Politics

30 Mar 2019, 10:00 AM

Mladina: Who is opposed to changing the system of supplementary health insurance, and why?

STA, 29 March 2019 - The left-wing weekly Mladina looks into the reasons for the opposition to the idea to abolish supplementary health insurance in its latest commentary, noting that it is more than 15 years old, much older than the Left, which usually gets credit for the idea.

"The people who are screaming about excessive public spending are also screaming about the Left (and the coalition) wanting to take EUR 500m away from healthcare by forcing the idea," editor-in-chief Grega Repovž says in Crazy World.

"The idea to abolish supplementary health insurance is much older than the Left. It is more than 15 years old. It has been present since it was revealed that some lobbies are using it to literally cut away a part of public money they collect instead of the state."

According to Repovž, these lobbies are turning this money around on financial markets, take their 10% and then return it to the state. "This would have been abolished everywhere long ago. But not in Slovenia. Let's see why this is. Because the reasons are actually very banal, shallow and evil."

The coalition is not actually proposing abolition of supplementary health insurance, but its merging with compulsory insurance. The catch is that people with lower income would pay less, up to 20 euros a month, and those with higher income would pay more, up to 70 euros.

A majority of the decision-making MPs, officials, directors - the entire upper class, would pay more, and the thing is that they do not want to pay more. They instead let three private insurers to get their EUR 60m every year from the people.

In short, the entire upper class is pretending ignorance and does not want to shoulder its share of costs for healthcare, the share proportionate to their income. This is why they are willing to lie that the coalition (and the Left) wants to take EUR 500m away from the healthcare sector.

"Well, the question is on whose side the new health minister is. He has not been convincing so far, but he belongs to the party of the prime minister, who has committed to implementing this objective in the agreement with the Left."

It is very easy to explain the reasons for abolition of supplementary health insurance to the public, for example with the situation of general practitioners, concludes the commentary.

Demokracija: Fidesz helps EPP ahead of EU election

STA, 28 March 2019 - The right-wing weekly Demokracija says in its latest commentary that the European People's Party (EPP) members made the right decision in not expelling the party of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and thereby diminishing EPP leader Manfred Weber's chances of becoming the next president of the European Commission.

Last week, Weber faced the serious threat of a discord in the EPP right ahead of the EU elections, and a possible break-up of the group was not excluded either, as some parties had announced they would leave the EPP if Fidesz was expelled or forcedly suspended.

At first, it seemed that a majority of the EPP members were leaning towards such a proposal from 13 members, as this was supposed to be the key to success of Christian democrats in the May elections, editor-in-chief Jože Biščak says in EPP's Training Day in Brussels.

But after the speech by Janez Janša, the head of the Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS), who seriously warned that such a decision could cause irreparable damage, the scales tipped to the other side and Orban's proposal for a six-month suspension was accepted.

A continuation of the dispute would mostly benefit the political groups on the left, as socialist Frans Timmermans would easily beat Weber, Biščak says, noting that the solution was temporary, as everybody is waiting for the election result.

The compromise between the EPP and Fidesz is the best solution for European conservatives at the moment, as they remain (at least seemingly) unified, and one can say that Orban did a favour to Weber.

As projections suggest, Orban will be a great winner of the EU elections in Hungary, and Weber's chances of becoming the next president of the European Commission would have dropped drastically had Fidesz left the EPP, as it would be followed by more parties. Actually, it would be mission impossible, concludes the commentary.

All our posts in this series can be found here

29 Mar 2019, 14:20 PM

Our earlier stories on this case can be found here

STA, 29 March 2019 - Andrej Šiško, the self-styled leader of a militia called the Štajerska Guard, has been sentenced to eight months in prison for trying to subvert the constitutional order. Matej Lesjak, charged with aiding Šiško, received a three-month suspended sentence. The ruling is not final yet.

The sentence was handed down by the Maribor District Court on Friday after a trial that lasted only five weeks on the first ever charges brought for the crime of inciting to a violent subversion of the constitutional order.

Judge Vanja Verdel Kokol ordered that the 49-year-old Šiško be released from custody today after more than six months in detention. The time he has spent in detention will count as part of the sentence.

According to the judge, Šiško attempted to subvert the constitutional order with various moves, including by threatening the then Prime Minister Miro Cerar in January 2017 and founding the Štajerska Land and then a para-military unit, the Štajerska Guard, in September 2018.

Verdel Kokol said Šiško had gone too far and that history thought us that such actions must not be underestimated.

She noted that the defendants started claiming the whole thing was but a provocation only after criminal procedure had been filed against them.

"A democratic society should not be taken for granted and it can be jeopardised. This is why clear boundaries must be set to prevent undermining its foundations."

Šiško, the leader of the non-parliamentary United Slovenia Movement, and Lesjak, a former member of the opposition Democratic Party's (SDS) youth wing were apprehended in September after a video was posted on social media of a para-military group parading with airsoft rifles in the woods in north-east Slovenia.

While Šiško is considered to have organised the exercise, Lesjak is believed to have filmed it and posted the video on the internet.

Both claimed the campaign was but a provocation designed to bring to the public's attention the problematic workings of Slovenia's politics, mass media and security system.

Bot the judge dismissed this, wondering why Šiško had gathered information about the militia members' blood type if it was all a joke.

The state has a monopoly over national security and there is no space for para-military groups. "Incitement to a violent subversion of the constitutional order may encroach on the fundamental rights of Slovenian citizens," she said.

According to the judge, the intention of the exercise was to spread ideas propagated by Šiško in order to attract more followers angry with the current government.

It is therefore unimportant whether they carried real weapons; even display of weapons similar to real weapons achieved its purpose, the judge said.

Šiško, reacting in his signature fashion, said the ruling confirmed that Štajerska had been established as an independent land. He now expects a meeting with the prime minister and home minister to set down the details of his militia's cooperation with the police and the army.

He also rejected the notion that he incited to violence, "but what others understand is another thing altogether. I speak Slovenian, but obviously the prosecutor and the judge have trouble understanding."

The prosecutor had proposed that Šiško spent 16 months in prison - the maximum sentence would be five years - but was nevertheless satisfied with the sentence. The defence said the ruling was expected.

Šiško's lawyer, Lucija Šikovec Ušaj, framed the trial in free speech terms, arguing that Slovenia will have to come clear once and for all about whether people have the right to free speech.

"If they say we don't, we'll have to stick to it. Such dictatorships do not last long, though. It is true, however, that Europe is gravitating towards limiting free speech and the judge has joined this bandwagon," she said.

The five-week trial saw a fair share of unusual scenes, from Šiško spending days delivering his defence to his supporters at one point appearing in front of the Maribor Courthouse with a white stretch limo to salute their leader.

Šiško, the leader of the far-right party United Slovenia, has long been active politically and he even ran for Maribor mayor from detention in the November 2018 local elections, securing 1.43% of the vote.

He has also announced his intention to stand in the May elections to the European Parliament, while his lawyer Šikovec Ušaj is among the founding supporters of a new far-right party, the Homeland League, which plans to field her in the EU election.

28 Mar 2019, 12:30 PM

STA, 27 March 2019 - Aleš Šabeder is taking charge of the Ministry of Health, replacing Samo Fakin, who stepped down at the beginning of March, citing health reasons. Before becoming director general of the UKC Ljubljana hospital a year ago, Šabeder had no experience in the healthcare sector.

As the new health minister Šabeder will be confronted with many challenges such as healthcare reforms and navigating through various political interests.

Born in 1970 in the city of Ptuj, Šabeder has a degree in economics. Most of his experience stems from working in the corporate sector, including at one of the senior posts at the fuel trader Petrol (2006-08), and serving as one of the regional directors for wholesale and retail at the retailer Mercator (2008-14).

In January 2014, he took over at the seed manufacturer Semenarna Ljubljana as director general, marketing director, and exports department manager before moving on four years later to become director general of UKC Ljubljana, the country's main medical centre employing around 8,000 people.

UKC Ljubljana generated a loss of EUR 23m last year, up considerably compared to the target loss of EUR 15m. This was after the hospital made a deficit of EUR 33.5m in 2017, which was turned into a surplus of EUR 46.4m after the hospital received almost EUR 80m under the government hospital bailout plan.

On his appointment at UKC, the hospital's council cited his management experience and experience in negotiating with trade unions; however, the doctors' trade union and several political parties considered him a political appointee, supported by the then ruling Modern Centre Party (SMC).

During his presentation in parliament, Šabeder was criticised for failing to offer concrete solutions, and he admitted he would have to get briefed on the situation fast.

He pledged to endeavour for accessible and quality public health system, one that is "neither left nor right", but remains in the professional domain rather than a political one.

Šabeder is fluent in English, German, Croatian, and Serbian. He is married and has a daughter.

All our stories on healthcare in Slovenia are here

Plans to cut waiting times and bureaucracy

STASTA, 26 March 2019 - Aleš Šabeder, the nominee for health minister, was confirmed by the relevant parliamentary committee on Tuesday, with 12 MPs voting in favour and two against. He announced a systematic approach to cut waiting times and red tape, and an overhaul of the health care and health insurance act.

As the hearing started yesterday, the candidate said that the people must be provided with accessible and quality public health services, adding that he had got well acquainted with the complexity and the needs of the Slovenian healthcare system.

One of his first priorities will be to revise waiting lists on the national level and then prepare measures to cut waiting times such as setting up additional programmes and focus on the areas where the number of patients is rising.

The system of appointments needs to be revised as well, and paperwork should be reduced to relieve the burden on doctors who are already struggling with excessive workload. They need efficient IT support, he believes.

Touching on the problems on the primary level, he said that Slovenia simply did not have enough GPs, so structural changes were needed in this area to relieve the pressure on the secondary and tertiary levels.

Today, Šabeder said he was ready to cooperate with all parties and listen to their proposals. He is in talks with candidates for state secretaries at the ministry, "who will not be politically appointed, they will be experts."

Regarding the idea to abolish supplementary health insurance, he said this would require a stable and long-term source of financing. Possible solutions are a higher contribution rate, a healthcare tax, and levies on alcohol, tobacco and sugary drinks.

Quizzed by MPs, Šabeder admitted that "at this moment I don't know what the best solution is", but added that he was not connected with any healthcare insurers and not in conflict of interest.

Regarding the shortage of GPs, he reiterated that the number of specialisations should be increased and encourage students to study family medicine.

Corruption in the procurement of medical equipment should be fought by introducing national standards which would apply to all healthcare institutions, he said, adding that public procurement legislation should also be amended.

Šabeder, who has been director of the UKC Ljubljana hospital for over a year, is set to be appointed health minister by the National Assembly on Wednesday, to succeed Samo Fakin, who stepped down at the beginning of March for health reasons.

He told the STA after the vote he was happy he had managed to also convince members of the opposition, adding that he believed that he would get the required majority tomorrow.

Šabeder commented on the hearing by saying that there were a lot of open issues in healthcare. "I know that I'm sitting in a hot sea and that there are many challenges, which we can resolve with consensus and agreement."

28 Mar 2019, 11:20 AM

STA, 27 March, 2019 - Simon Zajc, the new minister of the environment and spatial planning, is taking over a department that he has gotten to know from the inside during his six-month stint as state secretary. But he has little previous experience with environmental issues.

Zajc, 38, told MPs during his committee hearing that he would continue projects initiated by his predecessor Jure Leben, who was seen as the most proactive environment minister in years.

He has listed changes to construction and housing laws, the environment protection act and waters act as his main priorities alongside a long-term climate strategy and improved waste management.

An opponent of fracking who has spoken against power stations on the river Mura, he nevertheless refrained from clearly opposing or endorsing plans to build a waste incineration plant beyond saying that "every country must take care of its own waste".

Zajc has been in top-level politics since 2014, when he was elected MP on the ticket of the newly-established Miro Cerar Party (SMC), later renamed the Modern Centre Party; before the formation of the SMC in mid-2014, he had been a member of the Youth Party (SMS).

In parliament he was deputy chair of the Agriculture, Forestry and Food Committee and his only major legislative proposal was legalisation of small-scale marijuana growing for personal consumption and sale. He told MPs earlier this week that he still stood by his proposal.

Before entering politics, Zajc managed car fleets for corporate clients, headed his own video and mobile app company, and hosted events.

He also performed as stand-up comedian and wrote a sex and relationship advice column for the Slovenian edition of Cosmopolitan magazine.

Zajc will continue the work of his predecessor

STA, 25 March 2019 - Simon Zajc pledged to complete the work set out by his predecessor at the Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning in his hearing on the parliamentary committee on Monday. He listed updates to construction and housing laws, a reform of water law and tackling the waste management as his priorities.

Zajc, who has so far served as one of the two state secretaries at the ministry and is nominated to replace his boss Jure Leben as minister, told the MPs that the ministry would have to keep up the pace and the manner of work set out under Leben's guide.

"Over the past six years we were working intensively, identified problems, set the priorities, the timeline and activities. If you let me, we will resume work at once," said the 38-year-old nominee, who is expected to be appointed minister at the plenary session on Wednesday after being backed by ten votes in favour and five against in today's hearing.

He said the goal was to implement key changes by the end of 2020. This is because when Slovenia holds the presidency of the Council of the European Union in the second half of 2021, tasks at home would be sidelined.

Zajc's first task at hand, if appointed, would be to present as early as next week an updated construction bill. Consultation will be held with all deputy factions and local communities, he promised.

The next step would be to update housing legislation, to make housing more accessible to young people. The Housing Fund would build solely rental flats, non-profit rent would be replaced by cost rent and the state would guarantee for loans for young families.

The environmental conservation act would be amended, including by introducing a fund to tackle brownfield areas and securing reserve funds for risk activity companies in case of a bankruptcy. A new water bill would be submitted to parliament in the first half of the year.

Zajc said that new waste management legislation would have to be passed by the end of the year. Packaging fees would be paid by all packaging waste producing companies and they would have to report four times rather than once a year.

The requirements for packaging waste disposal companies would be restricted to do away with all anomalies, the final result of which Zajc said would be a single efficient provider.

The nominee also promised a continuation of the fight against plastics, and amendments to several pieces of legislation, including that governing disaster relief and that implementing the constitutional right to drinking water.

Another major task would be a long-term climate strategy. "The country's goal must be to become carbon neutral by the mid-century," Zajc said, listing a number of questions that would have to be answered in the process.

Asked about waste incineration, Zajc said that "each country has to take care of its waste", calling for the country's self-sufficiency when it comes to end waste management. A public debate on an incineration plant has been conducted and Zajc has asked municipalities' association to check whether any of them is interested in having such a plant.

Zajc does not think there is a need for a new facility, because it is possible to adapt the exiting ones. If the country opted for an incineration plant, the government would have to determine the amount and type of waste to be thermally treated, the best technology would have to be applied, and monitoring would have to be conducted regularly with the data accessible to everyone. The plant would have to be non-profit as well.

If appointed, Zajc will succeed Leben, who resigned after becoming embroiled in allegations of wrongdoing related to the Koper-Divača rail project that he was responsible for as state secretary at the Infrastructure Ministry in the previous term.

Most of the committee members regretted that Leben had to resign, having "set out things well", as Boris Doblekar from the opposition Democrats (SDS) put it, but they wished Zajc successful work.

SDS MP Zvonko Černač hailed Zajc's willingness to cooperate, but said that past experience testified that even if concrete solutions and improvements had been agreed with the ministers in the past these were not passed if put forward by the opposition or the SDS party.

This is why he urged the nominee to apply a "more cunning mechanism to file these proposals through the coalition parties or the supra-coalition party". The latter reference was to the Left.

28 Mar 2019, 10:00 AM

STA, 27 March 2019 - Foreign Minister Miro Cerar announced on Wednesday that Slovenia would issue a diplomatic note to Croatia over a grave border violation by a Croatian police boat in the Bay of Piran last Sunday.

Cerar said the boat crossing 2.5 km into Slovenian waters and even 1.3 km across the bay's midline was a special kind of provocation.

He spoke of an unnecessary escalation between the two countries, of a failure to honour international and EU law and of a violation of the Schengen border - by a country that would like to become a member of the Schengen area.

The newspaper Delo has reported that the Croatian police blamed their excursion on problems with navigation equipment.

"This is obviously just an excuse and as such completely unacceptable", Cerar commented, saying accepting this would be an "affront to the intelligence and abilities of the Croatian police authorities, which know exactly what they are doing".

The latest incident is part of a long history of run-ins in the bay featuring police and fishing boats on both sides of the border.

Since June 2017 the bay has also become the central theatre of the two sides' take on the international border arbitration decision, which Croatia is refusing to implement. The arbitration award gives 80% of the bay to Slovenia.

Cerar added today that Sunday's incident proved the implementation of the arbitration award was urgent, not only from the legal and political standpoints and bilateral relations but also because of "the entire European story".

"Such behaviour is not European and also serves as a poor example to the Western Balkans," Cerar said, adding the EU was constantly repeating that membership candidates needed to respect international law.

27 Mar 2019, 10:00 AM

STA, 26 March 2019 - Slovenian creatives have welcomed the European Parliament's yes vote for the copyright directive in the digital single market, whereas its fiercest opponents labelled it a "catastrophe" and a "dark day for the internet".

 

AIPA boss Gregor Štibernik told the STA on Tuesday that on behalf of audio-visual artists he could thank "all those who voted for the directive and a creative Europe".

He believes this means that authors will finally be able to get properly paid for their works which are used online.

He noted, however, much would depend on how the directive, which had been several years in the making, "will be implemented in national law".

EU members states have two years to transpose it, and the process in Slovenia will be coordinated by the Ministry of Economic Development and Technology.

Slovenian writers and publishers are happy as well, with Luka Novak from SAZOR stressing that "copyright law will now finally also apply to the internet".

He believes the directive will encourage competition in that small platforms, which are now practically non-existent in Slovenia, get a chance to promote independent content.

Novak also sees the directive as a means of putting Slovenian authors on a par with major global players in that they finally get paid for their work.

"Today is a big day for all copyright holders, authors, musicians, which will bring major change to the digital environment around Europe," said Dario Rot, speaking on behalf of musicians.

"This means that YouTube will be at least partly equalised with other musical portals which do business legally and pay adequate fees to all creatives and copyright holders. It will no longer have its own rules when for instance it does not pay authors in Slovenia."

The directive was also welcomed by the Slovenian Journalist Association (DNS), which said it would enable publishers and journalists to get a share from their works being used on the internet.

Nevertheless, Špela Stare of the DNS said members of the European Parliament had unfortunately not used an option to improve the text of the directive.

So when the directive is being implemented in Slovenia, journalist organisations intend to enter talks with publishers so that journalists get a fair share when media companies distribute copyright money.

By not opting to improve the directive with amendments, MEPs passed the controversial Articles 11 and 13 (respectively renumbered as 15 and 17 in the latest version), which the directive's critics believe will have far-reaching consequences.

The director of the Institute for Intellectual Property, Maja Bogataj Jančič, said that legal experts assume "it will bring many legal problems".

She nevertheless hopes "that Article 11 will bring journalists and those who post content on the net rewards and that Article 13 introduces a mechanism under which Google and similar platforms reward at least some authors."

She warned that Article 13 will result in too much content being eliminated from the internet, so she believes it is important for Slovenia to clearly transpose rules about exceptions, foremost to protect education-related content.

Pirate Party and Left oppose the move

A strong opponent of the directive, the non-parliamentary Pirate Party said the decision by MEPs to back the directive was a catastrophe.

The party believes it leads to stagnation and corporatisation of culture, fearing the internet as the biggest stimulator of development in history would be dropped.

"Article 13, which demands that everything big corporations believe violates copyright law be filtered and censored as a preventive measure, will change the internet as we know it," the party said about what is known as the upload filter.

The party also criticised the link tax introduced by Article 11 which lets publishers charge platforms when they display snippets of news stories, and announced it would keep fighting against the harmful provisions.

The opposition Left, which supported Saturday's anti-directive protest organised by the Pirate Party, said today "is a dark day for the internet".

As a result, ordinary internet users and small creatives will be worse off, and the internet will become even more controlled and monopolised.

25 Mar 2019, 12:50 PM

STA, 22 March 2019 - Janez Janša has announced that his Democratic Party (SDS) will ask the Constitutional Court to review the supplementary budget for the year arguing that it poses a major risk for Slovenia.

Making the announcement via his Twitter profile, Janša said the revised 2019 budget is "evidently unconstitutional" and "structurally the worst since 2009 and 2010".

"It dangerously exposes Slovenia to great risk at a time of an economic downturn. We will demand a constitutional review," Janša tweeted, without disclosing any further details.

The revised budget, passed by the lower chamber in a revote on Wednesday following the upper chamber's veto, projects 6.2% higher revenue than in the original budget, at EUR 10.35bn, and 4.8% higher expenditure, at EUR 10.16bn. The surplus is projected to stand at EUR 193.6m.

The Fiscal Council issued a negative opinion on the budget due to excessive expenditure and a lack of reform measures. The general government expenditure for the year is budgeted EUR 1.13bn above last year's, while the fiscal rule law effectively caps the increase at EUR 870m.

Responding to Janša's tweet, Finance Minister Andrej Bertoncelj repeated his position that the budget was optimal given the circumstances, noting that the budget surplus was quite high at 0.6% of GDP.

He said that there was no need to beat the drum, something that he said was a view voiced by the Fiscal Council's chair Davorin Kračun.

"After the long years in which we generated a deficit of 24 billion euro, we have a budget surplus this year. We are also actively reducing public debt, and we are even the most successful country in the eurozone in doing so," the minister said.

He conceded that Slovenia had a slight structural deficit, which he said the government planned to tackle with structural measures over the next three years.

"If you have a surplus, if you are reducing debt and implementing structural measures and reforms, why would you need to beat the drum," Beroncelj wondered.

"Things are perfectly under control," said Prime Minister Marjan Šarec, commenting from Brussels, arguing that Janša was trying "to create political turmoil again", which he said made no sense.

A constitutional review as proposed by Janša may be initialled by the National Assembly or a third of deputies, the National Council or the government, and depending on the substance matter also by the human rights ombudsman, the information commissioner, the central bank and the Court of Audit.

Other qualified petitioners are the state prosecutor general, the representative body of a local community or a representative association of local communities or a representative trade union.

The petitioners cannot ask for a review of regulations or general acts that they have adopted themselves.

If the SDS was to file the request as a group of one third of deputies, it would need the support of at least one more opposition party, considering the party has 25 seats in the 90-member assembly.

Apart from the SDS, New Slovenia (NSi) also voted against the supplementary budget, while the National Party voted in favour.

In the parliamentary debate on the budget, the SDS noted that the government failed to heed the warnings by the Fiscal Council that expenditure was excessive, and that the document did not foresee reforms.

Commenting on the proposal for a constitutional review, the NSi said that it had already warned of the supplementary budget's unconstitutionality in parliament.

The party tweeted that it would discuss potential measures to deal with the unconstitutional situation with legal experts next week and decide on further steps.

SNS leader Zmago Jelinčič told the STA the party would not supply its signatures in support of a constitutional review of the budget.

"This is Janša's solo campaign, we haven't discussed that," said Jelinčič, adding that it was Janša's attempt to topple the government, which he said was not good.

According to constitutional jurist Lojze Ude, it is not very likely that the Constitutional Court would find the supplementary budget in breach of the constitution.

He does not think the budget is violating the fiscal rule, enshrined in Article 148 of the constitution, which provides that general government revenue and expenditure must be balanced over the medium term.

Jurist Matej Avbelj of the European Faculty of Law disagrees with the view. He told the Odmevi news show on TV Slovenija last night that the supplementary budget contravened the fiscal rule and thus the constitution.

He said that the general government expenditure exceeded the scope defined by the fiscal rule, while it also constituted a violation of Slovenia's commitments under the EU fiscal compact.

Fiscal Council chair Kračun told Odmevi that the supplementary budget did not comply with the article of the fiscal rule law which prescribed the formula for securing a mid-term fiscal balance, but that it was impossible to assume based on one year alone whether the government was in breach of the constitution.

He did say though that the risk of a breach of the constitutional provision was increasing. Ude told the STA today that he agreed with Kračun.

You can keep up with Slovenian politics and find all our related stories here

22 Mar 2019, 12:46 PM

Mladina: The Left bring important issues to the table in government

STA, 22 March 2019 - Arguing that the minority coalition's agreement with the Left is an overdue measure restoring certain aspects of social welfare, the left-wing Mladina magazine points out in its Friday's editorial that Slovenian politicians being offended by the agreement seem to be out of touch with reality.

The cooperation with the opposition Left enabled the government to confirm the revised budget implementation act for 2019 on Wednesday and left several coalition partners believe that the opposition party was enjoying special treatment.

The editorial comments on the leader of the Social Democrats (SD) Matjaž Han's "unfortunate wisecracks" about the Left's alleged privileged status, saying that he was probably provoked by statements released by the opposition Democrats (SDS) and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, opposing the agreement and meant to create cracks in the government's facade.

"Parties' deputy group leaders should be the wisest MPs, not the most reckless and irascible ones. But just as the Left has Miha Kordiš, the SD has Han - the only difference being that Kordiš is not the leader."

The deputy group head being so easily provoked is the party's problem, but the editorial finds it more disturbing that he actually seems to believe the opposition party could have a higher status in the Slovenian political arena than his coalition one.

Referring to the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Han proclaimed his party to be the overlooked, taken-for-granted, live-at-home daughter, while the Left was the prodigal one. According to the commentary, his allegations seem immature and reflect how out of touch with actual reality many representatives are.

Instead of acting like a "spoiled daughter", Han's party and all the others who were offended by the supposed preferential treatment should rather welcome all the social benefits the agreement advocates.

It focuses on Slovenians who have in fact been overlooked in the past decades, tackling precarious forms of employment, providing affordable housing, introducing a minimum capital gains tax, and re-employing cleaners and doormen who were let go due to the delegation of those tasks to external service providers.

What is even scarier than politicians moaning about the current political hierarchy is the strong suspicion that they might find the above measures "insignificant, marginal, and on top of that expensive" since they do not address issues relevant to them.

Signing the agreement, Han and like-minded representatives should have noted the necessary changes the Left's contribution proposed and welcomed them with open arms, concludes the commentary entitled The Parable of the Prodigal Daughter.

Demokracija: Greta Thunberg's environmental protests are just good marketing

STA, 21 March 2019 - The right-wing weekly compared Greta Thunberg to the myth of Mother Theresa in its editorial on Thursday, stressing that the revival of environmental activism centred around the Swedish teenager serves as just another platform for green activists' marketing.

The paper draws a comparison between Thunberg and Mother Theresa, who was an extremely popular person among conservatives and progressives alike despite her or perhaps precisely because of her conflicting words and actions.

Being against abortion and once allegedly describing AIDS as "God's punishment", Saint Teresa of Calcutta also wore the red bow, the solidarity symbol for people living with this disease, to be "trendy" and referred to homosexuals as "Jesus' friends".

The magazine does not doubt the authenticity of her calling, but it does refer to her work as the Vatican's "greatest marketing victory of the last 100 years", filling their coffers through people's contributions.

"Greta Thunberg is the current Mother Theresa. The Swedish teenager is becoming the icon of global environmental activism," stresses the commentary, pointing out that the myth created around Thunberg serves the interests of those "who live off spreading fears" about global warming.

Without questioning the teenager's good intentions, Demokracija finds her to be a new mascot for climate change activists, who prefer money to the planet's well-being.

Commenting on the 2013 study of the Climate Policy Initiative, which addressed climate risk and estimated global investments in mitigating climate change at USD 359bn, the editorial believes those funds could be used for other purposes instead of appeasing "money-hungry saviours of the Earth".

Environmental activists though maintain that "such resources are far from sufficient" to tackle global warming issues.

On the other hand, the commentary mentions Patrick Moore, the former president of Greenpeace Canada, who has been criticising the climate change movement since leaving Greenpeace over policy differences claiming that global warming is "fake news" as well as "fake science".

Greenpeace denied such allegations, arguing that Moore was on the payroll of climate change denying lobbies, but the editorial portrays him as an example of an individual going against the machinery of green greed.

All our posts in this series can be found here

21 Mar 2019, 17:30 PM

STA, 21 March 2019 - Regardless of how Brexit unravels at the political level, the lives of British citizens in the EU and EU citizens in the UK may change. According to British Ambassador to Slovenia Sophie Honey, the Embassy and the Slovenian government are working together to provide continuity for the people and make it clear that they remain welcome.

 

In the event of a negotiated Brexit, measures are in place to ensure things run smoothly for the people in a transitional period until the end of 2020. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, the status of citizens in the respective countries will depend more on bilateral talks with each country, Slovenia included.

"While the nature of our relationship will change as and when the UK leaves the EU, all of our planning is focussed on trying to ensure that this change isn't felt so directly day-to-day. That's what our priority has been with the government here," Ambassador Honey said in an interview with the STA.

"That is why the commitments [the Slovenian government] have given to protect the status of British nationals here - are really important. And we continue to work through some of the key issues and make sure that we have everything in place."

The Slovenian government has now adopted a bill on reciprocal rights for British citizens residing in Slovenia, of whom there are around 700; about 5,000 Slovenians have made the UK their home.

Ambassador Honey says her Embassy has been "in very close touch with the Slovenian government" as well as the Slovenian Embassy in London. "I'm reassured that we've had a very similar approach and stance on this. Key to that has been a shared sense of the importance of continuity for our citizens, for people who have made their homes in each other's countries."

"This period is undoubtedly complicated, but I'm still optimistic about the future and everything that needs to be done so that cooperation continues," she said.

The Embassy has held a series of outreach events across Slovenia in recent weeks to talk to British nationals living here and address any issues and concerns they may have.

"We've been doing a lot of outreach in the British community to reassure people that both in the case of a deal or in the case of a no deal Brexit, they are still welcome here and the Slovenian government wants them to stay and to protect their rights."

"The Slovenian government has made clear - including now through legislation - that British people living in Slovenia would be entitled to stay and retain their status and be able to work and live here as previously."

Some concerns are very fundamental - others are more practical.

"Many people ask me: 'What's the stance of the Slovenian government towards us?' And I reassure them - all the messages I've received from the Slovenian government are that yes, the government welcomes the British community and wants to enable the people to stay and continue their lives here as until now."

At a more practical level, British people living in Slovenia have raised specific questions - for example about residency, driving licences, access to healthcare and pensions.

People have asked about access to pensions in the future as well as whether their access to healthcare remains the same.

For most of those who have temporary or permanent residence in Slovenia, their health insurance is covered by the employer.

For some people reliant on a special type of reciprocal cooperation within the EU called S1 forms, the details are still being worked out with the Slovenian government. Such people have been advised to check their cover and make sure they have at least basic cover, according to the ambassador.

Companies, meanwhile, are mostly interested what will happen so that they can plan for that and deal with it, but this is challenging. "It's difficult to tell businesses exactly what will happen. What we have tried to do is to explain the most likely scenarios."

Having talked to companies doing business in the UK, the Ambassador said she has seen a pragmatic determination to continue cooperation - businesses say they will find a way. There are very strong links that go many years back, and new opportunities ahead. Despite the potential change in conditions Slovenian companies are determined to continue doing business with the UK.

What will not change is that Slovenia and the UK have an overall "strong relationship that predates the time either of us were EU members and that will continue," according to the ambassador.

All our stories on Slovenia and Brexit are here

21 Mar 2019, 16:20 PM

STA, 20 March 2019 - Twenty-five years to the day, undercover police agent Milan Smolnikar was brutally arrested action-movie style by four Defence Ministry agents, an instance of military interference with the civilian sphere and an event that continues to affect Slovenian politics to this day.

 

The incident known as the Depala Vas scandal (Afera Depala vas), for the village not far from Ljubljana in which it took place on 20 March 1994, invited differing interpretations and eventually into a fully-fledged conspiracy theory.

It was followed by months of tensions between the defence and interior ministries, deepening political divisions only three years after Slovenia gained independence.
A day after the incident, the Defence Ministry explained Smolnikar, a former Defence Ministry employee, was suspected of divulging a military secret.

An inquiry ordered by then Prime Minister Janez Drnovšek found on 23 March that by arresting Smolnikar the Defence Ministry had overstepped its powers.

Based on this, Drnovšek assessed the Smolnikar case amounted to a military interference with the civilian sphere and asked parliament to dismiss Defence Minister Janez Janša, a prominent independence figure.

Nine days after the incident, Janša was dismissed by parliament and replaced by Jelko Kacin, presently Slovenian ambassador to NATO.

Janša rejected all allegations, stance he has never changed, arguing the government inquiry was but a cover for a long-planned politically-motivated decision to replace him.

He also claimed Smolnikar, who ended up in hospital after the attackers took him to the seat of the military intelligence service, was no ordinary civilian.

Once Janša was dismissed, his party, which has since been renamed the Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS), moved into the opposition.

His dismissal made his supporters take to the streets, while Smolnikar's arrest prompted protests due to military interference in the civilian sphere.

Fuelling divisions in the country in general, the scandal deepened the already bitter antagonism between Janša and then President Milan Kučan.

Janša believes Kučan, the leader of the Slovenian Communist Party before Slovenia's independence, was the mastermind behind the scandal and the attempt to get rid of him.

This is also a view held by TV Slovenija journalist and historian Jože Možina, the author of a 2014 documentary on Depala Vas.

Možina sees it as a way of curtailing the growing influence of the democratic forces which had spearheaded independence efforts and which Janša symbolised.

"Now we know the manner in which Janša was to be removed was made by a special agent of the Yugoslav secret military service KOS Radenko Radojčić, whom Slovenian military intelligence agents had brought from Belgrade," he told the STA.

According to Možina, it is unclear whether Kučan was the only one behind the scheme "and to what extent he had been encouraged to remove Janša by plottings and insinuations about a military coup d'etat ... fabricated by agents loyal to the nomenclature".

"With the Depala Vas scandal, 1994 was a milestone in that the structures of the former regime managed to stop the process of losing power in all spheres of society, which started with the first democratic elections in 1990," he said.

Meanwhile, Ali Žerdin, the editor of Delo's Saturday Supplement and commentator, said the scandal "was and still is important to understand key principles of political culture" in Slovenia.

"It became clear in 1994 that part of the Slovenian defence system did not understand that the army should not engage with civilians," he told the STA.

The Depala Vas scandal eventually made it to court. In 2003, Smolnikar's attackers were cleared of the charges of having arrested him in a horrendous manner.

Smolnikar's car had been stopped by three vehicles, and since he had locked himself in it, the attackers smashed the car windows with guns. He was then handcuffed.

Marred by a series of appeals, the Depala Vas case fell under the statute of limitations on 20 March 2004 without justice being served.

This is one reason why the circumstances of the event remain moot, creating space for speculations and feeding into the persistent divide between the left and the right.

All our stories on Janez Janša are here

21 Mar 2019, 14:20 PM

STA, 20 March 2019 - NATO member states consider the alliance "the best answer to the question of ensuring national security," President Borut Pahor said in his keynote to the ceremony marking Slovenia's 15th anniversary in NATO at the Brdo pri Kranju conference centre on Wednesday.

Slovenia is marking the anniversary "with a well-founded feeling that fifteen years ago it made the right decision and that [NATO] will do its utmost to ensure that our high expectations for ensuring national and collective security are also met in the future."

For nearly three quarters of a century, the alliance has been preserved and strengthened, an impressive feat for the modern international community. This means that the alliance's fundamental values exceed "the mere provision of a high level of national security".

In his speech, the president also talked about global politics and the dwindling trust in multilateralism, pointing to the "poorer relationship" between Europe and the US.

"The result is a consideration of stronger European security and military cooperation," said Pahor, underlining, however, that "it is necessary to strive for close cooperation with the US".

He moreover expressed his "appreciation to NATO for its understanding of the needs of its enlargement to the Western Balkans countries. The membership of Montenegro and the imminent accession of North Macedonia are good prospects for a greater geopolitical stability of this highly sensitive and vulnerable part of the European continent."

He moreover said he would like to see "some of this pragmatism and broader political judgement in the enlargement of the EU to this part of Europe."

"I understand that the standards and conditions are different and more demanding in this respect, but history will prove that the EU will help ensure the peace, security and prosperity of this part of Europe only if it also understands the expansion to this part as an eminently political, even geopolitical project rather than a narrowly procedural or bureaucratic project that depends only on the meticulous fulfilment of the membership criteria."

Pahor also touched on defence spending, with NATO members obligated to contribute 2% of their GDP. "The world is changing, becoming less secure and more unpredictable. It is necessary to invest in security, also financially."

"Slovenia is aware of this fact. By 2024, it will allocate 1.5% of GDP for defence, which means a significant increase."

The ceremony was also addressed by foreign and defence ministers Miro Cerar and Karl Erjavec, while NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg addressed the event via video link.

The ceremony was followed by a round table debate moderated by former Chief of the General Staff of the Slovenian Armed Forces Dobran Božič, who is currently serving as state secretary at the Foreign Ministry. The debate also featured former NATO Secretary General George Robertson.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the event, Lord Robertson said that US President Donald Trump had done a great favour to the European countries by demanding an increase in defence spending, because he "shattered the complacency that previously existed".

Saying that many European countries had imagined the US would always be available, Robertson said that Trump put that into question and that European allies would have to do much more, not only to satisfy Trump, but for their own self-interest.

Robertson, who served as NATO secretary general between 1999 and 2004, expressed the hope that Slovenia, which trails NATO members in terms of defence spending, too would listen to this reasoning and continue to play its role in the alliance. But he did commend Slovenia on its contribution to NATO missions and operations.

The significance of the member states' commitment to increase defence spending to 2% of GDP was also noted by Camille Grand, NATO assistant secretary general for defence investment, in his address to the panel at Brdo estate.

He labelled Slovenia as a firm ally which shouldered its part of the burden, noting its role in the NATO force in Kosovo.

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