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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
STA, 15 February 2019 - A photovoltaic array in Jesenice has become the first solar power plant in Slovenia installed on an apartment block. The EUR 36,400 installation operated by energy group GEN-I should pay for itself in seven years and GEN-I expects more such projects to follow given recent legislative changes.
After as many as 2,000 rooftop solar arrays were installed in Slovenia in the last couple of years, legislation was passed last year allowing apartment buildings, not just single-family homes, to have photovoltaic panels installed.
But the process is not easy. "When we first contacted the residents, we though our chances were slim because the law is not very conducive of such projects. But the residents were incredibly persistent. We gladly followed them and after six months we have the first such solar plant in Slovenia running," GEN-I CEO Robert Golob told the press on Friday.
According to the building's representative Brane Zajović, all residents had to give their consent. In the building with 23 apartments, this meant 55 people.
"Our main goal was to cut our monthly utility costs, which are rising by the year," Zajović said, noting that they had installed a heat pump at the building six years ago, which reduced annual heating costs from EUR 11,000 to EUR 3,000.
In the next seven years, the residents will be paying off the EUR 36,400 investment in the solar power plant in monthly instalments matching their electricity bills so far. After that, they will have no electricity bills, Golob said, noting that the power plant's life span was 30 years.
The photovoltaic solar panels on the building will produce 37,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a year.
Although Jesenice does not get a lot of sunshine in the winter, the plant will be only 5% less efficient than it would be in Kranj and 15% less efficient than it would be in the coastal town of Koper, Golob said.
He expects other buildings to follow the Jesenice example, especially since legislative changes are under way to speed up the permit approval process from six months to one month.
Hinko Šolinc of the Infrastructure Ministry said the changes of the relevant decrees were expected to enter into force in March. They will not only facilitate the installation of rooftop solar but also allow buildings in the vicinity of a solar power plant to use surplus power.
STA, 15 February 2019 - The European Investment Bank (EIB) has placed the project to build a new railway line between the port of Koper and Divača among the projects it would finance with loans. The state-owned company managing the project said that the EIB would provide a EUR 250m loan.
Announcing the news, 2TDK said that it had submitted the application for a EUR 250m loan to the bank last May.
"Negotiations between the EIB and 2TDK followed between October and January, on whose basis the investment bank will make a final assessment of the project and expectedly send it for confirmation by the board of governors in April."
Infrastructure Minister Alenka Bratušek, whose ministry is responsible for the project, welcomed the news, saying that the bank had recognised the quality and importance of the project.
"I'm happy that the things are moving in the right direction," the ministry quoted Bratušek, who added that the lengthy negotiations with the EIB had obviously produced a positive result.
"The decision is not final yet, but the placement on the EIB list means that the bank too has recognised the quality and importance of this project, which I believed in and expected throughout," the minister added.
In addition to government funding, the investment plan for the project also envisages loans from international financial institutions and the state-owned SID export and development bank, EU grants and loans from commercial banks.
The plan values the project at EUR 968m at current prices, but together with a reserve for unexpected works and interest the total price tag will be EUR 1.2bn.
All our stories on railways in Slovenia can be found here
The railway will be only 27 kilometres long, but the huge cost is attributed to the high number of tunnels and bridges on the tricky karst terrain.
Good news for the project also came today from the National Review Commission, which rejected a request for the suspension of public contracting pending an audit of the public tender for the project dossier.
The audit and the suspension of the public tender process was demanded by the engineering company Geoportal at the end of last year.
The review commission is yet to decide Geoportal's request to annul the tender. 2TDK had already rejected the request before forwarding it to the National Review Commission.
The sole bid for the job, worth EUR 19.93m excluding VAT, was submitted by a consortium of companies consisting of Elea iC, SŽ-Projektivno Podjetje and IRGO Consulting.
STA, 5 February 2019 - A subsidiary of the Slovenian national railways operator Slovenske Železnice has won the tender to build a new container terminal in the Croatian seaport of Rijeka, a decision that is yet to be made final as a rival bidder from Croatia has filed an appeal.
The new terminal is planned to increase the port's capacity by eliminating a bottleneck and adjust the port's railway infrastructure to the railway station in Rijeka.
The project will be co-funded in a 85% share by the European Commission as part of the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF).
The selection of the bid filed by the engineering company SŽ - Železniško Gradbeno Podjetje Ljubljana, estimated at EUR 28.5m, is being challenged by Croatia's DIV Grupa, which had submitted the lowest bid (EUR 24.6m).
The contracting authorities, the Rijeka port administration and the infrastructure arm of the Croatian national railways operator Hrvatske Željeznice, said that the bid by DIV Grupa was "unrealistically low".
Several other international and Croatian bidders participated in the tender, including Slovenia's Kolektor Koling, which valued its bid at EUR 29.3m.
All our stories related to Croatia can be found here