Politics

11 Oct 2019, 18:02 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, 4 October
        LJUBLJANA - The parliamentary Labour Committee nodded to a government proposal abolishing a special bonus for working welfare recipients. While the Left, also upset by the proposed tax reform, threatened to withdraw its support to the minority government, PM Marjan Šarec insisted the government remained welfare-oriented. He said the allowance plus bonus had come too close to the minimum wage.
        LJUBLJANA - The ZSSS trade union confederation stressed it did not support the government-proposed package of changes to tax legislation that are meant to reduce taxes on labour. The changes are supported by employers, with the Slovenian Business Club arguing that "wages in Slovenia are among the most taxed in the EU".
        ZAGREB, Croatia - Reports confirmed that career diplomat Vojislav Šuc had taken over as the new Slovenian ambassador to Croatia on Thursday.
        MARIBOR - Večer reported that the Maribor Higher Court had upheld a guilty verdict against Andrej Šiško, the leader of Štajerska Guard militia. In March, he was found guilty of trying to subvert the constitutional order through armed resistance and sentenced to eight months in prison, but has since been released after having served much of the sentence in detention.
        LJUBLJANA - A Slovenia-Japan business forum heard that economic cooperation between the countries is good, but there is still ample room to deepen it, for instance in the industrial sector, in energy and in ICT.
        KOPER - An officer of the Koper Police Department who was, according to unofficial media reports, the head of the district's narcotics task force, was arrested on charges of drug trafficking.

SATURDAY, 5 October
        LJUBLJANA - Coalition SocDems head Dejan Židan said the clash between the minority coalition and the opposition partner Left over social security issues was harmful and called for a meeting to iron out the differences. The SocDems sided with the Left in opposing the scraping of a bonus for working welfare recipients.
        BOLOGNA, Italy - Slovenian cyclist Primož Roglič of the Dutch team Team Jumbo-Visma won the single-stage Giro d'Emillia race to add to his numerous feats this year, which include the overall win at the prestigious Vuelta a Espana.

SUNDAY, 6 October
        TEHARJE - Retired Celje Bishop Stanislav Lipovšek stressed at the annual Teharje ceremony remembering an estimated 5,000 victims of war and post-war summary executions the need "for true reconciliation with the past" if Slovenia wants to build a safe and happy future. He expressed gratitude to all who made sure the execution sites around the country are finally being tended to.
        EDINBURGH, UK - Lučka Rakovec became the European lead champion in Edinburgh, adding another highlight to what has been a spectacular season for Slovenian sports climbing.
        LJUBLJANA- Slovenian boxer Ema Kozin won five world titles, having out-boxed Swedish Maria Lindberg at Stožice Arena in Ljubljana and defended her World Boxing Federation (WBF) Women's World Champion title of the Super Middleweight class.

MONDAY, 7 October
        LJUBLJANA - PM Marjan Šarec and Finance Minister Andrej Bertoncelj presented the 2020 and 2021 draft budgets in parliament, noting that, despite the expected slowdown of economic growth, the budgets would see a surplus, and that more money would be available than earlier. The National Assembly is expected to vote on both budgets at the end of November.
        BRNIK - The official receiver of Adria Airways started serving notices of job termination to the airline's employees, while pilots and cabin staff are reported to be interviewed with potential new employers. Adria's audited financial statement, released on 8 October, showed the German-owned Slovenian airline ended 2018 with a net loss of EUR 18.6 million, up from EUR 5.4 million in 2017.
        LJUBLJANA - The parliamentary inquiry into the operations of the Bank Asset Management Company (BAMC) began its work by quizzing several individuals in charge of critical developments in 2013, when the country's bad bank was incorporated. The first hearings focused on the contentious selection of Deloitte as the auditor and on the criteria for the transfer of bad claims.
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenian trade unions urged employers to provide for decent work and reflect on the workers' contribution to economic growth and prosperity as World Day for Decent Work was observed. The Movement for Decent Work and Welfare State moreover highlighted young workers in precarious jobs, who earn less than half of their colleagues working on permanent contracts.
        LJUBLJANA - Former Health Minister Tomaž Gantar confirmed he had stepped down as vice-president of the coalition Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) in September. Gantar, who is returning to medical profession and remains a DeSUS member, was critical of the way Karl Erjavec is leading the party, saying his style was increasingly less democratic.
        LJUBLJANA - The women's section of Slovenian PEN honoured Neda Rusjan Bric with this year's Mira Prize, an award it introduced in 2013 to honour outstanding women authors. An actress by profession, Rusjan Bric, 57, is an author who has directed a number of multimedia productions based on her own texts.

TUESDAY, 8 October
        BRUSSELS, Belgium - Slovenia earned a new reproof for the slow uptake of EU funds as the country's member of the European Court of Auditors Samo Jereb reported that by the end of 2018 the country had only used 24.2% of funding available for 2014-2020. The Government Development and Cohesion Policy Office said Jereb had considered only the final phase of EU funds uptake and that Slovenia was on track to securing all of the funds available.
        LJUBLJANA - PM Marjan Šarec helped end the boycott of social dialogue by employers and trade unions - caused by bills being filed into parliamentary procedure without having been discussed by the industrial relations forum - with a deal that will allow the Economic and Social Council (ESS) to also debate bills filed by the opposition.
        LJUBLJANA - It was confirmed that a consortium of Slovenian construction companies Pomgrad, Kolektor, SŽ-ŽGP, GH-Holding and Gorenjska Gradbena Družba has been chosen to build a new section of the rail line between Maribor and the Šentilj border crossing with Austria, a project valued at EUR 101 million.
        LJUBLJANA - The financial fund Alfi, the biggest creditor of the Tuš group with about a third of the claims, was reported being in talks for acquiring about 27% more of the claims to the struggling group around grocer Engrotuš.
        LJUBLJANA - The news web portal Siol reported that Fortenova, the successor of the bankrupt Croatian food conglomerate Agrokor, is devising a secret plan to slash up the Slovenian retail group Mercator into parts and take control of the cash flows between the core company and its subsidiaries in Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia.
        LJUBLJANA - The Month of Design event, bringing together around 300 participants from 19 countries in Southeast Europe, got under way in Ljubljana with the Design Expo fair.
        
WEDNESDAY, 9 October
        LJUBLJANA - PM Marjan Šarec and his Belgian counterpart Charles Michel, the next president of the European Council, were optimistic the UK and the EU could still reach an agreement on Brexit as Michel visited Slovenia as he prepares to assume the new EU top job. Šarec expressed confidence the new president of the EU Council would respect the rule of law, including in Schengen zone enlargement.
        LJUBLJANA - Bilateral ties and Schengen zone expansion topped the agenda as Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok met his counterpart Miro Cerar, with the pair urging respect for international law and dedication to multilateralism. As for Schengen zone expansion, with Croatia tipped as the next country to enter, the ministers stressed new members needed to meet all conditions.
        LJUBLJANA - The parliamentary foreign policy and EU affairs committees met for a joint session behind closed doors to discuss Slovenia's position on the expansion of the Schengen area. No formal decisions were expected to be taken, with the idea being to notify the committees and invite them to help form a position.
        LJUBLJANA - After issuing a set of recommendations last November to warn against imprudent consumer lending practices, Banka Slovenije said it will introduce binding restrictions in November which also stiffen conditions for consumer as well as housing loans.
        LJUBLJANA - The national intelligence agency SOVA, declined to give the parliamentary Intelligence Oversight Commission information on the agency's staffing, requested in the wake of allegations PM Marjan Šarec had intervened to secure a job to a female friend. While SOVA referred the investigation to the public employees inspectorate, the opposition-controlled commission insisted SOVA staffing also fell under its purview. SDS head Janez Janša demanded that SOVA head Rajko Kozmelj resign.
        LJUBLJANA - Representatives of the Slovenian minority in Italy expressed concern over the law that will drastically reduce the number of seats in the Italian parliament as of next election, and believe that the urgent next move should be to secure parliamentary representation of the minority with a relevant law.
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenia remained 35th in the 2019 World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report, scoring 70.2 points on a scale from 0 to 100, up from 69.6 points in 2018.
        
THURSDAY, 10 October
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenia called on Turkey to end its military operation in north-eastern Syria, protect civilians and respect international humanitarian law.
        LJUBLJANA - The government endorsed a bill on state guarantee for the loans taken out to fund the planned Koper-Divača rail expansion, and an expressway connecting the north and south of the country, two major infrastructure projects in Slovenia. The guarantee for the rail project was restricted to EUR 417m, and for the Third Development Axis at EUR 360m.
        LJUBLJANA - According to unofficial information obtained by the weekly Mladina, constitutional judges have annulled a controversial clause of the aliens act that would allow the country to take steps to suspend asylum law in the event of mass migration. The court told the STA the review was still ongoing.
        LJUBLJANA - A bill that would allow the government to subsidise air links vital to Slovenia after flag carrier Adria Airways was sent into receivership was defeated by the parliamentary Infrastructure Committee. On the same day, Adria's receiver published an invitation for bids for all remaining assets of the insolvent airline.
        SKOPJE, Macedonia - Relations between Slovenia and North Macedonia were in focus as PM Marjan Šarec visited Skopje. He reiterated Slovenia's support that North Macedonia be allowed to launch EU accession talks.
        LJUBLJANA - Right-wing parties organised a rally, headlined Save Slovenia. Protestors called against corruption and expressed their dissatisfaction with PM Marjan Šarec.
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenia exported EUR 2.32 billion worth of goods in August, which is 4.9% more year-on-year, while imports were up by 4.3% to EUR 2.3 billion. Trade surplus thus stood at EUR 20 million in August, for an exports-to-imports coverage of 100.88%.
        LJUBLJANA - The value of industrial output in Slovenia in August was 2% down compared to July and 0.8% higher year-on-year.
        MARIBOR - Marinka Štern was announced as the recipient of this year's Borštnik Ring for lifetime achievement, the highest accolade conferred in theatre acting. The 72-year-old stage and screen actor worked at the Mladinsko Theatre (SMG) and as also performed in television and radio productions and cooperated with other national and independent theatres.

All our posts in this series are here

11 Oct 2019, 15:58 PM

STA, 10 October 2019 - Slovenia has called on Turkey on Thursday to end its military operation in north-eastern Syria, protect civilians and respect the international humanitarian law. It has also expressed deep concern over the operation. President Borut Pahor meanwhile labelled the operation unacceptable. 

The Slovenian Foreign Ministry pointed out in a press release on Thursday that the operation could jeopardise the stability of the region, and the progress achieved in the battle against Islamic State and other terrorist organisations.

It also undermines the political process for the solving of the Syrian crisis, the ministry added.

Turkey launched a planned military offensive into north-eastern Syria on Wednesday, launching airstrikes and artillery fire across the border just days after the US announced it was pulling its troops back from the area.

The operation is aimed at pushing Kurdish forces, who were a key ally of the US in the fight against Islamic State, away from Turkey's border.

According to data provided by activists, 15 people have been killed so far, including eight civilians, among them two children. The international community has condemned the operation.

As a result of the operation people's lives are in danger and the humanitarian situation in the country is deteriorating, which could lead to more refugees, the Foreign Ministry said.

It also stressed that a permanent solution of the Syrian conflict could be reached only if Syria's territorial integrity is respected in the political process led by the UN in line with the 2015 UN Security Council resolution 2254.

Pahor, who is in Greece for the Athens Democracy Forum, told the Slovenian press that the international community must do everything it can to deter Turkish President Reccep Tayyip Erdogan from using force against Kurds.

He added that he had brought up his concerns about Kurdish issues with Erdogan several times. Pahor also said that some ten years ago Erdogan, in the capacity of prime minister, was instrumental in bridging the conflict between Turks and Kurds.

But cooperation between Erdogan and Kurds has soured since then to a degree that they are now on opposite sides.

Everything must be done to preserve dialogues between the international community and Turkey and between Turkey and Kurds, Pahor underlined.

11 Oct 2019, 07:30 AM

STA, 10 October 2019 - The specialised state prosecution dealing with the most demanding while collar crime and corruption cases has lodged two new indictments against Ljubljana Mayor Zoran Janković, the web portal MMC reported on Thursday. He is allegedly suspected of tax evasion and abuse of office.

The first case dates back to 2006, with the prosecution suspecting that the former CEO of retailer Mercator performed a series of complex business transactions in order to evade taxes by selling 47,000 Mercator shares through a company owned by his sons.

Investigators believe that the company was actually controlled by Janković at the time and that he was the actual owner of shares that he parked at the Electa Inženiring company until he sold them.

According to MMC, charges were filed against three persons and a legal entity in this case last week.

The second case goes back to 2009, when Janković is suspected of abuse of office to acquire EUR 1.4 million in illegal gains for Grep, the main constructor of Stožice sports park.

Moreover, he is suspected of document fabrication to allow Grep acquire a EUR 5.5 million loan from Banka Koper. Charges have been filed against five persons and a legal entity, the names reportedly include former Deputy Mayor Jadranka Dakić and Uroš Ogrin and Zlatko Sraka of Grep.

10 Oct 2019, 19:59 PM

STA, 10 October - Right-wing parties organised a rally in Ljubljana Thursday afternoon, headlined Save Slovenia. Protestors, who filled the Prešeren Square, called against corruption and expressed their dissatisfaction with Prime Minister Marjan Šarec.

Organised by the non-parliamentary People's Party (SLS) and former Maribor mayor and upper chamber member Franc Kangler, the rally was also backed by the Democrats (SDS), the biggest opposition party, as well as several non-parliamentary parties and civil initiatives.

In his address to what the SLS said were 5,000 protestors, Kangler talked about unequal treatment. Millions of euro of debt have been written off for some people, while others are being punished for helping out a neighbour, he said.

He also accused the government of disrespecting the Constitutional Court and called on Šarec to resign. Slovenia needs a prime minister who shows respect for everybody, not just "first class" citizens. "Enough is enough," he said, adding "it smells like spring" in a reference to the start of Slovenian independence efforts dubbed as the Slovenian spring.

SDS head Janez Janša also addressed the protestors, saying the rally was about making a stop to double standards and the deep state. "This is the beginning of the end of anti-Slovenian comedy... After today, nothing will be as it was."

He called for debt write-offs to "first-class" citizens to be audited, that privileges for some be weeded out of the pension system, a complete block on the border for illegal crossings and lustration of corrupt judges.

He also called for de-centralisation of state institutions, more money for municipalities, abolishment of unnecessary agencies and funds, a drastic reduction in the number of regulations, order in health care, among other things.

Janša also demanded responsibility of those who stole from state-owned banks twice, laundered terrorist money in them and shamed Slovenia around the world.

The SDS head said the protestors will insist on their demands, coming together again next time in even greater numbers and not only in Ljubljana, but across the country.

Other speakers also took the floor; demanding the resignation of Environment Minister Simon Zajc, whose department is viewed as having failed to control bear and wolf populations in Slovenia, and criticising the government's ineffectiveness in shoring up illegal migrations.

At the rally, signatures were also collected under a petition listing the protestors' demands.

Before the rally, the key organisers were received by upper chamber President Alojz Kovšca, after which a mass for the homeland was given in the Franciscan Church in Prešeren Square, followed by a concert of patriotic songs.

10 Oct 2019, 18:05 PM

STA, 10 October - President Borut Pahor expressed solidarity with Ireland in the face of Brexit as he met President Michael D. Higgins ahead of the Athens Democracy Forum on Thursday. Slovenia supports efforts for an orderly Brexit, which is in the interest of the EU and the UK.

The pair talked about the future of the EU and other topical global issues, but special attention was given to Brexit.

Pahor said that Slovenia would only support a deal acceptable to Ireland, this means only a legal solution that would avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, protect the economy of the island and preserve a single market in Ireland.

Pahor also underlined that Slovenia was fully supportive of the approach adopted by the EU and its head negotiator Michel Barnier.

Higgins noted that Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is meeting UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson today to discuss Brexit, Pahor's office said in a press release.

The press release also said that the presidents shared the view that the EU is at a cross roads and that serious reflection is needed about its future.

In this respect Higgins said that he advocated the eco-social economic policy, which he believes can strengthen the EU.

Higgins and Pahor agreed that bilateral relations between their countries were friendly and without open issues. They want to see closer cooperation in the future, with Pahor inviting Higgins to visit Slovenia.

The presidents are guests at the Athens Democracy Forum organised by the New York Times under the auspices of Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos. This year, the event focuses on alternative forms of governance.

All our stories on Brexit are here

10 Oct 2019, 09:55 AM

STA, 9 October 2019 - Bilateral ties and Schengen zone expansion topped the agenda as Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok met his Slovenian counterpart Miro Cerar in Ljubljana on Wednesday. The pair shared a view that bilateral relations were excellent and urged respect for international law and dedication to multilateralism.

Cerar thanked Blok for the support from the Netherlands and the other Benelux countries in 2017 when Slovenia took the position that the arbitration decision on the course of its border with Croatia must be respected and implemented.

The Slovenian foreign minister added that "with the Netherlands, as with all Benelux countries, we share related, democratic values, efforts for multilateralism and above all efforts for the rule of law".

Cerar and Blok also pointed to the need to respect international law. "This is what, alongside good economic relations, connects us very strongly and enables good relations also in other fields", according to Cerar.

Blok said he admired Slovenia for its focus on the respect of the rule of law, as well as on environmental and other topics the Netherlands found important.

What is common to both countries is the effort for a stronger influence of the EU at home and in the world, he said, also emphasising the importance of a strong internal market as a key for sustainable growth and development.

As regards the Schengen zone expansion, with Croatia being tipped as the next country to enter, the ministers stressed that new members needed to meet all conditions.

Cerar reiterated Slovenia's position that the country supported Croatia's entry in principle if all conditions were met: border security, illegal migration prevention, technical conditions and respect for the rule of law.

Asked whether Croatia met these conditions, he only said that "we're still waiting for a report" from the European Commission, and that it was a question for the Interior Ministry.

Blok said the Netherlands wanted to be fair in deciding on any expansion of the Schengen zone and wanted to assess whether the border control procedures were adequate. It will be very strict in this assessment, he added.

The Netherlands will treat every application, including from Croatia, consistently and fairly, and it will not be a political judgement, but a judgement on whether the country is ready to protect the external border, he said.

Cerar and Blok also confirmed that Slovenia and the Netherlands had very good economic relations, with the latter being one of Slovenia's key trade partners, with trade exceeding EUR 1.6 billion annually.

The country is the sixth largest investor in Slovenia and Cerar also pointed to Slovenia's wish to get connected in many fields, adding that development in the fields of artificial intelligence and energy would be supported.

Cerar also told Blok that integration of the Western Balkans in the EU was one of Slovenia's foreign policy goals and one of the priorities for the country's EU presidency in the second half of 2021.

Slovenia advocates for EU accession talks to start with North Macedonia and Albania, Cerar said, adding that the Western Balkan countries should be assisted in gradually entering the EU by implementing reforms and meeting all criteria.

As for other EU presidency priorities, he said Slovenia would advocate common European values, in particular sustainable development, and green and circular economy, where the Netherlands is a "champion".

09 Oct 2019, 16:14 PM

STA, 9 October 2019 - Prime Minister Marjan Šarec and his Belgian counterpart Charles Michel, the next president of the European Council, expressed optimism on Wednesday over the Brexit situation as Michel visited Slovenia. The pair believes the UK and the EU could reach an agreement.

Šarec also said that he was convinced Michel as the new president of the EU Council would respect the rule of law including in Schengen zone enlargement.

Michel, Belgium's caretaker prime minister who will take over at the helm of the EU Council in December, hopes London and Brussels could reach a Brexit deal, highlighting that both sides would need to show willingness for finding a solution in the coming weeks.

"I'd like to send an optimistic and positive message," said Michel at the press conference after the talks. "Willingness is not a guarantee for success; it's not a guarantee that a solution will be possible. However, without willingness there will be no solution in any case."

The Slovenian prime minister was likewise optimistic about the UK and EU reaching an agreement, adding "the matter has been dragging on for too long and is standing in the way of tackling important issues ahead of us".

"Naturally, we would all be most pleased if we could forget about this sad chapter of EU history and find another solution," said Šarec.

But in politics one needs to be a realist and Slovenia has always pursued this path, added the Slovenian prime minister.

"Slovenia is always aspiring to the rule of law; a manner which has been slightly stunted recently when some political connections have rather taken centre stage. I believe that the new European Commission will act differently," said Šarec.

"I know Michel is a politician who respects the rule of law and advocates EU values, and I'm convinced he will remain such as the president of the EU Council," responded Šarec when asked about his expectations regarding the new president's attitude towards the Slovenian-Croatian border arbitration dispute.

"However, every member state has a duty to consider whether this EU community should be based on the rule of law or on the principle of everybody trying to gain the most for oneself regardless of law or the rights of others. I believe we will definitely cooperate on this grounds in the future," Šarec said.

The pair also discussed the EU's multi-annual financial framework for the 2021-2027 period.

Šarec presented in more detail to Michel Slovenia's key views and expectations regarding the budget negotiations, which are expects to be wrapped up under the new EU Council presidency.

The Slovenian prime minister called for a swift agreement and said that Slovenia wanted a balanced financial framework which would properly tackle current EU challenges and would not lead to a further reduction of cohesion and rural development funds.

Meanwhile, Michel said that it was important to him as well to be aware of Slovenia's priorities in the negotiations.

The pair also discussed the situation in the Western Balkans - Šarec again highlighted the importance of an EU future for the region and said he expected that North Macedonia and Albania would get a go-ahead for the start of EU accession talks at a summit next week.

Michel's visit to Slovenia is part of his preparations for assuming his new EU top job. He said that the visit was very important since he wanted to lend an ear to Slovenia and find out about the country's concerns regarding current issues.

The next EU Council president highlighted that doing so he could then make more informed decisions "to lead the EU in the right direction and to be closer to citizens of Slovenia and other EU countries".

08 Oct 2019, 20:00 PM

STA, 8 October 2019 - Slovenia has earned a new reproof for the slow uptake of EU funds as the country's member of the European Court of Auditors reported that by the end of 2018 the country had only used 24.2% of the funding available for the period between 2014 and 2020.

Presenting the annual report for 2018 in Brussels, Samo Jereb said that the uptake rate was rather low the fifth year into the current financial framework, in particular compared to the fifth year of the previous framework when the rate was 37%.

While Slovenia is one of the least problematic countries when it comes to correctness of budget implementation, it is one of the poorest performing member countries in terms of the use of the available funding.

Slovenia is also one the countries with the biggest difference in the uptake rates in 2018 and 2011, which Jereb says is partly owing to that fact that in 2014 and 2015 Slovenia was focused on drawing funds from the previous financial framework, hence a delay in the uptake of current funds.

Part of the delay may be attributed to the late adoption of the legal basis at the EU level as well as to the fact that the current financial framework is more demanding than the previous one so countries have more problems adjusting their programmes to the new rules.

Slovenia's uptake rate, at 24.2% for 2018, is below the EU average of 27.3%, after being above the EU average of 33.4% in 2011, at 37%. Last year Slovenia was the fifth worst performing country, and it is the sixth this year, having come ahead of Slovakia.

According to the table released by the court, the lowest proportions of the available EU funding have been taken up by Croatia, Malta, Italy and Spain, while Finland comes first having used up more than half of the funding available in the current perspective.

Jereb explained that the European Commission had demanded EUR 8 billion worth of advance funds back from the member countries that failed to use the planned volume of available funding. The payments were then relocated to the member countries that implemented more than planned investments between July 2016 and June 2017.

Jereb would not go into details because the Commission's decisions are confidential, but he did say that the countries that benefited from the redistribution of funds were those with low uptake rates.

Slovenia got the final stamp of approval for EUR 73 million from three cohesion and structural funds in 2018 - the Cohesion Fund, European Regional Development Fund and the European Social Fund - related to investment implemented between July 2016 and June 2017. Last year the sum was zero.

Slovenia is also the only EU country that had not yet put in place in 2018 a system of indicators to monitor the effectiveness of implementation of EU-funded programmes, but only did so this year, Jereb noted.

Responding to the report, the Government Development and Cohesion Policy Office said that the 24% mentioned by Jereb included only the final phase of EU funds uptake - the payouts from the EU to the state budget.

The figure leaves out the first two phases, which see Slovenia well on its way to draw the entirety of the funds available to it, according to the office.

EUR 3.068 billion is available to Slovenia in 2014-2020 and can be drawn until 2023. Between January 2014 and August 2019 EUR 2.52 billion in EU funds has been allocated to various projects, which accounts for 82% of all funds available.

Meanwhile, EUR 2.02 billion worth of projects, representing 66% of funds, have been carried out by the end of August, while EUR 851 million has been paid out by the state budget, which accounts for 28%.

By the end of September, Slovenia forwarded to Brussels EUR 812 million worth of claims, or 26.4% of funds available, the government office said.

08 Oct 2019, 09:30 AM

STA, 7 October 2019 - Former Health Minister Tomaž Gantar stepped down as vice-president of the coalition Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) in September. In today's statement for the STA, Gantar was critical of the way Karl Erjavec is leading the party, saying his leadership style was less and less democratic.

Gantar, who has been a prominent member of DeSUS for years, is returning to his medical profession.

The former health minister said he was unhappy with the party's work recently. He said vice presidents did not have clearly defined roles and subsequently had no significant influence on the work of the party.

He will, however, remain a member of the party.

Erjavec would not comment on Gantar's resignation or his statements about party leadership today.

Meanwhile, DeSUS deputy group head Franc Jurša said that everyone was entitled to make assessments about anybody's work. "I would not assess Erjavec at this point," he said.

Juša also said that he did not sense any friction among top party officials but that messages did come on a daily basis from the field. Many think the party should do more, he added.

DeSUS, which has been on a downward trajectory for some time, will hold an extraordinary election congress on 17 January.

The party won only five seats in the National Assembly in 2018 and failed to secure a single MEP post in the May EU election.

Erjavec offered his resignation already after the general election, but the party council rejected it. After the EU election, however, the party decided it was time for an election congress.

The long-serving party head and current Defence Minister Erjavec announced he would run for another term. So far, no other candidates have announced their bids.

Asked whether it would be good if Erjavec had a rival at the congress, Jurša did not give a straightforward answer. He said that multiple candidates made election more interesting from the democratic point of view.

"But being a party president is not a rewarding job and I don't know if any of those who would be capable of running the party will decide for it."

Gantar said today he would not run for any posts at the congress.

05 Oct 2019, 09:08 AM

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

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

FRIDAY, 27 September
        NEW YORK, US - PM Marjan Šarec made a strong plea for efficient multilateralism in his address to the 74th session of the UN General Assembly. He stressed the importance of fundamental principles such as the rule of law and respect for human rights. He also called on delegates to back at November's UNESCO general conference Europe's first international AI research centre that would be set in Slovenia's capital Ljubljana.
        NEW YORK, US - FM Miro Cerar hosted ministers and high representatives of the Slovenian-sponsored Green Group initiative, an informal forum of foreign ministers from Slovenia, Iceland, Costa Rica, Cape Verde, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates, which promotes green policies and encourages the transition to a green economy and the use of renewable energy sources.
        GENEVA, Switzerland - Slovenia presented its resolution on human rights education at the 42nd session of the UN Human Rights Council. The proposal envisages a multi-annual strategy for educating the young about human rights. The council's members addressed a wide spectrum of issues during the three-week session, including the human rights situation in Venezuela, Yemen, Myanmar, Sudan and Ukraine.
        LJUBLJANA - Employers withdrew from the Economic and Social Council (ESS) in protest of bills being filed in parliament past the ESS, whereas the head of the ZSSS trade union confederation Lidija Jerkič followed suit by resigning as ESS chair. PM Marjan Šarec later announced that he would attend a session of the ESS in person on 8 October in an attempt to restore social dialogue. He noted that the Left, which had filed the bills bothering employers, was an opposition party.
        LJUBLJANA - Hundreds of young people took to the streets as part of the Global Climate Strike and #FridaysForFuture movement, urging politicians to declare a climate crisis and come up with practical measures. The young decided not to meet state representatives given that nothing had improved since they held talks during the March strike, but Environment Minister Simon Zajc expressed his support for the protests across Slovenia, held by the Youth for Climate Justice.
        LJUBLJANA - Denis Stroligo, a law graduate, was appointed director-general of the Official Gazette publisher. This was after the ruling LMŠ party official Brane Kralj had been swept out of office for trying to secure the job for former MEP Igor Šoltes.

SATURDAY, 28 September
        LJUBLJANA - CEO of Mercator Tomislav Čizmić said in an interview with Delo that Slovenia's leading retailer would become the biggest company and biggest retailer of the newly-established Fortenova Group once it is transferred to the group. Mercator is currently a part of the debt-ridden Agrokor, whose healthy assets are in the process of being transferred to Fortenova Group.
        MURSKA SOBOTA - Murska Sobota Protestant priest Leon Novak was elected the new head of the Slovenian Evangelical Lutheran Church in a secret ballot. He will take over from Geza Filo in December. The head of the Slovenian Evangelical Lutheran Church is elected for a six-year term with the possibility of another six-year term.

SUNDAY, 29 September
        PARIS, France - The Slovenian men's national volleyball team won another silver at the European Championship after losing the final match to Serbia 1:3. After making an improbable run in Ljubljana, beating the European champions Russia and world champions Poland in the process, Slovenia had to concede to Serbia even though they won the first set.

MONDAY, 30 September
        LJUBLJANA - The management of struggling air carrier Adria Airways filed for receivership after the government said it was not ready to invest in the carrier under the current owner and in its current financial state. On news of the receivership proposal, the Civil Aviation Agency stripped the airline of its operating licence and all flights have been cancelled.
        LJUBLJANA - The newspaper Dnevnik reported that FM Miro Cerar had ordered an internal investigation at the ministry over the leaking of classified information, in particular the names of ambassadorial candidates. The final straw is said to have been Dnevnik's reporting that Ambassador to Serbia Iztok Jarc would replace Slovenia's future EU Commissioner Janez Lenarčič as the country's ambassador to the EU.
        LJUBLJANA - The coalition agreed that the abolition of top-up health insurance be made in two steps, with the first being the transfer of its collection onto the public health insurance fund ZZZS. The second step would be making what Health Minister Aleš Šabeder termed a solidarity scale for the collection of health insurance contributions. This is an alternative idea prepared by the health and finance ministries after the opposition Left had filed into parliament a bill of its own, which the coalition rejected.
        BLED - Slovenia and Croatia failed to agree to build a common repository for nuclear waste from their jointly-owned N-plant, as the inter-governmental commission in charge of overseeing the bilateral agreement on the Krško Nuclear Power Plant met for a session in Slovenia.
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenia posted a general government surplus of EUR 124 million, or 1% of GDP, in the second quarter of the year but revenue growth was outpaced by growth in expenditure in a first sign of economic slowdown. Consolidated general government gross debt at the end of the second quarter amounted to EUR 31.803 billion, or 67.7% of GDP.
        LJUBLJANA - The government confirmed a bill which limits certain expenditure on wages of civil servants and introduces an extraordinary 1% indexation of pensions in 2020 under the condition of 3% GDP growth for this year. The bill will be filed together with the remaining budget documents to be fast-tracked in parliament.

TUESDAY, 1 October
        LJUBLJANA - Adria Airways having filed for receivership, Ljubljana airport operator Fraport Slovenija announced that a network of flights comparable to Adria's could be set up within a year and a half. The Belgian air carrier Brussels Airlines, part of Lufthansa Group, announced it would restore its Brussels-Ljubljana link on 4 November.
        LJUBLJANA - FM Miro Cerar and his Luxembourgian counterpart Jean Asselborn noted the importance of multilateralism and respect for international law during Asselborn's official visit to Slovenia. The pair announced a new Slovenia-Benelux summit for later this year or early 2020. Asselborn also met Slovenia's other top officials.
        NOVO MESTO - Pharma company Krka inaugurated a EUR 55.6 million research and development centre that nearly doubles its R&D, and control and analysis capacities.
        PREVALJE - Lek, the Slovenian subsidiary of Swiss multinational Novartis, announced it would phase out antibiotics production in Slovenia's Prevalje in two years, moving it to Austria, while Prevalje would become part of Novartis's emerging global operative centre.
        LJUBLJANA - A group of 32 MPs led by the opposition New Slovenia (NSi) asked the Constitutional Court to review the property appraisal act on the grounds that the issues found unconstitutional by the court in 2013 still remain after the act was changed in May 2019. This was as the Surveying and Mapping Authority released the results of a preliminary property appraisal. PM Marjan Šarec told MPs the government in its current form was not in a position to push through a real estate tax.
        LJUBLJANA - Calls to improve the economic and housing situation of the elderly marked the start of the three-day Festival for the Third Age on International Day of Older Persons. The Pensioners' Association issued a list of demands to the government, including for an annual allowance and an immediate indexation of pensions.
        LJUBLJANA - A new academic year started for close to 76,000 Slovenian students. In total, more than 48,300 new places are available this year at nearly 820 graduate, MA and doctoral programmes.

WEDNESDAY, 2 October
        LJUBLJANA - The Kranj District Court launched receivership for Adria Ariways. The creditors will have three months to file their claims. Unofficially, the company has run up EUR 90 million in debt. The receivership will put 558 people out of their jobs.
        BRUSSELS, Belgium - Slovenia's European commissioner-designate Janez Lenarčič was heard by the EU Parliament's Development Committee in a session that revolved around migration and climate crisis, as well as the role of the private sector and NGOs in humanitarian activities, education of child refugees and nuclear incident preparedness. According to sources in the European Parliament, he passed the test with all political groups backing him bar the far-right Identity and Democracy.
        LJUBLJANA - PM Marjan Šarec denied the allegation by the Požareport news website that he intervened to have the SOVA intelligence agency hire a former female employee of the Kamnik municipality where he served as mayor before becoming PM. Šarec said she got the job in line with standard procedure. The allegation had been discussed by the parliamentary intelligence oversight commission, with findings yet to be presented.
        RIMSKE TOPLICE - President Borut Pahor met mayors as part of a congress of Slovenian municipalities to see whether it was worth proceeding with establishing provinces. Mayors told him there was no doubt Slovenia needed them to decentralise and get a fresh development impetus. Pahor will host a meeting discussing the issue in November, while a decision could then be made as he meets the prime minister and the presidents of both chambers of parliament in December.
        LJUBLJANA - The Constitutional Court ruled in a 5:4 vote that the retirement and disability pension act is not unconstitutional in the part that prevents sole proprietors from receiving full pension if they continue working after reaching retirement age, stating intergenerational fairness, equality and financial sustainability took precedence over sole proprietors' interests.
        LJUBLJANA - Even though the agreement on joint patrols policing the Slovenian-Italian border ended, cooperation between the two police forces remains in place in certain areas, in particular in the Koper Police Department district, but not in the Nova Gorica Police Department district.
        LJUBLJANA - The two-day Slovenia Business Bridge investment and development conference, hosted by AmCham Slovenia at its 20th anniversary, started with a business breakfast discussing challenges in the management of family companies, and continued with a panel discussing strategies by investors.
        LJUBLJANA - The Slovenian car dealerships Autocommerce, Avto Triglav and AC-Mobil, which are part of the holding company ACH 2, will be acquired by Swiss Emil Frey Group for an undisclosed amount, pending the approval of the EU Commission.

THURSDAY, 3 October
        LANY, Czech Republic - President Borut Pahor participated in a Visegrad Group summit plus Slovenia and Serbia which backed the EU's enlargement to the Western Balkans. Pahor warned that the EU not expanding into the region "could have major bad consequences".
        LJUBLJANA - The government endorsed changes to the aviation act that create a legal basis for the state to subsidise crucial air links with the country if this proves necessary in the wake of Adria Airways collapse.
        LJUBLJANA - The government confirmed a package of tax tweaks that are meant to reduce taxation of labour to increase competitiveness, while slightly increasing the taxation of capital gains and rental income to offset for the loss of revenue.
        LJUBLJANA - The government adopted a set of changes to the pension insurance act to equalise the pension base for men and women at 63.5% of the salary as of 2025 and regulating the status of pensioners who continue to work. Working pensioners will initially get 40% of the pension they are entitled to, along with the salary, but after three years their pension will drop to 20%.
        LJUBLJANA - The government proposed amendments to the labour market regulation act that increase the minimum monthly unemployment benefit while stiffening entitlement conditions. The amendments also introduce compulsory Slovenian language classes for non-Slovenian EU citizens registered as unemployed and a basic language skill requirement for the rest.
        LJUBLJANA - Infrastructure Minister Alenka Bratušek is taking over as a stand-in head of the Government Office for Development and EU Cohesion Policy after Iztok Purič stepped down on 20 Sep. Her SAB party said it would propose a minister candidate after the 2020 and 2021 budgets are passed in parliament.
        LJUBLJANA - The government appointed Peter Jenko as the new director general of the Financial Administration for a five-year term. Jenko, current deputy director general, will take over on 27 November, succeeding outgoing FURS director general Jana Ahčin.
        LJUBLJANA - The news portal Siol.net reported that the Czech EPH group will enter the cargo arm of the Slovenian railway operator as a strategic partner under a deal worth roughly EUR 80 million. The entry is to be discussed in the coming weeks by the supervisory board of Slovenske Železnice, while the final say will rest with state asset custodian Slovenian Sovereign Holding.
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenia's registered jobless total fell to 69,834 in September, down 2.4% from August and down 5.3% from September 2018. It is close to the all-time low recorded in September 2008 when 59,303 were registered as being out of a job.

All our posts in this series are here

05 Oct 2019, 08:30 AM

The covers and editorials from leading weeklies of the Left and Right for the work-week ending Friday, 04 October

Mladina: Slovenia reduced to periphery as key companies sold

STA, 4 October 2019 – The left-wing weekly Mladina criticises governments for lack of reflection and long-term vision when selling companies key to Slovenia's economic independence and sovereignty. "All serious countries take special care of certain sectors, and infrastructure is the first among them," the weekly writes in Friday's editorial Periphery Country.

Editor-in-chief Grega Repovž also notes that Slovenian managers and politicians like to brag about knowing the Balkans very well, but the truth is much more miserable.

He says there are only few Slovenian investments in Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia and elsewhere in the region, whereas Austria is a strong player there.

What is more, Croatian and Serbian companies have taken over a number of Slovenian flagships, such as retailer Mercator, food companies Droga Kolinska and Žito, soft drinks maker Fructal and bank Gorenjska Banka.

Nevertheless, the true big players on the Slovenian market come from others parts of Europe, chiefly Austria and Germany, says Repovž.

Taking a look at the case of Slovenian airline Adria Airways, Repovž says there was no doubt Germany's Lufthansa would try to take over Adria Airways.

And it goes without saying that Europe's leading airline has an advantage because the government sold Slovenian airport operator Aerodrom Ljubljana to Germany's Fraport.

But while Austria, Switzerland and Belgium had set Lufthansa strict conditions when selling it their airlines, Slovenia's prime ministers Alenka Bratušek, Miro Cerar and Marjan Šarec "were obviously not thinking about these dimensions of their country's statehood, independence and sovereignty".

"Countries are no longer being conquered with armies, they are being conquered economically. And small countries which can easily become dependent are very careful [about this possibility]."

However, Slovenia has sold almost the entire food and retail sectors, all key banks and the national airport. It has avoided by a notch Hungary's becoming a co-owner of port operator Luka Koper, allowed a Chinese investor to buy home appliances maker Gorenje, sold one of its few tech gems, Fotona, for small change, and left the aviation market to the mercy of foreign airlines.

"Is this enough to prove that we are good students of those who then buy our companies? In the Balkans they call it 'voluntary sacrifice'. This is how Slovenia goes about strategic decisions. And a special credit for this goes to Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek," concludes Repovž.

Demokracija: Bojan Požar’s advertising deals not corruption

STA, 3 October 2019 - The right-wing weekly Demokracija comes to the defence of Bojan Požar, the editor of online tabloid Pozareport who tried to enter politics, in its latest editorial, rejecting the premise that signing advertising deals with state companies while running for office entails serious corruption risks.

While only using the first names, Demokracija's editor-in-chief Jože Biščak compares Požar's campaign situation to Prime Minister Marjan Šarec, who campaigned while he was serving as mayor, and Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) head Karl Erjavec, who has served in ministerial posts for years.

The two politicians enjoyed stable funding by taxpayers and were constantly in the public limelight without having to spend almost any funds on campaigning, whereas Požar has to fight for his survival on the market.

"Because he has a media company, he needs to sign advertising deals with companies. If he fails, there will be no wages the next month. Bojan wanted to become a politician, but he failed. He is not an official, not part of the power structures, he works with his own money, for his own account."

According to Biščak, the question at the heart of the matter is "in which case the corruption risk is bigger ... with Marjan, Karl or Bojan?".

"In normal countries, where the dividing lines between state-owned, public and private are very clear, the answer would be clear: with Marjan and Karl. But because Slovenia is not normal (yet), let alone free, the (socialist) mainstream media are sending the Court of Audit and the Corruption Prevention Commission after Bojan (Požar)," Biščak says in the commentary entitled Other Side of the Mirror.

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