part of a civil movement. Accetto had never been a SMC member and had never consulted the party or Cerar.

Describing Jaklič's accusations as an attack on his integrity as a judge, Accetto underscored today that he had never lied or misled the court, explaining that the correspondence dated back to the time before the formation of the SMC party.

"I never denied my being a good personal acquaintance of Miro Cerar nor that before his entering politics I had worked with him as part of a civil society he gathered to advance debate on topical issues," said Accetto.

However, he said that he had not opted to enter politics, also because he had lived and worked in Portugal between September 2013 and September 2016. "I was hence not involved in the foundation of the SMC, nor became its member or ran with it in the 2014 general election race."

He attributes the situation prompting Jaklič's accusations to his own objection at a court session "against - in my opinion - too light and inappropriate making of value judgements and attribution of political bias to other judges in dissenting opinions".

In response to the exchange, Ernest Petrič, the former president of the Constitutional Court, said that the Constitutional Court should be as unbiased and unblemished as possible and comprised of mature personalities.

When an individual becomes a constitutional judge, "it is right they ask for their recusal for the sake of the court's good name even if there is only a possibility that their biased is questioned by sound arguments".

He believes that this depends on the individual's maturity, so "it is better for constitutional judges to be persons in mature age than a young person who has other ambitions".

Petrič was critical of the way constitutional judges are selected: "There is too much looking for judges who may be ours, negotiation on how many of them will be ours and how many yours. The result is far from having a balanced court. This is not the right path, the right path is aspiring for the best."

15 Oct 2019, 12:27 PM

STA, 14 October 2019 - Prime Minister Marjan Šarec made a case for the EU enlargement to the Western Balkans ahead of a two-day European Council meeting on Thursday and Friday. In a letter to the Council president and EU heads of states and government, he said the enlargement should have no alternative.

"There is no other process of such transformative and stabilising power. The region's geostrategic location in Europe, on the North-South and East-West axes, is critically important and represents an immense potential in terms of human, economic and cultural capital", the PM says in the letter.

According to Šarec, yet another postponement of the decision on the start of negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania should not be an option.

Slovenia proposes "two individual decisions based on merit".

Šarec believes that the recommendations of the European Commission, the reform process and the enormous political will, courage and political capital invested in addressing outstanding bilateral issues must be taken into account.

He stresses that the Prespa Agreement between North Macedonia and Greece as well as the Friendship Treaty between North Macedonia and Bulgaria should "become the norm" and "provide guidance on how to deal with remaining outstanding issues".

He also warns of the possible consequences of a non-decision. "A stable region is not to be taken for granted," he says, mentioning "long-lasting spillover effect" of this week's decisions and their "immensely important message for the people, especially youth".

Noting that concerns of some members states must also be taken into account, the PM proposes that they be addressed internally, so that this does not slow down the enlargement process and obstruct the progress that these countries deserve.

"Let us not undermine the region's trust in the European perspective and let us not forget the importance of sustaining its political and security stability."

"Granting the start of the negotiations will only mark the beginning of the process not the end of the journey," Šarec notes.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Miro Cerar told reporters in Luxembourg today that he would strive to present these arguments as clearly as possible to his counterparts on Tuesday.

He too believes that a negative decision or the absence of a decision could undermine the stability of the region. This would mean the EU would betray its principles, break its promise and put the "very brave creators of the Prespa Agreement and reforms in both countries" in a very difficult position, he said.

Slovenia is among some fifteen EU member countries that are advocating for the start of EU accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania. The heads of four EU institutions recently also called for this move in a joint letter.

In July, a decision was postponed because of reservations voiced by Germany, France and the Netherlands. According to unofficial information, France is now also strongly against. The Netherlands is now only against the start of accession talks with Albania because it deems its battle against corruption insufficient, while it supports talks with North Macedonia.

Several scenarios are being mentioned ahead of the upcoming summit, one of them being the start of talks but with additional conditions for the two countries. Another postponement of the decision is also possible.

Macedonia has been waiting to start the talks since 2005, when it got the status of a candidate country, while Albania became a candidate in 2014.

15 Oct 2019, 11:19 AM

STA, 14 October 2019 - Reacting to the prison sentences handed in Spain to Catalan leaders, Foreign Minister Miro Cerar said Spain was a sovereign country and that Slovenia "must not interfere". Ex Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel on the other hand spoke of an "enormous scandal" and analyst Luka Lisjak Gabrijelčič of "distinctively political" judicial arguments.

Cerar, a constitutional law expert, said it was natural that Slovenians experienced the situation emotionally, with everybody still gratefully remembering the time when the Catalan people were strong supporters of Slovenia's independence efforts.

However, the position that Cerar finds crucial is the one that Slovenia needs to take as a country, arguing this needs to be done responsibly and by taking all facts into account.

Spain is a democratic country, a law-governed country and a member of the EU that secures basic human rights to all of its citizens, Cerar said on the sidelines of a ministerial in Luxembourg.

Cerar said the case of Catalonia was in no way comparable to Slovenia's, since in 1990 and 1991 Slovenia had been striving to first even become a democracy and an EU member.

"Comparing these two processes is misguided, even if people may draw this comparison sometimes emotionally, which is understandable," he said, while assessing the decision would likely be appealed.

"We will have to see how things pan out, but at the same time we need to respect Spain's sovereignty, the sovereignty of its internal legal order, just like others respect it when Slovenia is concerned. Thus, we must not interfere," he said, saying Spain's Constitution defined Spain as a sovereign and integral country.

A very different view is held by Former Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, who labelled the verdicts an "enormous scandal", even if he had expected this.

In a statement for the STA, the member of the international team observing the Catalan independence referendum in October 2017 called on Slovenian PM Marjan Šarec to ask Spain at the European Council how it intended to "eliminate this scandal".

"I would propose that the prime minister ... asks such a question. This would be an effective measure, this would be an effective path towards gradual resolution of a paradox. This is a paradox which tarnishes the image of democracy in Europe."

While no one must directly interfere in the work of courts, the Spanish government should be asked this question, because "I think that ... all of us are of the same opinion - that organisation of elections, referendums belongs to human rights."

Slovenian historian and political analyst Luka Lisjak Gabrijelčič also said that the arguments used for handing the leaders to between nine and 13 years in prison were "distinctively political", although he expected such a decision too.

"Perhaps it is slightly surprising that very high sentences have been pronounced for all the accused, including both representatives of civil society," the expert in Spanish politics told the STA.

Lisjak Gabrijelčič believes that they have received such sentences "by error, so to say", for using political instruments to apply citizen pressure.

He noted that a majority of legal experts believed that sedition meant a "small-scale rebellion" of sorts, and that all indicators for a rebellion were also applied for sedition, only to a lesser extent.

There is no case law in this field at all, which is why a number of experts have been warning that the case is worrying, as the relevant article may be used for any act directed against legal order even if there is no violence in the process.

The last resort is the European Court of Human Rights, said Lisjak Gabrijelčič, who thinks that the developments will "certainly aggravate" the solving of the Catalan issue. "It is certainly an element which excludes a solution in the medium run.

14 Oct 2019, 17:40 PM

STA, 14 October 2019 - The Environment and Spatial Planning Ministry presented a new housing bill proposal on Monday. The document aims to make housing more accessible to those in precarious jobs, young families and the poor, as well secure more effective management of apartment blocks. It also makes it harder for owners to rent out their apartment through Airbnb.

 The bill abolishes non-profit rent and replaces it with what it calls a cost rent, which would amount to up to 5.2% of the cost price of a new apartment.

Depending on location, the cost rent would stand between EUR 5 and EUR 7.30 per square metre, Environment and Spatial Planning Minister Simon Zajc and state secretary at the ministry Aleš Prijon told the press.

Under the new system, those renting out apartments are to make more in rent, however nothing is to change for those renting the apartments, as the difference in rent will be covered by a housing allowance.

This will bring in more money to the national Housing Fund and municipal housing funds, which is to be used for maintenance and construction of new apartments.

Eligibility of renters is to be checked annually, which has not been the case in the past. If the renter will exceed the income limit, they would be able to remain in the apartment but would have to pay a higher rent, up to 1.5 times as high as the cost rent.

Last year, municipalities spent EUR 12.4 million for housing subsidies, while the state contributed EUR 3.8 million.

Under the new system, municipalities will contribute EUR 12.3 million for the housing allowance, while the state is to provide EUR 28.5 million.

Moreover, the national Housing Fund is to establish a rent-out service, a kind of national real estate agency that would facilitate the renting out of empty apartments.

The public service will pay rent, find a renter and make sure that the apartment is returned to the owner in the state it was in before it was rented out, said Prijon.

The ministry expects that this would put between 20,000 and 30,000 apartments on the market, out of 170,000 apartments that are officially empty.

The bill also introduces state guarantees for the young and young families, who are unable to acquire a housing loan with banks.

In case that the loan-taker would no longer be able to pay off the loan, the Housing Fund would become the owner of the apartment, however, the loan-taker would still be able to live in the apartment and pay cost rent.

Moreover, the bill will increase the municipal funds' borrowing limit from 10% of its capital to 50%.

It also changes multi-dwelling management rules, for instance making it easier for residents to change the apartment block management firm.

New restrictions on Airbnb

Also, those who will want to let out their apartments through platforms such as Airbnb, thus changing the intended function of their flat from private to commercial, will have to get the approval of all apartment owners in their building, said Prijon.

The bill also lays out the conditions for housing cooperatives. The Housing Fund would likely contribute plots, while members of the cooperatives would each contribute a part of the cost of construction.

The rest of the funds needed would come from loans taken out with a guarantee from the Housing Fund. Members, who would want to withdraw from the cooperative, would get their contributions returned.

14 Oct 2019, 16:36 PM

STA, 14 October 2019 - The Constitutional Court has annulled part of the controversial amendments passed in January 2017 that define a special temporary regime on the border in the event of mass migration.

The Court annulled sections of clause 10.b which would effectively allow the country to suspend asylum law in special circumstances that would have to be endorsed by absolute majority in parliament.

The special system, imposed for a six-month period with the possibility of extension in a pre-defined area, would involve refusal to admit foreigners who do not meet entry criteria and the expulsion of those who have already entered the country unlawfully.

If they expressed the intention of asking for asylum, requests would be rejected by police as unfounded unless there were systemic shortcomings with regard to asylum in the EU country from which such a person entered.

Such systemic shortcomings would include the risk of torture, inhumane or degrading behaviour.

The amendments were passed despite concerns raised by NGOs, the Council of Europe and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees that they were in breach of international treaties.

Due to the concerns, the amendment was challenged at the top court by the human rights ombudsman in April 2017.

The Constitutional Court announced on Monday that it several sections of clause 10.b violated the Article 18 of the Constitution, which guarantees the principle of non-refoulement.

Clause 10.b does not guarantee, neither in Slovenia nor a neighbouring EU member, access to fair and effective legal procedure that would guarantee a substantive assessment that refoulement could not put the person in jeopardy of non-humane and degrading treatment.

A country may return an individual to a third country only if the third country is deemed safe; however, trust between countries should not be absolute. The person requesting asylum must get the opportunity to challenge the presumption of safety in this country.

Moreover, the contentious clauses also narrow the number of reasons that can be cited by those who are challenging the assumed safety of the neighbouring EU member state, the court said.

Also, the rejection of intention to request for asylum by one country does not obligate the neighbouring EU member state to accept this person, the court said.

The decision was adopted with eight votes in favour and one against, with judge Klemen Jaklič also issuing a dissenting opinion. In it he said that he had been subjected to "unacceptable" pressure due to his dissenting position in this case.

The Interior Ministry, which had drafted the 2017 changes to the foreigners act, said it would respect the Constitutional Court decision. Vesna Györkös Žnidar, the then interior minister, has not commented on the decision.

The Human Rights Ombudsman Peter Svetina, who challenged the changes in Constitutional Court, is happy with the decision. He sees the decision as a "welcome confirmation of constitutional and convention standards ... Being a country government by the rule of law, we cannot just bypass them when this may seem convenient".

Most political parties meanwhile seem reluctant to comment on the decision. The opposition Left labelled the decision on the "obnoxious" legislative changes made by the Miro Cerar government as appropriate.

The party moreover said that this alone would not suffice, as reports suggested that migrants were being returned and prevented from requesting asylum also without the contentious changes in force.

Also happy was MEP Milan Brglez, former parliamentary speaker and a former MP for the then senior coalition Modern Centre Party (SMC). He was one of several coalition MPs who voted against the changes in January 2017.

While Karl Erjavec, the president of the coalition Pensioners' Party (DeSUS), said he could not yet comment because he had not read the decision yet, Zmago Jelinčič, the leader of the opposition National Party (SNS) said that the Constitutional Court should first and foremost protect the Slovenian state and its citizens.

Democrats (SDS) head Janez Janša tweeted that "the left majority" at the Constitutional Court "abolished the safeguard in the foreigners act at a time when we are in danger of a refugee wave once more due to the Turks. There is no end to betrayal and anti-Slovenian policy of the leftists."

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