STA, 23 July 2020 - Slovenia and Austria have agreed to try out joint surveillance of the shared border using technology such as cameras and drones, as Interior Minister Aleš Hojs held talks with his Austrian counterpart Karl Nehammer at a conference on migrations along the Balkan route.
The trial will "examine the possibility of effective cooperation in joint border surveillance and the transfer of these practices to the Slovenian-Croatian border, which is more prone to migration pressure," reads a press release from the Interior Ministry.
The meeting came at a conference on migrations featuring the home ministers of 18 countries at which it was decided to set up a platform to fight illegal migration on the Balkan route.
The platform, headquartered in Vienna, will facilitate coordination in four segments: border surveillance, return of migrants who are not eligible for asylum, the fight against smugglers of migrants, and the creation of faster and more efficient asylum procedures.
Hojs was quoted as having expressed concern about the situation regarding migrations, which he said was similar than in 2015. In view of abuses of asylum procedure, he urged the ministers to "examine their asylum systems and take advantage of methods to prevent abuse".
"In the past Slovenia adopted several measures that we are now stepping up. Changes to penal law are ready, and we are changing the foreigners act and the international protection act to make procedures more efficient," he said.
Hojs also stressed that protection of external borders was crucial in managing migrations through Western Balkans.
"The commitment that we are going to make in the joint statement - that countries will to a greater extent support the member states on the EU's external border - is therefore all the more important. Slovenia is definitely willing to do this to an even greater extent than so far," the minister was quoted as saying.
Hojs held several bilateral meetings on the margins of the conference, including with German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer and the head of the European Asylum Support Office, Nina Gregori.
Updated at 17:25, 8 July
RTV Slovenia reports that the government is now limiting most gatherings to no more than 50 people, and that all meeings and parties for between 10 and 50 people will only be allowed in the organiser has everyone’s details - names, addresses and phone numbers - and keeps them for at least a month. The restriction will apply to private events, including weddings.
Changes to the ban on gatherings do not apply however to the number of people in restaurants and pubs or on buses. Church masses are allowed.
Sports and cultural events with up to 500 people are still possible if there is a police presence and the seating order is known.
Meanwhile, STA reports that the government has amended the border regime in force for passengers arriving in Slovenia from Covid-19 red-coded countries. As a result, only the Obrežje border crossing with Croatia is open around the clock for arrivals who are required to quarantine since last midnight.
Under amendments to its decree adopted by the government late last night, quarantine orders will be handed daily only between 6am and 10pm at the Gruškovje, Obrežje, Metlika and Jelšane crossings on the border with Croatia, Pince on the border with Hungary and Ljubljana airport.
Meanwhile, quarantine orders for arrivals who come from the Covid-19 high-risk countries coded red will continue to be handed around the clock at the Obrežje crossing.
At checkpoints on the border with Austria and Italy and at airports in Maribor and Portorož police will collect data on passengers, referring them to the Health Ministry, which will hand quarantine orders at the address of residence or where the person will be quarantined in Slovenia.
Quarantine orders are being handed at the border since Saturday. More than 1,000 such orders were issued at the weekend at the six designated border crossings.
Under the new system, health inspectors will be able to perform up to 500 inspections of adherence to quarantine rules a day.
The Health Inspectorate will also step up oversight of how eating and drinking establishments abide by the rules and measures aimed at containing the spread of the virus, including whether the distance between the tables is sufficient and whether antiseptics are available.
The Deputy Director General of the Police Tomaž Pečjak is quoted by RT Slovenia as stressing that it's very important for everyone entering Slovenia from Croatia to have evidence that they had not been travelling elsewhere. For Slovenians this would be a hotel receipt or proof of owning a property in Croatia. For Croatians the evidence is less clear, but Pečjak said that the Slovenian Police may contact their neighbours to find out if the travellers had recently been outside Croatia. All such evidence will be accepted at the discretion of the police officer, with Pečjak adding: "If they suspect that this person is not coming from only Croatia or any other EU country on the yellow list, they can issue a quarantine decision."
More on these lists here
He went on to say that a bill for coffee or lunch would not be sufficient for Slovenians, "as this only proves that this person was in Croatia", but not prove that they had not been in another country. The evidence “must be personalized and must prove that this person was present in the Republic of Croatia at all times and did not go to any of the areas on the red list.”
RTV Slovenia also reports that Austria is tightening controls on it's Slovenian and Hungarian borders. Crossings will still be allowed, but there will be more inspections.
This is a developing story, and there will probably be updates later today, so please check the main page, if needed,
STA, 30 June 2020 - Contrary to previous announcements, Slovenia has decided not to delist Croatia as a Covid-19 safe country based on new assessments and steps taken by the country.
Jelko Kacin, the government spokesman, told reporters on Tuesday that even though the number of infections per 100,000 residents in Croatia has exceeded ten a day over the past fortnight, which merits the removal from the list, Slovenia believes Croatia will succeed in slowing down and eventually stopping the spread of infections in the coming days.
This is based on new assessments and Croatia's decision to close night clubs, venues that Kacin yesterday described as a major cause for concern.
"Based on an agreement between the countries' national [public health] institutes and a talk between both prime ministers, the Croatian government decided to adopt Slovenian action patterns and close night clubs as well as cancel such (massive) events," said Kacin, adding that Slovenia had hence come to a conclusion not to delist Croatia "at the moment".
He pointed out that Slovenia had given Croatia a chance to stem the spread of the infections by imposing the measures and thus lead by example among the Western Balkans countries.
Nuška Čakš Jager, the deputy head of the Centre of Infectious Diseases of the National Public Health Institute (NIJZ), earlier told the press that Croatia recorded 10.77 infections per 100,000 residents in the past two weeks.
Kacin pointed out that both countries kept regular contact on a daily basis, highlighting that removing Croatia from the list remained an option. Slovenia will keep closely monitoring the situation in the neighbouring country in cooperation with health experts, said the government spokesman, adding that the coronavirus spread trends were checked twice a day.
Interior Minister Aleš Hojs, who announced his resignation at the press conference, meanwhile said that the government had decided to keep Croatia on the list for now because the removal would "not change a thing for Slovenian citizens".
If Croatia was put on the yellow list, the Slovenian citizens would still be able to return to Slovenia from Croatia without having to quarantine, whereas Croatian citizens wanting to enter Slovenia would face different requirements. Only in case of exceptions they would not be required to undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine.
The situation will be re-assessed at the end of the week, Hojs added.
Statements by Croatian and Slovenian officials however indicate that things are not clear-cut at present.
Croatian Interior Minister Davor Božinović told the press he had no knowledge of any promises to Slovenia to close night clubs, nor of any decision by Croatian authorities to do so.
He acknowledged, however, that such a possibility was on the table if night clubs became coronavirus hotspots.
And Slovenian Health Minister Tomaž Gantar told Kanal A in the evening that the decision not to delist Croatia was not prudent and was difficult to understand. "I don't know at which level the decision was taken," he said.
Hojs also commented on the EU list of Covid-19 safe third countries, saying that Slovenia would append a special statement to the document in which the country would state that it reserved the right to keep forming its own green, yellow and red lists.
Member states are expected to lift restrictions on the external border as of 1 July in case of certain third countries based on the list, however Hojs pointed out that the list was merely a set of guidelines and that it was up to individual EU countries to decide upon opening borders to third country citizens.
The EU has set down an average of 16 infections per 100,000 residents over a fortnight as a limit for declaring a country Covid-19 safe.
The NIJZ plans to keep the standard of 10 infections per 100,000 residents for Slovenia will not lower its standards, said Kacin, adding that the final decision on categorising countries according to their epidemiologic situations would be up to the government.
Among third countries that are expected to see lifting of border restrictions on the EU external border on 1 July are also Serbia and Montenegro, the two countries that have been put on the Slovenian red and yellow lists, respectively.
STA, 18 June 2020 - Slovenia will impose stricter rules on its border with Croatia starting on Friday to prevent the import of new coronavirus cases, after the bulk of a surprise surge in new cases in recent days was found to have originated abroad.
Bosnia, Kosovo and Serbia have thus been put on a black list of countries from where arrivals are subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine regardless of residence status in Slovenia or nationality.
Additionally, the number of exemptions for these countries has been narrowed so as to minimise travel, in particular of migrant workers, government officials said Thursday.
The decision comes after half of the 26 new coronavirus cases confirmed in the past two weeks were found to have been imported, mostly from Bosnia and Serbia. Most other new cases are contacts of these imported cases.
Health Minister Tomaž Gantar said it was premature to talk about a second wave of the epidemic, but he stressed that Slovenia was making the move out of an abundance of caution to make sure the number of new infections does not increase to the point where there are too many infections and their contacts to trace.
Gantar also noted that Slovenians had started becoming "too relaxed, as if we have forgotten that it took huge efforts to defeat the epidemic" and indicated that some restrictions, for example on the size of crowds in public, may be tightened if needed. Currently gatherings of up to 500 people are allowed.
At the same time, the government is making preparations for the event that the number of infections increases substantially, in particular in care homes and in healthcare. The government is also working on solutions that would allow the economy to function normally in the event of a second wave, he said.
STA, 6 June 2020 - Ten years have passed since the referendum in which Slovenians expressed support for the border arbitration agreement with Croatia. After a fierce campaign, the arbitration received the green light in a narrow vote. But despite great expectations, the countries are still on opposite sides a decade later.
The arbitration agreement was signed by the then prime ministers Borut Pahor and Jadranka Kosor in Stockholm on 4 November 2009 following almost two decades of failed border talks.
The agreement envisaged taking the issue of both land and sea border to the arbitration tribunal. The tribunal was also to decide on Slovenia's junction with high seas and a regime for the use of maritime zones.
The agreement was reached following an intervention from the EU to overcome the impasse created by Slovenia's blockade of Croatia's EU accession. Slovenia argued that Croatia was predetermining the border between the countries in the documents it submitted to the EU during accession talks.
The Slovenian parliament ratified the arbitration agreement in April 2010 but decided to nevertheless put the matter to a referendum on 6 June, arguing "this is such an important issue that the final decision should be made by the people".
A total of 51.54% of voters backed the agreement and 48.46% were against. The turnout was 42.66%.
In the campaign, the opponents of the agreement - the then opposition Democrats (SDS), People's Party (SLS), National Party (SNS) and the Institute 25 June - argued the deal posed a risk to Slovenia's national interests, while the advocates - the Social Democrats (SD)-led coalition - claimed the agreement was the best possible solution, protecting Slovenia's interests and guaranteeing it access to the open sea.
President Pahor labelled that time as a period of "extraordinary concerns, stress, responsibility, focus but also happiness because of successes on this path" in a recent statement for the STA.
He said he had no doubt the referendum would be a success. "I simply did not see any other option, alternative to us succeeding."
In the years that followed, all deadlines from the agreement were honoured, but in 2015 it became clear that Croatia had made a false promise.
In July that year, the Croatian newspaper Večernji List published a recording of phone conversations between Slovenian member of the arbitration tribunal Jernej Sekolec and Slovenian agent in the case Simona Drenik discussing details of the tribunal's confidential deliberations.
The scandal prompted the pair to step down and Croatia withdrew from the arbitration process, calling it compromised, although the tribunal later decided to resume its work.
Later it transpired that Sekolec and Drenik were tapped by the Croatian Intelligence Service (SOA).
The arbitration tribunal declared its final decision on the border on 29 June 2017, awarding Slovenia the bulk of the Bay of Piran, as well as a belt extending 2.5 nautical miles in width, which would be Slovenia's junction with the open seas. The border on land largely followed the demarcation of cadastral municipalities.
Although the decision gave neither side everything it wanted, Slovenian politicians were united that it was biding and must be implemented while Croatia insisted on rejecting it.
Zagreb would like the countries to engage in bilateral talks again but Slovenia has so far rejected this option. Current Foreign Minister Anže Logar said when he started his term that the tribunal's decision was clear and that legal decisions of international tribunals must be respected.
However, during his hearing in parliament before taking office he proposed appointing a special envoy for Croatia, noting it was time for quiet diplomacy.
A decade after the arbitration referendum Pahor remains optimistic. "I know some still think today that Slovenia should have got more when it comes to the border but many thought so for 18 years but were not successful. Now the border has been set, Croatia will acknowledge it sooner or later," the president told the STA.
STA, 2 June 2020 - More than 1,000 additional police officers were dispatched to Slovenia's border with Croatia on Tuesday to tight border control until Friday, as the police say an increase in migrants on the Balkan route has been detected.
The aim of the mission, ordered by acting Police Commissioner Anton Travner, is to show migrants and smugglers that an attempt to enter Slovenia does not pay off, Deputy Police Commissioner Jože Senica said on Tuesday.
Police are using all technical measures available, including surveillance drones, thermal cameras, motion-sensor cameras and helicopters.
Police officers are assisted by the military, Senica said in a statement on Tuesday, speaking at one of the points where the control has been beefed up in the area of Kočevje, south.
Apart from regular patrols, mounted police officers, the canine unit, a specialised border control unit and the special weapons team have been sent to the border, said Senica, adding that additional auxiliary police had also been mobilised.
Moreover, a special debrief police team has been set up. Its members, specially trained officers, will try to gain information from migrants about the routes they are taking and smugglers organising the border crossings.
Senica said that migrants are becoming increasingly cautious, travelling through remote areas and at night.
He said that the number of people on the Balkan migration route had increased in the past two weeks after countries started lifting restrictions they had had in place due to the coronavirus pandemic.
At the beginning of the year, Greece moved several thousand migrants from islands to the mainland, while Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina have abolished movement restriction, the deputy commissioner said.
"This has created additional pressure and encouraged migrants to continue their journey towards Slovenia," said Senica.
In the past days, several groups of migrants have been detected trying to enter the country illegally and continue their journey towards Italy.
According to police data, there are more than 10,000 migrants in Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina who want to continue their journey to the EU.
The General Police Department said today that it had detected 3,139 attempts at illegal border crossing in the first five months of the year. Last year, the figure for the same period stood at 4,426. The police attributed the drop to strict border measures accompanying the coronavirus pandemic.
STA, 22 May 2020 - The Slovenian and Croatian foreign ministers, Anže Logar and Gordan Grlić Radman, met Friday to discuss the opening of the countries' shared border which has been closed, with some exceptions, as the countries are battling the coronavirus pandemic. They could however not yet provide an answer to when the border would reopen for everybody.
This was the ministers' first meeting in person. They met at the Dragonja border crossing police station today after having talked several times over the phone and videoconferencing.
They expressed satisfaction that the epidemiological situation in the two countries is very similar. "This will undoubtedly contribute to an agreement on easier crossing of the border," Grlić Radman told the press in a joint statement.
He also said that talks would contribute to make it easier for Croatians to cross the border into Slovenia, noting that the country was an important neighbour and partner.
He did not, however, say how this would happen. "The public will learn very fast when it is time."
Logar said that Slovenia was "playing with an open hand" in talks about border opening. However, the health of Slovenians must be protected and unnecessary risks avoided, he said.
Zunanji minister ??@AnzeLog z zunanjim ministrom ??@grlicradman o čezmejnem sodelovanju in skupnih ukrepih za odpravljanje posledic epidemije #COVIDー19 ? https://t.co/La9lYX5I1H pic.twitter.com/1fjAg7zNEh— SLOVENIAN MFA (@MZZRS) May 22, 2020
At the moment, Croatia is the only country from where passengers can enter Slovenia without restrictions. Meanwhile, Slovenians can enter Croatia if they have property in the country, a holiday reservation, business or important personal obligations in the country.
The ministers also welcomed the EU's recommendations on the easing of restrictions as regards border permeability.
Logar also commented on the opening of Slovenia's borders with Austria and Italy saying that epidemiological situations in the two countries would have to be taken into account and that Slovenia was doing everything in its power for this to happen as soon as possible.
He also underlined that this would be done in bilateral agreements, adding that Slovenian diplomacy was proactively seeking such agreements.
The ministers also talked about open issues between the two countries. Logar said that they focused above all on issues they themselves could tackle and issues in which the countries have fund a high level of agreement.
Logar also said that Croatia was in a unique position at the moment: presiding the EU Council and getting ready for a parliamentary election simultaneously. "It is a specific time that imposes relatively strong restrictions on talks," Logar said.
Grlić Radman expressed the willingness to discuss all open issues, but also added that these should not come to dominate the countries' relations.
The countries' main open issue is the implementation of the 2017 border arbitration decision which Croatia refuses to accept as binding.
STA, 19 May 2020- Croatians are free to cross the border into Slovenia without having to undergo mandatory quarantine after Croatia became the first country Slovenia put on a list of countries whose nationals may enter without limitations.
The decision was made by the government late on Monday after the National Institute of Public Health assessed the situation in Croatia and determined that the risk to the spread of coronavirus is similar in both countries.
Accordingly, there is no need for Croatians to quarantine or self-isolate when they cross the border, the government said. Slovenian nationals and those with residence in Slovenia have been exempt from quarantine restrictions since last week.
Everyone entering Slovenia regardless of nationality may still be subject to a 14-day quarantine if they have spent more than two weeks outside the EU.
Slovenians are still subject to certain restrictions when they enter Croatia. They may enter if they have property or commercial interests in Croatia and have to produce evidence thereof, for example property deeds, at the border.
The decision to whitelist Croatia comes after Slovenia opted for a gradual approach to opening its borders.
The government decided that the bilateral technical agreements would be concluded with EU and Schengen Zone members on the passage of their citizens, until there is an agreement at the EU level on a reopening of borders.
There are many exceptions in place, including for daily commuters, hauliers and passengers in transit, but theoretically most foreigners thus remain subject to mandatory quarantine upon arrival.
Talks on reopening of borders are under way with other neighbouring countries as well.
Jelko Kacin, the government's coronavirus spokesman, said on Tuesday that restrictions on the border with Hungary were expected to be lifted by the end of the month pending an evaluation of the epidemiological situation there.
As for Austria, Kacin said such an agreement depended "on the responsiveness of the Austrian side", saying there were "quite a few dilemmas there," including with regard to one of the hotspots of the outbreak, the ski resort Ischgl.
"Once Austria has properly addressed these issues, we are confident that the conditions for such an agreement with Austria will be satisfied."
Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek yesterday held talks with Austrian Minister for Sustainability and Tourism Elisabeth Köstinger.
Kacin said Počivalšek had "very clearly voiced the expectation that we wish for a relaxation in the shortest possible time," noting that the Austrian-German border was set to reopen June, which gave Slovenia and Austria "quite some time before then".
With Italy, Slovenia expects "expert talks at the highest level" about the state of the epidemic there and forecasts, which would be followed by an operational agreement about when and under which conditions the border could reopen.
STA, 19 May 2020 - Slovenia confirmed one more coronavirus infection on Monday, raising the total number of confirmed cases so far to 1,467, official data show. The national death toll remains at 104, as no new Covid-19 fatalities have been reported.
A total of 1,128 tests were performed yesterday, roughly on a par with the daily testing volume since the start of the epidemic.
The number of Covid-19 patients in hospitals dropped by one to 24, including five in intensive care - a figure that remained the same compared to Sunday.
STA, 23 April 2020 - Mayors of 23 border municipalities have called on the National Assembly to back the activation of an emergency clause that grants soldiers limited police powers to patrol the border, citing a likely mass spread of Covid-19 among migrants as the main reason.
While the government has been unable to secure the two-thirds majority in parliament to activate Article 37.a of the defence act, the mayors argue the army "is the only institution left with a sufficient number of equipped and trained staff to protect the southern border".
The mayors, whose petition is dated 20 April but was published by Defence Minister Matej Tonin on Wednesday, are surprised by the reservations concerning an expanded use of the army on the border in a time when Slovenia is trying to contain the coronavirus epidemic.
They fear a larger number of infected persons could enter Slovenia, since the virus is already present among migrants and a major spread among them will be impossible to prevent given their accommodation situation in Europe and Turkey.
The mayors are aware of proposals to activate backup police and retired officers and "do not oppose them, but it has been shown in the past that such measures do not enable the activation of several thousand additional people",
While soldiers are already assisting the police on the border, the mayors believe that not being able to restrict the movement of persons and take part in crowd control along the border - the powers granted by Article 37.a - renders the soldiers meaningless.
The mayors moreover argue that the likelihood of a certain number of police officers falling ill also needed to be taken into account in a situation where there are not enough officers on the border to protect it effectively as it is.
It was Emil Rojc, the mayor Ilirska Bistrica which borders on Croatia, that handed the petition to Tonin. According to the minister, the mayors "claim the people are not afraid of the Slovenian army and want greater security".
The coalition has failed to the get the opposition on board for the temporary activation of the additional army powers. The parties mostly claim there has been no significant uptick in migrant numbers that would warrant this, while some have unsuccessfully proposed restrictions to the extra powers.
The government has however remained determined to push ahead with the plan, also getting the backing of President Borut Pahor, the commander-in-chief of the Slovenian Armed Forces, who visited the southern border area along the Kolpa river in the company of the interior and defence minister last Wednesday.
Interior Minister Aleš Hojs told the press last Thursday that the government plans to nevertheless deploy soldiers if needed, using a different legislative provision that allows a more limited form of deployment.
Article 37.a was adopted at the peak of the migration crisis, in October 2015, and invoked in February 2016 to help police patrol the border. Over 442,000 migrants had entered the country between 16 October 2015 and 1 February 2016.
Police recorded 1,835 illegal crossings of the border in the first three months of 2020, which is 6.5% more than in the same period last year.
However, according to Monday's report by TV Slovenija, the number of illegal crossing recorded halved after the coronavirus epidemic was declared in Slovenia. The total figures for 1 January to 20 April were 2,396 in 2019 and 2,038 in 2020.
STA, 31 March 2020 - The government has adopted a motion that, if passed in parliament, will activate a legislative provision that gives the military limited police powers in controlling the border. To be passed, the proposal needs the support of two-thirds of MPs. The National Assembly might discuss it as soon as on Thursday.
In two days, the National Assembly may discuss a mega-package of stimulus measures worth EUR 3 billion to help companies and individuals cope with the ongoing coronavirus epidemic.
The government wants to give police powers to the military so as to allow troops to take over some of the tasks from police officers patrolling Slovenia's border with Croatia, which is also the Schengen border.
Interior Minister Aleš Hojs told the Odmevi news show this evening that the proposal has not secured sufficient support in parliament. This comes nearly a week after he said that the government would not go forward with the motion before discussing it with deputy groups.
He said that some remarks by deputy groups had been taken into account, while some could not be. He also said that the remarks were more technical than anything else and believes that the opposition might provide the votes needed for the proposal to pass.
The proposal has raised a lot of dust in public, with many claiming this was a disproportionate measure and that the government was trying to use the coronavirus epidemic to send the military to the border.
Hojs also said last week that the army was not currently needed in Slovenian cities or on the country's roads, but it is "badly needed on Slovenia's southern border" so as to ease the burden on the police force.
The government said in a press release after adopting the proposal that it would brief the relevant parliamentary bodies about the troops' engagement on the border every two weeks and that the troops would have police powers for a period of three months.
Moreover, the troops would be working alongside police officers in line with a plan drafted by the police force and based on its guidelines, the government also said.