Politics

29 May 2020, 11:36 AM

STA, 28 May 2020 - Dejan Židan resigned on Thursday as the president of the opposition Social Democrats (SD), and the SD presidency appointed MEP and SD vice-president Tanja Fajon interim head until the next electoral congress.

Handing over the party presidency to Fajon, Židan told the press that, in his eyes, the MEP was a "future Slovenian prime minister", while Fajon said her priorities would include enhancing cooperation on the centre-left.

The outgoing SD president noted that he had taken over the party after a "very bad result" in the EU elections, and that now the party was not wondering whether it would make it to parliament or whether social democracy had a place in Slovenia at all.

Židan said that the party had progressed in the last six years, significantly increasing the number of supporters, and that it was time to ask what steps it could make in order to grow into a leading party.

He said being replaced by Fajon was one of the options, and that the deputy group and the party's leadership were unanimous in supporting the proposal.

Fajon, who is convinced that the SD can do more, said she wanted to inspire trust as there was much distrust, apathy and dissatisfaction among people and to create policies together with citizens, including marginalised civil society groups.

She said she would soon invite opposition party presidents for a meeting, and assessed that the current, centre-right government was pulling Slovenia away from the core European countries, including by attacking the press and judiciary.

Židan is stepping down after exactly six years at the helm of the party. He replaced Igor Lukšič at the SD congress on 28 May 2014, after Lukšič resigned in the face of the party only securing one MEP - Fajon - in the elections to the European Parliament.

The 52-year-old began his political career as agriculture minister in the Borut Pahor government in 2010, going on to also serve as agriculture minister in the Alenka Bratušek and Miro Cerar governments. He served as parliamentary speaker under the Marjan Šarec government that was disbanded in March this year.

His climb in the SD was fast. After Lukšič succeeded Pahor as SD president in 2012, Židan became one of the party's four vice presidents. He became acting president in May 2014 and got a full term in January 2015.

The SocDems have been the third-ranked party in opinion polls for some time now, trailing the Democrats (SDS) and the Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ). They have had to deal with competition from the Left and newly formed centrist parties, but support seems to have stabilised after the dive that followed their victory in the 2008 general election when they got 30.5% of the vote.

The party plummeted to 10.52% in 2011. It then got 5.98% in the July 2014 general election and 9.92% in the June 2018 election, forming a government in both cases. It was relegated to the opposition in March as a result of Šarec's resignation.

Fajon, 49, is a third-term MEP. She worked as a journalist at the public broadcaster RTV Slovenija before entering politics in 2009, including as its correspondent from Brussels.

28 May 2020, 18:43 PM

All our stories on coronavirus are here, while those covering covid-19 and Croatia are here. We'll have an update at the end of the day, and if you want newsflashes then we'll post those on Facebook

Two new coronavirus infections on Wednesday, no new deaths

Major easing of restrictions announced for Monday

Primary schools to fully reopen next week

Slovenia and Hungary open border for their citizens

Masks no longer mandatory, still recommended

Two new coronavirus infections on Wednesday, no new deaths

STA, 28 May 2020 - After conducting 631 coronavirus tests, two new coronavirus infections were confirmed in Slovenia on Wednesday in what was a second day of the daily case count exceeding one after two weeks of zero or one infections per day. No new Covid-19 fatalities were reported, show the latest official data.

The total of confirmed infections has thus risen to 1,473. The national death toll has remained at 108.

Seven Covid-19 patients remain in hospital care, including two in intensive care. One person was released from hospital on Wednesday.

The UKC Ljubljana hospital said today that one of the infected persons was an employee of the Ljubljana Clinic for infectious diseases.

As a result, some departments in the clinic will closed in the coming days, but there will be no disturbances in the unit for Covid-19 patients or the paediatric unit.

The person was tested after getting fever, and has been on sick leave since Wednesday.

So far, 77,210 coronavirus tests have been performed in the country.

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Major easing of restrictions announced for Monday

STA, 28 May 2020 - Major easing of restrictions has been announced for Monday as all tourism facilities will be allowed to reopen, and gatherings of up to 200 people will be allowed again. Gyms and spas will reopen as well, government spokesman Jelko Kacin told the press on Thursday.

 The changes to the government decree on the movement of people in public areas will enter into force on 1 June.

After reopening tourist accommodation with up to 30 rooms on 18 May, all hotels regardless of their size as well as spas, health centres, gyms and pools will be able to reopen next month.

Only night clubs and discotheques remain closed. Shops too will remain closed on Sundays and holidays, Kacin said.

The government said in a press release that the exceptions were filling stations and pharmacies, adding that the minimum working hours of food shops would remain.

The general restrictions for shops were lifted on 18 May. Bars and restaurants started serving patrons indoors again last week as well.

Employees are still advised to minimise contact with shoppers and patrons and it is the "responsibility of employers to provide employees with protective equipment and make sure guidelines are followed," the government added.

National Public Health Institute (NIJZ) director Milan Krek said that, as regards gatherings of up to 200 people, that this did not come without certain conditions, including the safety measures to prevent the spread of infection.

As the latest easing of restrictions concern tourism facilities, it has become pertinent how and when citizens will be able to make use of tourism vouchers which are part of the legislation currently discussed in parliament.

Kacin said that instructions for the use of vouchers were being prepared and that more about that would be presented by Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek on Friday.

Krek added that wearing of face masks was no longer obligatory, but a recommendation for protecting oneself from getting infected and preventing possible spreading of the infection.

"No one will run after you, no one will threaten you, or punish you. The virus will do this if you catch it," he said when answering a question about wearing of face masks in enclosed spaces.

Krek advised people to wear face masks in places where it is not possible to maintain social distancing, regardless of whether this is requested or not, be it in a shop, bus or an institution.

Face masks are mandatory for persons who are infected with coronavirus and those who take care of them, he added.

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Primary schools to fully reopen next week

STA, 28 May 2020 - Fourth and fifth graders will return to school on Monday, the first day when the Covid-19 epidemic will no longer be in place. Those in grades six, seven and eight will return on Wednesday, Education Minister Simona Kustec told the press on Thursday.

This represents a full reopening of primary schools after children in the first three grades returned to classrooms on 18 May and those in ninth grade this week.

Also as of 1 June, children from the first three years will no longer be split into smaller groups of up to 15 children per classroom, going normally back to their original classrooms with their original classmates, the minister said.

The same relaxation will apply to kindergartens as of Monday.

Distance learning will meanwhile continue for secondary school students, expect for those in their final year, who returned to classrooms on 18 May to prepare for the school-leaving matura exam.

This is because there are still some restrictions applying to secondary school dormitories, explained Kustec.

Social distancing of 1.5 meters will still have to be observed as well as all other precautionary and hygienic measures.

Children will not be required to wear masks, but teachers are advised to wear them.

Despite the return to classrooms, the instruction to teachers that children should get only one grade before the end of the school year remains in place.

National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ) director Milan Krek said that despite the relaxation of public life, infection risks remain, so caution is needed.

In case of any respiratory infection, school children and teachers are advised to stay at home, he stressed, noting that if the virus appears in a school, it would have to be closed.

Schools closed on 16 March when the country went into lockdown four days after the epidemic was formally declared.

The Association of Head Teachers responded to the news by saying that the government had not given schools enough time to prepare, and that there would be problems in organising travel, meals and after-school activities.

"We are getting all these guidelines and circular letters too late. This one we received on Thursday and we are supposed to implement it on Monday," the association's head Gregor Pečan told the STA.

Pečan thinks that this shows a "great deal of disrespect for students and their parents, not to mention school employees and managers", as "people, health and lives are in play", so it is indecent to handle things this way.

Branimir Štrukelj of the SVIZ teachers' union was also critical, saying that teachers had not been consulted, which is a message from the government that they "do not have the right to participate in the creation of education policy."

He added that the responsibility of a potential spread of coronavirus due to this decision would have to be taken by those who had taken it, and not by head teachers and teachers.

Schools closed on 16 March when the country went into lockdown four days after the epidemic was formally declared.

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Slovenia and Hungary open border for their citizens

STA, 28 May 2020 - Slovenia and Hungary have agreed to lift restrictions on the crossing of state border for the citizens of both countries as of Thursday based on a favourable epidemiological situation in both countries and following successful diplomatic coordination, the Foreign Ministry said.

The announcement came after talks between the Slovenian and Hungarian foreign ministers, Anže Logar and Peter Szijjarto, who met at the Dolga Vas checkpoint.

The talks were dedicated to the current rules on the border, the coronavirus epidemic and the situation of ethnic minorities on both sides of the border.

The ministers assessed that Slovenia and Hungary are among the EU countries which have been the most successful in dealing with Covid-19, and called for the reopening of borders in the region as soon as possible.

Logar said the agreement reached today was an important diplomatic achievement. He said he was also happy with the conclusions of the talks on the issues of the Slovenian minority in Hungary and the Hungarian minority in Slovenia.

Szijjarto said the pandemic had shown how closely countries in central Europe were connected, especially neighbouring countries. Slovenia and Hungary reaffirmed their friendship, partnership and cooperation during this difficult times, he added.

According to Logar, the talks on the new border regime with neighbouring countries with a similar epidemiological situation were based on partnership and opinions of the National Institute for Public Health on which countries are safe.

He is confident that Slovenia will continue these talks in the coming days. If such a deal is reached with Austria, the borders with the country will open before 15 June.

Italy does not meet the epidemiological standards yet, and Croatia is working to create a regime that will make travelling easier for Slovenians who have real estate there or for other purposes, Logar said.

The ministers also discussed activities at the EU level, including on the current Commission's proposal for the multi-year financial framework, which includes setting up a recovery and resilience facility.

Logar argued for a rapid and ambitious agreement on the multi-year framework to fight off the consequences of the pandemic. Cohesion policy remains a priority for Slovenia, he stressed.

Szijjarto said that a new post-pandemic world order was being formed in which new dilemmas would cause new conflicts. "The Slovenian and Hungarian governments support each other; we will advocate the same views and help each other, be it with regard to illegal migration, preservation of cohesion funds, or the EU enlargement."

The ministers also reviewed progress in cross-border transport and energy projects, especially the power line between Cirkovce and Heviz, and the gas pipeline between Kidričevo and Nagykanizsa.

Logar will meet representatives of the Slovenian minority in Szentgotthárd today.

Hungary closed the border with Slovenia because of coronavirus in early March, and erected checkpoints through which limited goods transport was allowed into the country.

As of today all restrictions are lifted on the four existing border checkpoints: Hodoš-Bajansenye, Dolga vas-Redics, Pince (motorway)-Torniyszentmiklos (Orszagut) and Pince (local road)-Torniyszentmiklos (Helyi ut). The remaining points of crossing are to open on Tuesday.

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Masks no longer mandatory, still recommended

STA, 28 May 2020 - Wearing of face masks in closed public spaces is no longer mandatory in Slovenia, but it is still recommended according to guidelines by the National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ).

"The wearing of face masks is not an obligation, it is a recommendation designed to protect ourselves ... and to prevent transmission," NIJZ director Milan Krek told the press on Thursday.

In fact, masks have not been obligatory since 18 May, when a new government decree that allowed the gathering of up to 50 people in public entered into effect.

The decree no longer included the provision that made face masks mandatory, it is just that nobody appears to have noticed that the obligation was extinguished since the decree overrode a previous decree that made masks mandatory.

Instead, the new decree determines only that social distancing rules must be observed.

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28 May 2020, 14:22 PM

STA, 27 May 2020 - Slovenia will be eligible to receive EUR 5.071 billion from the EU's coronavirus recovery plan, shows an European Commission document, which has not yet been formally released. It will be able to receive EUR 2.579 billion in grants and EUR 2.492 billion in loans.

Slovenia will be able to draw the EUR 2.579 billion in grants from various instruments, not just the new recovery and resilience fund.

These include the new cohesion instrument ReactEU and the strengthened Just Transition Fund and the Regional Development Fund.

To receive the money from the recovery and resilience fund, a member state will have to draft a reform and investment plan setting out the expenditure, which will have to be approved at EU level.

The Commission will present the instruments in detail on Thursday, when the official breakdown by member state will also be published.

The Commission proposes a EUR 750 billion fund to help the economies of member states cope with the post-coronavirus reality, Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni tweeted on Wednesday.

EUR 500 billion will be earmarked for grants and EUR 250 billion for loans, but details are yet to be presented.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is presenting it to the European Parliament, which will then further discuss it.

The prime minister's office said that the proposal was a "step in the right direction" and that Slovenia would take a clear position on it after making a thorough analysis, supported with adequate calculations.

The office added that "Slovenia has always advocated an ambitious and future-oriented EU multi-year budget" and that the proposals presented by Von der Leyen would certainly be helpful in tackling the economic impact of the pandemic.

"By doing so, the European Union will contribute to the extensive efforts of member states for kick-starting the economy while also making a decisive step towards strengthening the internal EU market."

The office added that, when it came to the European Commission's proposal, Slovenia would be "particularly attentive to its priority areas such as cohesion policy."

Slovenian MEPs meanwhile said that Slovenia's success in drawing from the recovery and resilience fund would depend on the country's authorities, while assessing the entire proposal as a sign that there is still solidarity in the EU.

The European People's Party (EPP) MEPs believe that the EUR 5.1 billion for Slovenia is an excellent result and opportunity, and that the Slovenian government is able to draw such an amount in what is a demanding and responsible job.

Tanja Fajon and Milan Brglez (S&D/SD) said that Slovenia would need a good reform and investment plan and noted that the phasing of the funds would be conditional on priorities such as environment, digitalisation and resilience.

Klemen Grošelj (Renew/LMŠ) assessed that this is an opportunity for Slovenia to get very favourable funds for tackling the coronavirus crisis. They can significantly contribute to stabilisation and mitigation of consequences, he added.

27 May 2020, 16:46 PM

STA, 27 May 2020 - Slovenians have given the government's efforts to fight the coronavirus a generally positive mark, a poll carried out by market research agency Mediana showed on Wednesday. Over 43% are satisfied with the government's measures designed to fight the virus and their relaxation, whereas almost 34% are unsatisfied with them.

Of these, 15.5% are completely satisfied and 15% completely unsatisfied with the measures, respectively, which Mediana interprets as the measures being received quite well.

Slovenians are also somewhat split on how the government communicated the adopted restrictive measures and their subsequent relaxation to the public.

As many as 42% of those polled consider the communication either poor or slightly better than poor, and 43% see it as good or very good.

The respondents were also asked to agree or disagree with several claims about the government's tackling of the epidemic and its ability to address global challenges.

Almost 50% do not trust the government will take the right decisions for Slovenia, as opposed to almost 35% who trust it on this.

Conversely, as many as 53% trust it that it will be able to address future global challenges, while 32% do not, which Mediana says shows a rather pessimistic outlook.

Over 50% meanwhile agree with a claim that Slovenia has addressed the epidemic better than other countries, but almost 23% hold the opposite view.

Medians believes the last two figures give the government an overall positive mark about its action during the epidemic.

The agency said that as many as 39% of Serbians and 26% of Croats said their respective governments tackled the coronavirus crisis worse than other countries.

The survey was carried out online on 15 and 16 May polling 505 Slovenians residents aged 15 to 75.

Two new coronavirus infections on Tuesday, no deaths

STA, 27 May 2020 - A total of 809 tests for coronavirus were conducted in Slovenia on Tuesday, with two tests coming back positive which is the highest daily case count after two weeks of zero or one infections per day. No Covid-19 deaths were recorded, with the national death toll remaining at 108, show the latest government data.

Eight Covid-19 patients were in hospital yesterday, the same as on Monday, including two in intensive care. Two people were meanwhile discharged from hospital.

So far, 1,471 coronavirus infections have been recorded in Slovenia and 76,579 tests have been performed.

A total of 290 Covid-19 patients have been released from hospital until Tuesday.

27 May 2020, 09:19 AM

STA, 26 May 2020 - Prime Minister Janez Janša announced potential changes to tax legislation and media funding as he gave a weekly interview with Nova24TV, a broadcaster he has co-founded, on Monday evening. The group advising the government led by tax expert Ivan Simič will examine the possibilities for changes to the tax policy, he said.

"But some fast tax cuts could not be expected in this situation," he said, noting that due to the financial crisis ten years ago, the VAT had been raised.

He would also support an idea for every taxpayer to be able to earmark more than the current 0.5% of their income tax to an organisation to their liking.

"We'll be looking for a solution in this direction. First proposals can be expected by the end of the year," he announced.

Asked what the government could do about the compulsory payment of licence fee for public broadcaster RTV Slovenija, Janša said the Culture Ministry is already "working on some legislative changes".

"The least that could be done is distribute this enormous amount of money in a more just way."

He indicated that the public broadcaster could do "a much better job with considerably less money".

Janša also commented on a controversy about the police having accessed personal data of coalition politicians under the Marjan Šarec government to discredit them.

He said somebody had accessed the personal data of then leader of the Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) Karl Erjavec and of Modern Centre Party (SMC) leader Zdravko Počivalšek.

The order came from the then interior minister, said Janša, announcing that "it will be checked what had actually happened".

Boštjan Poklukar from the Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ), which led the government, was interior minister at the time.

Janša also discussed the previous government's action or inaction in taking the necessary measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

He said he would release his correspondence with former Health Minster Aleš Šabeder when the time came and if Šabeder agreed to it, indicating former Prime Minister Marjan Šarec had prevented the minister from taking action faster.

"So that people see what was going on and what the former prime minister was actually doing when he should have acted responsibly and take certain measures," Janša said.

Responding to the statement for TV Slovenija on Tuesday, Šarec's LMŠ labelled it fake news and Šabeder toned it down, with the public broadcaster saying he did not want to meddle in the Janša-Šarec dispute.

"We see the claim that Marjan Šarec tried to prevent anything to the former health minister as yet another case of fake news by Janez Janša and Nova24," the LMŠ wrote.

Šabeder meanwhile wrote it had been necessary and fair to promptly brief the new government, which was taking over during such an emergency, on the number of infected persons and on other vital developments and to coordinate the measures.

"This is also the main content of these messages," said Šabeder, adding that the situation had been very much war-like. He also said it had become clear that his team at the ministry had worked in the right direction, while the situation had been changing from minute to minute.

25 May 2020, 18:29 PM

STA, 25 May 2020 - Interior Minister Aleš Hojs has told the weekly Reporter that he expects the authorities to take action against the organisers of the mass anti-government protests on bicycles, which are taking place every Friday. He believes this is illegal during the coronavirus epidemic.

In an interview for the right-leaning magazine published on Monday, Hojs said that, under the law, the organisers of unregistered protests must cover the costs of security provided by the police.

The minister reiterated that the protests were illegal, "unless someone would try to explain that this was not a public gathering".

He noted that the relevant government decree said that public gatherings were prohibited, and that the latest version said that public events for up to 50 persons were allowed.

"If someone tried to explain that the protests are not public gatherings, they would go against their own common sense," Hojs said.

The police have and will be taking measures against the organisers under the law and based on the minister's guidelines.

"Although these were unregistered rallies, I expect measures against the organisers. These are the ones who had called for protests on social networks and TV studios, and even political parties were in on this."

The public assembly act stipulates that the organisers must cover the costs of police security in case of unregistered protests and Hojs expects that the police will exercise this option and charge the costs.

The minister also commented on the opening of the border with Italy, saying that it would not be fully opened until the epidemiological situation in the western neighbour was comparable to that in Slovenia.

He also pointed to what he believes are nonsensical legislative provisions preventing soldiers who help the police patrol the Schengen border from stopping or detaining illegal migrants.

Hojs said that the pandemic had halted illegal migration as the Serbian and Bosnian military had been consistently securing borders. Once this control is relaxed, a new increase in illegal crossings of the Slovenian border could be expected.

He announced that he personally would advocate the position that Croatia should be included in the Schengen Area, as this is in Slovenia's interest.

The minister also spoke of what he perceives as a "tremendous pressure" on the centre-left Modern Centre Party (SMC) and Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) to leave the coalition.

"They first took aim at the SMC, and when they realised that the party is rather solid, they went after DeSUS, but apparently DeSUS is not as labile as some thought either."

According to him, it is only a matter of time when the focus will shift on Defence Minister Matej Tonin, the head of New Slovenia (NSi).

The minister believes that the main reason for reports about the alleged dissatisfaction within the coalition parties was the "media interest of 'independent journalists'".

The possibility of an early election mostly depends on the prime minister and the balance of power in parliament. "In my opinion, Janez Janša is not someone who would throw in the towel," Hojs said.

24 May 2020, 09:18 AM

STA, 23 May 2020 - A potential second wave of coronavirus infections could occur in autumn or winter, but it is not very likely in summer, Bojana Beović, the head of the Health Ministry advisory task force for coronavirus, has told the STA. All efforts should be directed at preventing another nation-wide lockdown if the second wave occurs, she said.

The country will most likely be spared the second wave in summer months "given the current epidemiologic status and the fact that people hang out outdoors in summer and there is no school", the infectious diseases expert said.

However, in autumn the situation might change with the return to school and colder weather. Respiratory viruses thrive in such environments, added Beović, who also has fears about a potential simultaneous emergence of the flu and coronavirus.

"The second wave is a realistic possibility since the virus is still circulating and a large share of population is still susceptible to it. Even for that few percent of people in Slovenia who have recovered from Covid-19, one could not yet tell whether they are immune to a new infection," she said.

Slovenia has to get ready in the meantime, conduct extensive diagnostics in the summer and test every suspected case of infection as well as trace and isolate potential cases. The second wave could be postponed and major coronavirus spikes averted if efforts are stepped up in such a way.

The country's healthcare must prepare as well, focussing on mitigating staff shortages by training additional personnel, Beović urged.

UKC Ljubljana, Slovenia's central hospital, will be the only institution admitting Covid-19 patients in the future if the epidemiologic situation remains favourable. In case there is an increase in the number of new cases, UKC Maribor, Golnik and Celje hospitals will step in as well, followed by others if need be.

Nursing homes should carry on with a balancing act of heeding anti-Covid-19 measures while enabling some kind of normality, she added.

Given that only a small share of citizens have antibodies according to a recent nation-wide study, "any kind of a new wave is possible, including a major one", the expert warned, adding that the presence of antibodies might not even protect the person against another infection.

The possibility of the coincidental emergence of the second wave and a great number of flu infections is a reason for concern, Beović highlighted, saying that the quality of treatment declined if there was a great strain on healthcare.

Partly this could be prevented by ramping up flu vaccination, she said.

If or when the second wave hits, the state should make it its key priority to make sure that public life does not grind to a halt again, she pointed out, adding that people should learn how to live with the virus until there is an effective vaccine or medication.

That could involve the virus being here to stay, either in the form of additional waves of infections or seasonal respiratory diseases.

At the end of the month, the epidemic will be effectively over, but that does not mean Covid-19 is actually behind us and things can go back to how they were before, according to Beović.

The epidemic being over, the coronavirus task force, led by her, will be dissolved, she believes.

Politicians have taken experts' opinions relatively seriously, particularly at the beginning of the epidemic when the situation was dire, she said.

The easing of lockdown restrictions saw a few negotiations with experts urging a more conservative approach. A gradual easing has been hammered out generally speaking. Beović also confirmed that she was informed about the intention to declare the epidemic over.

"With hindsight a great many things were excessive at the time. But the epidemic slowed down precisely because they were excessive."

All our stories on coronavirus and Slovenia are here

24 May 2020, 09:07 AM

STA, 23 May 2020 - The coronavirus epidemic in Slovenia will have officially lasted 80 days, from 12 March to 31 May. It has had an unprecedented impact on society and economy, as evident from key indicators measuring the pulse of society.

The ranks of the jobless swelled from EUR 77,484 at the end of February to 88,648 by the end of April, according to Employment Service figures.

Growth slowed in May, but the jobless total has already exceeded 90,000 and many more are expected to be laid off in the coming months.

One of the measures put in place to help companies was subsidies for those temporarily laid off. The Employment Service has so far received requests for 268,348 employees, more than a quarter of the country's workforce.

Economic stimulus measures estimated at EUR 6 billion have been adopted so far, which is expected to help the economy weather the crisis but will upend public finances.

General government debt, at 66.1% of gross domestic product (GDP) at the end of 2019 after almost a decade of austerity, is projected to balloon to 82.4% of GDP by the end of this year, partially due to fresh borrowing and partially due to a sharp decline in GDP.

Instead of a general government surplus of 0.8% initially projected for the year, public finances are expected to record a 8.1% deficit, according to government projections.

Note: The data below is dynamic, and updated for the day you're reading this.

And while the Slovenian economy had projected to grow at a modest 2-2.5%, it is now expected to contract by anywhere between 5% and more than 8%.

One indication of the sharp slowdown is the amount of value added tax (VAT) the Tax Administration has collected. While the receipts dropped by 4% year-on-year in March, the decline in April was 25% as virtually the entire retail and hospitality sectors shut down.

Slovenia registered 1,478 coronavirus infections by 21 May and 106 deaths attributed to Covid-19. A total of 316 persons were hospitalised, of which 21 remained in hospital on 21 May.

Cases were confirmed in 154 of Slovenia's 212 municipalities, with major hotspots in nursing homes in Metlika, Šmarje pri Jelšah and Ljutomer. Four in five fatalities were among nursing home residents and more than a quarter of all confirmed cases were among residents or staff.

The epidemic peaked around the end of March. The highest number of new infections in a single-day came on 26 March (61), while hospitalisations peaked at 107 on 30 March.

All our stories on coronavirus and Slovenia are here

23 May 2020, 14:25 PM

The covers and editorials from leading weeklies of the Left and Right for the work-week ending Friday, 22 May 2020. All our stories about coronavirus and Slovenia are here

Mladina: No one dares question govt's economic policy

STA, 22 May 2020 – The left-wing weekly Mladina says in its latest commentary that there are many questions for the government to be asked about its economic policy during the coronavirus epidemic, but the problem is that economists and executives do not dare ask them because they are afraid of being blacklisted by Prime Minister Janez Janša.

While all sorts of conflicts are being produced in Slovenia left and right, there is no serious debate about the government's economic measures. "Well, there is no debate because many do not dare utter a word," the weekly's editor-in-chief Grega Repovž says.

The business sector remembers that the current PM likes to be praised, and absolutely hates to be criticised. This is why a majority of business representatives are publicly praising him, as no one wants to be blacklisted, or put entire industries on his black list.

The questions that the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which is silent, should be asking are, for example, "how Slovenia can afford to lead a conservative monetary and economic policy while all others in its neighbourhood act differently?".

Another question is how Slovenian companies will compete in the common European market if their competitors will have huge liquidity funds at their disposal, and Slovenia's will not, the commentary adds.

Repovž argues that Slovenia has never had such a weak government when it comes to economy - the finance minister is extremely weak, but he is a good friend of prime minister's, while the economy minister has no breadth and is politically weak.

"But we have the same problem the Americans have: we have no time for these actual problems. Because while others are salvaging the future of their countries, we need to defend the foundations of democracy. We need to deal with freedom of the press. With corruption. Forceful replacements."

There is new madness every week - this week it is paramilitary units, private guards which intimidate police officers, while the government takes no measures.

"We all know that these paramilitary phenomena are actually encouraged by the main party in the coalition, and that they are something most dangerous for society. Such units were deniers of the bloody Balkan wars and heralds of Nazi terror."

What is interesting is the delusion of the coalition partners, who are convincing themselves that these dangerous incidents by the Democrats (SDS) will somehow be overshadowed what they believe are good economic measures, concludes the commentary headlined Economy and Guardsmen.

Demokracija: Govt bearing cross, rift with communists persists

STA, 21 May 2020 – The right-wing weekly Demokracija's Jože Biščak expresses in the weekly's latest editorial joy for "the determination of the new government" and gratitude the epidemic has been weathered. He also remembers the 1945 communist reprisal killings in Kočevski Rog, speaking of "probably the biggest massacre on the old continent in the 20th century".

"We are joining in prayer those who are raising their humble hands to God in gratitude that the crisis turned the way it did and we are happy for the determination of the new government, even though the cross it has to bare because of far-fetched 'scandals' involving PPE purchases and invented accusations about some kind of dictatorship will leave it with bloody shoulders," Biščak says.

He then turns to the Kočevski Rog summary killings, in which historians assess up to 30,000 people were killed, saying that "even though some of those with blood on their hands (were) are still alive and could have been easily identified and sentenced, all of them remained completely untouched".

Biščak says the blame for this also lies with the judicial authorities that continued to serve after independence and enjoyed "the unconditional support of [former President] Milan Kučan and the left".

Much was lost in those years and never made up for and the "traces of the tragedy never really found their way to a public cleansing", Biščak says in Death Becomes Nobody.

He then expresses disappointment with the "postmodern world, which is reminiscent of the last days of the retarded Western Roman Empire, and is far from the heritage of the spirit and honour of the time in-between".

"Also belonging to this spirit are those Slovenians who managed to resist the devastations of communism. Communism - an evil that is recognised today in cultural Marxism - continues to rip out the guts and all that used be the heart and that our forbearers cared about. This is the life that mothers carry in them and bring to the world."

"Crimes happened and bad things happened (and continue to happen). Many of them, too many. We are being pushed into them time and time again from the left, which is trying to convince us that we on the right are bad. Ignore these accusations. Be happy to be subjected to them. Be grateful you have experienced this. Sometimes bad things need to happen to make room for good ones. This provides reason for hope."

All our posts in this series are here

23 May 2020, 08:25 AM

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

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

FRIDAY, 15 May
        LJUBLJANA - A decree entered into force that allowed EU residents to cross into Slovenia from Austria, Italy and Hungary at pre-determined checkpoints without restrictions. The decree was subsequently amended so that only citizens of EU and Schengen zone countries with which bilateral technical agreements are reached will be allowed to cross without restriction. Meanwhile, Slovenians who own real estate in Croatia queued for hours to cross the border as quarantine upon return to Slovenia was abolished.
        PTUJ - Meeting for talks, President Borut Pahor and his Croatian counterpart Zoran Milanović praised what they labelled as excellent cooperation between the two countries in their response to the coronavirus pandemic and easing of travel restrictions.
        LJUBLJANA - The opposition heaped criticism on the government over its decision to declare the end of the coronavirus epidemic in Slovenia as of 31 May, saying that the move had been motivated by financial reasons. Similar concern was expressed by trade unions, while employers welcomed the decision but warned the measures to help businesses should be expanded.
        LJUBLJANA - President Borut Pahor and his Greek counterpart Katerina Sakellaropoulou underscored the importance of the EU's unity as they discussed the response to the coronavirus pandemic and its fallout in a videoconference. The Greek president congratulated Slovenia on declaring an end of the epidemic.
        LJUBLJANA - Marking Slovenian Army Day in memory of the 29th anniversary since training of first Slovenian soldiers started, President Borut Pahor as the supreme commander stressed the importance of the Slovenian Armed Forces, in particular in the face of a changing world. Defence Minster Matej Tonin announced efforts to secure more funding, while the army launched a media campaign in en effort have more people enlist. In a written address on the occasion, PM Janez Janša blamed former governments for the army's problems.
        LJUBLJANA - Supporting a revival of the Middle East peace process as EU foreign ministers discussed the issue, Slovenia's Anže Logar called for strengthening the EU's dialogue with all key players, Israel, Palestine, the US and relevant Arab countries, to implement the common interest of lasting peace and stability in the region.
        LJUBLJANA - Foreign Minister Anže Logar held a meeting with his Danish counterpart Jeppe Kofod by videolink for talks on bilateral relations, response to the crisis provoked by the coronavirus pandemic and EU affairs. The pair called for enhancing bilateral cooperation further.
        LJUBLJANA - The Foreign Ministry marked the 65th anniversary of the Austrian State Treaty by underscoring that Slovenia is an indisputable signatory to the treaty as a successor to the former Yugoslavia, one of the original signatories. In a letter to his Austrian counterpart Alexander Schallenberg, FM Anže Logar called for full implementation of Article 7, which deals with the rights of the Slovenian minority.
        LJUBLJANA - The government opted to close an agreement with the UN Office for Project Services on the delivery of the Japanese anti-influenza medicine called favipiravir for clinical trials in treatment of Covid-19 patients. Slovenia is one of the first countries worldwide to get the medicine, known commercially as Avigan, which is not available on the market yet.
        KRANJ - Telecoms equipment maker Iskratel launched a test network featuring 5G technology at its production facility in cooperation with Telekom Slovenije to explore new business models.
        LJUBLJANA - Despite the ban on public gatherings, several thousand took part in anti-government bicycle protests in Slovenian cities for the fourth week running. The biggest protest was held in Ljubljana.

SATURDAY, 16 May
        ORMOŽ - Interior Minister Aleš Hojs and Croatian counterpart Davor Božinović met for talks on the easing of restrictions on travel across the border, on illegal migration and Croatia's bid to join the Schengen zone.
        LJUBLJANA - President Borut Pahor and Lojze Peterle, prime minister of the DEMOS government (1990-92), urged cooperation and putting divisions aside as they marked the 30th anniversary since the government which led Slovenia to independence was endorsed in parliament.
        LJUBLJANA - In an interview with the newspaper Dnevnik, Infrastructure Minister Jernej Vrtovec revealed that an infrastructure fund was in the making to finance investments into railways and roads, which would bring some EUR 180 million a year.
        LJUBLJANA - Data from the Financial Administration showed that Slovenia's revenue from VAT in March, when most shops closed as Slovenia went into lockdown on 16 March, dropped to EUR 187 million, down nearly 30% over February and 19% over March 2019. Overall tax revenue collected in April dropped by a quarter to EUR 1.2 billion.
        BRUSSELS, Belgium - Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek and his counterparts from eleven other EU countries signed an appeal to the EU stating their joint interest in introducing a plan to revive the car industry, one of the EU sectors that has been severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

SUNDAY, 17 May
        LJUBLJANA - The Association of Veterans of the War for Slovenia marked the 30th anniversary of the rejection of an order to disarm Slovenian military units during independence efforts and the formation of the Tactical Line.
        SLOVENSKA BISTRICA - Some 50 members of the self-styled home guard calling themselves Štajerska Guard made a visit to the local police station demanding explanations why the police made a call to the owner of a plot where the militia held its camp. In response to calls for action from the opposition, Interior Minister Aleš Hojs asked the police commissioner to compile a report on the incident.
        LJUBLJANA - A poll by Mediana showed 38% of respondents saying Slovenia should have waited for developments in other countries before declaring the end of the coronavirus epidemic, against 27% who thought the reverse.

MONDAY, 18 May
        LJUBLJANA - The bulk of lockdown restrictions were lifted as children up to the age nine returned to schools and kindergartens, along with final-year secondary school students. All shops were allowed to reopen, including shopping malls, and bars and eateries were allowed to serve their patrons indoor as well. The ban on gatherings of up to 50 persons was also lifted. Social distancing still needs to be observed.
        LJUBLJANA - Croatia became the first country Slovenia put on a list of countries whose nationals may cross the border without limitations after the National Institute of Public Health assessed the coronavirus situation was similar in both countries. Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek discussed border reopening with the corresponding Hungarian and Austrian ministers, saying the goal was to reopen borders with neighbouring countries in early June. In a videoconference with EU counterparts, Foreign Minister Anže Logar said Slovenia was ready to welcome EU tourists in the coming weeks.
        LJUBLJANA - In an interview broadcast by Nova24TV, Prime Minister Janez Janša projected that Slovenia's economy would rebound to the pre-crisis level within a year provided his government stayed in office and correct measures were taken.
        LJUBLJANA - The Slovenian automotive industry said it was seeing its worst crisis yet due to the coronavirus pandemic, with a 60% drop in production in April and a 50% fall in May. It urged a follow-up on stimulus measures to prevent job losses and bankruptcies.
        LJUBLJANA - The ruling coalition's majority in parliament was reduced to 46 out of 90 seats after MP Gregor Židan defected from the Modern Centre Party (SMC) to join the opposition Social Democrats (SD). This was three days after Jani Möderndorfer left the SMC for the opposition Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ).
        LJUBLJANA - The Vox Populi poll for the newspapers Dnevnik and Večer had the senior coalition Democratic Party (SDS) firmly in the lead at 22.1%, compared to 22.5% in April, as the opposition Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ) in second gained 2.4 percentage points to 12.2%. The approval rating for the government fell to 47.3% from 65%.
        LJUBLJANA - The Interior Ministry reported having received 563 applications for asylum from January to the end of April, which compares to 1,111 at the same period last year.
        LJUBLJANA - Marko Elsner, one of the greatest Slovenian football players of all time, died at the age of 60 after battling a severe illness for several years.

TUESDAY, 19 May
        LJUBLJANA - PM Janez Janša welcomed a German-French proposal for the EU to set up a EUR 500 billion fund to restart the economy after the Covid-19 pandemic, but said an even more ambitious approach would be needed given the extent of the crisis. Janša also discussed the issue with his Italian and Austrians counterparts.
        LJUBLJANA - Foreign Minister Anže Logar spoke about cooperation in the efforts to deal with the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic in a videoconference with counterparts from Western Balkan countries, their neighbours in the EU and high EU representatives. He noted the importance of European solidarity, cooperation in the region and its close cooperation with the EU.
        TRIESTE, Italy - The Trieste-based newspaper Il Piccolo reported that the National Hall, which used to be the hub of Slovenian cultural life in the town, would be symbolically returned to the Slovenian community there at a ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of the building's arson before its ownership was formally transferred to the community, a process that could take several years.
        NOVO MESTO - Revoz, the Slovenian subsidiary of the French car maker Renault, confirmed it was scrapping the plans to resume night shift due to a fall in global demand provoked by the coronavirus pandemic as a result of which over 400 jobs will be lost, mostly agency workers.
        HRASTNIK - Glass maker Steklarna Hrastnik announced plans to reduce its 700-strong workforce by almost a tenth by September, having recorded a severe contraction of demand.
        LJUBLJANA - Insurance group Sava posted a first-quarter net profit of EUR 10.3 million, down 5.6% year-on-year, as higher reinsurance claims and lower investment returns affected the bottom line despite a 17.3% increase in gross written premiums.
        LJUBLJANA - The energy group Gen-I reported record sales of 83.4 terawatt-hours of electricity for 2019 as revenue topped EUR 2.2 billion for a third year in a row. Net profit rose by 16% to exceed EUR 15 million for the first time ever.

WEDNESDAY, 20 May
        LJUBLJANA - The government adopted a new economic stimulus package, which includes a subsidised short-time work scheme, vouchers for all citizens to be spent in tourism facilities in the country, and favourable liquidity loans. The package is worth around EUR 1 billion. To subsidise short-time work, Slovenia is to tap into the European Commission's SURE mechanism for EUR 900 million.
        LJUBLJANA - In reference to the new stimulus package, Prime Minister Janez Janša said in a video address to the nation that Slovenia's reputation as a safe and orderly country capable of protecting its citizens' health was the best recommendation both for tourism and investment.
        LJUBLJANA - The government adopted an emergency bill to facilitate investment seen as key to kick-start the economy. Investments worth EUR 500 million in total will get priority treatment in all procedures, including administrative and judicial procedures. As eligible investments Economy Minister Andrej Vizjak listed major roads and railway tracks, including Koper-Divača track, hydro power plants and the Ljubljana passenger terminal.
        BRUSSELS, Belgium - In a new set of recommendations issued to Slovenia as part of the European semester the European Commission called on the country to take all needed economic measures to support the recovery after the coronavirus epidemic, provide social protection, as well as resilient systems of healthcare and long-term care.
        LJUBLJANA - Foreign Minister Anže Logar told the Foreign Policy Committee that the reopening of borders with the neighbouring countries would depend on the epidemiological situation but that Slovenia would do all in its power to normalise the regime on its borders by 1 June.
        LJUBLJANA - Foreign Minister Anže Logar talked with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov about the Covid-19 pandemic and its fallout on the telephone. The pair also affirmed good bilateral relations.
        LJUBLJANA - Presenting the annual report on the judiciary, Supreme Court president Damijan Florjančič was upbeat, as the backlog of pending cases was reduced to 133,000. The courts received 839,000 cases and resolved roughly 850,000. Resultion time is also getting shorter. To tackle the backlog formed during the lockdown, court summer recess will be halved to two weeks.
        LJUBLJANA - Almost a decade after police opened their first inquiries into the case, the prosecution filed an indictment over the controversial EUR 1 billion-plus generator project at the Šoštanj coal-fired power plant at the Celje District Court. Unofficially, French company Alstom and the former TEŠ boss Uroš Rotnik are among those indicted.

THURSDAY, 21 May
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenia's Covid-19 death toll rose to 105 by 20 May as daily number of new cases stayed had not increased by more than one for a week despite round 1,000 tests performed each day. The total by 20 May is 1,468 but only roughly 20 cases are estimated to remain active.
        LJUBLJANA - Foreign Minister Anže Logar urged close cooperation among EU members as they relax lockdown measures as he attended a meeting of ambassadors from EU countries accredited to Slovenia which was hosted by Croatian Ambassador to Slovenia Boris Grigić from the EU presiding country.
        LJUBLJANA - Foreign Minister Anže Logar held a phone conversation with his Canadian counterpart Francois-Philippe Champagne focusing on national measures to combat the coronavirus epidemic. The ministers emphasised the importance of cohesion and concerted action in transatlantic relations and in the international community in general.
        CELJE - After the Supreme Court quashed a guilty ruling in a defamation case brought against PM Janez Janša by a journalist over an insulting tweet, the Celje Higher Court rejected Janša's appeal in a separate case filed against him by the other journalist mentioned in the controversial tweet. The claim is for damages worth EUR 6,000.
        LJUBLJANA - The ZZZS, the fund collecting and managing mandatory health insurance, expects a shortfall of EUR 129 million by the end of the year due to the Covid-19 epidemic. The fund would like the loss to be offset by the national budget, or else healthcare funding could be suspended in December.
        NOVO MESTO - Pharma group Krka Group saw its net sales revenue increase by 22% year-on-year to EUR 462.9 million in the first quarter as the coronavirus pandemic pushed up the demand for its products. Net profit was up 21% to EUR 85.2 million.
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenia's consumer confidence somewhat improved in May, with the relevant index going up by five percentage points compared to April. It was however still 25 percentage points below the long-term average.

All our posts in this series are here

23 May 2020, 08:08 AM

STA, 22 May 2020 - The cycling protests against the government's actions and policies continued for the fifth Friday running, with several thousand protesters reported again in Ljubljana. Signatures for the resignation of the government started to get collected, while one group also expressed support to the government.

Before the evening protest in parliament square - whose police-controlled section got a large 'our property' sign in the afternoon - a stream of cyclists occupied the streets around Parliament House, while the protesters also ventured to Ljubljana's main thoroughfare, Dunajska street, and the Environment Ministry located there.

The government's clampdown on environmental NGOs has been among the protesters' main grievances in recent weeks, after the protests were initially galvanised by revelations of alleged heavy political meddling in the purchases of PPE and ventilators during the coronavirus epidemic and PM Janez Janša's clash with the media.

The Ljubljana Anarchist Initiative, one of the unofficial organisers, wrote that millions of euros from the public budget continued to be appropriated by political and economic elites under the guise of a state of emergency.

"We've broken the curse of the epidemic, now we need to be break the virus of the holders of power," they wrote, while rejecting any kind of political meddling in the protests.

A novelty this week was the collecting of signatures for the government's resignation, while some of the participating groups also specified their demands.

The list by one of the more prominent groups includes the "end of corruption, of disrespectful public speech, fomenting of divisions, of hate and fear...end of attacks on civil society ...on independent media...the end of putting the interests of capital before the benefits of people and the environment".

Another new development was a group of a dozen men, allegedly motor-bikers, who formed a line in front of public broadcaster RTV Slovenija wearing yellow vests that spelled out "thank you government!"

PM Janša meanwhile lashed out against the protesters by comparing them to the self-styled paramilitary units or nationalist home guards that recently made headlines, arguing both were extremely offensive to the police.

The comment by Janša, who has also labelled the protesters as 'caviar socialists', came after 50 home guards in uniform visited a local police station last Sunday in protest over a police inquiry into a training camp they had held nearby.

Smaller cycling protests were again also held in some other cities. Several hundred protesters reportedly gathered in Maribor.

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