STA, 8 March 2019 - Prime Minister Marjan Šarec told the weekly Mladina that UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt had raised the issue of a UK company's gas extraction project in the north-east of Slovenia during their talks in Ljubljana at the end of February. Šarec said he found the manner of inquiry unusual.
The fracking attempts in the Petišovci area were stopped by former Environment Minister Jure Leben after UK company Ascent Resources had been pressuring the country to issue an environmental permit and even threatening with a lawsuit before an EU court.
Several environmental NGOs and parties had also accused UK Ambassador Sophie Honey of lobbying and putting pressure on Slovenian authorities to secure the permit for fracking.
Šarec said in an interview with Mladina that the case had come up in the talks with Hunt in Ljubljana on 21 February.
Asked whether Hunt had lobbied during the talks, Šarec replied in the affirmative. "Yes, his questions regarding this case were, I must say, unusual.
"I believe that such talks do not become a foreign secretary, because it makes the whole thing resemble horse-trading."
Šarec said he had told Hunt that "in Slovenia we operate in line with the law."
"I'd like to point out that the permit for fracking is not a matter of a favourable political stance toward this or other party but a matter of legislation.
"I am also personally convinced that these procedures for extracting oil or gas undoubtedly entail certain environmental risks."
Šarec also noted that lobbying was usually reported to the Commission for Corruption Prevention but it this case this was not necessary, because he had publicly spoken about it now.
STA, 27 February 2019 - President Borut Pahor started his official three-day visit to the UK on Wednesday by meeting Prince Edward and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt. Pahor and Hunt praised the relations between Slovenia and the UK as very good, with Pahor saying that Slovenia had "genuine interest" for the bilateral relations to strengthen also after Brexit.
The pair assessed that the two countries would be bound by many joint values and tradition also after the UK leaves the EU.
The UK will remain Slovenia's important business partner and an alley within NATO. The two countries share the awareness of the importance of multilateralism, security and stability, and progress in the world in general, especially in Europe, Pahor's office said in a press release.
Predsednik republike Borut Pahor se je v okviru uradnega obiska v Združenem kraljestvu danes sestal z ministrom za zunanje zadeve Jeremyjem Huntom. pic.twitter.com/LsmKKZon1f— Borut Pahor (@BorutPahor) February 27, 2019
Slovenia and the UK are enhancing their cooperation in business, tourism, investment, science, education and culture. Trade between the countries has been rising and has exceeded EUR 1bn for the first time last year.
Hunt presented to Pahor the parliamentary procedure for the passage of the Brexit agreement and the UK's possible scenarios for the future.
Pahor stressed the importance of finding appropriate solutions both for the EU and the UK and the responsibility in the efforts for the passage of the Brexit agreement as the best possible compromise solution that would enable an orderly Brexit and mitigate the potential negative consequences for the people and the economies.
Apology accepted over “vassal state” remark, Pahor will meet the Queen
Hunt raised some dust during his visit to Slovenia last week for referring to Slovenia as a former "Soviet vassal state". He and Pahor discussed the issue today with Pahor saying on Twitter that Hunt had started the conversation by offering an explanation, which Pahor accepted as an apology.
The Slovenian Foreign Ministry told the STA today that the British side had turned to the ministry about the matter after Hunt's visit. The ministry explained it to the British ambassador that Hunt's statement had been inappropriate and had caused unease.
Foreign Minister Miro Cerar is expected to discuss this with Hunt at the next meeting of EU foreign ministers, the ministry added.
Pahor's talks with Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, earlier in the day focussed on the the Duke of Edinburgh's award for young people as part of the MEPI programme. The awards are annually conferred in Slovenia as well.
Princ Edward se je z veseljem spomnil obiska v Sloveniji, ko sta s soprogo Sophie, grofico Wesseško, leta 2013 prvikrat obiskala Ljubljano in se srečala s predsednikom Republike Slovenije Borutom Pahorjem in gospo Tanjo Pečar. pic.twitter.com/FP40f1xyfX— Borut Pahor (@BorutPahor) February 27, 2019
According to Pahor's office, Prince Edward shared his memories of his visit to Slovenia in 2013, during which he and his wife Sophie had been received by Pahor.
The prince also accepted Pahor's invitation to visit Slovenia again soon.
Later in the afternoon, Pahor gave a lecture on the global positioning of Europe at Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs.
He will continue his official visit on Thursday by meeting Queen Elizabeth II, the representatives of both houses of the UK Parliament and expectedly also PM Theresa May.
He will address Slovenians living in Britain at a reception in the evening.
All our stories on Slovenia and Brexit are here
February 27, 2019
In an article by Siol, published today and titled “He talked about ‘Soviet vassals’ and lobbied for ‘fracking’ in Pomurje” (Govoril o "sovjetskih vazalih", lobiral pa za "fracking" v Pomurju), the authors claim that one of the main reasons behind the British Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt’s visit to Slovenia last week was to lobby for environmental permits for the ecologically controversial gas extraction in Pomurje.
Although most of the Slovene public remembers Mr Hunt’s visit last week for his patronising appraisal of Slovenia’s progress from a “Soviet vassal state” to an EU and NATO member, little has so far been said about the alleged other purpose of his visit, nor the topics of discussion with his Slovenian counterpart, the Foreign Minister Miro Cerar, beyond Brexit-related matters.
Hunt brought up environmental permits for “fracking” at Petišovci
However, the Slovenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has confirmed to Siol.net that the Petišovci project was one of the topics discussed during the visit. Siol quotes the Ministry’s response to their inquiry as follows:
"The Foreign Minister also addressed investment cooperation, including the investment of the British company Ascent Resources in Petišovci. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Slovenia, Miro Cerar, explained that the procedures in this case are in line with Slovenian legislation, in accordance with the prescribed high environmental standards.”
According to information Siol claims to have obtained from diplomatic circles, the Petišovci project was one of the priority topics in Hunt’s meeting with Cerar. Furthermore, Ascent Resources CEO Colin Hutchinson was also in Slovenia last week, albeit only meeting with partners on the project. Hutchinson emphasised that he did not meet with the British Ambassador on this trip, and has never met Jeremy Hunt.
Environmental permits for “fracking” at Petišovci
ARSO (Agencija Republike Slovenije za okolje, the Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning) is currently deciding on two environmental permits applied for by Ascent Resources and a local partner and minority shareholder Geoenergo: a permit that would allow for the operation of a gas processing plant, and another to boost production of the two existing wells by the method of “hydraulic stimulation”.
Although ARSO refused to comment on the possible results, Siol reports that based on unofficial information it will order the applicant to carry out an environmental assessment, which in turn means that no “fracking” permits will be granted for now.
Meanwhile Leben offers his resignation to PM Šarec
Hunt’s visit coincided with what Siol termed a “media war” against Jure Leben due to controversial second-rail model public procurement when he still served as a state secretary at the Ministry of Infrastructure of the previous government. Jure Leben offered his resignation to the Prime Minister Marjan Šarec yesterday. The news of his departure has been met with approval on social media by Ascent Resources shareholders, who have seen Mr. Leben as one of the main obstacles for gas extraction in Petišovci.
Siol also claims that the British Ambassador, Sophie Honey, met with Mr Leben last year to discuss the issue, a meeting that the report says ended with “raised voices”. Leben then made a report to the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption (Komisiji za preprečevanje korupcije), while the British Embassy in Ljubljana issued a strong denial that it had attempted to influence the decision of the Slovenian authorities.
All our stories on fracking in Slovenia can be found here.
STA, 24 February 2019 - Slovenia's Foreign Minister Miro Cerar has expressed regret after UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt described Slovenia as a former "Soviet vassal state" during his visit to Ljubljana last Thursday.
Hunt made the comment as he commended on Slovenia's progress over the past 30 years during a joint press conference with Cerar.
"I'm really happy to be here, because as a fellow European country the UK is very proud of the transformation there has been in Slovenia over the last 30 years.
"A really remarkable transformation from a Soviet vassal state to a modern European democracy, a member of the EU, a member of NATO, a country with a flourishing economy, growing its tourism year in, year out, and this is really an example of Europe at its best," Hunt said.
Before declaring independence in 1991, Slovenia had been one of the six republics of the former Yugoslavia, a socialist country that was not part of the Soviet bloc but formed part of the Non-Aligned Movement.
It was Cerar's former party colleague and former speaker of the National Assembly, Milan Brglez, who spoke out to criticise both Cerar and Hunt for what he called an "arrogant insult".
In a post on his Facebook profile, Brglez, an MP for the coalition Social Democrats (SD) after defecting from Cerar's Modern Centre Party (SMC), said the minimum he expected of the country's representatives was a prompt and adequate reaction to insults directed at the country and its citizens.
In a press release issued by his party on Sunday, Cerar said that Hunt came to Slovenia to discuss the UK's future relations with Slovenia and other EU countries after Brexit and the rights of Slovenian citizens living in Britain and British citizens living in Slovenia.
Cerar noted that Hunt complimented Slovenia on its transformation and that he also talked about Slovenia as a partner country from the perspective of the UK as an architect of peace after Second World War.
"This is why during his public address at the press conference I didn't want to respond and interrupt him as a guest.
"Unfortunately, the Soviet vassal assessment was an inappropriate and inaccurate one ... at the first opportunity with my British counterpart, on the sidelines of the EU ministerial meeting, I will talk with him about the matter and instruct him about our past. I believe there will be no similar rhetorical awkwardness in the future," Cerar said.
This was not the first embarrassing error for Hunt. During his debut visit to Beijing as the UK foreign secretary last year, he referred to his Chinese wife as Japanese.
TSN seems to have broken this story in the English-language media, which soon ended up in The Guardian, Independent, Daily Mail and other sources. Read our original article here
Jeremy Hunt – the British Foreign Secretary who replaced the gaffe-prone Brexit-booster and serial adulterer Boris Johnson in mid-2018, the latter resigning to spend more time with his latest mistress and snipe at the government from the side-lines for being unable to enact the have cake, eat cake policy he promoted for nakedly careerist reasons – visited Slovenia on Thursday for bilateral talks on Citizens’ Rights. The headline result was a pleasing one, with assurances from both sides that as much continuity as possible would be provided in the event of a deal or no-deal Brexit.
However, Mr Hunt, a man who by now is surely well aware of the dangers of a slip of the tongue, perhaps failed to make the best impression while on the Sunny Side of the Alps. Indeed, it seems that while travelling from Berlin he and his team did little to prepare for the trip, making at least two unforced and undiplomatic errors in public, and who knows how many more in private.
First the tweet marking his landing in Slovenia referred to the country’s Foreign Minister as Karl Erjavec, the man who left this position after last year’s election to be replaced by the former Prime Minister, and Mr Hunt’s supposed focus for the day, Miro Cerar.
The tweet was deleted, and this screenshot comes from the excellent Pengovsky, who you really should be reading, with his take on the incident here.
But these things happen – after all, Mr Hunt once referred to his Chinese wife as Japanese – and the tweet was soon corrected. More serious, in terms of being indicative of the lack of preparation or historical and geopolitical understanding that seem to surround the entire Brexit project, was what came in the public statement that Mr Hunt made while standing next to Mr Cerar:
This is my first visit to Slovenia as Foreign Secretary, not the first in my life but my first in a professional capacity. And I’m really happy to be here, because as a fellow European country the UK is very proud of the transformation there has been in Slovenia over the last 30 years. A really remarkable transformation from a Soviet vassal state to a modern European democracy, a member of the EU, a member of NATO, a country with a flourishing economy, growing its tourism year in, year out, and this is really an example of Europe at its best.
Now leaving aside the general patronising tone here – why is the UK proud of Slovenia? – or that while being a leading Brexiteer Mr Hunt seems to suggest that being a member of the EU is a good thing, there’s the simple factual error that Slovenia, even when part of Yugoslavia, was never a Soviet vassal state.
Thursday was not the first time Mr Hunt made use of the USSR to insult his negotiating partners
During the Second World War Yugoslavia was occupied by the Germans and Italians, but the partisans, led by Tito, managed to liberate the country with little help from the Russians, and thus the land was never part of the of the Soviet empire. And while in the immediate post-war period there was seen to be an uneasy alliance between Stalin and Tito, this broke in 1948. From then on Yugoslavia took a famously independent approach, receiving aid from the Marshall Plan as well as founding the Non-Aligned Movement. In short, Yugoslavia was never a Soviet vassal state, while Slovenia was always the most open of the socialist republics that made up the federation, a matter not only of historical fact but also considerable pride.
Of course, Mr Hunt’s statement did not go unnoticed in the country, once again proving that just because British politicians can’t understand what foreigners are saying, this doesn’t mean that foreigners can’t understand what they’re saying. For example, Milan Brglez, former Speaker of the National Assembly, made the following comment on Facebook that was then widely reported in the media:
Take a look at the footage below (somewhere around 14:30). A guest (the British Foreign Minister) comes to us with a request (to discuss with our Foreign Minister how to avoid a hard Brexit if the UK doesn’t sign the Withdrawal Agreement with the EU) and arrogantly insult. We have never been "the vassal state of the Soviet Union".
At a minimum what I expect and demand in international relations from my representatives (diplomats and those who have general powers to represent and bind the state under international law – i.e. the president, prime minister and foreign minister) is that they will react immediately when someone insults the state and its citizens. And not that they are meekly silent, perhaps not even noticing the insult.
With President Borut Pahor due in the UK next week, and Britain in desperate need of friends and allies as the March 29 Brexit deadline looms, one can only hope that his hosts in London are a little better informed, and a little better prepared for his visit.
All our stories on Brexit and Slovenia can be found here.