Ljubljana related

15 Sep 2020, 12:17 PM

STA, 15 September 2020 - The Ljubljana Faculty of Mechanical Engineering and the Guangdong University of Petrochemical Technology (GDUPT) have agreed to build an institute to research intelligent manufacturing methods of advanced materials in Guangdong Province, China.

According to the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, the Advanced Material Intelligent Manufacture Research Institute (AMIMRI) is to be set up by 2023 in a joint effort.

Last week, the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering of Ljubljana and the Guangdong University of Petrochemical Technology signed an annex to the cooperation agreement they signed in 2018.

They committed to transferring existing knowledge between Slovenian and Chinese academic and industrial environments, building an experimental laboratory on the site of AMIMRI, the establishment of a doctoral study of mineral wool technologies, the establishment of joint Slovenian-Chinese research projects and the publication of the new institute's research results in scientific articles and patents.

According to the faculty, they also plan to research the mineral wool market in China and establish networks with new companies, which will be able to achieve a significant improvement in technology development in cooperation with the AMIMRI.

The Chinese partner has committed to provide EUR 300,000 for the work of Slovenian researchers over a period of three years, as well as EUR 250,000 for the material costs of building the institute.

The Faculty of Mechanical Engineering added that representatives of two manufacturers of mineral wool insulation products were also present at the virtual signing of the annex last Wednesday, and they expressed great interest in cooperation.

02 Sep 2020, 18:10 PM

STA, 2 September 2020 - Prime Minister Janez Janša has expressed support for the Czech Republic after a visit by a senior Czech official to Taiwan has upset China, saying on Wednesday that "Slovenia stands by the Czech Republic".

"EU-China relations are based on dialogue and mutual respect. Threats directed at one of the EU members and its representatives contradict the very essence of our partnership and as such are unacceptable," reads Janša's tweet on Wednesday, the same statement that Slovakian President Zuzana Čaputova used in a tweet yesterday.

Czech Senate Speaker Milos Vystrcil and a roughly 90-member delegation started a six-day official visit to Taiwan on Sunday despite China's protest against official contact with the island, which China considers a breakaway province.

Vystrcil, a member of the right-wing opposition Civil Democrats, is the highest-level Czech politician to visit Taiwan to date although the country does not have formal diplomatic relations with it and supports the One-China policy.

China labelled his visit a violation of China's sovereignty, saying he would "pay a high price for his short-sighted behaviour and political speculation".

The threat prompted the Czech Republic to summon the Chinese ambassador to express disapproval of the statement.

Slovenia accepts the One-China policy and does not have diplomatic ties with Taiwan, which is however defined as an important market for Slovenia.

14 Aug 2020, 10:24 AM

STA, 14 August 2020 - US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has told the STA that Thursday's signing of a joint 5G security declaration is an important decision and a step in the right direction for the entire Europe, creating a network safe from the Chinese security apparatus. He has assessed the US-Slovenian relations as important, outweighing Slovenia's actual size.

The interview was conducted in Bled as Pompeo visited Slovenia yesterday as part of his four-country tour of Europe, in what was actually the first visit to the country by an US secretary of state in more than two decades.

Asked whether this meant that this was an indication of improved US-Slovenian relations, Pompeo said he thought it was, and emphasised that the "relations are great, we meet in lots of places ... and have a deep, strong relationship."

"I'm thrilled to be able to get here today because the relationship is important to the US and I wanted to make sure that the people of Slovenia know that."

Pompeo agreed with the assessment by former Slovenian FM Miro Cerar as he visited the US in December 2018 that the US should be more present in this part of Europe because Russia and China are trying to fill the gap.

"Absolutely. I agree that ... there is a real risk that authoritarian regimes want to come play here, to come create trouble, create havoc for democracies and freedom-loving people in the region."

The secretary of state believes that the US needs to be present, and said it would do that alongside good partners like Slovenia. "We will invest in businesses here, we will work on our military to military operations together."

Also, the US will do "all the things that make nation states strong and secure so that they will be able to withstand the pressures that might come from those regimes that don't intend well for the people of these countries."

Pompeo mentioned that the talks also touched on the Western Balkans, and that Slovenia could be an important interlocutor there as it is in an "important place strategically, and in an important place geographically."

While small in size, Slovenia "has intelligent people who are hard-working, good technology and good schools, it hits above its weight and we are thrilled to have such a great relationship."

As for Slovenia's contribution to NATO, which is still below the committed 2% of GDP and expectations of the US from the country in this sense, Pompeo said that "we are confident that [the government] will execute on that plan."

US President Donald Trump has made it clear that he wanted every country to do what they had pledged and "we just ask that Slovenia makes its way there as quickly as it can," he added.

Asked about the US plan to reposition its forces in Europe and PM Janez Janša saying that US soldiers are welcome in Slovenia, Pompeo said it was very clear that Slovenia would be welcoming "if we got it right, if we figure out a path forward."

The US is aware that Slovenia has an important port and important air force capabilities, but "we always try to do this as part of NATO to make sure that we collectively ... are positioned appropriately."

Pompeo's visit focused on the signing of a joint 5G security declaration, which some in the country believe could be harmful for Slovenia in terms of its relations with China. Asked whether Slovenia could expect support from the US, he said it absolutely could.

"But I actually think the reason why the Slovenian leadership signed that because it is in the best interest of the Slovenian people," he said, noting that it was about the risk of Chinese telecom infrastructure being inside of countries' systems.

As Slovenians and Europeans love their privacy and have their information protected, they have to have trusted networks, so it has been agreed that the nations joining the declaration would have trusted networks for information flow.

"This was an important decision today ... so that we collectively can have a system, a network, telecommunications infrastructure that is protected from the national security apparatus in China that intends no good for the people in the region."

Pompeo also discussed energy projects with Slovenian executives, so he mentioned to them "what America could offer in terms of our technology, our resources, our capability to help them make a good, informed decision about how to make sure they have energy, electricity, gasoline for their citizens at an affordable cost from a set of diversified resources."

Asked when President Trump and especially First Lady Melania Trump, who hails from Slovenia, might visit the country, he said "I know that they would love to come visit, I know that this is her birthplace."

Pompeo said that "we will keep working on finding time when they might be able to get here", and that he would report back that he liked Slovenia and had a wonderful experience there.

13 Aug 2020, 20:04 PM

STA, 13 August 2020 - 5G networks and energy investments were at the centre of talks as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Slovenia on Thursday. The countries signed a joint 5G security declaration, with Pompeo saying that the tide was turning against the Chinese Communist Party, which is trying to control people and other economies.

The declaration excludes "untrusted vendors" from 5G networks, Pompeo said as he addressed the press alongside Slovenia's Prime Minister Janez Janša in Bled.

"I know... that Slovenia prides itself on being a science and technology leader, and becoming a 5G clean country, as you're doing today, solidifies that position. The tide is turning against the Chinese Communist Party and its efforts to restrict freedom for all of us."

Meanwhile, Chinese mobile operator Huawei criticised the move by Slovenia, saying that it would not contribute to security of networks or improve cyber security and would in fact have negative consequences of 5G networks introduction in Slovenia.

The Chinese Embassy in Slovenia responded to Pompeo's statements, saying that it was the 21st century and that it was not time any more to instigate ideological clashes.

According to its press release, the US secretary of state was accusing and attacking China and spreading incorrect information. Inciting hatred and encouraging confrontations is not in the line with the spirit of the times, it added.

The embassy said it hoped that the signing was not directed against China. "We expect that Slovenia will meet its commitments and continue to provide an open, fair and non-discriminatory business environment for Chinese companies."

The signing was also criticised by the left-leaning opposition Social Democrats (SD) and the Left. The latter warned that the declaration had not been coordinated with the EU, and its MEP Milan Brglez fears it may become legally binding for Slovenia.

The Left meanwhile said that the declaration was a "carte blanche for US control and abuse of ICT for military, economic and political purposes".

The party also said that Pompeo was in Slovenia to lobby on behalf of nuclear power company Westinghouse and the US military industry as Slovenia's government plans EUR 780 million worth of military investments.

While no meetings were scheduled to discuss military investments, Pompeo was seated next to Defence Minister Matej Tonin at the working lunch hosted by President Borut Pahor.

Pompeo did meet with energy executives and Infrastructure Minister Jernej Vrtovec, and discussed with Janša what he said was "the enormous potential of next-generation nuclear technology to deliver clean, reliable, diversified energy that will help ensure political independence and economic prosperity for Slovenia and the entire region".

He also tweeted that "energy security and independence require governments to partner with one another, private industry, and civil society to secure a brighter future for all. We welcome Slovenia's leadership on the Three Seas Initiative, and commend its innovation and dedication to clean energy."

At the press conference, Pompeo urged Slovenia to make a "quick commitment" to what he said was an "important partnership" the US is happy to fund, noting that he had announced in February the US would contribute US$1 billion for energy infrastructure in Central Europe as part of the Three Seas Initiative.

Janša in turn said that Slovenia appreciated the "US's proactive approach to energy security in Central Europe, which is reflected in strong support to alliances such as the Three Seas Initiative and the Partnership for Transatlantic Energy Cooperation," adding that Slovenia would strengthen its role in both of these.

Touching on business cooperation, Janša told the press the sides shared the view that there was room to boost trade and investments, also saying that Slovenian IT companies could help in the development of 5G technologies.

The talks also touched on NATO, with Janša saying that Slovenia had in the past months made steps to increase defence spending and meet its obligations toward the alliance, with Pompeo commending the country for its growing commitment to NATO.

Janša and Pompeo also discussed relations with China and Russia, sharing the view that these must be based on strategic interest "of our civilisation, which is based on the values of security, freedom, the rule of law and democracy," according to Janša.

Janša also warned of what he said was a poor level of awareness in the west of the threat of a hybrid attack. "We see the US as the only power of the western civilisation capable of facing this challenging threat... and Slovenia is willing to contribute its efforts toward success."

Pompeo also met President Pahor, who hosted a working lunch. The president expressed great satisfaction with the visit, telling commercial broadcaster Kanal A that Pompeo had told him that he was leaving "Slovenia with the best possible impressions and that he sees great potential for future cooperation between Slovenia and the US".

"It was very important that we did not find a very open, delicate issue that would cause divisions," said Pahor. He feels the countries are the most divided in terms of multilateralism.

"Slovenia is strongly dedicated to the existing political and legal architecture, because being a small country it sees safety in this. This is understandable, being a big country, the US may view this slightly differently."

But in general, the countries have "very, very similar views", said Pahor. "This is good. But above all, it is important that such talks end with mutual agreement that we are friends, that we trust each other and that many more things connect than divide us."

11 Aug 2020, 10:49 AM

STA, 10 August 2020 - Ex-Ambassador to the US Božo Cerar believes Thursday's visit of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Slovenia brings normalisation in Slovenia-US relations after they have been neglected for a decade. He hopes Slovenia will know how to use the visit so it contributes to the implementation of Slovenian and European interests.

"This is an important visit. Visits by US foreign ministers here are very rare. The last one took place more than two decades ago, while such visits should be business as usual, regular. After all we're talking about relations between two allies, between countries which share the same values," he said in an interview with the STA.

The Slovenian diplomat attributes the rare contacts at the highest level to a great degree of passivity in foreign affairs on the part of Slovenia and on the country's focus on Russia.

"We've had a rather absurd situation with the US for ten years, there has been practically no dialogue at political level. On the other hand, this has been a period when our high-profile representatives have been constantly in Moscow, openly flirting with authoritarian systems, such as the Russian or the Iranian one."

A turn seemed to be on the horizon when then Foreign Minister Miro Cerar finally visited the US in December 2018 and when US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry was in Slovenia in June 2019, when the country hosted a Three Seas Initiative summit, but this was again followed by a period of passivity, said the ambassador.

"Instead of using it to develop new forms of cooperation, everything went silent again. I hope this time round we will better use this visit," said Cerar.

He believes relations with the US must be nurtured regardless of who is in the White House, a Democrat or a Republican, even someone like Donald Trump. And also regardless of who heads the government in Ljubljana, a rightist or leftist party.

Cerar said it was primarily up to small countries to nurture relations with big ones. "If there is no initiative on our side, then it's very hard."

Still, he sees Pompeo's visit as a normalisation of Slovenian-US relations and a unique opportunity to examine bilateral relations in a number of areas, such as business and commerce.

The visit is "also a unique opportunity to discuss with the US global issues, not only the Western Balkans, which is a traditional topic, also important for the Americans because the Russians and Chinese are strengthening their influence in the region".

The focus of the visit will be on the signing of a Joint Declaration on 5G Security, which is directed against Chinese tech giant Huawei.

Although some see it as Slovenia joining a kind of a new "coalition of the willing" and getting unnecessarily involved in US-Chinese disputes, Cerar said this was not the case in his view.

He highlighted China's conduct in international trade, foremost its disregard for intellectual property, its industrial espionage activities and currency speculation.

"This is not just the US's problem. It's also a European problem. It's also in the interest of the EU for these things to get solved," said the diplomat.

"Safe communications are of course in the interest of the US, but they are also in our interest," he said, adding that neither Slovenia nor the EU could be indifferent to China's human rights record, its ignorance of international law in the South China Sea, the issue of Hong Kong, the rights of Uyghurs.

Cerar also thinks it is irrelevant from the aspect of the joint declaration on 5G that the US is nearing the presidential election, which Trump might not win.

"Do you think that the Democrats' policy on China and Russia is any different? Perhaps there will be a different approach. Perhaps Joe Biden will be more diplomatic. They will be seeking ever greater support from their allies. But the policy on China and Russia will not change."

From this aspect, Cerar believes that NATO's future will also be discussed as Pompeo meets Slovenia officials on Thursday.

"It is in our interest for the alliance to be active for a long time to come, and for the trans-Atlantic dialogue to be improved where it's wanting, this has to be admitted."

As a Central European and Mediterranean country located at an important geostrategic area and as a member of the EU and NATO, Slovenia could significantly contribute to the dialogue, believes Cerar, who sees its EU presidency next year as another opportunity giving it leverage and certain responsibility for trans-Atlantic relations.

All of our stories on Mike Pompeo and Slovenia

10 Aug 2020, 09:43 AM

STA, 10 August 2020 - US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will embark on Monday on a four-country European tour, as part of which he will make a stop in Ljubljana on Thursday. In what is the first visit by a head of the US diplomacy in Slovenia in 23 years, the main topic will be enlisting allies in the clash with China in cyberspace.

The focus of Pompeo's visit to the Czech Republic, Austria, Poland and Slovenia will be on the security of next-generation mobile telecommunication networks (5G).

For this purpose, Slovenian Foreign Minister Anže Logar and Pompeo are scheduled to sign a Joint Declaration on 5G Security, and a special talk on this topic is scheduled with Prime Minister Janez Janša.

The US secretary of state will also be received by President Borut Pahor, with the majority of the visit taking place at the lakeside resort of Bled.

The visit will be the most high-profile one from the US since 2008, when President George W. Bush attended a EU-US summit during Slovenia's presidency of the EU.

The last time a US secretary of state visited Slovenia was in 1997, when Madeleine Albright was received in Ljubljana.

After the election of President of Donald Trump, who is married to Slovenian Melania Trump, Slovenia has hoped that high-level visits between the countries would intensify.

Contact is relatively intensive on the sidelines of various multilateral meetings, in particular as part of NATO, while former Foreign Minister Miro Cerar visited the State Department in December 2018.

It was the relatively low frequency of bilateral visits with the US that the former Foreign Minister Karl Erjavec had to explain himself for during a motion of no confidence debate, as he was accused of leading a foreign policy that was too pro-Russian.

The current Janša-led government has started steering foreign policy towards the largest ally in NATO. The newspaper Večer recently commented that due to the 5G declaration, Slovenia is "making its way into the closest circle of its allies".

The declaration is being labelled by critics as a "new Vilnius letter", as the countries signing it are giving in to the pressure from the US and interfering in the country's disputes with China, which have switched from the realm of trade to the digital world.

Parliamentary Speaker Igor Zorčič for instance tweeted that Pompeo should be "explained that devices and services of the US tech giants such as Apple and Amazon still do not support the Slovenian language, which is the first condition for the safe use of information technology."

The government endorsed the signing of the joint declaration on 23 July and stressed that it stemmed from the commitments which had already been made as part of the EU and NATO in a bid to increase information security and reduce related risks.

In the draft declaration, which was obtained by the STA in June, there are several security conditions on which countries are expected to agree on being mandatory for establishing a safe 5G network.

The text states that providers and their suppliers have to be checked thoroughly, including the transparency of their ownership, respect of intellectual property rights and commitment to laws requiring transparent governance.

With the joint statement, Slovenia and the US would also highlight the importance of safe networks at the level of NATO and the EU.

The declaration is believed to be primarily targeting the Chinese technological giant Huawei, the world's largest vendor of 5G equipment, although neither the company not China is explicitly mentioned.

The Trump administration has been trying for a while to limit Huawei in particular, as the company is accused of spying for the Chinese government. Huawei has been denying the accusation and noting that the US has provided no evidence.

As the statement could limit Huawei's participation in 5G deployment in Slovenia, the company recently said it was willing to discuss 5G technology security issues with the Slovenian government as well as sign a non-spy agreement with the country.

The government has not responded yet to the call. Quizzed about this by the STA, the Government Communication Office only said that the "government has not discussed this topic yet".

Announcing the visit, the Foreign Ministry said that its purpose was to "confirm and deepen the close friendly, allied and partner ties" between the countries.

The visit is also about "strengthening bilateral political dialogue at a high level and boosting cooperation in business and other fields". Announcing the four-country tour, Pompeo himself said it would be a very important and productive trip.

As part of the visit, it is also expected that talks started as part of the Three Seas Initiative summit in Ljubljana last year by Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, would continue.

The talks focused in reducing the dependence on Russian natural gas, and the potential construction of a new reactor at the Krško Nuclear Power Plant; the existing reactor is based on US technology.

Also announced are talks about the progress of the Western Balkan countries towards EU and NATO membership, and the decision of the US to pull 12,000 troops from Germany and repost some of them in the new NATO member states.

09 Jun 2020, 12:03 PM

STA, 9 June 2020 - China and Slovenia have had good relations in all fields. As Chinese Ambassador to Slovenia Wang Shunqing told the STA, a new opportunity to deepen the relations will be the 17+1 initiative summit in Beijing, which has been moved to the second half of the year due to the pandemic. Wang hopes Slovenia will be pragmatic in picking 5G technology.

In an interview conducted last weekend, Wang said that the exact date of the 17+1 summit was not known yet. When the date is known, the ambassador expects information about Slovenia's participation.

Slovenia's participation had already been announced by former Prime Minister Marjan Šarec, but Wang has not had the opportunity to speak about this with representatives of the current government due to the coronavirus epidemic. The ambassador has only met with Economic Development and Technology Minister Zdravko Počivalšek.

Wang expects that the good bilateral relations between China and Slovenia, which were confirmed by the visit by Foreign Minister Wang Yi last December, will continue also with the government of Janez Janša taking over.

China is the most important trade partner to Slovenia in Asia, and Slovenia is the most important partner to China in the Western Balkan region, he said. "It is true that Slovenia records a trade deficit with China, but the countries are striving to balance the trade," Wang added.

According to the ambassador, China uses various platforms to promote Slovenian products. One of them is the China International Import Expo fair in Shanghai, where Slovenian companies get invited every year.

The Chinese state and local authorities provide all necessary support for Slovenian investments in China, among which Wang singled out the investments by the ultralight aircraft maker Pipistrel.

As for Chinese investments in Slovenia, the ambassador noted the takeover of the household appliance maker Gorenje by Hisense two years ago. "The Hisense investment is currently the most important Chinese investment in Slovenia," he said, adding that China supported Hisense in its further expansion and investments in Slovenia.

Wang is concerned about the announced lay-offs in Gorenje. "Lay-offs in companies, although they are part of the business, are always very sensitive, but it is not unusual that something like this takes place during the pandemic," he said.

The ambassador has been in constant touch with the management of Hisense Gorenje lately. It was explained to him that the lay-offs are a consequence of the new coronavirus pandemic, which has reduced orders considerably, and of a low efficiency in comparison to competitors in the industry, an issue Gorenje has been facing for quite a while.

"Measures should be made to make the company competitive. This needs to be our common goal," he said. In talks with the management of Hisense Gorenje, Wang said that lay-offs should be carried out carefully and gradually, and in accordance with the Slovenian legislation.

Wang is convinced that the management will make a lot of effort to this end as, after all, it has reduced the planned number of lay-offs, which it will try to carry out using soft methods as much as possible.

Wang stressed that - the company donated protective medical equipment to Slovenia at the end of March - has a long-term interest in Slovenia. "Cooperation with Hisense and Gorenje is strategic," he said, noting that Hisense had picked Slovenia for its seat of European operations. In this light, he also mentioned Hisense's plans to build a new television plant this year and to invest in a development centre in Velenje.

Wang would like to see Chinese companies in general participate in projects in Slovenia. With four Chinese companies currently in play for the main construction work on the planned new railway line between the port of Koper and Divača, Wang would like to see one of them succeed in the tender.

"Chinese companies have a lot of experience in rail construction, as they have built them all around the world, they have well-developed technology and a lot of experience in construction of tunnels and in constructions in unpredictable terrain, such as karst."

The ambassador hopes that the selection procedure for the main contractor for the railway line will be "just and fair", but he is worried about the EU guidelines which allow for the exclusion of bidders from third countries from public procurement contracts. "I hope that Chinese companies will be able to participate," he stressed.

Wang also touched on the implementation of the fifth generation mobile network (5G) and the technology of the Chinese company Huawei, which is a thorn in the US's side, and the US is calling on its allies to reject Huawei's 5G technology for security reasons.

"But let's look at the facts. In the last 30 years, Huawei operated in more than 170 countries, and none of them reported about security issues. The US is talking about espionage, but there is no proof for this whatsoever. It is a question of technology which has been completely politicised by the US. We strongly object to this," Wang said.

The Chinese ambassador hopes that Slovenia will take a decision on 5G based on its own interest and needs, while taking into account the costs and quality of the selected technology. "I hope that it will take a pragmatic approach and that it will not succumb to the US influence," he said. As for security, Wang said that security risks could be avoided by setting common standards.

Wang admits that the coronavirus pandemic has eroded the relations between the EU and China, but he believes that problems can be bridged with cooperation. He sees potential for cooperation in the economic recovery measures presented by the EU. Wang stressed that the EU and China share similar ideas, especially when it comes to measures for combating climate change and protecting the environment. "Efforts have been made on both sides for cooperation to be facilitated."

China encourages European business executives to visit China, to re-start their businesses which had to be suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic. "We also support European companies to relaunch their operations in China," he said, adding that China was offering a special visa regime to Slovenian business executives.

Besides the 17+1 initiative summit, no high-level political or business visits or events between the countries are planned for this year. The plan was different but, as Wang put it, they were blown away by the coronavirus pandemic.

"I hope that we will also make agreements about this after the situation normalises," said Wang, who also announced China's support to Slovenia's presidency of the EU Council in the second half of next year. He also pointed to the links in culture and education among the important elements of the countries' cooperation.

"I don't dare to be an optimist," Wang said when asked how he imagines the new reality after the pandemic. The disease is far from being defeated, he warned, adding that if China developed a vaccine for Covid-19, it will be made a global public good, as announced by Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Opening of the 73rd World Health Assembly.

Countries must defeat the new coronavirus together and in solidarity, he said to conclude the interview for the STA.

All our stories about China and Slovenia

23 Apr 2020, 12:08 PM

STA, 22 April 2020 - The Chinese-owned group Hisense Europe is planning to close 2,200 jobs by the end of the year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, including as many as 1,000 in Slovenia, TV Slovenija reported, citing a trade unionist.

According to the report, the management of household appliances maker Hisense Gorenje set its plans at a meeting featuring Chao Liu, one of the executive directors, production manager Tomaž Korošec, staffing officials and representatives of the works council, trade union and the employees' representative on the board Drago Bahun.

The management presented data on the situation resulting from the pandemic. Production in Velenje has not yet returned to full capacity after being completely suspended for three weeks.

The head of the in-house trade union Žan Zeba told the public broadcaster that Hisense was to make 1,000 people redundant in Slovenia, including 700 at the production facility in Velenje and 300 in the Ljubljana-headquartered company Hisense Europe.

Zeba said the staff were shocked by the extent of planned layoffs, noting that the company had received state aid "probably also in order not to make redundancies".

The first meeting with employees on layoffs are to be held after May day holidays.

Gorenje is to set out detailed plans about job cutbacks on Thursday.

11 Apr 2020, 09:47 AM

STA, 10 April 2020 - Ljubljanske Mlekarne, Slovenia's largest dairy, has dispatched the first shipment of its iconic Planica ice cream to China, part of a total of 43 tonnes planned to be exported there this year.

The shipment of almost 35,000 one-litre boxes of Planica tropical and chocolate flavours, sent on its way from the Koper port on Thursday, is expected to reach its destination within five weeks.

Named after the alpine valley that is home to Slovenia's ski jumping centre, the ice cream has been manufactured by Ljubljanske Mlekarne since 1974.

Initially coming only as a family pack combining three colour chocolate, vanilla and strawberry flavours into one, the brand has since been expanded to come in various shapes, sizes and flavours.

"At a time of global disruption to business due to the coronavirus pandemic, we are the more enthusiastic about the deals such as this one," the Ljubljana-based dairy said.

The company deems the breakthrough the more important due to the excess supply of milk throughout Europe as a result of the fallout from the pandemic.

The dairy said its milk sales in China were doing well with the customers there associating Slovenian dairy products with high quality.

Ljubljanske Mlekarne buys more than 500,000 litres of milk from Slovenian dairy farms every day, which represents a third of Slovenian raw milk production.

Slovenia produces 30% more milk than it consumes.

25 Feb 2020, 11:06 AM

STA, 25 February 2020 - A company in Chinese ownership that used to lease the Maribor Airport plans to file a damage suit against the state after it terminated the lease in early 2019, whereupon the airport management was turned over to a state-owned consulting and engineering company.

The company, Aerodrom Maribor, said in a press release Tuesday it will demand EUR 2.1 million in damages, the equivalent of the lease payments for the duration of the agreement, plus costs and lost profits.

The lawsuit will claim that the state dragged its feet on the adoption of a zoning plan that would have allowed the Edvard Rusjan Maribor airport to extend the runway.

Aerodrom Maribor will claim that after the company terminated the lease, the state engaged in violations of the law by continuing to use real estate at the airport that remains in the ownership of Aerodrom Maribor.

Consequently, they will demand the erasure from the land register of an easement on the property that they say the state entered into the records based on a contract that never took effect.

Aerodrom Maribor also accuses the state of continuing to deceive potential investors by stating in a recent call for public-private partnership that a zoning law was in the making.

"It appears the state continues with its contentious conduct - by misleadingly attracting new investors willing to invest in the Maribor Airport in the conviction that the state will fulfil its promises," the company said.

After the lease was terminated, the management of the airport was entrusted to the state-owned firm DRI, which also hired all workers.

The move was designed as a stop-gap measure to keep the airport open until a new operator is found so as to prevent a scenario under which it would have to return EU funds: in accordance with the commitments accompanying a EUR 6 million injection of EU funds, the airport must stay open at least until mid-November 2021.

The termination of the lease ended a testy relationship between the state and a lessee that promised investments in excess of EUR 600 million and passenger numbers reaching two million by 2028, figures widely seen as unrealistic considering the location of the airport and nearby rivals Graz and Zagreb.

The company however maintains that its plans had been viable, assuming the state would keep its promises.

Outgoing Infrastructure Minister Alenka Bratušek responded to the development today by arguing the first assessments indicated the plaintiff had absolutely no chance of success.

She stressed that Aerodrom Maribor stopped paying rent almost immediately after she became minister and that it was Aerodrom Maribor that cancelled the lease.

"The ministry had honoured all the terms set down in the contract," Bratušek added, while saying that a kind of promise that the zoning plan would be changed by March 2018, issued in writing by the then Infrastructure Ministry State Secretary Jure Leben, was not binding on the state.

"The relevant institutions will be the ones to judge if this letter entails any commitments for the state," the minister said, while arguing that the Infrastructure Ministry was in fact not authorised for making such zoning changes.

Maribor airport remains virtually abandoned: without a single scheduled flight, it is confined to occasional charter flights and small sports aircraft.

It recorded only 2,700 passengers in 2018, the latest year for which figures are available.

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