Politics

04 Sep 2019, 12:33 PM

STA, 3 September 2019 - The parliamentary Commission for Oversight of Intelligence and Security Services has discussed foreign intelligence services' setting up businesses in Slovenia, establishing that security mechanisms to prevent such companies from operating in the country are not working.

The commission discussed evidence gathered by two investigative journalists about a business model of foreign intelligence services which set up companies for their countries to avoid embargoes and to secure the necessary funds for their own networks, chair Matej Tonin told the press after Tuesday's closed-door session.

He highlighted a number of companies of the Azarov family of former Ukrainian PM Mykola Azarov, who had close ties with Russia, which did business here between 2007 and 2016.

While they were under embargo in other parts of Europe, the companies were not banned in Slovenia, nor were their assets frozen, said Tonin.

He explained they had done business in the country freely until they left in 2016 out of their own accord.

"It is worrying that safety mechanisms are not working in such cases," said Tonin, noting "this is not the first such case".

The commission took several measures to address the issue, but Tonin would not disclose them to the public.

04 Sep 2019, 10:29 AM

STA, 3 September 2019 - The traditional high-profile panel on the Western Balkans at the Bled Strategic Forum (BSF) on Tuesday heard the participants note that it was high time for the countries of the region to join the EU as they were making serious progress, and that the EU should not forget about the region while dealing with internal issues.

The debate initially revolved around the appointment of Matthew Palmer of the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs of the US Department of State as a special envoy to the Western Balkans.

Palmer told the panel that what the US had done was "demonstrate responsiveness to the demands by partners and allies who have told us that we are not sufficiently engaged with the Western Balkans".

According to him, the US supports the goals of helping North Macedonia and Albania open EU membership negotiations, facilitate dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo, and supporting deep reforms in Bosnia-Herzegovina for the benefit of all its people.

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić first half-jokingly said he "expected nothing" from Palmer, but then added that the appointment was a sign that the US wanted to have a clearer presence in the region.

"It is certain that he will have a lot of work and his term should last until the relationship between Belgrade and Prishtina gets resolved," Dačić said, adding that Serbia would try to be efficient and constructive in the talks with Kosovo.

According to him, Serbia supports visa liberalisation for Kosovo and opening of EU accession negotiations for North Macedonia and Albania. He admitted that the leaders in the region should express more solidarity among each other.

This was a good point of reference for Kosovo Foreign Minister Behgjet Pacolli, who admitted that the responsibility was on the shoulders of the region and that constructive relations with the neighbours should be established.

But he also lamented the fact that Kosovo "remains the only place deprived of the opportunity for its people to travel into the Schengen area without time-consuming, expensive and degrading procedures".

Pacolli also stressed the importance of peace, saying that "Serbia and Kosovo need peace immediately", while adding that "we need someone who knows to talk a little bit loud to us" in reference to Palmer.

From the perspective of a country that has made the biggest progress, Montenegrin Foreign Minister Srđan Darmanović said that "we are clearly frontrunners in the process" but that the region would be a "success story only when all of us get in there".

He hopes that North Macedonia and Albania are given a chance in October and the EU accession talks start as they have worked hard towards this goal. "We also expect from the EU to know what to do in the Western Balkans."

According to Darmanović, it is high time for this as the negotiations had stalled. "We can understand there are some serious issues in the EU, including Brexit and the rise of populist parties", but the EU should not forget about the Western Balkans.

Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov expressed the frustration for his country "losing almost a generation" while being frozen in the status of a candidate country, while making a huge progress and recently making a name deal with Greece.

"We have reached a compromise, something very European, and something that is very rare in the region," he said, adding that it was thus high time to start the accession talks instead of discussing historical disputes as the young people were leaving the country.

"If Europe fails us this year, then I'm afraid there is no European perspective any more," Dimitrov added, arguing that the message from the people would be that "we should not bother resolving difficult issues".

Speaking on behalf of Albania as a former minister and MP, Majlinda Bregu of the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) said in reference to the Western Balkans' progress in EU accession that "I feel that we are mired in gloom every time we try to take a step forward".

She believes that the "EU will not be enlarged with the Western Balkans, but be completed with the Western Balkans", and that "nobody has the luxury to lose time any more", as people are leaving the region.

The point that the region was approaching a critical moment was also stressed by Foreign Minister of Bosnia-Herzegovina Igor Crnadak, who said that the EU needed to "understand that this process needs to be completed; it is so natural, so normal".

"It's high time that we understand that we are at a some kind of a turning point," he said, while expressing the frustration that his country had not been able to form a government ten months after the election.

But Crnadak nevertheless noted that there was one positive thing, with the European idea being very much alive among the people, who believe that the rule of law as well as security would be enhanced with the country's EU accession.

03 Sep 2019, 09:51 AM

STA, 2 September 2019 - The Bled Strategic Forum, the top event on Slovenia's foreign policy calendar, opened in Bled on Monday dominated by calls for action on climate change and appeals to multilateralism. The focus was on the challenges the EU faces and the role it could and should play in the new world order.

Slovenian Prime Minister Marjan Šarec, delivering the opening address, focused on the importance of ensuring stability and security through sustainability, and stressed that there was "an urgent need for a unified and coordinated approach towards global challenges".

According to him, clear recognition of scientific facts and immediate action are needed regarding climate change, water supplies and food security.

Šarec stressed that Slovenia was committed to a strong, cohesive and united EU, while ensuring solidarity and the highest standards of human rights and dignity.

Sustainable development was also in focus of Slovenian Foreign Minister Miro Cerar's address, who labelled sustainable development "our key priority".

Putting words into practice is the main responsibility, according to Cerar, who said that the burden of going sustainable and green should not fall on the shoulders of those who are already struggling now to cope with the changes in the globalised world.

The opening was also addressed by María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, the president of the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly, who said that climate change was the "greatest challenge we must address".

She said that the planet had to increase the ambition towards green economy, taking immediate steps, such as public and private investments in low carbon, green jobs, otherwise the world would face instability.

Espinosa Garcés also pointed to the need to rework social contracts as there was an increasing inability of governments to protect their citizens, and to improve the health of the international system to counter the rise in nationalist sentiment.

The main panels of the first day of proceedings respectively tackled the challenges facing the EU and the current state of multilateralism.

The presidents of Slovenia and Estonia, Borut Pahor and Kersti Kaljulaid, spoke in favour of a strong EU as they discussed the future of the bloc.

Arguing that the EU was at a standstill that was unsustainable, Pahor proposed that the new European Commission and Parliament should consider initiating a constitutional process, something like the Convention on the Future of Europe in 2002 and 2003.

Kaljulaid agreed in principle but also suggested that the underlying question of whether the EU was useful or efficient might be misguided, especially if one tried to imagine what it would be like without the EU.

Two main immediate challenges for the EU were singled out: Brexit and migrations, issues that the Slovenian president said needed to be addressed if the EU was to be capable of dealing with more strategic questions.

A ministerial panel on multilateralism showed that multilateralism is under attack and that it can survive only if a concerted action is taken and global cooperation is maintained in order to tackle relevant challenges, including nationalism and narrow interests.

The notion that multilateralism is "under severe attack" was presented by Slovenian Foreign Minister Cerar, who said that some leaders were making mistakes by thinking that complex issues could be resolved by simple means.

"There are so many knots around the world that should be untied by diplomatic means, and they should not be simply cut," added Cerar.

Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavusoglu presented a nuanced picture of multilateralism, saying that his country was not moving away from European alliances.

"Doing business with one country does not mean that you are moving away from other parts of the world," he said, while criticising western allies for sometimes not providing assistance when needed.

His Spanish counterpart Josep Borrell Fontelles wondered how Europe would survive in the global world as its population is decreasing. In today's world, which he called "a world of G2 - China and the US", more stability would be provided by another superpower, with Europe having the capacity and economy for that, but only if it was united.

02 Sep 2019, 17:34 PM

STA, 1 September 2019 - Slovenian MEP Milan Brglez (SD/S&D) has joined an appeal by a group of MEPs asking the European Commission to examine whether British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's move to suspend parliament is in breach of EU law.

"It is a sad day for development of democracy and the rule of law in British and all-European history. Parliaments are the essence of a country's democratic system (...) So their work should be enhanced rather than hampered," said Brglez, who served as Slovenian parliamentary speaker between 2014 and 2018.

"There have always been differences in views on how democracy should develop and there always will be (...) but it is wrong if the politically stronger party substitutes the argument of power for the power of arguments and uses the leverage it has against democracy and democratic procedures."

Arguing that this is exactly what the British government has done, Brglez joined the appeal drawn up by British MEP Anthony Hook (RE), for the Commission to examine potential breach of the EU's basic values and principles under Article 7 of the Treaty on EU, which has been used to censure the governments of Poland and Hungary.

All our stories on Brexit are here

31 Aug 2019, 14:55 PM

The covers and editorials from leading weeklies of the Left and Right for the work-week ending Friday, 30 August

Mladina: Support for the Left’s spending proposals

STA, 30 August 2019 - The left-leaning weekly Mladina criticises the government's dismissive attitude towards the Left's (Levica) spending proposals, saying that instead of preparing for the global economic slowdown and possible recession as numerous other countries are doing, Slovenia has been recklessly ignoring indicators of the coming downturn.

The draft budget for 2020 is lacklustre and "threatens the country's stability in the short run if the international situation changes", editor-in-chief Grega Repovž writes in Friday's editorial The Government's Grave Mistake.

So instead of wondering if the draft budget will be endorsed in parliament or not, the question that should be asked it how to improve it.

The Marjan Šarec government has been haughtily rejecting any ideas that would prepare Slovenia for the worst-case scenario, including investments in new social housing.

"Apart from supporting the construction of the second rail track - which benefits only the port of Koper - the state has not planned any major investments or secured any safety net for companies which will be affected by Germany's economy cooling down.

"In the government's first year in power there has been no considerable progress in any key areas, not a step has been taken to enable society and the economy to start keeping up with growing new climate standards which actually constitute an industrial revolution."

Saying that the 2020 budget draft would be appropriate for 2019, but not for the year of economic downturn, Mladina notes that all the progressive parts of the coalition agreement have been left forgotten - healthcare privatisation has not been curbed, on the contrary, insurers are raising premiums with the government turning a blind eye.

It seems that the state will continue down this path in 2020, while Germany, on the other hand, is getting ready for the possibility of another financial crisis by investing in education, social housing, digital technologies, infrastructure and jobs of the future.

It is only right that the Left has decided not to support the budget bill for 2020 and 2021 if the coalition does not endorse its proposal to abolish top-up health insurance.

The government's dismissive attitude towards the Left's proposals for ideological reasons needs to stop since those plans are the projects currently carried out by progressive and prudent countries.

Slovenia still has time to change course and prevent its economic and political collapse, but the magazine concludes on a rather pessimistic note, saying that the faces in politics are new, but their attitudes and deeds have been seen before and do not inspire trust.

Reporter: When Slovenia will get access to the White House?

STA, 26 August - Wondering where Slovenia is on the global map, the right-leaning weekly Reporter says in its latest commentary that Slovenia would perhaps get the opportunity for one of its officials crossing the doorstep of the White House now that PM Marjan Šarec has announced plans for a second reactor at the NEK nuclear power plant.

In the commentary headlined Washington-Beijing-Moscow, editor-in-chief Silvester Šurla initially notes that Šarec will pay in the autumn an official visit to Moscow, not Washington.

"It is probably also because of Slovenia's pro-Russian foreign policy that no Slovenian politician crossed the doorstep of the White House in the last eight years."

Even in the last three years, with the US being presided by Donald Trump, and him having as many as four Slovenians by his side - his wife Melania, son Barron and his father-in-law and mother-in law Viktor and Amalija Knavs - the door has remained firmly shut.

But Šurla wonders if Trump, who is always ready to do business, will change his mind now that Šarec has announced the construction of a new reactor at NEK, which operates with US technology.

"If the deal gets won by their Westinghouse, Slovenia would probably get something in return. Something more concrete than just a courtesy visit to the White House?", concludes the commentary.

All the posts in this series can be found here, while all our stories on Slovenian politics are here

31 Aug 2019, 10:14 AM

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

FRIDAY, 23 August
        GRAZ/KLAGENFURT, Austria - Prime Minister Marjan Šarec's statement of support for the construction of a second nuclear reactor in Slovenia caused upset in Austria. Michael Schickhofer, deputy governor of the federal state of Styria, urged the federal government to intervene, while Gernot Darmann, the leader of the Carinthia Freedom Party (FPÖ), announced "fierce opposition" to the project.
        LENDAVA - President Borut Pahor said all totalitarian regimes started with small displays of intolerance and to defend a minority was to defend peaceful coexistence, as he addressed a ceremony on the eve of European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Totalitarian Regimes.
        CELJE - Media reported that the Celje Higher Court had upheld a ruling under which Abanka has to fully refund two clients whose subordinated bonds were wiped out in the December 2013 bailout, interest included. The decision makes the Celje District Court's ruling from June 2018 final and must be implemented even if Abanka appeals at the Supreme Court.
        LJUBLJANA - The Slovenian Chamber of Public Utilities said the Hungarian government had decided to ban imports of sewage sludge, a move that could spell serious trouble for Slovenia, which exports around 70,000 tonnes of sludge from its municipal wastewater treatment plants to Hungary a year. From September onwards, Slovenia could be left with 120-140 tonnes of sludge a day.

SATURDAY, 24 August
        GORNJA RADGONA - The non-parliamentary People's Party (SLS) cancelled a protest against wolf attacks on livestock scheduled to be held on the margins of the AGRA fair. SLS leader Marjan Podobnik said they had been given assurances from a high government representative, but PM Marjan Šarec said that Podobnik's statement was "nonsense" and questioned the true reasons why the protest was cancelled.

SUNDAY, 25 August
        TALLINN, Estonia - Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid will be one of the main guests of this year's Bled Strategic Forum. She told the STA she expects the meeting to bring an in-depth debate on sustainable development and answers as to how to prepare for a further global population rise and prevent the planet from suffering.
        LJUBLJANA - The latest Mediana poll, released by POP TV, showed a 5.6-percentage point drop in the voter approval rating for the Marjan Šarec government, which was however still backed by 51.6% of respondents. Šarec also remained the most popular politician and his LMŠ the most popular party, but the poll also showed the share of undecided voters rising to over 30%.

MONDAY, 26 August
        NOVO MESTO - The Novo Mesto District Court sentenced a 25-year-old Moroccan and a 18-year-old Algerian to 21-month prison sentences after they pleaded guilty to abducting a 79-year-old Slovenian near the Croatian border in May and using his car to get to Italy. The pair apologised to the abducted man and to Slovenia, expressing remorse and arguing they had suffered from mental problems due to the long journey to Europe.
        LJUBLJANA - Infrastructure Minister Alenka Bratušek highlighted the need for Slovenia to remain at the cutting edge globally when it comes to the transition to clean energy, as she addressed the European Conference of the International Association of Energy Economics. "Slovenia is among the best and we plan on keeping it this way," she said.
        LJUBLJANA - Some 100 young protesters gathered in front of the Brazilian Embassy to urge authorities to act on massive fires raging in the Amazonia. Calls for Slovenia to block the trade agreement between the EU and Brazil and to join economic sanctions against Brazil could also be heard at the protest organised by the Youth for Climate Justice movement.

TUESDAY, 27 August
        BELGRADE, Serbia - Making an official visit to Serbia, PM Marjan Šarec and his Serbian counterpart Ana Brnabić noted the good relations between the two countries while also exploring ways to deepen both political and economic cooperation. There are no major open issues between the two countries, they are important economic partners and trade is expected to increase soon, said Šarec.
        LJUBLJANA - The Foreign Ministry confirmed that career diplomat Vojislav Šuc will take over as Slovenia's new ambassador to Croatia, expectedly in September, his credentials having been accepted by the host country. Šuc will succeed Smiljana Knez, who has become an international relations advisor to President Borut Pahor.
        LJUBLJANA - Matjaž Merkan, the former boss of the US-owned company Weiler Abrasives, was appointed the new chief executive of telecoms incumbent Telekom Slovenije, to replace Rudolf Skobe, who quit in April. In his first comment, Merkan expressed the confidence that Telekom would retain its leading position in the future, including by venturing into new fields.
        LJUBLJANA - Pharma company Lek announced that its supervisory board had appointed Robert Ljoljo as the company's new chairman. Currently serving as the global head of the procurement strategy for the technical operations of Lek owner Novartis, Ljoljo will assume the new post on 1 September.
        CELJE - Alenka Jovanovski won this year's Veronika Prize for a socially-engaged poetry collection called One Thousand Eighty Degrees (Tisoč Osemdeset Stopinj), in which she takes a critical view of today's heartless individualism and consumerism. The prize comes with a EUR 4,000 cheque.

WEDNESDAY, 28 August
        LJUBLJANA - Fed up with waiting for a government bill, the Left presented its own bill to abolish top-up health insurance, whose passage it said would determine whether it would continue to support the Marjan Šarec minority government. It proposed offsetting the loss of revenue from top-up insurance with higher contributions and a new capital gains tax. Insurance companies warned of hasty changes, employers came out strongly against higher contributions, and unions welcomed the proposal.
        CELJE - Celje police announced having apprehended several persons suspected of trafficking some 280 migrants across the Slovenian border in a sting that involved over 70 criminal investigators conducting house searches in and around the city. Eight suspects face trafficking charges and two will be also charged with offences related to illicit drugs.

THURSDAY, 29 August
        LJUBLJANA - Prime Minister Marjan Šarec dismissed Brane Kralj, a close confidante, as secretary general of his party after the chief supervisor of the Official Gazette, Irena Prijović, reported him the Corruption Prevention Commission claiming he had instructed her to appoint former Court of Audit head and MEP Igor Šoltes as the gazette's new director.
        HELSINKI, Finland - Foreign Minister Miro Cerar met his Croatian counterpart Goran Grlić-Radman on the sidelines of an informal EU ministerial. It was clear in advance that the border arbitration agreement would not be a topic, but Cerar did emphasise Slovenia's commitment to the rule of law.
        LJUBLJANA - The government initiated repatriation procedures for 47 Venezuelans of Slovenian origin, who will be able to settle in Slovenia under a law that permits repatriation from countries hit by a severe political or economic crisis. Seven ministries will be involved and the effort coordinated by an interdepartmental task force, said Minister for Slovenians Abroad Peter Jožef Česnik.
        LJUBLJANA - The government adopted a report on the drafting of the National Energy and Climate Plan, a document which will set the course of action for ten years until 2030. Faced with delays, the government will probably not be able to send the final version to Brussels by the end-of-the-year deadline, Infrastructure Minister Alenka Bratušek said.
        LONDON, UK - The London-based oil and gas exploration company Ascent Resources will demand EUR 50 million in damages from Slovenia for delays in obtaining a permit to develop the Petišovci gas field in the north-east of the country, news portal Litigation Finance Journal reported. The British company earlier said it was preparing legal claims for damages.

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.

30 Aug 2019, 14:30 PM

STA, 29 August 2019 - The government has decided to help 47 Venezuelans of Slovenian origin settle in Slovenia under a law that permits repatriation from countries hit by a severe political or economic crisis.

 Acting on requests it received in June, the government decided on Thursday to immediately launch repatriation procedures.

Seven ministries will be involved and the effort coordinated by an interdepartmental task force, said Minister for Slovenians Abroad Peter Jožef Česnik.

"There are 47 applicants in total ... These people have decided that the situation is unbearable," he said. Several Slovenian companies have expressed readiness to hire skilled individuals from the group.

According to the Office for Slovenians Abroad, Slovenia has limited experience with repatriation: the only repatriation carried out so far was for a family from Syria in 2013 due to the civil war there.

Under the law on Slovenians abroad, individuals of Slovenian descent are eligible for repatriation when their countries of residence are hit by a severe political or economic crisis.

Since the outbreak of political turmoil in Venezuela and the ensuing economic crisis, the government has received multiple requests for aid.

A key condition to launch repatriation proceedings is Slovenia designating the situation a grave economic and political crisis. This has already been done several times before by the Foreign Ministry.

Slovenian Interior Ministry data puts the number of Slovenian citizens living in Venezuela at 335, while the total number of people of Slovenian descent is estimated at 1,000.

Repatriation status can be used by individuals for a maximum of 15 months. In this period they have the right to free healthcare, Slovenian language lessons, a work licence, enrolment in higher education institutions under favourable conditions, as well as to favourable treatment when applying for a job compared to third-country citizens.

To accommodate repatriated individuals, the government can set up an immigration home where basic provisions are secured, including financial aid for those below the minimum income threshold.

The 15-month status cannot be extended, meaning the repatriated individual needs to secure a different status as the basis for continued residence in Slovenia, for instance Slovenian citizenship, the status of a Slovenian without Slovenian citizenship, or an appropriate status of a foreign citizens with a residence permit.

30 Aug 2019, 09:27 AM

STA, 29 August 2019 - Prime Minister Marjan Šarec, the leader of the ruling Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ), dismissed on Thursday Brane Kralj as the party's secretary general following a report against him which claims that Kralj had tried to exert staffing pressure. Šarec told the press he had not been aware of the controversial phone call.

The decision comes after the party launched a debate on the allegations, saying it would take action regarding the incident.

Kralj has been reported to the authorities by the chief supervisor of Uradni List, Irena Prijović, who claims that he called her and tried to secure a top job at the state-owned publisher of the Official Gazette for former MEP Igor Šoltes and exert staffing pressure on her.

After holding talks with Kralj, Šarec concluded that "the truth is somewhere in between and that it was not that brutal".

"I trust Kralj more than some other people who would have probably not reported the issue if the caller was someone of the right kind," said Šarec, adding that this was a "one person's word against another one's" incident.

According to the prime minister, Kralj did however behave in a naive, inexperienced and incorrect manner, with the phone call being inappropriate.

The tweet that started it all

Allegedly, Kralj instructed Prijović on 21 August to appoint former Court of Audit president Šoltes as the gazette's new director and to report directly to him, bypassing Slovenian Sovereign Holding (SSH), the state asset custodian.

Prijović then reported him to the Corruption Prevention Commission as well as to SSH.

Kralj has told the STA he had indeed called the chief supervisor, but only to tell her that Šoltes, who had applied for the top post at Uradni List as part of a call for applications, was a good candidate.

However, Šarec highlighted today that Kralj as the party's secretary general could not have been lobbying on the state's behalf since only the government could do that.

"I respect Šoltes, but I do not like him that much to sacrifice a secretary general for him," said Šarec.

"Šoltes was not our candidate. It is definitely important to recruit people who are competent," added the prime minister, highlighting that any kind of staffing should be transparent.

In this case there was an open call for applications and it is completely inappropriate to try to exert influence in such a manner, said Šarec.

"Kralj will no longer be the LMŠ secretary general because we are putting our house in order. When such a situation occurs, one needs to deliver right decisions," said Šarec.

He added that such phone calls were probably common, but since there were not a lot of reports, the right people had to be calling. This incident could serve as an opportunity for the media to investigate other cases as well, he added.

Kralj will remain the party's member and will serve as a stand-in secretary general until the appointment of a new one, since, according to Šarec, the LMŠ cannot continue without its legal representative.

The prime minister believes Kralj, if called upon, will cooperate with the Corruption Prevention Commission, which launched the proceedings today.

SSH, which is processing Prijović's report as a priority, highlighted today that it was up to the supervisory boards of state-owned companies to decide on management appointment procedures in such companies.

29 Aug 2019, 11:30 AM

STA, 28 August 2019 - Trade unions were alone in welcoming on Wednesday the Left's (Levica) proposal for the abolition of top-up health insurance, while coalition parties, insurers and employers mostly argued against an "ad hoc" and "solo" proposal for a step estimated to be worth half a billion euro.

The centre-left coalition parties - the PM's Marjan Šarec List (SMC) has not yet commented - mostly agreed the current top-up insurance scheme needed to be abolished, but they took issue with their tentative opposition partner failing to consult them before unveiling the proposal and with the Left's threats it will not back the forthcoming government budgets if it is ignored.

SocDems deputy group head Matjaž Han argued healthcare was too important to be involved in any horse trading. He did note that insurers had done themselves a poor favour by raising top-up insurance premiums - which are basically obligatory - in recent months and announced the coalition would probably already discuss the matter ahead of the next government session.

The Modern Centre Party's (SMC) Igor Zorčič said such a proposal would need to have been drawn up in cooperation with the Health Ministry and that it was very telling the Left first presented it to the press.

The Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB) also spoke of a "solo manoeuvre" and argued a legislative solution to such a major issue should not come from a single party but from the government. SAB is on the other hand also losing patience with the Health Ministry, saying it had also failed to present concrete proposals on how to shorten the waiting times in healthcare.

The Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) was surprised to be finding out about such a major topic from the media. "Even more striking is that the Left is interfering with the work of the ministry, which is working hard on this issue," the party wrote, saying the government expected to have the ministry's proposal on the table next June.

The Left proposes that top-up insurance be replaced with higher employer contributions and a new capital gains tax in order to offset the estimated half a billion euro top-up insurance currently injects into the healthcare system.

The idea was rejected categorically by employer representatives, with Igor Knez of the Slovenian Business Club saying the proposal did not bode well for Slovenians, who were also facing an additional contribution for long-term care.

He said employers had been given nothing by way of tax relief and that this also applied to highly trained staff that Slovenia would have a hard time keeping or attracting.

Knez added the proposal did nothing to address key questions in healthcare, a view echoed by the secretary general of the Trade Crafts and Small Business Employers' Association Igor Antauer, who said the issue of top-up health insurance would need to resolved in a package with a new act on healthcare and health insurance.

Meanwhile, health insurers said they still needed to study the proposal, while they warned that any rushed measures could destabilise the financing of health services.

Vzajemna, the mutual health insurer which has been managing the bulk of top-up insurance paid in, also argued that all stakeholders would need be included in the adoption of a solution and that "healthcare, which is having problems, will not improve" as a result of the Left's proposal.

Insurer Zavarovalnica Triglav said the Left's approach was not sustainable, since "gradually the amount of funds collected would decrease as a result of a decline in the active working population and an increase in the number of pensioners, while the ageing population will also entail increasing healthcare needs".

Positive reactions to the Left's proposal only came from trade unions, but Lučka Böhm of the ZSSS confederation pointed to bad past experience which such proposals.

She welcomed the Left's proposal to have the state chip in when the health care purse runs out of money, noting "the ageing population in itself was reason enough for finding additional sources of healthcare funding".

"In any case, the abolition of top-up insurance should not lead to poorer access to health services and to irregular payments to providers," Böhm added, while also raising the issue of job security for people currently working with top-up insurance.

29 Aug 2019, 09:30 AM

STA, 28 August 2019 - The chief supervisor of the Official Gazette, Irena Prijović, has reported the secretary general of the senior coalition Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ) Brane Kralj to authorities, claiming he had instructed her to appoint former Court of Audit head and MEP Igor Šoltes as the gazette's new director. PM Šarec said he expects Kralj to provide an explanation.

 Prijović, who reported Kralj to the Corruption Prevention Commission and to state asset custodian SSH as the gazette's owner that had appointed her, confirmed for the STA on Wednesday the authenticity of a document in which she claims pressure had been exerted on her "regarding the choice of director".

The document, sent by her to the SSH and first published by the editor of the online tabloid Pozarerport Bojan Požar, says she had received on 21 August a call from Kralj who ordered her that "the state expects the appointment of Igor Šoltes as director of the Official Gazette".

Kralj is said to have also demanded that she "report on the staffing procedure directly to him without and before any communication with the SSH".

While she intends to provide additional explanations on Thursday, Prijović said that "it is now the turn of other institutions and those affected to take action".

In a brief first response, Šarec said he expected Kralj to provide an explanation regarding the accusations by Thursday.

Kralj later told the STA he had indeed called the supervisor, but only to tell her that Šoltes was a good candidate.

"I called Ms Irena Prijović and mentioned that Igor Šoltes might be a good candidate for director of the Official Gazette. I regret her perceiving that as pressure, the purpose of my call was merely to say that I thought of him as a good candidate as former president of the Court of Audit and DeSUS candidate in the EU election," Kralj said.

He would not comment on whether he will resign.

Šoltes had been the leading candidate of the junior coalition Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) in the May elections to the European Parliament, but failed to get re-elected. He applied for the top post at the Official Gazette as part of a call for applications.

The appointment procedure is still ongoing, with Prikovijić, who is also the executive director of the Slovenian Directors' Association, explaining the selection date had not yet been set.

28 Aug 2019, 17:10 PM

STA, 28 August 2019 - Police in Celje have apprehended several persons suspected of trafficking some 280 migrants across the Slovenian border in a sting that involved over 70 criminal investigators conducting house searches in and around the city.

Eight suspects face trafficking charges and two will be additionally charged with offences related to illicit drugs. Four of the suspects remain in detention and one is abroad. All of them are Slovenian citizens, the Celje police said on Wednesday.

The suspects, some of whom have previous trafficking convictions, are believed to have run a part of a larger international criminal racket specialised in trafficking migrants.

The group is believed to have trafficked migrants from Croatia through Slovenia and into Italy in collaboration with multiple other foreign gangs, charging EUR 2,000-3,000 per person, according to Damijan Turk, the head of the Celje criminal police.

The racket enlisted drug addicts and other persons from the margins of society to carry out the actual transport with vans and cars, often even in rented recreational vehicles. The drivers would get EUR 250-500 per migrant.

Uroš Lavrič, the head of the organised crime division at the General Police Directorate, said human trafficking activities of criminal rings had picked up recently as they take advantage of illegal migrations along the Balkan route.

"They use various methods to keep the trafficking covert. They are ruthless," he said about the traffickers' habit of stuffing between 30 and 50 migrants into the cargo holds of vans.

Police have arrested 273 suspected traffickers so far this year, compared to 218 in the whole of 2018.

They intercepted over 9,000 migrants who tried to cross the border illegally, up 62% over the year before, show data by the General Police Directorate.

A total of 6,223 persons were returned to Croatia and 3,255 requested asylum.

Related: Smuggling People Now More Profitable than Drugs for Organised Crime in Slovenia

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