Politics

21 Mar 2019, 12:50 PM

STA, 20 March 2019 - Prime Minister Miro Cerar reiterated at a session of the Foreign Policy Committee on Wednesday Slovenia's position that it would make sense to postpone Brexit, but not beyond the date of the May EU elections. He also expressed hope the situation in Serbia will not escalate.

Asked about Brexit, Cerar said that in case a justified reason for a postponement of the deadline is put forward, Slovenia will be ready to support this within reasonable limits. Presently, Cerar is waiting for the message of British Prime Minister Theresa May at the EU summit.

He assessed that 23 May would probably be the latest deadline, since going beyond that would raise a number of questions, including of legal nature, that would have to be resolved by the European Council.

Repeating a deal would be in the best interest of everyone, Cerar said Slovenia was also ready for a no deal Brexit, having prepared an emergency bill governing the rights of Slovenians in Britain.

Meanwhile, quizzed by coalition SocDems MP Milan Brglez about Slovenia's take on the US no longer seeing the Golan Heights and other territories under Israel's occupation as occupied, Cerar said Slovenia's positions remained unchanged.

Thus Slovenia supports a peaceful process and a two-state solution with Palestine within the 1967 borders. Cerar repeated Slovenia would recognise Palestine if or when a group of EU members also decides to do so.

Asked by Brglez about European parliament President Antonio Tajani's recent statement about Benito Mussolini "also having done some good things", Cerar said the statement was met by a quick response from members of the European Parliament, which is supported by the Foreign Ministry.

Tajani issued a public apology "and we find that this ends this story". Still, if this repeats, the Foreign Ministry will have to respond, Cerar added.

As for the developments in Serbia, a topic raised by coalition Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) MP Ivan Hršak, Cerar said he was following them closely and was concerned. He hopes that things will not escalate and that the conflict in the country will be resolved in a democratic manner in line with the rule of law.

Zmago Jelinčič, leader of the opposition National Party (SNS), wanted to find out if Slovenia planned to rescind its recognition of Kosovo.

"I believe our recognition of Kosovo was justified," Cerar said, while adding Slovenia was aware that a number of issues remained open in the region.

Another issue raised was Croatia's decision to limit transit for heavy trucks at the Petišovci border crossing (NE) at the start of 2019. Cerar said that business has asked the relevant ministries to intervene with Croatian authorities and that the situation has already been discussed at an interdepartmental meeting.

21 Mar 2019, 07:12 AM

STA, 20 March 2019 - The National Assembly passed on Wednesday the act addressing potential uncertainties and safeguarding the rights of Slovenian citizens in Great Britain and vice-versa in case of a no-deal Brexit. The government-proposed act was endorsed by 50 of the 66 present MPs, while four voted against.

The act aims to preserve rights related to social security, labour market access, cross-border services, mutual recognition of professional qualifications, family allowances and scholarships for the period until 31 December 2020.

While a more long-term solution will be drawn up to tackle the period after 2020, the government said that the reciprocity principle was envisaged for certain rights, meaning they will be secured for British citizens only if the same is done in the UK for Slovenian citizens.

The act also envisages a transitional period after Brexit during which British citizens will be able to continue to legally reside in Slovenia on the basis of permits issued to them as EU citizens.

It will enable them to obtain residence permits of the kind that are being issued in the form of biometric IDs to citizens of third countries, while obtaining long-term residence status will also be possible.

Moreover, the act regulates the tourist stay rights for British citizens for a duration of up to 90 days in case they arrive in Slovenia before the date of the UK's departure from the EU.

If British citizens do not have a valid residence registration certificate or a residence permit before Brexit and enter Slovenia after Brexit, their entry and residence will be regulated by the provisions of the foreigners act in place for citizens of countries that are not part of the European Economic Area.

Many MPs said during the debate on the fast-tracked act that the current situation surrounding Brexit was rather uncertain, and that Slovenia should thus prepare for the worst-case scenario or a no-deal Brexit.

Some of them also pointed out that the status and rights of Slovenian citizens in the UK and vice versa must be preserved, and that reciprocity in the protection of their rights should be ensured.

The deputy group of the opposition Democrats (SDS) had announced it would abstain from voting because the act was incomplete and failed to provide sufficient protection to the estimated 5,000 Slovenian citizens in the UK.

The SDS was also critical of the government for coming up with such an act only days ahead of the scheduled date of Brexit.

The opposition Left said that the act was being discussed relatively late, while Zmago Jelinčič of the opposition National Party (SNS) said the proposal was a "mess and completely absurd".

All our stories about Brexit are here

19 Mar 2019, 14:20 PM

STA, 18 March 2019 - Slovenia reiterated its long-standing support for a peaceful resolution of the Middle East peace process and a two-state solution as Foreign Ministry State Secretary Simona Leskovar held talks Monday with Susanna Terstal, the EU's special representative for the Middle East peace process.

Leskovar described a two-state solution with Palestine within the 1967 borders and Jerusalem as the capital of both countries as "the only option," unless a different solution is found in negotiations, noting that Slovenia supported UN-backed initiatives to calm tensions and the need to communicate with all players.

She said the EU had a key role to play, in particular through the special representative. "Slovenia is ready to actively engage with the Office of the Special Representative in strengthening the EU's role in the peace process," Leskovar was quoted as saying by the Foreign Ministry.

Leskovar also highlighted Slovenia's humanitarian contributions, including a EUR 500,000 donation for a desalination plant in Gaza, Slovenia's biggest single humanitarian donation so far, and the psychosocial rehabilitation of Palestinian children by the Slovenian-run fund ITF - Enhancing Human Security.

All our stories on Slovenia and Palestine are here

19 Mar 2019, 11:44 AM

STA, 18 March 2019 - A new far-right party is emerging on the Slovenian political scene two months before the EU election, modelled on the Italian League and Fidesz in Hungary, and drawing on former and current supporters of the opposition Democrats (SDS). It is seen as complementary with, or a competition to, the SDS.

Called the Homeland League (Domovinska liga) and using the acronym DOM (home), the party has a Twitter account and has so far sent out broad outlines of its policies, centred around opposition to migrations, to LGBT-friendly policies and to EU federalism.

One tweet reads that the party sees French President Emanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the European People's Party (EPP) top candidate Manfred Weber as "destroyers of the EU".

"The European spring is coming, the spring of European nations... The European spring is symbolised by the sovereignist bloc under the leadership of Matteo Salvini. The Homeland League wishes to be a part of that undertaking," another tweet reads.

The party was officially registered on 26 February, which means that it had to satisfy the statutory requirement of having at least 200 members, and is provisionally headed by Žiga Jereb, a former mid-ranking member of the SDS who is largely unknown among the general public.

Quizzed by Dnevnik newspaper, Jereb did not specify what his current relationship with the SDS is, but the paper said in a report published on Saturday that individuals who parted ways with the SDS form the core of the Homeland League.

While remaining somewhat secretive until it formally presents its programme on 6 April, the party already has some visible supporters.

One of them is Bernard Brščič, a former senior aide to SDS leader Janez Janša who works as economist for power grid operator Eles and has become a leading ideologue of the Slovenian alt-right.

A leading proponent of the White Genocide theory, which holds that brown Muslims are bent on displacing whites with high fertility and terrorism, he uses Twitter to disseminate anti-Muslim and anti-immigration messages.

He has often warned against proponents of a "multiculti" society and "negroids" invading what he says is becoming "EUrabia".

Brščič is also a staunch supporter of the Generation of Identity, the Slovenian version of the identitarian movement. He wrote the foreword to a book the group published with Nova Obzorja, a book and magazine publisher co-owned by the SDS.

Brščič has confirmed he is in talks with the Homeland League to become their top candidate for the EU election and participated in drawing up the party's platform, though he is not a member.

Quizzed by the STA, he described himself as having "unparalleled experience and knowledge of the political situation in Europe" and said he doubted the party "will have a better candidate than me."

Some of DOM's positions

Another prominent supporter is Lucija Šikovec Ušaj, a lawyer who ran on the SDS ticket in the general election but later left the SDS because she thought the party was too soft on migrations.

Šikovec Ušaj is currently the legal counsel of Andrej Šiško, who is on trial for inciting to subvert the constitutional order with a local militia he formed in Maribor called the Štajerska Guard.

She is also a regular columnist for nova24tv.si, the web portal of the TV station co-owned by senior SDS members and businessmen with close ties to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

She rose to prominence on social media with staunch anti-immigrant rhetoric and is currently being processed by the disciplinary body of the Bar Association for hate speech against migrants.

The emergence of the party is seen by some as an attempt to brandish the image of the SDS, which has veered far to the right in recent years, and move it back towards the centre.

Reporter, a right-leaning magazine, says in Monday's commentary that the Homeland League is "a satellite of the SDS, which appears to want to move back to the centre ahead of the election and leave the space on the right to its loudest and most controversial extremists."

The paper says this tactic could help the SDS effectively secure an extra MEP, but it argues the move could also potentially backfire.

News portal Siol similarly says in a report released on Monday that the move helps the SDS in that the new party is conceived as a "special purpose vehicle onto which the SDS will shift the most radical portion of the party."

It says this would help SDS leader Janez Janša keep a part of his base while still coming across as "more moderate and less radical and Orbanite."

According to Siol, such a move is the latest in Janša's long history of founding or subjugating rightist parties, which function as "planets that circle around a single sun following predictable orbits."

But there are also reports suggesting the party is a project not controlled by the SDS.

Commercial broadcaster Kanal A said in a report last week it had unofficial information indicating that SDS leader Janša is "very angry" at Brščič and Ušaj.

Political analyst Andraž Zorko described the new party for the news portal Zurnal24 as an attempt to consolidate the far-right base so that it could support the SDS from the fringe.

But while the move is designed to consolidate votes previously picked up by multiple parties, "it could also invariably chip off some votes from the SDS and the People's Party (SLS), if the latter plays the anti-migration card as it did in the general election," he said.

Keep up with Slovenian politics here

19 Mar 2019, 10:17 AM

STA, 17 March 2019 - Opposition Democrats (SDS) president Janez Janša has told the Croatian newspaper Jutarnji list that the Slovenia-Croatia border arbitration decision is legally binding but that it still allows for a bilateral agreement on a section of the border or its entirety. He also argued Hungary's Victor Orban "has a historically correct stance on migration".

 

Janša, whose SDS won the 2018 general election but was not able to form a government, said that the border dispute between Slovenia and Croatia, two newly created states, is "one of the most specific situations in history".

He argued that "according to all realistic assessments", the international arbitration tribunal's June 2017 decision on the border "is in Croatia's favour and to the detriment of Slovenia".

"Still, Croatia is rejecting it and Slovenia is insisting on it," Janša said.

He said the SDS and "almost half of Slovenian voters" had rejected the arbitration agreement, "because we predicted things would evolve the way they did".

"I believe two wise governments could find a relatively elegant way out of this situation in the future," the former prime minister added.

Janša feels that some manoeuvring space exists that would allow Croatia to get a bilateral agreement and Slovenia a border that would make more sense than the one determined in arbitration.

On Slovenian politics and Europe

Commenting on the political situation in Slovenia, he said the minority government was fully dependent on "the extremist Left" and labelled the revised 2019 budget too wasteful.

As for the EU, he urged stabilisation and a greater voice for small member states like Croatia and Slovenia.

Janša expressed support to European People's Party (EPP) Manfred Weber as the EPP's spitzenkandidat, while arguing he preferred the EU development vision of Germany's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) head Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer to that of "socialist and liberal" French President Emmanuel Macron.

Janša is convinced that the label of populism is being abused due to large coalitions at the German and European level that are looking "for some kind of third enemies", while adding nationalism can also present a problem.

Moreover, Janša believes that European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who he feels should not be interfering in party politics, has started a conflict with Hungarian PM Viktor Orban within the EPP.

He highlighted the strong support for Fidesz in Hungary and argued that Orban "has a historically correct stance on migration".

As for a potential Fidesz exclusion from the EPP, Janša compared the gay rights efforts of EPP members from the north of Europe to Fidesz's policies. While the SDS is opposing LGBT adoption, it is not demanding that parties supporting it should be excluded from the EPP.

The EPP needs both the Christian socialists from Luxembourg and Hungary's Fidesz, since this is the only way for it to be strong and influential, Janša added, saying most serious EPP members expected a compromise solution and a fully preserved EPP.

All our stories on Slovenian politics can be found here

18 Mar 2019, 19:24 PM

STA, 18 March 2019 - Foreign Minister Miro Cerar, speaking to the press on the margin of the EU Council for Foreign Affairs session on Monday, believes a Brexit postponement until 23 May would be an option.

 

He is in favour of a Brexit postponement until 23 May at the latest, that is until the EU elections, provided that the British parliament backs the exit deal.

Cerar feels this could be the right way if the EU-27 is united on it and if it is very clear what both sides want to achieve, he told the press in Brussels.

"If extending the deadline brings more clarity without endangering the EU's unity and European institutions, then it would make sense and I'll support it."

Making sure EU institutions function normally means it is clear who takes part in them; in case of Brexit, UK representatives cannot be MEPs and cannot become commissioners, the minister explained.

He reiterated it was very important to make sure EU citizens, including Slovenian ones, enjoyed the same rights as now after Brexit, stressing he had been reassured today this would be the case.

However, as things stand now, the British parliament is hardly likely to back the exit deal it has rejected twice already.

It is also not very likely the next vote will take place on Tuesday as planned at the moment, since a rejected accord cannot be put to another vote without any changes.

An EU source meanwhile said today the EU-27 could decide on a UK postponement request as late as "an hour before midnight", or just before the scheduled exit date of 29 March.

All out stories on Brexit are here

18 Mar 2019, 12:30 PM

STA, 17 March 2019 - Defence Minister Karl Erjavec has said NATO is a bulwark of security in the Euro-Atlantic area and a cornerstone of Slovenian security, as he spoke to the STA ahead of Slovenia's 15th anniversary of NATO membership. "With limited funds we earmark for defence, it enables us to achieve more and do better."

"On its 70th anniversary, NATO is still a key common mechanism of guaranteeing security, freedom, democracy, the rule of law and development in the Euro-Atlantic area.

"It's primarily a bulwark of common values which are the basis of the social systems of its allies. All this is supported by a system of collective security," he says.

For Slovenia, it represents one of the basic elements of national security, believes Erjavec, who held the office of foreign minister before moving to defence.

"The alliance offers us the most suitable framework to pursue our national security interests, and a possibility of joint response to contemporary security challenges."

However, Slovenia must also assume a fair share of responsibilities, notes Erjavec, adding that if it was not a NATO member, it would have to invest much more in defence.

He says Slovenia has committed to spend more on defence not only because of NATO but foremost to have adequate capabilities for its own national security.

He notes the government has come up with an ambitious plan to raise defence spending in the coming years "aiming to meet this goal which was adopted jointly".

Looking back at the 15 years in NATO, Erjavec sees NATO's 2014 summit in Wales as one of the key events, bringing a "leap in understanding changes in security" and the related need to adjust to contemporary security challenges.

Noting NATO is working on a new military strategy, he says that "just like other allies, Slovenia will strengthen its defence capabilities and pursue the commitments to raise defence spending".

"We too will join the implementation of a boosted presence in the East, where we take part in a battlegroup in Latvia. Special efforts will also have to be made to boost the country's cybersecurity."

Over the past decade and a half, the main events in Slovenia have been the integration of the Slovenian army in NATO's military structure, which was completed in 2009.

This showed according to the minister that the army was capable of working together with other allies.

Another important event was two of its units (a nuclear, radiological, chemical and biological battalion and the Role-2 medical unit) becoming NATO-certified units, showing Slovenia can contribute its capabilities into the system of collective defence.

Erjavec also highlights the deployment of troops to Kosovo. "This has been the biggest contribution so far in the history of cooperation in international operations, and it puts us on a par with the most advanced armies."

The minister believes that in its 70-year history, NATO has proved "an incredibly strong alliance able to adjust and react to various threats and challenges despite sometimes different interests and stances of its sovereign members".

Commenting on tensions between European allies and the US under President Donald Trump, and on the EU's boosting its security and defence component, Erjavec says this does not "double efforts by NATO, which remains the basis of collective defence, but strengthens the European pillar within NATO".

The EU's efforts should not been seen as competition to NATO or the US. "The European security and defence efforts present a positive contribution to providing Euro-Atlantic security." says Erjavec, noting NATO and the EU are "natural partners" which share their common values and strategic interests in facing common challenges.

As for NATO's focus on Russia since the outbreak of the Ukrainian crisis, the minister says "the alliance does not want a confrontation with Russia".

However, "it clearly and resolutely protects NATO's principles and democratic values, as well as peace, security and stability of all of its members", according to Erjavec.

All our stories on the military and Slovenia are here

17 Mar 2019, 13:29 PM

STA, 17 March 2019 - Slovenia became a full member of NATO on 29 March 2004, accomplishing one of its strategic foreign policy goals. Fifteen years later, the alliance is considered the keystone of Slovenian and European security, although it is also a source of demands for a fairer distribution of obligations, especially in terms of defence funding.

 

Slovenia had been a part of the Non-Aligned movement in the era of former Yugoslavia, but when it became independent the country set out to become a member of all significant global as well as Euro-Atlantic organisations, in particular the EU and NATO.

It had had aspirations of being one of the first countries from the former Eastern bloc to be invited to join NATO, but to its chagrin, the alliance invited only Czechia, Hungary and Poland in 1999.

The invitation to begin accession talks was issued three years later at the Prague summit. According to the then foreign minister, Dimitrij Rupel, the US decided to open the doors wider in part due to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Popular support for NATO membership was weaker than support for the EU, as demonstrated during both accession referendums on 23 March 2003. While the EU membership was backed by almost 90% of voters, only 66% of them voted in favour of joining NATO.

Slovenia became a full member on 29 March 2004 along with Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, and Slovakia.

Despite expanding significantly since its inception, the alliance is still predicated on the principle of collective defence set down in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which states that an attack against one member is an attack against all of them.

The Defence Ministry also points out that NATO established itself as a bastion of liberal democracy, human rights and shared Euro-Atlantic values. Being a member, Slovenia has thus solidified its position among stable democracies in Europe and in the world.

After the end of the Cold War, NATO transformed into a major player securing global peace and security, in particular through peacekeeping operations in the Balkans.

But it has also engaged in combat, most notably in Afghanistan, which involved NATO participating in state-building and combat operations against the Taliban for 13 years until it was formally ended in 2014.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has described Slovenia as a valued ally that contributes to collective security and defence in many ways. The other allies acknowledge an important role of Slovenia in operations, especially in the Kfor mission in Kosovo, with Slovenian soldiers receiving high praise for their achievement.

But being at the bottom of the defence spending rankings, Slovenia has been warned about its low contributions. Stoltenberg personally pointed that out during his visit to Ljubljana in October last year.

NATO leaders agreed at the Wales summit in 2014 to increase the share of defence expenditure to 2% of GDP in ten years, after it had shrunk due to the financial crisis. Slovenia is one of the seven allies that do not plan to meet this target by 2024; it expects to allocate only 1.5% of GDP for defence budget that year.

The structure of the Slovenian defence budget is an issue as well. All allies are supposed to dedicate at least 20% of the financing to defence modernisation, but in Slovenia this share is only 8.2%. This is largely because Slovenia allocates the highest share of defence budget to soldiers' pay - almost 72.5%.

When it comes to increasing defence spending, the minority government is in a bind since the opposition Left opposes higher spending. However, a "fairer distribution of obligations" does not only concern Slovenia but the whole Europe, since only seven members of the 29 members allocate 2% of GDP to defence.

Slovenia plans to celebrate its 15th anniversary with a ceremony in Brdo pri Kranju on 20 March, with former NATO Secretary General George Robertson as the guest of honour.

15 Mar 2019, 16:37 PM

STA, 15 March 2019 - Commissioner for the Security Union Julian King, who is in Slovenia on Friday to discuss the security situation in the EU, told participants of a Citizens' Dialogue event in Ljubljana that rightist terrorist attacks such as the one that happened in New Zealand's Christchurch today were also possible in Europe.

 

He noted though that attacks by extremist Islamists were more frequent in Europe.

King labelled today's attack in New Zealand, in which at least 49 people were killed, horrific, expressing solidarity with the families of those killed or affected by the attack.

Speaking at the event hosted by the Faculty of Social Sciences, he said that the EU had stepped up cooperation among security forces of individual countries in a bid to fight terror.

Terrorists' access to explosives and financing has been restricted and the EU is also fighting against radicalisation, including on-line, he said, adding that a lot more needed to be done.

King pointed to cyber security as one of the main challenges. Next to the fight against on-line radicalisation, it also includes measures against cyber-attacks, hate speech and misinformation, which external actors use to influence political debate or even EU election results.

The safety of electronic devices themselves is also important and here the EU plays an important role with its security certificates, he said.

The debate also touched on the future of the EU defence and the idea of forming a joint EU army. King said EU members already cooperated in defence, including in EU missions in third countries.

He moreover pointed to the joint EU projects aimed at strengthening defence capabilities of individual countries. A joint army would foremost enhance defence capabilities, he believes.

King, who is also in charge of the fight against organised and cyber-crime, and hate speech, is scheduled to meet Interior Minister Boštjan Poklukar and officials from the Slovenian intelligence agency SOVA later today.

15 Mar 2019, 10:20 AM

STA, 14 March 2019 - Ireland was promised Slovenia's continued support with regard to Brexit as Minister of State for Food, Forestry and Horticulture Andrew Doyle held talks at the foreign and agriculture ministries on Thursday.

Meeting Foreign Ministry State Secretary Dobran Božič, Doyle was told bilateral cooperation was based on a shared understanding of values, principles and the rule of law.

"Božič provided assurances about Slovenia's solidarity with Ireland in the framework of the UK's exit from the EU," the Foreign Ministry said in a press release.

The officials also discussed the situation in the Western Balkans, the forthcoming Three Seas Initiative summit in Slovenia and Ireland's participation in the Bled Strategic Forum.

In talks with Agriculture Minister Aleksandra Pivec, Doyle was quoted as saying that Ireland appreciated Slovenia's support in Brexit talks, in particular on the Irish border backstop.

Aside from the consequences of Brexit, the discussion also touched on the Common Agriculture Policy post-2020 and rural development, the Agriculture Ministry said.

All our stories on Slovenia and Brexit are here

14 Mar 2019, 16:00 PM

STA, 13 March 2019 - Foreign Minister Miro Cerar said on Wednesday that he personally believes Britain's exit from the EU would probably be best postponed a little as things currently stand. He feels Slovenia would be ready to back a postponement provided that other member states did the same.

Speaking to the press during a two-day visit to Egypt, Cerar said a postponement "would probably make the most sense right now, but not for too long, since the matter is becoming unbearable".

Responding to Tuesday's rejection of the exit agreement by the British parliament, Cerar said an extension would still be better than a no-deal situation.

He repeated that an extension would need to be reasonably short, since all the cards have been on the table for some time.

"It is truly only about the UK government having to find some kind of path as soon as possible; things have been finalised enough on the EU27 side," Cerar said.

While stressing this was his personal opinion on a situation that still needed to be coordinated at government level, the minister said Slovenia would also be ready to back a reasonable extension should other member states do the same.

In any case, it will be first necessary to wait for a final decision by the British parliament, which will be deciding on a possible no-deal Brexit today, Cerar pointed out.

If this option gets rejected, a vote on an exit deadline extension will follow on Thursday.

All our stories on Slovenia and Brexit are here

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