Ljubljana related

13 Jun 2019, 15:55 PM

STA, 12 June 2019 - Infrastructure Minister Alenka Bratušek met Chinese Transport Minister Li Xiaopeng on the final day of her visit to China to talk about Slovenia's geostrategic advantages in light of China's plans to upgrade links to Europe.

According to a press release from the Infrastructure Ministry, Bratušek also met the management of Cosco, one of the world's biggest shipping companies which has stakes in several European ports, including a 100% stake in the container terminal of the Piraeus port in Greece.

Cosco, which is a state-owned company, is also a major partner for Slovenia's sole maritime port, Koper.

Bratušek put in her word for boosting that cooperation, and presented plans to build a second track connecting the port inland.

The CEO of the port operator Luka Koper, Dimitrij Zadel, who accompanied the minister, presented the company's development potential and investment plans.

The minister tweeted that the construction of the second track between Koper and Divača, and investment in extension of port piers would increase the joint potential of the port and Slovenia, "so stable partners are important for our companies".

Bratušek also visited the Slovenian Embassy in Beijing and met Transport Minister Li. They discussed the advantages of Slovenia's geostrategic position in Central and Eastern Europe.

China has been dedicating considerable attention to transport infrastructure within the 17+1 initiative for cooperation with the countries of Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe and the Belt and Road initiative, or the new Silk Road to boost transport links with Europe.

Li thanked Bratušek for Slovenia's active participation in both initiatives, noting the country's geostrategic location. He called for enhancing cooperation between the two countries. Bratušek invited her counterpart to visit Slovenia.

Earlier this week, Bratušek visited the China - CEEC Investment and Trade Expo fair in Ningbo, meeting Chinese Vice-Prime Minister Hu Chunhua at the forum of representatives of the participating countries. She also met former long-serving Transport Minister Jang Huantang.

Apart from Luka Koper, several other Slovenian companies were showcased at the Ningbo fair, including the Slovenian railways operator Slovenske Železnice, postal company Pošta Slovenije, logistic companies Intereuropa, Adria Kombi and d OmniOpti.

10 Jun 2019, 15:25 PM

STA, 10 June 2019 - Infrastructure Minister Alenka Bratušek has set out the advantages of the new railway connecting Slovenia's sole maritime port as she addressed China - CEEC Investment and Trade Expo fair in China.

According to a statement from her ministry, Bratušek addressed ministers and other senior officials of the countries participating in the fair in Ningbo, underscoring the importance of the emerging modern-day Silk Road that would create closer transport links between Asia and European countries.

She noted the EUR 1 billion-plus project to build a second rail track between the Koper port and the tail junction in Divača in inland Slovenia, which she said would further increase the port's competitive advantage.

The minister said the project would cut the journey travelled by ships from Asia to Europe by five to eight days compared to north European ports, which would reduce not only costs but also the impact on the environment.

Bratušek also visited the exhibition ground of the Slovenian companies showcased at the China - CEEC Expo fair, the port operator Luka Koper, the Slovenian railways operator Slovenske Železnice, postal company Pošta Slovenije, logistic companies Intereuropa, Adria Kombi and OmniOpti.

At the forum of representatives of the participating countries, the Slovenian minister met Chinese Vice-Prime Minister Hu Chunhua. Accompanied by Luka Koper CEO Dimitrij Zadel, Bratušek also visited the Ningbo port, one of the world's largest.

The minister also addressed mayors of cities as part of the 17+1 initiative including China, the Central and East European countries and Greece, and met the leaderships of the Zheijiang province and the Ningbo city.

Bratušek will also visit Beijing where she will meet Chinese Transport Minister Li Xiaopeng.

17 May 2019, 11:28 AM

STA, 15 May 2019 - The board of directors of the European Investment Bank (EIB) approved a EUR 250 million loan for the construction of a second rail track between rail hub Divača and Koper port on Wednesday, the EIB confirmed for the STA.

This approval is considered a significant step to finalising the financial plan for the project estimated at just under EUR 1.2 billion.

To approve the financing, the EIB insisted on a state guarantee for the loan which will be taken out by 2TDK, a company incorporated with the purpose of building and managing the new track.

Infrastructure Minister Alenka Bratušek has previously said that the state guarantee should not be a problem as a relevant bill is as good as ready. It needs to take effect before the loan contract is signed, expectedly by the end of the year.

She told the press after the EIB approved the loan that such a decision was expected, considering that the European Commission already okayed a loan from the EIB.

2TDK CEO Dušan Zorko, who was also confident that the loan would be approved, said that the EIB recognised the importance of this project for the entire region.

The next step will be to negotiate the contract for the loan, said Zorko. Bratušek added that there was no hurry to sign the contract.

"We were in a hurry with the loan so that we could finalise the financial plan for the project and so as not to endanger the EUR 190 million from the EU," the minister said.

"With the EUR 109 million in grants provided by the European Commission, the project can now start," European Commissioner for Transport Violeta Bulc said in a written statement.

The board of EIB directors was expected to discuss the loan to Slovenia in early April, but postponed the decision due to long debates about Brexit, the EIB said over a month ago.

26 Apr 2019, 10:00 AM

STA, 25 April 2019 - Economic Development and Technology Minister Zdravko Počivalšek met Chinese Minister of Science and Technology Wang Zhang in Beijing on Thursday. He moreover addressed the 2019 Belt and Road Forum, underlining that Slovenia was an open, high-tech partner economy.

A press release from the Economy Ministry quoted Počivalšek as saying that China appreciated the attendance of politicians at events such as the Belt and Road summit that started today.

Počivalšek noted at the sidelines of the event that a number of bilateral meetings of Slovenian and Chinese politicians had taken place over the past 26 years, which is reflected in traditionally good relations and strong business ties.

Meetings taking place as part of the 16+1 initiative of Central and Eastern European countries and China boost Slovenia's visibility and open doors for Slovenian companies, he added.

Počivalšek proposed to Wang that the countries sign a memorandum on cooperation in technology and innovation. He said that China considered Slovenia to be a credible partner in innovation. "We must seize this opportunity for our companies."

Počivalšek arrived in China on Tuesday, visiting the headquarters of Haisense and meeting representatives of the Liaoning Shenyang province yesterday.

24 Apr 2019, 10:50 AM

STA, 23 April 2019 - Blockchain experts from around the globe came together in the town of Vitanje on Tuesday to discuss the future of blockchain infrastructure at the Herman Potočnik Noordung Centre of Space Technologies. Attending the forum, European Commissioner for Transport Violeta Bulc underlined that the technology should be a tool of democracy.

Organised by the Ministry of Economic Development and Technology, the Noordung Hub and Tolar HashNet, a blockchain developer, the event featured representatives of businesses and states from the EU, as well as Indonesia, China, Malaysia, Taiwan and South Korea.

Bulc believes that this technology represents one of the key steps in introduction of TCP/IP protocols as the foundation of the internet as we know it today.

"I wish that the developers of this global trend would not forget that this is a tool that should serve the democracy and a positive development of the human race and improve cooperation among people, because it helps improve the efficiency of all systems in which we operate," the commissioner said.

The European Commission is concerned above all about the role of regulators and what standards needed to be introduced to ensure that these systems remained open, said Bulc.

She believes the technology could be the most useful in finance, but also in healthcare and state administration. Among other things, Bulc hopes that online elections could become reality across the EU.

At the forum, Tolar HashNet presented its new generation blockchain technology, which makes it a global leader in the field. CEP Tadej Slapnik said that companies across the world would be able to develop applications for the private and public sectors using the company's technology.

All our stories on blockchain in Slovenia are here

23 Apr 2019, 07:29 AM

STA, 23 April 2019 - Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek will start a multi-day visit to China on Tuesday designed to strengthen economic relations between the two countries as well as Slovenia's role in the Belt and Road Initiative.

Počivalšek will present the government's action plans for potential investors and the situation in Slovenian business. Tourism cooperation will also be on the agenda.

The minister will visit the headquarters of the Chinese appliance and electronics manufacturer Hisense, the owner of the Slovenian white goods maker Gorenje.

He will meet with representatives of the local authorities in the province Liaoning Shenyang, where the Slovenian automotive supplier TPV would like to launch a production facility.

Počivalšek will attend the second Belt and Road Initiative Forum, addressing participants at the silk road innovation conference.

China is Slovenia's leading trading partner in Asia, listed as 13th among the country's top trading partners, ahead of Russia and the US, said the Economy Ministry, adding that Slovenia is particularly supportive of hi-tech projects.

More than 12,500 Chinese companies exported to Slovenia last year, while almost 500 Slovenian companies traded with China. Bilateral trade in goods increased by almost 12% year-on-year, amounting to EUR 1.3bn.

The scope of Slovenia's investment in China is on the rise as well, currently estimated at EUR 45m, as over 30 Slovenian companies have affiliates in China.

In Slovenia, there are roughly 110 companies in 100% Chinese ownership and 23 companies with mixed Chinese ownership, according to Economy Ministry data.

All our stories on Slovenia and China are here

16 Apr 2019, 12:25 PM

STA, 16 April 219 - HSE, the state-owned power utility which owns the Šoštanj coal-fired power station (TEŠ), is looking for a new energy source for TEŠ, according to HSE chairman Stojan Nikolić. He believes burning biomass or waste would be economically viable.

"We know that we have to overhaul the plans for the operations of the Premogovnik Velenje mine and TEŠ. It's been clear for a while that TEŠ will not be able to operate until 2054, as originally planned, both for economic and technical reasons," Nikolić said in an interview with the STA.

But he could not say when the coal-fired power station will be wound down, because it is not clear yet how long the extraction of coal from the Velenje mine, the only source of coal for TEŠ, will be possible.

"My estimate is that until 2040. But we need to set the framework for a fair transition to other activities for the entire coal mining region.

"If we manage to agree on this in the next two or three years, which I'm hoping for, then I think we can still be competitive in the next 15 or 20 years with the production of electricity from coal," he said.

The main challenge faced by HSE as the biggest coal-fired producer of electricity in the country is decarbonisation.

The construction of TEŠ 6, the cutting-edge generator with minimal emissions, was part of efforts to reduce CO2 emissions, Nikolić said.

But TEŠ is still unable to cover the costs of the investment, which are being partly covered by HSE. Admitting that TEŠ was struggling, Nikolić said that the management of HSE and TEŠ were looking for possible solutions. Given that the viable coal reserves at the Velenje mine are running out, importing coal is one of the options.

However, given the current market prices of coal and CO2 coupons, importing coal would not be economically viable and the situation will only get worse in the future.

This would be an option only if a supplier was found that would offer coal at the same price as the Velenje mine, which is EUR 2.75 per gigajoule, or 50 cents more at the most, Nikolić said. "That is, if we get all the necessary permits."

The Environment Agency already said importing coal would require no additional permits, but the environment permit would still need to be changed if any other energy source is to be used at TEŠ.

"Burning biomass would probably be economically viable and definitely also burning processed waste, as now we are paying a lot of money to export waste to Austria and Italy."

Burning imported coal is seen as the last resort, but if this would make it difficult for TEŠ to obtain an environmental permit for biomass and waste burning, then the idea to import coal would be abandoned.

Slovenia will have to solve the problem of waste treatment soon, and TEŠ as well as the cement plant in Anhovo are appropriate facilities to burn waste, Nikolić said.

The other area HSE is focussing on is renewable energy sources but the options here are limited. The Drava river can take no more power plants, while recently a political decision was made not to build any on the Mura, he said.

HSE is currently cooperating with GEN Energija in building a chain of hydro power plants on the lower Sava river and has a concession for the plants on the middle Sava.

But Nikolić said they often faced resistance from environmental groups. Any new facility can be controversial, which is why measures must be taken to minimize the environmental impact and take measures to offset its effects, he believes.

The alternative is to import electricity from the countries which still burn coal, such as Poland, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. But this means more green house gas emissions. "What will we do with the intact Mura if temperatures rise for a couple of degrees and there will be no life in it?"

By 2040, two biggest power plants, TEŠ and the Krško Nuclear Power Plant (NEK), generating more than half of electricity in the country, will probably be wound down. "They will not be able to be replaced with just hydro power plants," Nikolić stressed.

12 Apr 2019, 14:15 PM

STA, 12 April 2019 - Prime Minister Marjan Šarec highlighted the port of Koper as the closest link between Central and East Europe, and China as he addressed the eighth summit of China and 16 Central and East European countries in Croatia's Dubrovnik on Friday.

In line with the bill, courts will have to weigh whether Banka Slovenije, the central bank, correctly applied the law in ordering the bailout, and correctly estimated bank losses.

Plaintiffs will be able to launch proceedings within ten months after the law enters into force. Banka Slovenije will be the defendant and if it loses, it will have to settle the damages from its reserves. If those do not suffice, it will be able to borrow from the state.

Banka Slovenije opposes the bill, in particular the solution under which it would have to pay damages if the courts establish to the plaintiffs were wronged, arguing that this would lead to unlawful monetary financing.

The central bank believes the law should state clearly that it is not responsible to pay compensation for the damage. A similar position is held by the European Central Bank.

The government rushed to endorse the bill at yesterday's correspondence session because the upper chamber of parliament, the National Council, was also preparing a similar bill, which however envisages the state launching procedures against Banka Slovenije.

"We rushed it, because we wanted the legislative procedure to start as soon as possible. It is possible that we will be merging the bill with the National Council's legislative proposal," Finance Ministry State Secretary Metod Dragonja said yesterday.

The National Council adopted its proposal today, arguing the government's bill fell short of what had been asked by the Constitutional Court.

The upper chamber's president Alojz Kovšca stressed that excessive procedural costs would discourage potential plaintiffs from suing Banka Slovenije, which means effective legal protection had not been provided.

The National Council would have Banka Slovenije sued by the state and the burden of proof transferred to the central bank.

Kovšca announced cooperation in the adoption of the final act, but added it would be vetoed if it failed to provide a realistic solution.

The bill will go through a regular procedure in parliament and the government is counting on it to be passed in June or July.

In the three months after the passage, special virtual data rooms envisaged by the bill would be set up by the Securities Market Agency (ATVP) where Banka Slovenije will give all interested parties access to information.

Potential damages are estimated between zero and EUR 963.2m, which is how much liabilities were wiped out by the banks which were nationalised in 2013 and 2014, plus extra costs.

The Finance Ministry said in presenting the bill that Banka Slovenije had decided for the measures independently and therefore carried the responsibility and liability for potential damages.

The legislation based on which the measures were taken has been found to be in line with the Constitution, so it is Banka Slovenije and not the state which is responsible for the way the legislation was implemented, the ministry said.

The ministry took into account the central bank's remarks regarding the setting up of data rooms, which it claimed would be too expensive, so the bill envisages the setting up of virtual rooms by the ATVP with the ministry only providing one room where computers and software will be available for accessing data.

But the ATVP warned in a letter today that it lacked the necessary know-how, money and staff to set up the virtual data rooms, so it would have to outsource them, which would require additional funding and a lot more time than the envisaged three months.

The agency also said it had no resources to decide on the potential thousands of applications for access to the data rooms, so it proposes that Banka Slovenije or the Public Administration Ministry take over the task.

In line with the bill, the court will decide whether there are grounds to award damages to plaintiffs and also set the amount of the potential damages, whereas in the original proposal Banka Slovenije was to determine the amount of damages, pending final approval by the court.

All procedures will be handled by the Maribor District Court, where Banka Slovenije will have to prove that it had reasons for the wipe-out and that it takes into account remarks regarding access to information and data protection.

Slovenia spent roughly EUR 5.5bn bailing out and nationalising the three largest banks in the country (two small banks were wound down) in a process seen as saving the economy from ruin.

However, subsequent revelations cast doubt on the methods used to value bank assets, which in turn determined how much capital banks needed and to what extent junior creditors were affected.

All our stories about Slovenia and China are here

01 Mar 2019, 10:22 AM

STA, 28 February STA - Infrastructure Minister Alenka Bratušek announced on Thursday the dismissal of Damir Topolko as the head of the Infrastructure Agency following the escalation of the scandal surrounding the dodgy tender for the Koper port rail track model.

The announcement comes after PM Marjan Šarec accepted on Wednesday the resignation of Environment Minister and former Infrastructure Ministry State Secretary Jure Leben while also calling for the resignation of Topolko.

The official video introducing the Koper-Divača "second rail" project

While Šarec had suggested that everyone else involved in the possibly rigged 2017 tender for the EUR 130,000 scale model should follow Leben's example, Bratušek said Šarec and her agreed today that conditions were not met yet to dismiss certain public servants.

Bratušek said the scandal also bore on other ministry employees, they however "cannot accept political responsibility for this fiasco"

As regards Topolko, Šarec and Bratušek both felt it was time to find a new name for the head of the Infrastructure Agency, which was responsible for the tender, carried out as a PR move for the EUR 1bn-plus investment in the Divača-Koper rail expansion.

"My predecessor Peter Gašperšič could have already done that," said Bratušek, adding a candidate had not yet been found to replace Topolko, who has ran the agency since mid-2015.

"But they didn't do it. I sense it was because that would mean revealing what is being revealed now: that the former leadership of this ministry was actively involved in the public procurement of this scale model, even though it is unusual for a minister or state secretary to interfere with public tenders," she added.

Bratušek said the scale model story had been inherited by her and that it was casting a bad light on the rail project that is now being managed differently and was on track on getting fully covered financially by the end of May.

27 Feb 2019, 11:50 AM

STA, 26 February 2019 - A group critical of the government's Koper port rail project has filed a criminal complaint with the police against Environment Minister Jure Leben and several other officials over their role in the scandal around the 2018 scale model tender for the project, the commercial broadcaster POP TV reported on Monday evening.

The group that filed the complaint includes Jože Duhovnik of the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering who had proposed an alternative, much cheaper solution for the Koper-Divača rail upgrade back in 2017.

Apart from Leben, who was in charge of the Koper-Divača project at the Infrastructure Ministry in the previous term, the list of those the group says misled the public and caused great damage to public finance includes the former Infrastructure Minister Peter Gašperšič and top officials of the roads and infrastructure agencies.

The leadership of the state-owned company managing the rail investment, 2TDK, and its supervisory board are also on the list along with Infrastructure Ministry State Secretary Nina Mauhler.

Duhovnik told POP TV last night that the investment programme for the Koper-Divača project had shown that those in charge had been "systematically misleading the public, fixing and adjusting data" all along.

The group is accusing Leben and company of "grand fraud, misrepresentation of data and misleading of the public", which led to "tremendous financial damage to public finances". They have estimated the damage at EUR 1.5bn-2bn.

Meanwhile, Leben and Gašperšič announced that they would report the group to the police for making a false criminal complaint.

A press release sent out by the Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning on Tuesday afternoon said Leben and former infrastructure minister were convinced that the complaint was based on "groundless lies and malicious imputations" and was filed with the intention to attract media attention.

Police revealed in mid-February that they were investigating the commission of the scale model of the 27-kilometre track that had been revealed in early 2018 and turned out to be a major PR fiasco for the previous government, to the extent that the government abandoned the promotional activities and refused to pay for the model.

Media also reported of the email correspondence among those involved, purportedly proving that the commission of the scale model was effectively coordinated by a PR agency retained by the ministry to do promotional activities for the rail project.

While there was no smoking gun shown to point the finger at Leben, several emails revealed close coordination by the PR agency, Futura, and the public relations officer at the ministry, Nataša Pelko, who is now in charge of public relations at 2TDK.

Leben pointed his finger at Pelko on several occasions, but yesterday she struck back, according to POP TV. She wrote a letter to the supervisors and the entire leadership of 2TDK, saying she did not act on her own but "exclusively under instruction" from her then bosses, Minister Gašperšič and the project head, Leben.

Pelko says in the letter she was not involved in the talks on the scale model, did not know who the bidders were or who was picked in the end. She also denies having cooperated with Futura.

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