Politics

25 Jan 2019, 10:20 AM

STA, 24 January 2019 - Slovenia will have to defend itself in front of the EU Court over its "violation of the inviolability of the archives of the European Central Bank (ECB) and the duty of sincere cooperation in the context of the seizure of ECB documents," the EU Commission announced on Thursday.

The case refers to a July 2016 police raid of the offices of Slovenia's central bank, a part of an investigation into the causes of the late-2013 bailout of the Slovenian banking system.

Since the Slovenian central bank is a part of the ECB system, some of the files seized pertained to the ECB, which is shielded from domestic law enforcement in member states by a special protocol to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

The Commission said today the Slovenian authorities had seized information that included ECB documents and hardware, whereby "the ECB had given no prior authorisation for the seizure of those items, and subsequent attempts by the ECB to resolve the matter amicably have been unsuccessful."

"The unilateral seizure by Slovenia of ECB documents in an investigation about matters under national law at the premises of the Bank of Slovenia constitutes a violation of the inviolability of the archives of the ECB," the Commission's press release reads.

Unofficial sources say that the case is being closely monitored in Brussels as it is an important precedent.

The European Commission is said to be wanting access to the seized documents and information about which documents have been seized, but the Slovenian authorities have failed to cooperate.

The Ministry of Justice said it would be able to respond to the Commission's decision once it received and examined the wording of the lawsuit, of which it had not been notified.

If the EU Court establishes that Slovenia has not fulfilled an obligation as stipulated by Article 260 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, the government will take appropriate measures to implement the ruling, the ministry added.

The police raid in which the documents were seized targeted the management of the central bank and their role in the December 2013 bailout, which resulted among other things in the wiping out of holders of junior debt.

As a result of the investigation, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) filed at the end of December a criminal complaint on suspicion of abuse of office. Unofficially, it has been filed against all individuals who served as board members of the central bank at the time.

24 Jan 2019, 16:22 PM

STA, 23 January 2019 - The public healthcare fund, the ZZZS (Zavod za zdravstveno zavarovanje Slovenije), ended 2018 above plans, generating a surplus of EUR 32m on EUR 2.89bn in revenue, which was EUR 207m higher than the year before, mostly on the back of favourable trends in mandatory healthcare insurance revenue, show the ZZZS's preliminary data.

Revenue from mandatory health insurance at EUR 2.76bn accounted for 95.5% of total revenue and was EUR 3.7m above plans.

Meanwhile, expenditure, which topped EUR 2.86bn, increased by EUR 176m or 6.6% over 2017, the fund's finance and accounting director Daniela Dimić told the press on Wednesday.

The revenue was EUR 8.5m above plans, whereas expenditure was EUR 23.5m below plans.

The highest increase in spending was recorded in expenditure for treatments abroad, which rose by 18.2% to EUR 56.4m and was 6.5% above plans.

The surplus will be used for financing the ZZZS, while the fund used the favourable trends to increase the prices of healthcare services, which means the fund paid more to public healthcare providers, by 5% last year.

Nevertheless, most of the extra money last year was spent on expanding services, especially on measures to deal with problems in areas such as primary healthcare, said Marjan Sušelj, the head of the healthcare purse manager.

"We earmarked funds for 54 new GPs and paediatricians, but sadly we failed to get enough. In December, we were 19 short," he said.

Overall, the situation with waiting times has started to improve after two years of efforts. "Compared to April, we have 11% fewer patients, 17,341, in queues. The most daunting, unacceptably long wait times have shortened by 5.6% in the same period," Sušelj added.

Figures indicate that money is no longer the main obstacle in shortening wait times, instead it is the lack of capacities, especially at the primary level, he said.

Sušelj called for legislative changes in healthcare insurance, preferably by the end of this year or in the first half of 2020 at the latest, as "the system of programme planning, approving and agreeing is long and arduous".

24 Jan 2019, 11:50 AM

STA, 23 January 2019 - SocDem president Dejan Židan said on Wednesday that Culture Minister Dejan Prešiček's use of the ministry car for personal affairs had been a mistake that warranted a reprimand. Prešiček is also ready to resign should this be demanded by PM Marjan Šarec, added Židan, who meanwhile protested against "unverified" bullying claims against Prešiček.

Židan spoke to the press about the fate of the SD's minister after the surfacing of allegations that Prešiček had misused the ministry car and engaged in bullying at the Culture Ministry. Some reports even suggested the alleged behaviour had contributed to the recent suicide of a courier at the ministry.

Židan explained Prešiček had admitted that the ministry car had indeed been used on nine occasions to transport "the music instrument" to the Music and Ballet Conservatory, where served as director until his current job and continues to teach.

"The minister made a mistake and deserves a rap on the knuckles," Židan said, indicating that a reprimand would be sufficient.

Still, "should the prime minister assess that this mistake was of such gravity that Prešiček needs to leave, the minister will do accordingly, and the SocDems will respect the prime minister's decision".

Turning to the bullying accusations, Židan said that "the lies that appeared about the minister, about his work methods, the stories that constitute a direct attack on his integrity", should be examined, "their background revealed and appropriate action taken".

He said that the minister and the SocDems were the first who wanted to come to the bottom of this, since it is "unacceptable that a person - someone who is moving things forward in culture - is crucified on the basis of far-fetched claims".

Many previous complaints about bullying at the ministry, 74 in 2017 alone

While agreeing that the bullying accusations should also be explored, Židan argued that such complaints had already been rampant at the Culture Ministry in the past and that Prešiček had only taken over a few months ago.

He said he had heard Prešiček was known as a hard-working man, which is a commendable trait, and that he was subject to only one bullying complaint while the head of the Music and Ballet Conservatory, a complaint that was later dismissed.

Židan refused to comment on speculation that an orchestrated attack on Prešiček was under way at the ministry, only saying that those who have been working at the ministry for many years also deserved respect and dialogue should they be in distress.

Meanwhile, the Culture Ministry told the STA that no bullying complaints had been filed against Prešiček at the ministry. The data provided, showing that 74 such complaints were filed in 2017 alone, suggests that the ministry has been struggling when it comes to relations between the employees for years.

The accusations against Prešiček, which also prompted a call for explanations issued by Šarec, culminated on Tuesday, when the Ljubljana Police Administration confirmed it was examining potential reasons to suspect a criminal act.

Parliamentary parties had mixed reactions to the developments today, but most agreed Prešiček should go if the allegations proved true.

The allegations were reportedly voiced by a few Culture Ministry employees, with only one doing it openly, and pursued in a determined fashion above all by the Glosa trade union of culture.

23 Jan 2019, 14:20 PM

STA, 22 January 2019 - Having pleaded not guilty in the Gratel case last November, Ljubljana Mayor Zoran Jankovič presented his view of events as the trial opened at the Ljubljana District Court on Tuesday. He labelled the indictment, which accuses him of taking a bribe from the company Gratel to the benefit of the city, a plot against him.

 

The indictment says that soon after becoming mayor in late 2006, Jankovič demanded in early 2007 that construction company Gratel pay a donation of half a million euro to the municipality to be allowed to continue digging roads to install optic cables for telecommunications company T2.

Prosecutor Blanka Žgajnar told the court Jankovič had unjustifiably revoked the permit for temporary road closures Gratel had received from his predecessor just before the 2006 local elections.

He had then concluded a new contract with the company, but added a damages clause, thereby assuming powers of the city's traffic department, which is in charge of issuing permits for road closures.

Presenting his side of the story, Jankovič denied all charges as unfounded, saying Žgajnar was prosecuting him because she did not like him.

"The documents which the police obtained as part of the investigation don't substantiate the claims in the indictment. This was not a donation, it was an agreement on damages," he said.

He said he had annulled the permit signed by his predecessor Danica Simčič because it was illegal, as it should have been issued by the city's traffic department.

The mayor said the municipality had commissioned a legal opinion from legal expert Rajko Pirnat which confirmed the permit should not have been signed by Simčič.

He explained that soon after becoming mayor he had received many complaints from locals and public companies about how Gratel was installing optic cables in Šiška borough.

Janković said the damages Gratel had paid were lower than what it had for instance paid the Kranj municipality for the same job of installing optic cables.

He stressed the amount had been set in talks with Gratel, which was in no way the weaker party, having strong lobbyists on its side.

What is more, the company decided on its own to pay the damages to the company running Ljubljana Castle, he stressed and called on Žgajnar to withdraw the indictment.

The next hearing is scheduled for 31 January, when Gratel owner Jurij Krč and former T2 boss Miran Kramberger take the stand.

All our stories on Mayor Janković can be found here

23 Jan 2019, 12:58 PM

STA, 22 January 2019 - Police have confirmed a probe into media-reported allegations of mobbing at the Culture Ministry which some reports connected to the suicide of an employee. Prime Minister Marjan Šarec has already asked the culture minister to take a stance on accusations made by unionists and the ministry's employees.

 

The Ljubljana Police Administration said on Tuesday that an investigation would be introduced and the state prosecution notified should reasons to suspect a criminal offence be confirmed.

Culture Minister Dejan Prešiček, who took over last September, has confirmed for TV Slovenija that he met with Šarec over the issue and announced a written statement.

Prešiček also met the Glosa trade union of culture, which wrote to Šarec to express their opposition "to any interventions in a safe, healthy, respectful working environment" and "utter contempt for torment/chicanery/mobbing".

The union added it was shaken by "the suicide at the ministry for (non)-culture", and called on Šarec to closely examine the case and "also react in the direction of dismissing Dejan Prešiček if inappropriate and despicable behaviour is involved".

Minister denies accusations, accuses staff of lying

While the statement by the minister requested by Šarec is still forthcoming, Prešiček said he had asked Glosa "sincerely what it was that I did wrong, why I could be to blame, feeling that this blame does not exist, that I did nothing of that sort".

He also announced a workers' assembly at the ministry to help build dialogue and establish "what was happening and why this tragic event occurred".

In his first response to the story, which was broken by the Požareport tabloid news portal, Prešiček wrote of manipulation and rejected any wrongdoing.

"Obviously some of the ministry's employees are abusing a family tragedy for base attacks against me personally and my co-workers at the ministry," Prešiček wrote.

22 Jan 2019, 19:41 PM

A reminder that your best source of information on Brexit and what it means for you in Slovenia – in terms what’s happening right now and what you should be doing, if not what will happen next, in which case ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ – remains the UK Embassy in Ljubljana, with the latest update from the British Ambassador Sophie Honey below (as of Friday January 18).

So while we’ll make sure to post updates when we have them, if you want the latest official news be sure to follow the Embassy on Facebook, here. To keep things covered from more angles, the British Chamber of Commerce can be found here, and the Slovenian Embassy in London is here. Finally, the lobby / support group British in Europe, billed as “the coalition of UK citizens in Europe”, can be found here.

22 Jan 2019, 11:50 AM

STA, 21 January 2019 - Prime Minister Marjan Šarec, whose cabinet has been assessed the most favourably in the past ten years in the latest Vox Populi poll, would not comment on the poll on Monday, saying that it was up to pundits to analyse the results. Analysts Antiša Korljan and Rok Čakš attribute the PM's success to his persona.

"Our goal is to achieve results and work," Šarec told reporters, adding that polls meant nothing without actual results. The PM, who has overtaken President Borut Pahor as the most popular politician, said there was hard work ahead and plenty of projects to be implemented.

Only time will tell if the government is successful, and "speaking about popularity and success after three or four months is much too early," added Šarec, whose government was sworn in in September.

Meanwhile, analyst Korljan, the editor-in-chief of the Primorske Novice newspaper, told the STA that the prime minister was gaining in popularity due to his persona and demystification of government work.

Korljan said the government, whose work was perceived as successful by 56% of the 700 respondents in the poll carried out by Ninamedia because Šarec speaks about leading the government like about any other business. "People apparently assess this positively and the prime minister is gaining in popularity based on what we call 'common sense'," he said.

Similarly, Čakš, the editor-in-chief of the conservative portal Domovina, said that Šarec succeeded with the help of media "to create an image of a decisive and capable leader, who's not landed in the office from some professorial or another intellectual position, instead, he appears as one of [the people]".

How Šarec is like Ronald Reagan

"This is why his seemingly simplified ... speech, which is frowned upon by intellectuals, is actually liked by people. In this sense, Šarec has a certain political talent, which undoubtedly stems from his vocation. He slightly resembles the popular former US President Ronald Reagan, who was also an actor and had a strong sense of how to gain popularity with people."

Nevertheless, the image of Šarec's capabilities and decisiveness was largely facilitated by the media or rather by "the absence of a deeper media critique in the first months of the government's work".

In part this is due to favourable global conditions, which also play a major part in people's perception of Šarec due to rising standards of living, and in part it is due to Šarec's likeable moves such as his clear position on fighting hate speech in media.

Korljan also believes the prime minister knows how to work with media: "He's working hard not to turn them against himself."

SDS in crisis with Janša stepping back

Like the prime minister, his party, the Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ) is also gaining in popularity, having overtaken the opposition Democrats (SDS) in the first spot in the Vox Populi poll.

Korljan believes that the SDS is in some sort of a leadership and identity crisis, with its leader Janez Janša taking a step back and Anže Logar coming to the forefront as his successor, "at least as far as public appearances are concerned".

On the other hand, Čakš believes that the LMŠ's rise is a delayed aftermath of Šarec's popularity. Nevertheless, more polls will have to be conducted to be able to say anything more definite about the change on the top of party rankings.

As regards Šarec's overtaking President Pahor in popularity rankings, Čakš said that they had a lot more in common than either would be willing to admit.

21 Jan 2019, 10:22 AM

STA, 21 January 2019 - Slovenian MEPs agree with the general assessment that this year's European elections will be decisive for the future of the EU as populist and Euro-sceptical parties are gaining on strength while Brexit is raising the awareness of the benefits of the EU membership, which large political groups in the European Parliament will try to emphasise.

Romana Tomc (SDS/EPP) said that "Europe is in a position when it is really important which political groups will achieve the best result - whether it will be the groups which advocate a better Europe and survival of the EU or European sceptics who promote the idea that the EU needs to be weakened further."

Tomc thus wants that the Democrats (SDS), the largest opposition party in the Slovenian parliament, make a candidate list as soon as possible and manage to convince the voters that they should go to the polls this May.

Lojze Peterle (NSi/EPP) too wishes that the discussion on candidates would turn into a debate on European topics as soon as possible. "Slovenia needs to agree on what vision of Europe it will promote," he believes.

Tanja Fajon (SD/S&D) thinks that the candidates, including her, would need to explain to the voters that this year's European elections are about "whether we want a social Europe, whether we want peace and stability and whether democracy will win over authoritarianism."

According to Fajon, the question is also "whether we will give in to fear or whether we want hope". "These will be the topics that the Social Democrats (SD) will be addressing in the campaign."

Analysts have noted that the turnout in the elections will depend on whether the candidates and political parties will be able to address in the campaign the topics that interest the voters.

According to an Eurobarometer survey, almost 60% of Slovenian voters want to hear answers, solutions and ideas from the field of the economy, followed by unemployment among the young and social protection of the EU citizens.

Milan Zver (SDS/EPP) is convinced that the turnout in Slovenia and the EU will be considerably higher this time also because all political parties dedicate more attention and money to the elections, while Euro-sceptical parties are also mobilising the voters.

Many pundits have warned nevertheless that other topics will also be important in the campaign, with the ALDE and Greens groups stressing that the issue of climate change should also be put on the agenda.

Igor Šoltes (Greens), who will go to the elections with his own list, thinks that the campaign would need discuss the protection of clean drinking water and food and the rise of hate speech and preservation of a cultured, civilised discourse.

Franc Bogovič (SLS/EPP) believes that concrete answers to concrete questions need to be found. Slovenia needs to answer the question of how to be a good building element of the EU, while being able to utilise funds and other instruments, he added.

Ivo Vajgl (DeSUS/Alde) added that Slovenia should already start thinking about the initiatives it will present as part of its presidency of the EU in the second half of 2021.

The Slovenian MEPs spoke to the Slovenian media as part of the latest session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

18 Jan 2019, 15:53 PM

Mladina: Post-election alliances must be clear before EU vote

STA, 18 January 2019 - The left-wing weekly Mladina says in its editorial on Friday that political groups in the European Parliament should make it clear before the May elections whether they will form an alliance with the European People's Party (EPP), considering that the group includes Hungarian right-wing radical Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Ahead of the elections, it is often heard that Europe is in serious danger of far-right populist parties getting so much power that they would influence the formation of the European Commission, Mladina editor-in-chief Grega Repovž says.

He is critical that these warnings are voiced by the very same people who already tolerate the likes of Orban and Slovenian Democrat (SDS) leader Janez Janša in their ranks. They are calling for a coalition against populist parties, many of which are already members of the EPP.

Is it even possible to take seriously conservative parties that criticise “orbanisation: and fascism on a declarative level but tolerate the problematic parties, Repovž wonders.

Related: Slovenian “word of the year” announced

"The argument used by conservative politicians dedicated to democratic and Christian values is simple: it allows them to somewhat control these parties... This is a terrifying and unconvincing argument that leads to the legitimisation of radical positions."

But the problem has wider implications. "Let us assume that populist right-wing parties outside the EPP reach more than 30% in the European Parliament in May. For the first time in history, all big political groups in the parliament will have to join forces and form a grand coalition."

But so far none of the large groups has demanded of the EPP to clean out its ranks. "Of course, this is hard. But this does not make it any less necessary," the paper says under the headline With Orban against other Orbans?

Demokracija: New think-tank not to be trusted

STA, 17 January 2019 – The right-wing weekly Demokracija expresses doubt in Thursday's commentary about the Cathedral of Freedom, a think-tank whose stated goal is to promote the establishment of a liberal party. The paper says the true intentions as well as its potential are questionable.

One of the initiators criticised the "rhetoric of patriotism and independence euphoria" on the right. This targeted primarily the Democrats (SDS), the implication being that it should be food for thought for the party's leader, the paper, co-owned by the SDS, says in Cathedral of Freedom and Seven Myths.

"I'm probably not the only one to interpret this as (yet another) appeal to Janez Janša to gradually withdraw so a generational change may take place," the paper's editor-in-chief Jože Biščak says.

"Something similar happened before last year's general election, when the noble right presented itself as an alternative to the allegedly radical and contaminated parties and individuals on the right... We know what happened at the election."

The commentator says that the proponents appear to realise that in order to change things they will have to form a liberal political party, but this looks like wishful thinking considering the fate of such initiatives in the past and the initiators' stated intention not to do the legwork required to actually establish a proper party.

The paper also expects the initiators to take a clear stance on several key issues, including how they understand freedom of speech, the coalition's attacks on opposition media, media legislation and multiculturalism.

"But more than anything, they will have to state what freedom means to them. Is it the absence of incarceration or of any kind of coercion? Is it the right to act, speak and think any way you want, without others, including those in power, imposing restrictions? The public will demand clear answers. Absent such answers this will be yet another dud."

All our posts in this series can be found here

18 Jan 2019, 12:50 PM

Today’s Dnevnik has a report by Aleš Gaube examining what a no deal Brexit could mean for Slovenia. The story notes that if the UK leaves the EU without an agreement, as it’s currently set to do at midnight on March 29, then the status of Britons in Slovenia will need to covered by new legislation. The text continues on a comforting note, suggesting that not much will change for the around 720 UK nationals who currently live in the country, although it then claims they would no longer be able to buy real estate in the country (“Prav tako v naši državi ne bi več mogli kupovati nepremičnin.”). There would also be changes to how professional qualifications gained in the UK are recognised in Slovenia.

dnevnik hard brexit slovenia.JPG

However, readers should note that no details are given with regard to these changes in status, and no official sources are cited, and also that the author of the original story seems to occasionally confuse a hard Brexit (with a Withdrawal Agreement) with a no deal Brexit (without an agreement). We also got in touch with a Ljubljana-based real estate agent, who said "citizens from OECD members can buy freely in Slovenia", so perhaps UK nationals do not need to worry on this point.

For the around 5,000 Slovenes in the UK, Dnevnik says that these should continue to enjoy the same rights set out in the Withdrawal Agreement, even in the case of a no deal Brexit. For Slovenians intending to visit the UK in the future, visa free travel to the UK should still be possible.

As the title of the article indicates – “Koliko nas bo stal trdi brexit?” (“How much will hard Brexit cost us?”) – the main focus is the issue of EU funds, a matter of particular interest in this context, since the UK is the third largest contributor to such funds. In the case of a no deal Brexit, which will see the UK not pay €16.5 billion into the current EU budget (which runs until 2020), Slovenia is expected to contribute between €42 and 57 million more to fill the hole, while Denmark would pay an extra €360 million.

David Brozina, Director-General of the EU Affairs Directorate at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told the newspaper that while the government is planning for all eventualities, detailed legislation will only be announced when the UK’s position, and the kind of Brexit it wants to pursue, is known. He is also quoted as saying "The Ministry of Labour is investigating the possibility that, in the event of a hard Brexit, an agreement that regulates the transfer of insurance rights and reimbursement of medical treatment costs between the countries, as was the case prior to Slovenia joining the EU”.

Finally, the paper notes that the UK Embassy in Ljubljana is not commenting as to any ongoing talks with the Slovenian government on citizen’s rights. The full story, in Sovene and behind a paywall, can be found here.

All our Brexit coverage can be found here

18 Jan 2019, 11:50 AM

STA, 17 January 2019 - President Borut Pahor and the leaders of parliamentary parties decided on Thursday to draft changes to the electoral law following a Constitutional Court decision before the parliament's summer recess. However, neither the idea to change electoral districts nor the idea to abolish them enjoys enough support.

Pahor met the party leaders to see how they feel about possible amendments to electoral legislation after the top court declared last December the legislative provisions determining the size of electoral districts for general elections unconstitutional.

Since the number of constituents differs greatly from one district to another, the votes of those who cast their ballots in smaller districts count more than those cast in larger districts.

Slovenia has ten electoral units, including two single-seat constituencies for the Italian and Hungarian minorities. Each of the remaining eight units is divided into eleven districts to elect 88 MPs.

The Constitutional Court ordered the National Assembly to amend the legislation within two years, but did not decree by what method.

Pahor stressed at today's meeting that the legislation should be changed before the next election, which would be called in the spring 2022 at the latest, so as to avoid doubt about them being in line with the Constitution.

The minimum change to make the legislation constitutional would entail changing the size of electoral districts, which would require the support of at least 46 MPs in the 90-member legislature.

But if voters are to have more say about who will be elected MP, the electoral districts should be abolished, and party lists and preferential votes introduced. This would, however, require a two-third majority in the National Assembly or at least 60 votes.

Currently neither of the two proposals has enough support.

Pahor said as he spoke to the press after the meeting that experts would be invited to take part in the drawing up of the changes. He is also to meet the prime minister and the government secretary general in the coming days to discuss how government services could assist in this process.

Experts and negotiators from each deputy group will hold regular meetings to draw up the changes and Pahor will act as a coordinator. A task force will be set up to look into the possibilities of changing electoral districts, the president said.

The views of the parties on the changes remain unchanged. The coalition Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ), Modern Centre Party (SMC), Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB), and the opposition New Slovenia (NSi), Left and the National Party (SNS) favour abolishing electoral districts and introducing a preference vote at the level of the electoral units, but disagree over whether the preference vote should be absolute or relative.

The largest opposition faction, the Democrats (SDS), has been advocating a majoritarian system but its leader Janez Janša did not give any statements today. He said on Twitter that the SDS supported any change to the electoral system which would increase the influence of voters to MP's election and help decentralise the country.

Matej T. Vatovec of the Left said that merely changing electoral districts, which could not be geographically united, would be a waste of time. He urged parties not to delay the changes.

SNS head Zmago Jelinčič said that changing electoral districts would be difficult and Maša Kociper of the SAB said that merely changing the size of the districts would not increase voters' influence. She said that it was evident that the older, established parties did not want change.

The coalition SocDems and the Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) did not give any statements today and have so far been reserved about the changes or against abolishing electoral districts.

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