Slovenia’s New Environment Minister Sees No Changes to Current Plans

By , 28 Mar 2019, 11:20 AM Politics
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STA, 27 March, 2019 - Simon Zajc, the new minister of the environment and spatial planning, is taking over a department that he has gotten to know from the inside during his six-month stint as state secretary. But he has little previous experience with environmental issues.

Zajc, 38, told MPs during his committee hearing that he would continue projects initiated by his predecessor Jure Leben, who was seen as the most proactive environment minister in years.

He has listed changes to construction and housing laws, the environment protection act and waters act as his main priorities alongside a long-term climate strategy and improved waste management.

An opponent of fracking who has spoken against power stations on the river Mura, he nevertheless refrained from clearly opposing or endorsing plans to build a waste incineration plant beyond saying that "every country must take care of its own waste".

Zajc has been in top-level politics since 2014, when he was elected MP on the ticket of the newly-established Miro Cerar Party (SMC), later renamed the Modern Centre Party; before the formation of the SMC in mid-2014, he had been a member of the Youth Party (SMS).

In parliament he was deputy chair of the Agriculture, Forestry and Food Committee and his only major legislative proposal was legalisation of small-scale marijuana growing for personal consumption and sale. He told MPs earlier this week that he still stood by his proposal.

Before entering politics, Zajc managed car fleets for corporate clients, headed his own video and mobile app company, and hosted events.

He also performed as stand-up comedian and wrote a sex and relationship advice column for the Slovenian edition of Cosmopolitan magazine.

Zajc will continue the work of his predecessor

STA, 25 March 2019 - Simon Zajc pledged to complete the work set out by his predecessor at the Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning in his hearing on the parliamentary committee on Monday. He listed updates to construction and housing laws, a reform of water law and tackling the waste management as his priorities.

Zajc, who has so far served as one of the two state secretaries at the ministry and is nominated to replace his boss Jure Leben as minister, told the MPs that the ministry would have to keep up the pace and the manner of work set out under Leben's guide.

"Over the past six years we were working intensively, identified problems, set the priorities, the timeline and activities. If you let me, we will resume work at once," said the 38-year-old nominee, who is expected to be appointed minister at the plenary session on Wednesday after being backed by ten votes in favour and five against in today's hearing.

He said the goal was to implement key changes by the end of 2020. This is because when Slovenia holds the presidency of the Council of the European Union in the second half of 2021, tasks at home would be sidelined.

Zajc's first task at hand, if appointed, would be to present as early as next week an updated construction bill. Consultation will be held with all deputy factions and local communities, he promised.

The next step would be to update housing legislation, to make housing more accessible to young people. The Housing Fund would build solely rental flats, non-profit rent would be replaced by cost rent and the state would guarantee for loans for young families.

The environmental conservation act would be amended, including by introducing a fund to tackle brownfield areas and securing reserve funds for risk activity companies in case of a bankruptcy. A new water bill would be submitted to parliament in the first half of the year.

Zajc said that new waste management legislation would have to be passed by the end of the year. Packaging fees would be paid by all packaging waste producing companies and they would have to report four times rather than once a year.

The requirements for packaging waste disposal companies would be restricted to do away with all anomalies, the final result of which Zajc said would be a single efficient provider.

The nominee also promised a continuation of the fight against plastics, and amendments to several pieces of legislation, including that governing disaster relief and that implementing the constitutional right to drinking water.

Another major task would be a long-term climate strategy. "The country's goal must be to become carbon neutral by the mid-century," Zajc said, listing a number of questions that would have to be answered in the process.

Asked about waste incineration, Zajc said that "each country has to take care of its waste", calling for the country's self-sufficiency when it comes to end waste management. A public debate on an incineration plant has been conducted and Zajc has asked municipalities' association to check whether any of them is interested in having such a plant.

Zajc does not think there is a need for a new facility, because it is possible to adapt the exiting ones. If the country opted for an incineration plant, the government would have to determine the amount and type of waste to be thermally treated, the best technology would have to be applied, and monitoring would have to be conducted regularly with the data accessible to everyone. The plant would have to be non-profit as well.

If appointed, Zajc will succeed Leben, who resigned after becoming embroiled in allegations of wrongdoing related to the Koper-Divača rail project that he was responsible for as state secretary at the Infrastructure Ministry in the previous term.

Most of the committee members regretted that Leben had to resign, having "set out things well", as Boris Doblekar from the opposition Democrats (SDS) put it, but they wished Zajc successful work.

SDS MP Zvonko Černač hailed Zajc's willingness to cooperate, but said that past experience testified that even if concrete solutions and improvements had been agreed with the ministers in the past these were not passed if put forward by the opposition or the SDS party.

This is why he urged the nominee to apply a "more cunning mechanism to file these proposals through the coalition parties or the supra-coalition party". The latter reference was to the Left.

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