STA, 16 June 2019 - The National Assembly will discuss the opposition-sponsored motion to oust Defence Minister Karl Erjavec as it convenes two sessions this week. The opposition Democrats (SDS) believe that Erjavec abused the military intelligence service and unlawfully dismissed the army's force commander. Erjavec appears to enjoy sufficient support to stay on.
Pressure on Erjavec has been rising because a parliamentary commission investigating Erjavec's alleged abuse of the intelligence service has interviewed the dismissed Force Commander Miha Škerbinc last week.
Škerbinc's appearance before the Commission for the Oversight of Intelligence and Security Services behind closed doors on Thursday allegedly showed that Erjavec had been lying about the reasons for Škerbinc's dismissal.
Commission chair Žan Mahnič, an MP for the SDS, said that Škerbinc had provided a report by Chief of the General Staff Alenka Ermenc showing that Škerbinc had not broken the chain of command as regards late-night shooting at training grounds near Postojna.
Commenting on a report by Ermenc saying that the military had been following closely the ministry's order about activities on the training ground, Prime Minister Marjan Šarec said on Friday that Erjavec will have to explain what happened.
The prime minister however also said that the parliamentary commission was a political body. "It has an investigative role but there is a thin line between having powers and abusing powers," the prime minister said, echoing Erjavec's position that the commission had abused its powers for political purposes.
Moreover, Mahnič said that Škerbinc told the commission he had not spread rumours about Ermenc's ill health, which was another reason cited by Erjavec after the dismissal.
Škerbinc said that he had 200 witnesses to prove that he did not spread lies, according to Mahnič, who said that the former force commander told the commission that he condemned the rumours about her poor health that had been going around in an address.
Before debating the motion to oust Erjavec in a dedicated session on Friday, the National Assembly will convene a regular session starting on Monday with questions time for the government.
Other business: Apppointments, energy infrastructure, private schools, bear & wolf culls, tobacco sales
On Tuesday, the MPs will take a vote on the reappointment of Information Commissioner Mojca Prelesnik, the appointment of Rok Čeferin to the Constitutional Court and the appointment of Peter Golob as Electoral Commission chairman.
Moreover, the MPs will conduct the second reading of changes to the energy act transposing two relevant EU regulations and changing compensation procedures for the construction of public energy infrastructure, which was ordered by the Constitutional Court.
The most heated debates can be expected on Wednesday, when parliament is scheduled to launch the first reading of legislative changes drafted to implement a decision by the Constitutional Court ordering the National Assembly to provide equal funding to private primary schools.
Private schools, as well as the opposition Democrats (SDS) and New Slovenia (NSi) believe the changes do not transpose the decision of the Constitutional Court.
On Thursday, MPs are expected to pass a emergency bill ordering the culling of bears and wolves in the wake of attacks on farm animals and increasingly frequent sightings after an environmental NGO successfully challenged the government's decree with the same cull order in Administrative Court.
The parliament is also expected to fast-track changes to the tobacco act postponing by three years the introduction of uniform packaging for tobacco products, initially planned for January 2020. The proponents of the changes want to conduct studies whether the measure is actually effective.
STA, 13 June 2019 - The deputy chair of the Commission for the Oversight of Intelligence and Security Services Žan Mahnič has accused Defence Minister Karl Erjavec of having fabricated the reasons for the April dismissal of Miha Škerbinc as the force commander of the Slovenian Armed Forces.
Mahnič said the testimony given today for the parliamentary commission by Škerbinc had shown that Škerbinc had not spoken ill of the health of Maj-Gen Alenka Ermenc, the chief of the general staff, as well as that Škerbinc had not been responsible for late-night shooting at the Poček training grounds.
According to the MP for the opposition Democrats (SDS), Škerbinc attributed the reports about his comments on Ermenc to "informal informants" within the army who also spread false rumours.
One such rumour led to media reports that Ermenc would be replaced, which is something Škerbinc said he strongly opposed although he might have been misunderstood in the process, Mahnič told the press.
While Minister Erjavec is facing an ouster motion for allegedly abusing the Defence Ministry's Intelligence and Security Service (OVS) to gather information on Škerbinc, Mahnič said Škerbinc said today nobody from OVS had actually asked him, in what had been unusual sets of questions, whether he had in fact spoken inappropriately of Ermenc's health.
As for the Poček night shooting drills that upset the local community, Mahnič said Škerbinc had provided documents showing the shooting had been conducted in line with the guidelines provided by the government and Defence Ministry.
According to Mahnič, the documents show Erjavec had lied about Škerbinc's responsibility and about the shooting not being planned.
The commission decided today it would also interview Ermenc, the OVS members involved in the Škerbinc inquiries as well as OVS director Dejan Matijevič, Mahnič announced.
Erjavec has been rejecting claims that the night shooting had been in line with government-approved plans, saying the army had failed to make adjustments after a plan of exercises approved by the government in January.
The minister also dismissed Škerbinc's referencing of the documents put forward today - these in fact make up a report by Ermenc on the developments - arguing they do not go into the details of the training conducted and of all the documents issued in relation to it.
Ermenc's report, which has also been obtained by the media, however states that all agreements and guidelines adopted in relation to training at Poček had been honoured by the army.
STA, 7 June 2019 - The international exercise Swift Response 2019 got under way in Slovenia, Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania on Friday, 7 June, in which allied units from France, Italy, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, the UK and US will drill airborne operations and ground support activities. The exercise is running until 22 June.
According to information posted on the website of the Slovenian Armed Forces (SAF), the activities in Slovenia will be centred on the Cerklje ob Krki airbase, which will provide logistic support.
The activities will include take-offs and landings of allied transport aircraft and accommodation, consolidation and movements of allied units to a mock hotspot to re-establish peace in cooperation with partner forces.
The exercise is an opportunity for joint training that allows for command and control of complex operations in various locations. The units are taking part in a bid to set up a multinational force wherever or whenever needed.
Participation in multinational exercises boosts readiness, enhances professional relationships and improves general coordination with the allies and partners in a crisis, the SAF said.
More details on the exercises can be found here
STA, 15 May 2019 - The US army has decided to curtail ongoing military activities in Slovenia due to restrictions imposed at the Poček grounds near Postojna, the US Embassy in Ljubljana has said.
"US Forces are awaiting concrete rules and guidelines, to be outlined by the Ministry of Defence in consultation with local municipalities, so that they can forecast, plan, and conduct future training within those rules and guidelines," the embassy told the STA on Wednesday.
The statement comes after TV Slovenija reported Monday that the US military had been considering no longer participating in joint exercises in Slovenia in the current scope because at Poček, night-time activities are limited due to protests by the local community.
Defence Minister Karl Erjavec however said after a meeting with Gautam Rana, the chargé d'affaires at the US Embassy, there was no reason for concern since the planned exercises would be carried out as agreed.
The embassy said today the US forces appreciated the opportunity to train jointly with the Slovenian Armed Forces in an area with well-established range facilities like those in Poček.
"We respect the importance of ongoing discussions with the local community, as the intent of US Forces is always to train with allies like Slovenia in a way that is neither disruptive to the environment, nor the local community."
But executing the training schedule demands "assured, predictable access to the facilities where troops can exercise specific capabilities essential to operational readiness, to include night live-fire."
"New guidelines established by the Ministry of Defence preclude the ability to fully replicate a realistic combat environment for training purposes in Slovenia, meaning US readiness requirements cannot be met."
The embassy also stressed that the bilateral relationship "remains strong, and we enjoy extensive cooperation from the working to most senior levels on a wide variety of issues of mutual interest."
It noted US Army Europe Commander Lieutenant-General Christopher Cavoli visited Slovenia this week for meetings with senior leaders on defence issues, with a large US delegation expected at the Three Seas Initiative Summit in Ljubljana in June.
STA, 12 May 2019 - Defence Minister Karl Erjavec has announced that the Slovenian Armed Forces (SAF) have deployed additional soldiers to the border with Croatia to help the police manage the increasing number of illegal crossings of the border.
Speaking to the press on the sidelines of a Victory Day ceremony in Topolšica on Saturday, Erjavec said that the help had been requested by the police, adding that the SAF had more units ready to be deployed at any moment.
According to the SAF, an additional 35 soldiers were deployed on Saturday to the southern border, and the current number of soldiers in the daily shift is 66.
The additional 35 soldiers have been deployed to the area covered by the Ilirska Bistrica police station (SW), while the remaining 31 serve in various locations, the army told the STA.
The police and armed forces have thus responded to the increasing number of illegal crossings of the border, as detected also by the locals living along the border.
The calls for better border control culminated after a 79-year-old local was abducted in his car on Wednesday by four illegal migrants.
Erjavec said on Saturday that he was in constant touch with Interior Minister Boštjan Poklukar regarding the issue, while Police Commissioner Tatjana Bobnar and the army chief-of-staff, Maj-Gen Alenka Ermenc were coordinating the operative measures.
"I can say that we have units ready to boost the presence of the Slovenian army on the southern border at any moment, of course in mixed units with the police," the minister added.
STASTA, 11 May 2019 - Several hundred people gathered in the town of Črnomelj (SE) Saturday afternoon demanding better control of Slovenia's southern border. The rally was called after four illegal migrants abducted an elderly man earlier this week and used his car to drive to the border with Italy [more on that story here].
"Instead of ensuring our safety, those in charge have been telling us that Slovenia is safe and that there is no reason for fear," said Maja Kocjan, the president of the local civil initiative.
The protesters believe that the government and the police are not doing enough to protect the locals living along the border, with many signing a petition with five key demands. Unless they are taken seriously, another rally is to be organised in Ljubljana.
The petitioners demand that the government prevent illegal migrants from crossing the border, provide protection to people and property, and deploy additional police and military officers, if necessary. Calls like "Military to the border!" were heard a number of times during the protest.
The petition also demands changes to the asylum legislation so that people coming from safe countries could not request asylum in the country.
Moreover, the government must also stop procedures for the establishment of migrant registration centres, as protesters fear that these would become permanent migrant centres.
One such centre has been planned for the area of Ilirska Bistrica, a town further west along the southern border, where a civil initiative has been fighting against the centre for months.
Ilirska Bistrica Mayor Emil Rojc, a member of the centre-left Social Democrats (SD), also addressed the rally. Meanwhile, the Črnomelj Mayor Andrej Kavšek was not at the rally.
People have come to Črnomelj from all across the country and it was hard to tell how many of them were locals, according a report by to TV Slovenija.
A number of politicians also joined the protest, among them right-leaning candidates vying in the European Parliament election.
Also there was Janez Janša, the head of the opposition Democrats (SDS), accompanied by several senior members of the party, including MEP Milan Zver. Local initiative head Kocjan is also a member.
Janša told the press that the SDS had been trying to get the demands in the petition enacted for years. He said that they would "continue to pressure those in charge to start listening to the people".
He was critical that Prime Minister Marjan Šarec has not called a meeting of the National Security Council to improve border security, not even after the abduction.
Also at the rally was Marjan Podobnik, the president of the non-parliamentary People's Party (SLS), which had joined forces with the SDS for the 26 May election.
Senior members of the non-parliamentary right-wing Homeland League (DOM) and United Slovenia were also in the crowd.
STA, 8 May 2019 - The opposition Democrats (Slovenska demokratska stranka, SDS) have initiated a motion to exclude healthcare and the army from the uniform system covering wages across the entire public sector, in what could be the dismantling of a complex scheme put in place by an SDS-led government in 2008.
A decade after it was established the system is causing dissatisfaction, in particular when it comes to incentivising the best performers and those with the biggest workload, SDS deputy Jelka Godec told the press on Wednesday. "The most severe anomalies, discrepancies and warnings come from defence and healthcare," she said.
The SDS demands an emergency session of parliament to debate its motion. It proposes that the government prepare an analysis of the system complete with a set of proposals on how to tackle them, which should include the possibility of excluding healthcare and soldiers from the single system.
Janez Janša, the leader of the SDS, wrote on Twitter yesterday that "after 11 years you can see from the Moon what works and that doesn't". He said the single pay system should be preserved for the public administration but "healthcare, the army, police... must go their own way".
The motion comes in the midst of one of the most severe crisis in healthcare, which is faced with the prospect of dozens, perhaps even hundreds of general practitioners leaving the public system due to what they claim are unreasonable workloads.
At several community health centres around the country most if not all GPs have handed their notices in a final escalation of tensions with the government and the public health insurer ZSSS.
In Kranj, one of the areas hit the worst by the doctors' action, almost all GP offices are closed as the doctors use up their remaining holiday days before their notices become effective, leaving the emergency service to do the work of GPs, which has led to long waiting times.
In recent weeks the government has been scrambling to come up with a solution that would be financially sustainable while also placating the doctors, but at this point a solution is not in sight.
The SDS motion dovetails with the demands of doctors, who have long argued that the single pay system is too restrictive, even as they managed to win considerable pay rises in the last few years above what other public sector employees have received.
One trade union of doctors, Praktikum, was even found to have egged on doctors to quit in order to force community health services to hire them as sole proprietors, which would liberate them from some of the bureaucracy while removing any pay restrictions.
But many in government fear any one portion of the public sector leaving the single pay system would lead to its collapse and trigger unbridled pay demands across the public sector that may jeopardise the stability of public finances.
Alenka Forte, who heads the SDS's health committee, however said today that exclusion of healthcare from the single pay system would be "a condition without which it is impossible to start improving Slovenian healthcare."
"Those who want improvements in healthcare must stop with ideology, they should not compare us to Venezuela. We need to look at best practices in the EU and start working on making healthcare serve the patients," she said.
The Public Administration Ministry said in a response that individual profession groups or parts of the public sector leaving the uniform system was not a guarantee that their pay would be regulated in a more appropriate way.
The ministry said that the SDS probably assumed that partial negotiations would make it easier for an individual profession group to get higher pay.
It meanwhile believes that the uniform system provides better possibilities for rewarding best performers and those with the biggest workload. It will soon present to public sector trade unions and negotiate relevant changes to the system.
The ministry also noted that Public Administration Minister Rudi Medved and PM Marjan Šarec had stressed on several occasions that the exit of one or more profession groups from the system could cause it to collapse.
The system would become non-transparent and hard to manage, it said, adding that the "assessment that the wage bill for public sector employees would increase even further is justified."
STA, 6 May 2019 - A series of regional military exercises are getting under way in Slovenia on Monday involving the Slovenian Armed Forces (SAF) and troops from 25 NATO and partner countries. The goal is to make them better prepared to provide security and preserve peace in the region.
Running until 22 June, the exercises will get under way with the tactical exercise dubbed Immediate Response, held under the leadership of United States Army Europe and Slovenian and Croatian armed forces. This will feature close to 3,000 troops from Slovenia, Montenegro, Croatia, Italy, Germany, North Macedonia and Poland.
Slovenia will also host Adriatic Strike, Astral Knight and Immediate Response exercise, designed to build more effective and responsive forces to provide security and maintain peace.
The exercises will also provide an opportunity to build personal, professional, technical and tactical links, the SAF said in a press release.
During the exercises, increased traffic of military vehicles, aircraft and vessels is expected en route to and in the vicinity of the Cerklje ob Krki airbase, the airstrips in Divača and Rakičan, at the SAF's main training grounds in Poček near Postojna, and in and around the Maribor and Ankaran army barracks.
Military convoys will move to the locations mostly by motorways, from border crossings with Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia, in a way to cause the least possible disruption to traffic, the SAF said.
All our stories on Slovenia and NATO are here
STA, 6 May 2019 - A soldiers' trade union has urged MPs to file an ouster motion against Defence Minister Karl Erjavec for his recent dismissal of the army's force commander and his unacceptable attitude to the army. PM Marjan Šarec, on the other hand, expects Erjavec to produce a report on related abuse of the military intelligence service.
In late April, the parliamentary Intelligence Oversight Commission found Erjavec had abused the Defence Ministry's Intelligence and Security Service (OVS) to spy on Brigadier General Miha Škerbinc, the force commander, before sacking him.
Erjavec had asked the OVS to spy on the officer after hearing rumours he had spoken ill of the health of the chief of the general staff, Maj Gen Alenka Ermenc.
The OVS then on 3 April talked to 25 troops only to find out Škerbinc had not gossiped about Ermenc, but the commission said the OVS had no legal basis to do so.
The prime minister's office told the STA on Monday Šarec expected Erjavec to produce a report on the commission's findings and Škerbinc's 5 April replacement.
Commenting for the STA, Erjavec said he would send a report to Šarec and President Borut Pahor as the supreme commander of the Slovenian Armed Forces (SAF) tomorrow or on Wednesday.
He reiterated Škerbinc's dismissal was lawful and the right decision, saying he had dismissed him upon Ermenc's proposal after the brigadier general had lost her trust.
Erjavec added the late-night shooting at the Poček training area which upset the Postojna local community in late March and the alleged gossiping had probably been among the reasons for the dismissal.
He is also convinced he did the right thing to ask the OVS to interview the soldiers about the alleged gossiping about the chief of the general staff's health.
A similar view was expressed by Marjan Miklavčič, a former OVS director, who believes Erjavec did not abuse his powers in the OVS case.
He told private broadcaster POP TV that slandering Ermenc as the chief of the general staff was not innocent gossiping but should be seen as slandering an institution within the SAF.
Erjavec was today again accused of having unlawfully dismissed Škerbinc by the soldiers' trade union, which said in a press release Erjavec had lost their trust.
The union also urged the chair of the parliamentary Defence Committee to call an emergency session to take a stance on Erjavec's "unacceptable conduct".
It would like the committee to engage in a serious debate on the situation in the SAF to avert the negative staffing trends.
Although the union has been pointing to the unbearable conditions in the SAF for several years, there has been no change for the better, it said.
When more funds for the SAF are approved, politics always first thinks about new military equipment, whereas the union believes "it is high time for SAF troops to be put first, alongside a systemic solution to the situation and relationships in the defence system".
Even if Erjavec had identified understaffing as the SAF's most serious problem when he presented his ministerial bid in parliament, "this acute situation has severely deteriorated since he was appointed", the union added.
It labelled Erjavec's actions and attitude detrimental to Slovenia, adding that not even the Slovenian president had responded adequately to the union's warnings.
The union thus expects the committee to condemn Erjavec's conduct and adopt the resolutions it has proposed to improve the government's approach to the defence system.
Meanwhile, Erjavec, who believes he enjoys the trust of Šarec and the coalition, expressed surprise at the union's appeal, saying it went beyond its powers.
All our stories about the military in Slovenia are here
STA, 12 April 2019 - Brigadier General Miha Škerbinc has filed an objection to his dismissal as the army's force commander over late night shooting at the Poček training area, the newspaper Večer reported on Friday. The soldiers' trade union, which represents Škerbinc, claims he acted lawfully and demands an apology from the defence minister.
Defence Minister Karl Erjavec dismissed Škerbinc last Friday at the proposal of the chief of the general staff, Major-General Alenka Ermenc.
He said one of the reasons for the dismissal was the incident at the Poček training area, when shooting with heavy weapons late at night upset the local community at the end of March.
Erjavec said his instruction not to conduct training using heavy weapons after 11 PM had been ignored in this case.
Since Škerbinc is not allowed to give statements, he is represented in the public by his lawyer and the Trade Union of Slovenian Soldiers led by Gvido Novak.
"Brigadier Miha Škerbinc has no possibility to defend himself either from a public lynch or in any proceeding over alleged violations, which in my firm belief did not happen," Novak told Večer.
He is convinced that the dismissal of the army's force commander had been illegal, because "there were no professional grounds for his replacement."
Novak claims Škerbinc followed all the regulations and guidelines of the General Staff of the Slovenian Armed Forces during the late night training.
Novak believes Ermenc confirmed that there were no violations when she told the press that the shooting practice had been conducted in line with an agreement between the Defence Ministry and the Postojna municipality.
At the press conference she even quoted parts of the agreement, saying that except in the summer months, night shootings can be conducted up to ten days a month without any restrains to the duration of the shooting or the calibres used.
The trade union says on its web site that shooting at Poček is allowed at night time as well and that Škerbinc had received such instructions from the General Staff also in connection to the exercise conducted with US troops at the end of last month.
Škerbinc said in the objection to his dismissal that he had not received any instruction regarding shooting at Poček and the trade union thinks the minister cannot even give such instructions to the army's force commander.
According to Škerbinc both the government and ministry as well as the Postojna municipality had known that the shooting would take place at night as well.
The defence minister had also signed the plan for joint exercise with US troops, where all activities and the type of ammunition used had been specified, Škerbinc said.
The trade union published a part of this document on its web site.
Škerbinc also responded to media speculation that a reason for his dismissal could be his spreading of rumours about Ermenc's health problems. He said that a probe by the Defence Ministry's intelligence agency had shown he had not been involved.
He said his statements had been taken out of context and misinterpreted.
Rumours about Ermenc's health problems started last month after she was absent from work for about two weeks. President Borut Pahor as the supreme commander of the Slovenian Armed Forces, and Erjavec denied speculation that she might be replaced.
Ermenc denied media reports that she was treated at the Ljubljana psychiatric hospital and is now suing the news portal Požareport, which first reported this, for libel.
She said she had been in home care between 9 and 21 March due to an illness.
The trade union also sent a letter to Prime Minister Marjan Šarec today, demanding an apology from Erjavec over his statement for Večer in reference to the Poček incident.
"If the army disobeyed orders ... Will they shoot at Postojna next?" Erjavec was quoted as saying by the paper.
Novak finds it inadmissible for the defence minster to poke fun of lawful actions of the army's force commander and thus making fun of all members of the Slovenian Armed Forces.
The trade union also informed President Borut Pahor as the supreme commander of the statement, demanding that he took a stance. It also demands an emergency session of the parliamentary Defence Committee.
All our stories on the military are here
STA, 1 April 2019 - President Borut Pahor, the supreme commander of the Slovenian Armed Forces, and Defence Minister Karl Erjavec have endorsed Maj Gen Alenka Ermenc, the chief of the general staff, after there have been speculations in the media over her possible replacement.
Pahor said on Monday he "could not imagine a third replacement at the head of the army in a year," referring to Ermenc replacing last November Alan Geder, who was at the post only nine months after replacing Andrej Osterman in February 2018.
The president stressed he did not see any valid reasons for Ermenc to be dismissed or resign.
Erjavec also expressed his support for the chief of the general staff, saying that he had not considered replacing her. He believes the military needs to be on the same page and dedicated to improving its state.
Slovenia's first female chief of the general staff and currently the only woman serving in such a position in NATO was reported to be losing the coalition's support due to a rumoured dispute between her and Erjavec, the government's general dissatisfaction with her work, and possible health reasons.
The Defence Ministry dismissed the health-related rumours, releasing a statement on Monday, which said that Ermenc was fit for duty and was able to carry out her tasks without any restrictions.
Ermenc returned to work on 22 March after taking a sick leave and will report on the state of the Slovenian Armed Forces to the president on Friday along with Erjavec.
Pahor pointed out that Slovenia had increased the military budget and called for joint support of Ermenc and her efforts to regenerate and modernise the military, thus fulfilling the 2020 goal of the army's positive assessment, set up by Erjavec in November last year.
All our stories about the military are here