Politics

19 Jul 2019, 10:36 AM

STA, 18 July 2019 - The Slovenian government has adopted a framework migrations strategy that addresses both legal migrations as a major source of much needed labour, as well as illegal migrations as a source of security threats and challenges with regard to integration.

The strategy, the first such document in Slovenia, deals with migrations "over a long-term horizon in a multi-faceted and comprehensive way, prioritising a better understanding of all aspects of migrations," the government said on Twitter on Thursday.

In illegal migrations, Slovenia plans to focus on fast verification of eligibility for international protection, effective return of such persons, and elimination of sources of risk to national security.

The government says that "orderly and safe" migrations are beneficial for everyone, while illegal migrations "threaten the lives, security, health and basic human rights of migrants" and fan anti-immigration sentiment in recipient countries.

For legal migrations, the strategy aims to focus on eliminating structural imbalances on the labour market by attracting foreign workers as well as adopting concrete measures to entice Slovenians who have moved abroad to return.

The document was drafted by a task force that included ministries, law enforcement and intelligence services and will be followed up by action plans as well as a more detailed strategy for economic migrations.

Non-governmental organisations dealing with migrations welcomed the adoption the strategy and said they had been involved in the drafting of the document. Nevertheless, they said additional stakeholders should have been involved as well.

It would have made sense to involve trade unions, academia, and local government, said Katarina Bervar Sternad of PIC, a platform that offers legal advice to NGOs.

The document is an improvement on the original blueprint but involving more stakeholders would have given it a more long-term perspective on the challenges and opportunities that migrations bring, she told the STA.

18 Jul 2019, 20:04 PM

STA, 18 July 2019 - Lynda Blanchard was endorsed the new US ambassador to Slovenia by the US Senate on Thursday, more than a year after being nominated by President Donald Trump.

An entrepreneur and humanitarian activist from Alabama, Blanchard was endorsed by 54 votes in favour and 40 against.

Among those voting against was Amy Klobuchar, a senator of Slovenian descent from Minnesota, who is running for the Democratic nomination for US president in the 2020 election.

Nominated by Trump in June 2018, Blanchard was endorsed by the Senate committee on foreign relations in September, but her appointment was held up by procedural obstacles related to the election of the new US Congress.

Because the Senate did not confirm her appointment by the end of last year, her candidacy was automatically returned to the White House in accordance with the rules of procedure.

The White House submitted the nomination again on 18 January, and the Senate committee on foreign relations referred the nomination for a Senate vote without a new hearing.

In her hearing on the committee in August 2018, Blanchard described Slovenia as "a reliable US partner" and "a regional leader in implementing democratic reforms" in the Balkans.

She pledged to encourage privatisation, noting that 50% of the Slovenian economy was "under state ownership or control", which entailed "opportunities for increased private investment".

Blanchard argued that US-Slovenian relations needed to continue to improve "through direct outreach and engagement with Slovenian people".

Blanchard succeeds Ambassador Brent Hartley, a career diplomat who served in Ljubljana between February 2015 and July 2018.

Since then, the US Embassy in Ljubljana has been headed by charge d'affaires. Gautam Rana, who was in charge initially, was replaced by Susan K. Falatko in June.

It is not clear yet when Blanchard may be expected in Slovenia, but unofficial information indicates that she will first visit the Slovenian Embassy in Washington.

The State Department said that Blanchard would not be giving any interviews before she presented her credentials to the Slovenian president.

Blanchard and her husband John, a property mogul from Alabama, have made donations to Republican party presidential candidates, including Trump.

Blanchard is a co-founder of the development foundation 100X, which is looking for creative solutions for the elimination of poverty and improving lives of children around the world.

She has also co-founded the real estate investment management company B&M, where she currently works as a senior advisor.

As part of her work in the 100X foundation, Blanchard has been active in Africa, Asia and South America, helping open orphanages and food production companies and managing sustainable development programmes.

Having been an advocate of people with special needs for almost 20 years, she has volunteered in NGO committees and supported numerous educational programmes in Alabama. She has also helped families interested in adopting children.

Lynda "Lindy" Blanchard is the mother of seven children, of which four she adopted abroad. She has a degree in mathematics and computer science from Auburn University.

Blanchard not being a career diplomat is seen as an indication that the US considers Slovenia a non-problematic, allied country.

18 Jul 2019, 12:50 PM

STA, 17 July 2019 - The rule of law, sustainable development and security in the Western Balkans were laid down as top priorities for Slovenia's EU presidency in the second half of 2021 at what was the second preparatory meeting on Wednesday.

The top priorities will expectedly be adopted by the government at its first session in August, the government Communications Office said in a press release.

Following the principle less is more, the government ministers taking part in today's meeting at the Brdo pri Kranju conference centre expressed the view that the three priorities could be the thread running through Slovenia's presidency, the office said.

This will be Slovenia's second presidency after the country entered the EU in 2004. The project is estimated to cost EUR 80 million.

Slovenia will preside over 30 ministerials and more than 2,000 other meetings, most of them to be held in Brussels.

18 Jul 2019, 11:36 AM

STA, 17 July 2019 - The Constitutional Court has annulled legislation that allows police to use systems for automatic licence plate recognition, finding it contravenes the constitutional right to protection of personal data.

Acting on a petition by the Human Rights Ombudsman, the court annulled part of Article 113 of the police tasks and powers act, which was passed as part of legislative amendments in February 2017.

The contentious paragraph that was annulled provides that police may, for the purpose of ascertaining the conditions for the car and driver's involvement in road traffic, or search of persons and objects, use technical means for optical license plate recognition.

The paragraph also provides that the means need to be applied in a way that prevents mass surveillance or facial recognition.

The Constitutional Court held that the provision contravenes Paragraph 2 of Article 38 of the Constitution which says that any action pertaining to personal data, that is every step of their processing, collection, retention, access, transmission, analysis, comparison shall be provided by law.

The court noted that automatic license plate checks involve data collection and their checking against other personal data bases. Each data processing step would require to be specified by law individually.

Since the contentious provision does not specify, nor has the government provided a convincing explanation that other provisions in the act provide for the collected license plate data to be processed by means of automatic checking against other databases, the solution contravenes the requirement of Paragraph 2 of Article 38 of the Constitution.

The court will deliberate separately on other contentious issues in the law as argued by the ombudsman, including those concerning provisions on air passenger data and drones.

In the ombudsman's opinion automatic license plate recognition is disproportionate and allows mass surveillance.

The Constitutional Court also annulled parts of some other articles in the act that refer to the contentious provision.

Since the government has notified the court that the police have not put automatic plate recognition into use, the court did not deliberate on potential erasure of data collected in such a way.

Commenting on the decision, Interior Ministry State Secretary Sandi Čurin said that automatic license plate recognition had so far been implemented as a pilot project, and that all data collected would be erased.

Obviously, the police force and the Interior Ministry will respect the court's decision, said Čurin, but added that automatic license plate recognition contributed to road safety, so the ministry and the police would examine the possibility to enact the measure in some other way.

Ombudsman Peter Svetina welcomed the decision, but also noted that the court is yet to decide on other parts of the ombudsman's petition challenging several other provisions that were introduced into the police powers act in February 2017.

17 Jul 2019, 14:23 PM

STA, 17 July 2019 - PM Marjan Šarec has put forward Janez Lenarčič, Slovenia's permanent representative to the EU, as the country's candidate for European commissioner. Describing the career diplomat as an experienced expert, Šarec told the press that coalition partners had already been notified of the proposal, which will be discussed by the government on Thursday.

Jump to biography

"He is experienced, he knows how the EU operates, he has been working in diplomacy for a long time. This is what we presently need," Šarec said about Lenarčič.

A seasoned diplomat, Lenarčič has also served as ambassador to the OSCE, as director of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, as secretary of Slovenia's permanent UN mission, and as diplomatic adviser to the highest state officials.

Šarec said he had been weighing different options carefully since the EU election and came to the conclusion that, given the composition of the government, Slovenia needed a neutral candidate.

He also noted that his Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ) and the fellow coalition SocDems had each secured two MEP seats as the most successful coalition parties in the recent EU election, which is why he would not have found it fair to have the candidate come from either of the two parties.

He said that many opportunities had been missed by Slovenia and that it is right to give a chance to somebody who knows the workings of the EU. Šarec is confident that the fellow coalition parties will also recognise the national interest of Slovenia and the importance of unity.

"If I look at the interests of Slovenia and the expectations of people outside, I'm convinced that this is the right decision," the prime minister said, adding he had waited a little before making his choice public to prevent a smear campaign against Lenarčič.

The SocDems, who had rooted for their MEP Tanja Fajon, responded to the news by speaking of a unilateral decision that sent an unpleasant message.

Criticising what they see as political horse-trading that led to the election of Ursula von der Leyen as Commission president with the support of far-right votes from Hungary and Poland, the SocDems said they expected "Slovenia would have acted differently and pick a Slovenian commissioner candidate with democratic legitimacy as a key condition" alongside competences, experience and reputation.

Šarec also touched on Fajon today, saying he found it hard to imagine how her participation in the Commission would be possible after the MEP had publicly denied support to von der Leyen.

As for von der Leyen's wish to have member states each put forward a male as well as a woman candidate, Šarec said he expected most countries would not do that.

He argued having two candidates would spell trouble for the rejected one: "We know what happens with candidates who are not selected."

Asked which department on the Commission Slovenia would like, Šarec said it would strive for one of the departments suiting it the most, one of the options being enlargement. He said he had already discussed the topic with von der Leyen.

Commenting on his expectations regarding the new Commission head, Šarec said he expected she would behave differently than her predecessor.

"I expect her to respect the rule of law and not take sides, to be more active when it comes to the EU's enlargement to the Western Balkans and to secure equal treatment for all member states," he said.

In his first reaction, Lenarčič spoke of a great honour and responsibility, while stressing that this was only the first step in the appointment process.

He said that the trust expressed in Lenarčič by the PM now needed to confirmed by the government. If this happens, he will first also have to win the trust of von der Leyen and then also of the relevant committee in the European Parliament.

A brief biography of Janez Lenarčič

STA, 17 July 2019 - Janez Lenarčič, Slovenia's current ambassador to the EU who has been proposed for the post of European commissioner, is a career diplomat. He has served as ambassador to the OSCE, as director of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, as secretary of Slovenia's permanent UN mission, and as the PM's diplomatic adviser.

Lenarčič, born in Ljubljana on 6 November 1967, graduated in international law in Ljubljana in 1992 and started working for the Foreign Ministry the same year.

Between 1994 and 1999 he worked with Slovenia's permanent mission at the UN, initially as the third and then as the first secretary. In 2000 he started serving as adviser to the foreign minister and the following year he became the diplomatic adviser to the prime minister, the late Janez Drnovšek.

In 2002 and 2003 Lenarčič worked as state secretary in the PM's office, to be appointed in 2003 the head of the Slovenian mission to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). During Slovenia's OSCE presidency in 2005 he headed the organisation's permanent council.

In 2006 he was appointed state secretary for European affairs, serving also during Slovenia's first presidency of the EU in 2008 during the centre-right government of Janez Janša. He was the head of the task force in charge of preparing Slovenia's EU presidency.

In July 2008 he was appointed director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and confirmed for a second and final term at the same post in May 2011.

In September 2014 Lenarčič became state secretary in the office of the then PM Miro Cerar, where he was in charge of foreign and European affairs.

He served under Cerar's centre-left government until July 2016 when he took over as Slovenia's permanent representative to the EU.

When assuming office in Brussels, Lenarčič highlighted migration and an effective control over the external border among Slovenia's as well as the EU's priorities. Another Slovenian priority noted was the country's presidency over the EU in 2021.

Lenarčič is considered an apolitical expert and has been in the conversation for the commissioner post for some time.

He speaks English, French and Serbian.

16 Jul 2019, 11:25 AM

STA, 15 July 2019 - The parliamentary Home Policy Committee discussed joint Slovenian-Italian border police patrols at an emergency session on Monday with the opposition arguing that these were misguided and could give an excuse to Italy to carry out its threat and put up a border fence.

Jernej Vrtovec, the deputy for opposition New Slovenia (NSi), which called the session, labelled joint border patrols as a mistake with long-term consequences.

He argued that in this way Slovenia would give Italy an excuse to consider other, stiffer measures to control migration, including erecting a fence on the most exposed sections of the border.

"Italy is a sovereign country, it can build, but this is not in the European spirit. Slovenia must send a clear message to Italy that such surveillance would seriously impact on people's lives on the border," he said.

Concerns about Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini's threat to erect a fence and reinstate police checks on the border with Slovenia were also raised by the mayors of border communities of Nova Gorica and Renče-Vogrsko, Klemen Miklavič and Tarik Žigon.

However, Interior Minister Boštjan Poklukar rushed to assure everyone present that joint patrols were not reinstating border controls, saying that most citizens would not even notice them.

"Joint patrols send out a signal that borders are being efficiently secured and make migration routes towards the west less attractive," said the minister.

Foreign Minister Miro Cerar, who is in Brussels today, labelled the claims of the opposition MPs as misleading and said that this measure was a step to prevent Italy from introducing border checks.

Slovenia cooperates with police forces of all neighbouring countries and continues to conduct joint border patrols with Croatia and Hungary. Italy maintains such patrols with its other neighbours as well.

The initiative for the joint border patrols was made by Italy in late April and four joint patrols became operational on 1 July.

They will exercise surveillance in the shared security space during night-time for three months in a bid to prevent cross-border crime and illegal migration.

Like the minister, Police Commissioner Tatjana Bobnar underscored that the joint patrols were not conducting border checks.

Most coalition deputies argued that joint patrols were an effective way to provide security with Tina Heferle from the Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ) saying they could prevent erection of border obstacles.

Gregor Perič, an MP for the Modern Centre Party (SMC), maintained that Salvini could find another reason to put up a border fence, rather than a potential failure of joint patrols.

However, Maša Kociper from the coalition Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB) does not favour joint patrols.

Vrtovec and Branko Grims from the opposition Democratic Party (SDS) argued that joint patrols made no sense because it was not in Slovenia's interest to stop migrants who want to enter Italy.

Moreover, Vrtovec said that joint patrols were Slovenia's admission that it was not coping with the situation on its south border.

The NSi believes that measures should be taken to step up protection of the Schengen border, which would render joint patrols superfluous, an idea also supported by the SDS and National Party (SNS).

Minister Poklukar argued that Slovenia already exercised effective control of the Schengen border, something that he said was confirmed by Frontex and Europol in their assessments, as well as by the fact that Italy returned a mere 169 migrants to Slovenia this year.

The border with Croatia is being secured by various police units, backed up by troops, drones and helicopters. More fence has been commissioned as well and extra budget funds made available.

The committee failed to endorse the NSi's proposals to call on the government to take all measure needed to effectively secure the border with Croatia, and to take steps to restrict Slovenia's asylum law.

16 Jul 2019, 09:17 AM

STA, 15 July 2019 - The National Council, the upper chamber of parliament, vetoed on Monday legislative changes that cut state funding for private primary schools, arguing the cut was in opposition to the Constitutional Court decision ordering that funding be equalised with that for public schools.

The veto could spell trouble for the controversial changes, adopted last week in a 42:36 vote after a tug-of-war over the interpretation and enforcement of a 2014 top court ruling.

For the lower chamber to override veto, the changes would require absolute majority, meaning 46 MPs. The repeat vote is expected to be held on Thursday, but Gregor Perič of the Modern Centre Party (SMC), the coalition party that abstained from voting last week, already confirmed today the SMC would not change its mind and could not support the bill.

He said the SMC was not afraid of its decision having political consequences, arguing the party had played with open cards all along.

The councillors who filed the veto proposal argued the changes mean a cut in funds and run contrary to the December 2014 decision of the Constitutional Court that ordered full state funding for publicly approved curricula.

The opponents of the changes claim the legislator introduced an unfair distinction between publicly approved curricula and those that obtained public certification, the latter applying for private schools.

The changes introduce full state funding for the segment of private schools curricula corresponding with the public curricula, but completely scrap state funding for additional programmes, which continue to be covered for public schools.

Until now, private schools got 85% of the total state funding received by public schools. Opponents of the changes say that the cut also affects programmes that are part of compulsory primary education, which runs against public interest.

Education Minister Jernej Pikalo defended the changes today, arguing they were in line with the Constitutional Court ruling.

He said international documents also clearly stated that while the state should enable parents to raise their children in line with their world view, the state was not obliged to fund this.

A special commission of the National Council met ahead of today's vote to reject the veto proposal 6:1, with its chair Branimir Štrukelj arguing that private education caused segregation.

National Council president Alojz Kovšca disagreed, saying this was a political and ideological issue, while some councillors argued there are regions in Slovenia where parents do not have the option to send their child to a private school at all.

The opposition right-leaning parties rejected the changes last week. While the Left backed the coalition to help pass them, the SMC abstained from voting.

All our stories in education are here

14 Jul 2019, 15:38 PM

STA, 13 July 2019 - The Left (Levica), an opposition party that supports Prime Minister Marjan Šarec's minority government, has threatened to withhold its support for the crucial 2020-2021 budget bills in autumn unless the government implements the agreement is signed with the Left and "gives up rightist policies".

 

This was the conclusion of a meeting of the party's governing council on Saturday, convened due to mounting dissatisfaction with with the government's performance.

"The Left will not support a right government. But it's not just a Janez Janša government that's right, actions are what determines a government's character," party leader Luka Mesec said, lamenting the current government's "strong neoliberal and authoritarian tendencies".

The Left wanted to implement before the summer at least four of the projects enshrined in a pact that it signed with the government in exchange for votes in parliament, but that did not pan out: it claims only one of 13 agreed projects had been realised.

The party's biggest concern is a healthcare act that would effectively prevent privatisation in the sector, higher minimum wage for student work, and transfer of land from the bad bank to the National Housing Fund as a way to boost the construction of social housing.

Mesec said the party had decided to support the government because it expected agreements would be honoured and that its priorities would be realised.

It also thought that "after years of neoliberal governments Slovenia will finally get a centre-left government that would not save money on the poor, that would tackle fundamental developmental and social issues, and have an environmental programme."

"These goals have not been accomplished," according to Mesec.

Šarec has repeatedly dismissed the claim that the agreed projects were not being realised and there are indications he will make the budget vote in autumn a vote of confidence in the government.

Left votes have been indispensable for the government, most recently in the passage of a controversial act on the financing of primary schools that would have collapsed were it not for backing from the Left.

The party has threatened to withhold its support several times before, but it never carried out its threat.

13 Jul 2019, 11:39 AM

STA, 8 July 2019 - Slovenia reiterated its stance that by not implementing the 2017 border arbitration award, Croatia is violating EU law, as it presented its view in an oral hearing of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) about the admissibility of Slovenia's lawsuit against Croatia.

The court convened on Monday to deliberate on Croatia's December 2018 arguments that border arbitration between Slovenia and Croatia does not fall under the ECJ's jurisdiction, because borders are a matter of international rather than EU law.

The EJC advocate general will present his legal opinion on the case on 6 November.

Presenting Croatia's stance to ECJ judges, lawyer Jemima Stratford said the case did not fall under the court's jurisdiction and the court should not interfere in bilateral disputes.

Bilateral territorial disputes are outside the EU court's jurisdiction, even if they have a bearing on the implementation of EU law, she said.

She added that the only possible legal basis for the legal action would be Article 273 of the Lisbon Treaty.

The article enables EU members to bring a dispute before the ECJ in a consensual manner. It relates to disputes which are not strictly EU law, but are relevant for member states and the EU.

Stratford explained that Croatia did not recognise the border arbitration award because it had withdrawn from the arbitration process before it was declared.

Although Slovenia claims the arbitration award is a fact, it is also a fact that the award is not being implemented on the ground, she added.

Croatia therefore believes Slovenia is creating a fictitious dispute, she said, adding Croatia and Slovenia were acting in line with their respective legal understanding of their borders.

The apple of contention is therefore the course of the border, not the interpretation of EU law, Croatia's representative said.

Presenting Slovenia's stance, agent Maja Menard said the lawsuit was not about the border, because the border had been set in the 2017 award, which was final and self-implementable, and the two countries were obliged to respect it.

Menard also reiterated that by not recognising the arbitration award, Croatia was violating EU rules and policies.

In the lawsuit, which is based on Article 259 of the Lisbon Treaty, Slovenia proposes the ECJ establish that Croatia violated Articles 2 and 4, which stress the importance of the rule of law and sincere cooperation between member states.

Slovenia also claims Croatia is violating the common fisheries policy, Schengen rules about the free movement of people and a directive on maritime spatial planning.

Menard stressed that a decision of international law was in the ECJ's jurisdiction if the decision was necessary to interpret EU law, to which it referred.

Following the presentation of both countries' positions, judges asked several questions, many about a note concerning the border arbitration in Croatia's EU accession agreement.

The note in annex 3, chapter 5, refers to fisheries, saying the fisheries regimes will start applying when the arbitration award reached on the basis of the arbitration agreement signed by Slovenia and Croatia on 4 November 2009 is fully implemented.

Judge rapporteur Christopher Vajda thus asked Croatia about it in relation to the country's argument that the ECJ had no jurisdiction in the case.

Stratford said the note merely set the time frame of the implementation of the fisheries regime.

But Slovenia's lawyer Jean-Marc Thouvenin explained the note introduced the arbitration agreement and what stemmed from it into EU law, which made it part of EU law.

Italian judge Lucia Serena Rossi said this was really just a note, but a very important one. As such it is part of primary EU law and thus falls under the ECJ's jurisdiction.

Once the two-and-a-half-hour oral hearing was over, Advocate General Priit Pikamäe announced he would present his submissions - his independent legal opinion - on 6 November.

If the lawsuit is admitted, the court will start to deliberate on its content.

Speaking to the press after the hearing, Marko Vrevc from Slovenian Foreign Ministry said he would be surprised if the court decided not to admit the lawsuit.

Menard said the hearing had gone according to plans and the debate had been intense as expected. She has a positive feeling about it since Slovenia had an opportunity to answer the judges' questions in detail.

The agent expects the court's decision on the admissibility at the start of 2020.

She was also not surprised Croatia had referred to Article 273 during the hearing, noting this implied "a quasi arbitration process which requires both sides' consent, but we insist the border dispute is settled, so we need no consensus on another attempt to solve it".

12 Jul 2019, 12:28 PM

STA, 11 July 219 - The Public Administration Ministry has laid the groundwork for the erection of another 40 kilometres of border fence. It would not reveal, however, where the fence will be placed.

The new fence will be supplied and set up by the Serbian company Legi-SGS for EUR 4.8 million.

The fence alone will cost EUR 4.56 million, and the pillars, fittings and installation another EUR 273,000, shows the result of an open call released on Wednesday.

The ministry looked for the best bidder with two calls for applications, and the Belgrade-based Legi-SGS was picked as the best bidder in both.

The ministry would not reveal where the border fence will be placed. It says this is confidential.

It did say, however, that additional fence would be erected in places where this is required to prevent illegal migration and protect locals and their assets. In some places, the new fence is needed because the old one is damaged.

The specific decisions on when, where and how much fence is needed are made based on the proposal of the Slovenian police, the ministry said.

12 Jul 2019, 10:18 AM

STA, 11 July 2019 - Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki told the STA he was optimistic about Slovenia recognising Palestinian independence, expecting Slovenia to make this step along with a number of other EU countries. However, he pointed out there was currently little chance of restarting the peace process with Israel.

Malki said he was disappointed when Slovenia changed its mind about recognising Palestine last year after the decision to do that had already been reached.

"I remember we were in Brussels when the former foreign minister met with our President Mahmud Abas and told him Slovenia was going to recognize Palestine," said the minister, adding that they were very pleased about the step and started celebrating, but Slovenia decided to take a step back.

Palestinian expectations then became more realistic, with Palestine starting to understand the complexity of this process and also the effects of the pressure from Israel and the US.

Wednesday's talks with Foreign Minister Miro Cerar and Speaker Dejan Židan made Malki realise that together they could create the right kind of atmosphere for reaching the recognition decision.

He said that in the upcoming weeks he would strengthen the efforts aimed at establishing conditions in which Slovenia could recognize Palestinian independence along with several other EU countries, adding that would be beneficial to all, "not only Slovenia but also for other countries who are a little bit hesitant and who are looking for other countries to do the same".

According to him, Palestinians would deeply appreciate Slovenian recognition of their independence also because they regard Slovenia as "a country which understands what it means to be independent and has strived for its own freedom and independence", as well as a country which has supported Palestine since its own independence.

"The moment Slovenia will announce its recognition of the state of Palestine, it's going to be a national celebration in Palestine," said Malki.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian minister is not particularly optimistic in terms of the peace process in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

As long as Israel will have a "fascist, extreme right, radical government" and as long as the US administration will continue supporting this government and illegal settlers and disregarding international law and UN resolutions, there are no chances of restarting the process, said Malki.

According to him, Palestinians would support the replacement of the US as a mediator in the process; however, they are aware that the US cannot be completely excluded from the negotiations. But they cannot have an exclusive role any more, said Malki.

He called for a bigger role of the EU in the negotiations. According to him, Europe understands the Middle East situation and has "vested interests to see peace and prosperity in the Middle East".

However, Malki believes Israel would not accept that. "Israel wants the US alone to play that role, but we cannot allow that, so we have to reach a compromise," said the minister, adding that such compromise could include the US, EU and other countries as participants in the negotiations.

Malki described the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories as very difficult, highlighting that such state of affairs has been going on for more than 50 years.

According to him, the Israeli occupation is not only military but also economic and social.

"You cannot dig a well without getting Israeli permits. You cannot get electricity without Israeli permits. Our internet - we get it directly from Israel," said Malki, pointing out that Palestinians only recently got 3G, when people in some places already have 5G, while in Gaza only the 2G network is available.

"If we want to travel abroad, we have to go through Israeli military control. If they decide you're not allowed to travel, then you cannot really go anywhere. There are more than 600 checkpoints dispersed around in the West Bank, meaning that on average there is a checkpoint every four or five kilometres."

Malki pointed out that if one travels from one city to another, a distance of some 30 km, they have to go through 2-3 checkpoints. "You don't know if you can cross, you don't know if you can get where you are going on time."

"You go to sleep and you don't know if Israeli soldiers will break into your home at 3 or 4 in the morning just to remind you they're the ones in control or to look for somebody or something or even to take one of your children for interrogation.

"When your kids leave in the morning for school, you don't know if they will come back," said Malki and added that Jewish settlers, pushing Palestinians off their land make life in the occupied territories even harder.

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