Ljubljana related

24 May 2019, 17:41 PM

STA, 24 May 2019 - All the latest public opinion polls ahead of Sunday's EU elections see the joint list of the Democrats and People's Party (SDS+SLS) as the front runner, followed by the Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ) and Social Democrats (SD).

New Slovenia (NSi), the Left and the Pensioners Party (DeSUS) also appear to be serious contenders for an MEP seat, while the prospects of the Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB) and National Party (SNS) seem to be more remote.

Overview of the latest public opinion polls ahead of the 26 May elections to the European Parliament

                 Ninamedia*  Valicon**   Parsifal***
SDS-SLS                25.0       22.1       16.4
LMŠ                    20.6       18.9       15.5
SD                     15.0       15.8       12.6
NSi                    10.4        7.7        3.3
Left                    8.3        5.9        4.1
DeSUS                   7.3        5.5        7.4
SAB                     4.3        5.0        2.8
SNS                     3.2        6.2        3.3
Greens of Slovenia      2.5        2.8        0.5
SMC                     1.5        4.0        0.2
Let's Connect           0.7        1.2        0.8
Good State              0.5        1.8        0.9
Homeland League         0.4        1.9        0.5
ZSi                     0.3        1.1        0.4
Don't know               /          /        28.9

*Ninamedia: projection based on telephone poll conducted between 20-23 May, 675 respondents
**Valicon: projection based on web panel survey on 21-22 May, 1,012 respondents
***Parsifal: poll conducted 20-22 May, 683 respondents, undecided voters included in final tally

03 May 2019, 08:03 AM

Get the headlines every morning here, while the events scheduled for the next week can be found here

A review of major events in the week between 26 April and 2 May, as prepared by the STA:

FRIDAY, 26 April
        LJUBLJANA - The parliamentary commission in charge of overseeing intelligence and security services accused Defence Minister Karl Erjavec of abusing the military intelligence service to dismiss Brigadier Miha Škerbinc as the force commander of the Slovenian Armed Forces. Erjavec, who denies the charge, appointed Brigadier Milan Žurman Škerbinc's successor effective on 30 April.
        LJUBLJANA - Foreign Minister Miro Cerar and his visiting Norwegian counterpart Ine Marie Eriksen Soreide noted the good relationship between the two countries. Norway and Slovenia "are in many ways two similar-minded countries", Cerar said.
        LJUBLJANA/BRUSSELS, Belgium - Perceived independence of judges remains a sore spot for Slovenia's judiciary, according to the 2019 EU Justice Scoreboard. The country placed 22nd, based on 2017 data, a two-spot improvement over the year before. The country has considerably reduced court backlogs.
        LJUBLJANA - A poll released by POP TV on the first day of the election campaign gave the joint list of the opposition Democrats (SDS) and the non-parliamentary People's Party (SLS) 12.3% of the vote, followed by the coalition SocDems with 12.2%. PM Marjan Šarec's LMŠ polled at 10.1% and the opposition National Party (SNS) at 7.2%.
        BRUSSELS, Belgium - Some 75% of Slovenians who took part in the most recent Eurobarometer survey feel that being a member of the EU has benefited their country. Some 37% feel the EU is no longer on the right track, while 38% feel that way about Slovenia.
        LJUBLJANA - Retail group Mercator posted EUR 1.6m in net profit for last year, an improvement over its EUR 184m loss in the year before. Sales revenue was up by 1.2% year-on-year, reaching EUR 2.18bn. Revenue from retail, the group's core business, increased by 3.2% to EUR 1.63bn.
        KRANJ - The recently sold Gorenjska Banka doubled its pre-tax profit to EUR 20.68m in 2018. Net profit nearly tripled compared to the year before, amounting to EUR 17.1m, showed the annual report.
        MARIBOR - The newspaper publisher Večer offloaded its entire magazine portfolio to focus on general interest media as it prepares to merge with rival newspaper publisher Dnevnik. The magazines have been sold to three companies that are part of a sprawling media empire controlled by Martin Odlazek, seen by many as one of the most influential people in Slovenia.

SATURDAY, 27 April
        JELŠANE - Some 400 locals living along the border near the Jelšane crossing staged a rally demanding better border protection and rejecting the idea of their community hosting a processing centre for migrants.
        LJUBLJANA - President Borut Pahor described Resistance Day as a "glorious day" that celebrates rebellion against attempts to destroy the Slovenian nation. Rebellious people risked their lives and resisted are patriots who deserve respect and admiration notwithstanding what accompanied the national liberation struggle, he said.
        LJUBLJANA - Ratings agency Moody's upgraded Slovenia's outlook to stable from positive as it kept its country rating at Baa1. The outlook was changed due to the government effective response to issues exposed by the debt crisis, the Finance Ministry said.
        LJUBLJANA - A total of 103 candidates running on 14 lists will vie for eight seats allotted to Slovenia in the European Parliament, showed the final tally by the National Electoral Commission. There will be 51 women on the ballot and 52 men and six lists, including by five parliamentary parties, have made women their top candidates.

SUNDAY, 28 April
        LJUBLJANA - The government's approval rating improved by 3.6 p.p. in Aril compared to March to stand at 56%, showed a poll commissioned by POP TV. Support for the senior coalition Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ) grew as well, to 17% from 16.5%. The LMŠ is followed by the opposition Democrats (SDS), which lost more than one point to 14.3%, showed the poll by Mediana.
        BRUSSELS, Belgium - Slovenia is seen as a stable, constructive and pro-European country which however does not fully use the potential to play the role a small country can play in the EU, Slovenia's former European Commissioner Janez Potočnik told the STA ahead of the 15th anniversary of Slovenia's EU accession.
        LJUBLJANA - Data from the National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ) showed 47 people died in Slovenia in 2017 of causes related to drug abuse, seven more than in 2016. Drug-related deaths have been rising since 2013.

MONDAY, 29 April
        BERLIN, Germany - PM Marjan Šarec stressed as one of the participants the informal summit on the Western Balkans that the much needed agreement between Kosovo and Serbia would have to be in line with international law, well coordinated and comprehensive. Šarec highlighted Slovenia's support to the region on its Euroatlantic path.
        LJUBLJANA - The recently privatised NLB announced it will issue EUR 45m in subordinated notes with a ten-year maturity on 6 May. The bonds will have a fixed coupon rate of 4.2% in the first five years.
        KRANJ - The AGM of Gorenjska Banka, which is in 98.27% ownership of Serbian AIK Banka, squeezed out small shareholders. It will pay EUR 298 a share to owners of a total of 6,166 shares, the price per share offered in the recent takeover.
        LJUBLJANA - It was confirmed that the Competition Protection Agency's (AVK) approved on 25 April the sale of Slovenia-based sports equipment maker Elan to the Finnish-owned KJK fund.
        CELJE - Cetis, one of the top printing companies in Europe specialising in secure documents, posted a group net profit of EUR 2.4m, down 67.6% over the year before. The group's revenue dropped by 2.2% to EUR 59.7m.
        SAMOBOR, Croatia - Representatives of the largest trade union confederations of Slovenia and Croatia had their annual Labour Day get-together to adopt a joint statement which calls for prudent reflection and a broad social consensus when it comes to plans to increase the retirement age. The statement is titled 67 is Too Much.

TUESDAY, 30 April
        LJUBLJANA - The Ljubljana Local Court drastically reduced the fine originally issued to the opposition Democrats (SDS) in connection to the first of its two violations of the political parties act, while only issuing a reprimand as opposed to a fine in connection to the second. The court maintains the SDS broke rules on party funding with two illegal loans taken out in 2017.
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenia's annual inflation rate in April was at 1.7%, up 0.1 percentage points compared to March, while 0.8% inflation was recorded on the monthly level. Annual inflation was mostly driven by higher prices of energy, and monthly inflation by dearer holidays and footwear, the Statistics Office said.
        LJUBLJANA - The Swedish news portal Nordic Monitor claimed it had obtained secret documents revealing that diplomats working at the Turkish Embassy in Ljubljana spied on a number of critics of Turkey's government and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Foreign Ministry said it was not familiar with the report and did not want to comment.
        LJUBLJANA - Tourism and media group DZS posted EUR 2.5m in net profit last year, an improvement over the EUR 91,000 in profit generated the year before. Sales revenue was at EUR 87m, slightly higher than in 2017.

WEDNESDAY, 1 May
        RAVNE NA KOROŠKEM - Addressing a Labour Day ceremony in Ravne na Koroškem, Prime Minister Marjan Šarec said that Labour Day was not an ideological holiday but a "holiday of good people, who like to spend time together, who work hard every day and who love their country."
        LJUBLJANA - President Borut Pahor urged Slovenians to cast their votes in the upcoming European elections in an interview with the STA ahead the 15th anniversary of Slovenia's joining the EU, observed on 1 May. "All of us, who see the EU as brining a future of peace, security, prosperity and the future for our children have the obligation to do something ... It is our responsibility to encourage people to vote," he said.
        WARSAW, Poland - Foreign Minister Miro Cerar attended a ceremony in Warsaw marking the 15th anniversary of the accession of ten countries to the EU. He said that "the EU is strong because it is united by its diversity and differences, big and small".

THURSDAY, 2 May
        LJUBLJANA - Both Slovenian journalist associations, the DNS and ZNP, took the opportunity of World Press Freedom Day, 3 May, to urge a comprehensive overhaul of media legislation. The DNS highlighted the increasing concentration of power in the hands of ever fewer media players who care strictly about business as opposed to quality journalism.

24 Apr 2019, 15:54 PM

EU must resist populism

STA, 24 April 2019 - Prime Minister Marjan Šarec warned of the danger of populism in an interview with the Associated Press, arguing that the EU needed more efficient leadership to successfully counter the populist surge.

Mainstream officials and parties have failed to deter right-wing groups, and populists are advancing in Europe because moderate parties have not been successful with their agenda, he said in an interview released on Tuesday.

Šarec cited prolonged Brexit talks as an example of the EU's slow decision-making, even though he said that delaying Britain's departure from the bloc was nevertheless positive.

"Brexit is quite good example how things are done in European Union, endless debates, then the date of exit is coming, then we are faced with it and we prolong again," he said.

"We need another leadership ... we need such leaders that will be proactive that will be more capable of fast decisions."

Turning to the upcoming elections to the European Parliament, Šarec also warned that elections are "always unpredictable," even though projections indicate mainstream parties will retain the majority.

"You can never know what will occur on the elections and that's the main problem that we have now," he said.

He compared the current situation in Europe with the late 1930s and the actions of the British prime minister at the time, Nevil Chamberlain, who he said believed Hitler when he sought to negotiate rather than confront him.

Still, he said, "there is always a chance and we must act in that way."

Slovenia needs a proactive, balanced foreign policy

STA, 24 April 2019 - Prime Minister Marjan Šarec made the case for a proactive and balanced foreign policy as he addressed Slovenian diplomats gathered for their annual consultation on Wednesday.

"Some events in the world and in our immediate neighbourhood which raise doubt about the universally established principles of international relations, international law and European values affirm my conviction that such conduct must be resisted with a proactive European and foreign policy," he said.

For small countries with restricted resources, being principled and consistent, and having clear priorities, is crucial. "Slovenian diplomacy has all that."

Highlighting Slovenia's "continued commitment to a strong and effective EU and a firm transatlantic alliance," Šarec said it needed to remain in the most integrated group of EU countries and join forces with like-minded countries in strengthening the bloc's foundations. This will also be the guiding line of Slovenia's EU presidency in the second half of 2021.

A functioning EU is in Slovenia's interest, which requires addressing shortcomings and casting aside bad practices. "Member states must be treated equally and European institutions and their representatives must work in the interest of all member states and in accordance with European values."

Turning to the upcoming EU elections, Šarec was hopeful that "integrative and forward-looking European forces will prevail." He also has high hopes about the performance of EU institutions after the vote since "their conduct will largely determine the future development of the EU."

Šarec also highlighted Western Balkans as a region of strategic importance and said Slovenia wanted to shortly see North Macedonia and Albania making progress towards the EU.

Implementation of the border arbitration agreement with Croatia would also be an important message to the region, he said, reiterating the long-standing position that Croatia's refusal to implement the deal is "unacceptable and raises concern about the state of the rule of law."

Despite challenges, Šarec wants a strengthening of relations with all neighbours in areas of shared interest. But it is also important that Slovenia expand its circle of partners and strengthen bilateral ties with other countries with shared interests.

"It is important that we are responsive to the developments in the international community and to constantly seek alliances and opportunities," he said.

Šarec also highlighted the need to pursue a balanced foreign policy, play an active role in international institutions, and actively participate in the preservation of international peace and security, including by investing in the defence and security system.

The prime minister also urged economic officers working at diplomatic missions to leverage economic diplomacy to help Slovenian companies penetrate foreign markets and promote Slovenia as a location for foreign direct investment.

23 Apr 2019, 17:50 PM

STA, 23 April 2019 - Commenting on the ongoing EU election race, the right-wing weekly Reporter says in its latest editorial that the newly-established party Homeland League (DOM) is not likely to eat away votes to the opposition Democrats (SDS).

According to the latest poll by Mediana, the Slovenian right will be defeated on the election Sunday, 26 May, as the lists of the SDS and the non-parliamentary People's Party (SLS) as well as the opposition New Slovenia (NSi) are projected to win only three MEP seats, editor-in-chief Silvester Šurla says.

The joint SDS-SLS slate is expected to win the most votes, but only two of Slovenia's eight MEP seats. It could also win a third one by a hair's breadth, just like the SDS did five years ago.

Perhaps it will also manage to win three seats this year because of the alliance with the SLS. However, according to the latest polls, winning four MEPs is not likely, Šurla notes.

The NSi is also not likely to repeat its historic victory from 2004, when the first European election was held in Slovenia and the party won as many as two MEPs.

In the end, the left and right may very well each win four seats, just like ten years ago, Šurla says under the headline Race for Million Euro.

The centre-left has slightly more voters although they are inclined to change party preferences. Most of them currently favour the coalition Social Democrats (SD), which are projected to win two MEPs, while the senior coalition Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ) and the opposition Left would each get one.

Meanwhile, voters of the centre-right, are much more decided. This is why Šurla expects no major flow of SDS voters to the Homeland League, which does not even appear in opinion polls yet.

Perhaps, DOM could cost the SDS-SLS list of candidates only the third potential MEP seat, Šurla concludes.

Keep up with news on politics in Slovenia here, and follow the European elections here

08 Apr 2019, 15:15 PM

STA, 6 April 2019 - Some 200 delegates gathered for the founding congress of the new far-right party in Ljubljana on Saturday. The first project of the Homeland League (Domovinska Liga), using the acronym DOM (home), will be standing in the EU election.

Bernard Brščič, a former senior aide to opposition Democrats (SDS) leader Janez Janša who works as an economist for power grid operator Eles, was elected president today.

Lucija Šikovec Ušaj, a lawyer who ran on the SDS ticket in the general election but later left the party because she thought it was too soft on migrations, was elected vice president.

Brščič told the press after the congress that DOM had no "uncles from behind the scenes". "This is not a project of Milan Kučan nor Janez Janša nor Vladimir Putin. It's an own-grown project that has emerged because the situation in the Slovenian political arena and in Europe is mature for the kind of platform DOM offers," he said.

The motto of the new party is Forward Slovenia. "We will always claim that the mission of the Slovenian state is to provide for the safety and well-being of Slovenian citizens. We also see the EU as a means to this end and not a goal, and we judge it by the way it contributes to the safety and well-being of Slovenian citizens."

"We claim that Slovenia is our homeland and we will not share it with anyone," said Brščič, a leading ideologue of the Slovenian alt-right.

The party, which was officially registered on 26 February, has already started collecting signatures of support for its candidacy in the upcoming EU election. The party's list of candidates will include Brščič and Šikovec Ušaj, but no other candidates have been revealed.

According to Brščič, DOM does not plan to join the European People's Party (EPP) but offer a new platform. The party is modelled on the Italian League and Fidesz in Hungary.

The party also elected an eight-member executive board and the secretary general today.

19 Mar 2019, 11:44 AM

STA, 18 March 2019 - A new far-right party is emerging on the Slovenian political scene two months before the EU election, modelled on the Italian League and Fidesz in Hungary, and drawing on former and current supporters of the opposition Democrats (SDS). It is seen as complementary with, or a competition to, the SDS.

Called the Homeland League (Domovinska liga) and using the acronym DOM (home), the party has a Twitter account and has so far sent out broad outlines of its policies, centred around opposition to migrations, to LGBT-friendly policies and to EU federalism.

One tweet reads that the party sees French President Emanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the European People's Party (EPP) top candidate Manfred Weber as "destroyers of the EU".

"The European spring is coming, the spring of European nations... The European spring is symbolised by the sovereignist bloc under the leadership of Matteo Salvini. The Homeland League wishes to be a part of that undertaking," another tweet reads.

The party was officially registered on 26 February, which means that it had to satisfy the statutory requirement of having at least 200 members, and is provisionally headed by Žiga Jereb, a former mid-ranking member of the SDS who is largely unknown among the general public.

Quizzed by Dnevnik newspaper, Jereb did not specify what his current relationship with the SDS is, but the paper said in a report published on Saturday that individuals who parted ways with the SDS form the core of the Homeland League.

While remaining somewhat secretive until it formally presents its programme on 6 April, the party already has some visible supporters.

One of them is Bernard Brščič, a former senior aide to SDS leader Janez Janša who works as economist for power grid operator Eles and has become a leading ideologue of the Slovenian alt-right.

A leading proponent of the White Genocide theory, which holds that brown Muslims are bent on displacing whites with high fertility and terrorism, he uses Twitter to disseminate anti-Muslim and anti-immigration messages.

He has often warned against proponents of a "multiculti" society and "negroids" invading what he says is becoming "EUrabia".

Brščič is also a staunch supporter of the Generation of Identity, the Slovenian version of the identitarian movement. He wrote the foreword to a book the group published with Nova Obzorja, a book and magazine publisher co-owned by the SDS.

Brščič has confirmed he is in talks with the Homeland League to become their top candidate for the EU election and participated in drawing up the party's platform, though he is not a member.

Quizzed by the STA, he described himself as having "unparalleled experience and knowledge of the political situation in Europe" and said he doubted the party "will have a better candidate than me."

Some of DOM's positions

Another prominent supporter is Lucija Šikovec Ušaj, a lawyer who ran on the SDS ticket in the general election but later left the SDS because she thought the party was too soft on migrations.

Šikovec Ušaj is currently the legal counsel of Andrej Šiško, who is on trial for inciting to subvert the constitutional order with a local militia he formed in Maribor called the Štajerska Guard.

She is also a regular columnist for nova24tv.si, the web portal of the TV station co-owned by senior SDS members and businessmen with close ties to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

She rose to prominence on social media with staunch anti-immigrant rhetoric and is currently being processed by the disciplinary body of the Bar Association for hate speech against migrants.

The emergence of the party is seen by some as an attempt to brandish the image of the SDS, which has veered far to the right in recent years, and move it back towards the centre.

Reporter, a right-leaning magazine, says in Monday's commentary that the Homeland League is "a satellite of the SDS, which appears to want to move back to the centre ahead of the election and leave the space on the right to its loudest and most controversial extremists."

The paper says this tactic could help the SDS effectively secure an extra MEP, but it argues the move could also potentially backfire.

News portal Siol similarly says in a report released on Monday that the move helps the SDS in that the new party is conceived as a "special purpose vehicle onto which the SDS will shift the most radical portion of the party."

It says this would help SDS leader Janez Janša keep a part of his base while still coming across as "more moderate and less radical and Orbanite."

According to Siol, such a move is the latest in Janša's long history of founding or subjugating rightist parties, which function as "planets that circle around a single sun following predictable orbits."

But there are also reports suggesting the party is a project not controlled by the SDS.

Commercial broadcaster Kanal A said in a report last week it had unofficial information indicating that SDS leader Janša is "very angry" at Brščič and Ušaj.

Political analyst Andraž Zorko described the new party for the news portal Zurnal24 as an attempt to consolidate the far-right base so that it could support the SDS from the fringe.

But while the move is designed to consolidate votes previously picked up by multiple parties, "it could also invariably chip off some votes from the SDS and the People's Party (SLS), if the latter plays the anti-migration card as it did in the general election," he said.

Keep up with Slovenian politics here

18 Jan 2019, 11:50 AM

STA, 17 January 2019 - President Borut Pahor and the leaders of parliamentary parties decided on Thursday to draft changes to the electoral law following a Constitutional Court decision before the parliament's summer recess. However, neither the idea to change electoral districts nor the idea to abolish them enjoys enough support.

Pahor met the party leaders to see how they feel about possible amendments to electoral legislation after the top court declared last December the legislative provisions determining the size of electoral districts for general elections unconstitutional.

Since the number of constituents differs greatly from one district to another, the votes of those who cast their ballots in smaller districts count more than those cast in larger districts.

Slovenia has ten electoral units, including two single-seat constituencies for the Italian and Hungarian minorities. Each of the remaining eight units is divided into eleven districts to elect 88 MPs.

The Constitutional Court ordered the National Assembly to amend the legislation within two years, but did not decree by what method.

Pahor stressed at today's meeting that the legislation should be changed before the next election, which would be called in the spring 2022 at the latest, so as to avoid doubt about them being in line with the Constitution.

The minimum change to make the legislation constitutional would entail changing the size of electoral districts, which would require the support of at least 46 MPs in the 90-member legislature.

But if voters are to have more say about who will be elected MP, the electoral districts should be abolished, and party lists and preferential votes introduced. This would, however, require a two-third majority in the National Assembly or at least 60 votes.

Currently neither of the two proposals has enough support.

Pahor said as he spoke to the press after the meeting that experts would be invited to take part in the drawing up of the changes. He is also to meet the prime minister and the government secretary general in the coming days to discuss how government services could assist in this process.

Experts and negotiators from each deputy group will hold regular meetings to draw up the changes and Pahor will act as a coordinator. A task force will be set up to look into the possibilities of changing electoral districts, the president said.

The views of the parties on the changes remain unchanged. The coalition Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ), Modern Centre Party (SMC), Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB), and the opposition New Slovenia (NSi), Left and the National Party (SNS) favour abolishing electoral districts and introducing a preference vote at the level of the electoral units, but disagree over whether the preference vote should be absolute or relative.

The largest opposition faction, the Democrats (SDS), has been advocating a majoritarian system but its leader Janez Janša did not give any statements today. He said on Twitter that the SDS supported any change to the electoral system which would increase the influence of voters to MP's election and help decentralise the country.

Matej T. Vatovec of the Left said that merely changing electoral districts, which could not be geographically united, would be a waste of time. He urged parties not to delay the changes.

SNS head Zmago Jelinčič said that changing electoral districts would be difficult and Maša Kociper of the SAB said that merely changing the size of the districts would not increase voters' influence. She said that it was evident that the older, established parties did not want change.

The coalition SocDems and the Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) did not give any statements today and have so far been reserved about the changes or against abolishing electoral districts.

14 Jan 2019, 11:45 AM

STA, 14 January 2018 - The party of Prime Minister Marjan Šarec has gained ground in the latest poll run by the newspaper Delo to reduce the gap separating it from the top ranking opposition Democrats (SDS) to 2.3 percentage points.

 

Having dominated the rankings for more than half a year, the SDS lost almost two percentage points from the month before to 16.2%, whereas the Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ) jumped more than 5 points to 13.9%.

This means that the margin between the SDS, the plurality winner of the June general election, and the runner-up LMŠ was reduced more than four-fold from ten points in December.

The Left, the government's partner in the opposition, trails at 6.8%, which is roughly level with the month before, but the party has advanced from fourth to third.

This was as the Social Democrats (SD) slipped back from second to fourth spot after losing four points to 6.5%.

Our guides to most of Slovenia’s many political parties can be found here

Delo notes that this is the first time since the June election that the poll has showed major differences in rankings between the five coalition parties.

The Modern Centre Party (SMC) of Foreign Minister Miro Cerar has lost over one percentage point to 3.7%.

The opposition New Slovenia (NSi) ranks fifth on 5.4%, 1.2 points up from the month before, followed by the National Party (SNS) on 4.1%, up 0.9 points.

Meanwhile, the Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB) and Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) changed places so that the SAB now polled at 3.4% and DeSUS at 2%.

The non-parliamentary People's Party (SLS) lost 2.5 points to 3%.

The proportion of undecided increased to more than a fifth (21.2%) with a further 7.1% saying they would not vote for any of the parties and 2.6% not wishing to answer the question.

The voter approval rating for the government and parliament also improved to 3.09 and 2.81 on a scale of one to five, from 3.01 and 2.72, respectively, the month before.

President Borut Pahor continues to top the ranking of the most popular politicians ahead of PM Šarec and EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc.

NSi leader Matej Tonin advanced to fourth while SD leader and parliamentary Speaker Dejan Židan slipped a point to sixth. SAB leader Alenka Bratušek trails in 14th, Cerar in 15th and DeSUS leader Karl Erjavec in 20th.

Commenting on the increasing approval ratings for Šarec, the government and now also Šarec's list, Delo attributes them to low expectations for the minority government at the start of its term.

"Distribution of public funds which many feel in their pockets has made an impression. Higher are social benefits, minimum wages and per capita municipality income," Delo comments ion the front-page commentary.

"Almost 700,000 public employees have at least 4% more and many hope for more yet. White collars, who take the credit for the Cerar government ending its term early, are happy for the time being.

"However, the real challenges that will show what the government is made of are yet coming. The first ones will be the supplementary budget, healthcare, preparations for a pension reform and when we have to show how we are in fact prepared for the economy's cooling."

The poll was conducted by Mediana among 743 respondents between 3 and 10 January.

06 Jan 2019, 15:09 PM

January 6, 2019

2018 was marked with several centenaries, WWI in particular, as well as two elections and the emergence of a new political star, a comedian turned politician, Marjan Šarec, who made a name for himself as an impersonator of various politicians, including the current opposition leader Janez Janša.

PyeongChang Winter Olympics

The year began with a pre-Olympic scandal. Biathlete Jakov Fak stepped down as a candidate for flagbearer at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, because some were bothered by his Croatian origin. Fak then won a silver in the men's 20km individual biathlon competition and became the highest ranking Slovenian competitor at the Games. A second, bronze medal was won by Žan Košir in the parallel giant slalom.

Slovenian president Borut Pahor was also in PyeongChang. He cheered for Slovenian sportsmen and then visited the demilitarised zone between the two Koreas. He describes the situation at the border in the following words: “Sorry to say, but this is bizarre.”

Slovenian armed forces

Also in February, a NATO evaluation of the 72 brigade of the Slovenian army marked it as “combat not ready” in four out of five fields of scrutiny.  The Chief of General Staff of the Slovenian armed forces was thus replaced with Alan Geder, who remained in office until November, when he was replaced by the first female chief of a NATO army, Major General Alenka Ermenc.

Read more about the Slovenian military here.

Public sector on strike

The first two months of 2018 were also marked by several major strikes in the public sector, with staff demanding that the remaining austerity measures be removed.

A second wave of public sector strikes forced the Minister of Public Administration, Boris Koprivnikar, to resign. The Secretary General of the Government, Lilijana Kozćovič, then took over as the chief government negotiator.

By March 12th it seemed that negotiations were coming to an end, when just a few hours later the proposed agreement is abandoned and another strike is confirmed for March 14th. On this same day Prime Minister Miro Cerar resigns from his post, although for different reasons.

Second track of the Divača-Koper railway and resignation of PM Cerar

“Today was the last straw” said Miro Cerar, who resigned as Prime Minister after the Supreme Court declared the second track referendum invalid due to a biased government campaign.

Although the infrastructure project does not really need a new law to commence, certain other claims of the government in relation to this project raised eyebrows, including one that insists on Hungary investing €200 million in the project, a 1/5 of the cost, which would give the Hungarian party a 49% share in the project’s 2TDK company.

Campaign

With Cerar gone, Pahor decided not to look for another Prime Minister but to set an early election date instead. Regular parliamentary elections were expected for June 10, and it was initially suggested that early elections would take place in the second half of May.  

NSi (the former Christian Democrats) seize the opportunity for an eventual right-leaning coalition by replacing their party leader. Ljudmila Novak is thus replaced with Matej Tonin, hoping the latter will have more success in dealing with the SDS’ leader Janez Janša.

The SDS was believed to be financing its campaign using Hungarian money obtained via their media outlets such as Nova24TV and Demokracija. Janša was on the search for campaign resources himself, borrowing €450,000 from an alleged Bosnian businesswoman Dijana Đuđić, who is unable to show where the money came from. 

Why did Janša not borrow the money from a Slovenian bank? “NLB laundered a billion euros for terrorists, if this is a more credible institution, I don't know where we live”, Janša answered.

Investigations

Several parliamentary investigations came to an end in 2018. One of them was that into the bank liquidity gap under the leadership of SDS Anže Logar. The results revealed suspicious to businesses  in the Balkans and Russia, where the money seems to have disappeared without a trace. The commission indicted many of the bankers in charge at the time, who were unable to remember anything during interrogations.

Because the commission didn’t investigate money laundering in detail, another investigative commission was established, headed by Janko Moderndoerfer of the SMC party, which also investigates the problematic SDS loan. The commission found out that Iranian citizen Iraj Farrokhzadeh and his business with the NLB (Nova Ljubljanska Banka) was not a case of an individual doing business in Slovenia, but rather part of an Iranian state bank scheme to break through financial sanctions with the use of the Slovenian state-owned bank. The commission issued no indictment against those responsible at NLB, as their actions were “not criminal offences”. Unlike NLB, the investigation into NKBM (Nova Komunalna Banka Maribor) revealed strong suspicions of money laundering by Italian organised crime syndicates as well as Slovenian citizens, some of them even bank employees. One person indicted was Primož Britovšek, who joined the bank on the invitation of the board president Aleš Hauc as a deputy chief for money laundering and terrorism financing prevention although he proved to have no adequate knowledge for the post.

All our stories on money laundering are here.

The investigation into the vascular stents procurements in Slovenian hospitals also came to an end with seven indictments to the relevant authorities, revealing one of the fields of systemic corruption of the Slovenian health system.

President Pahor discovers his Barbie origins

Meanwhile the Slovenian president continued to entertain the public with his Instagram posts. His first notable post of the year, in which he complains about his wrinkles is followed by another in which he discovers why he was destined to become Barbie.

Elections and the new minority coalition

Meanwhile, the election campaigns formed around the migration crisis, problems on the border with Croatia, selling NLB, public sector strikes, corrupt bankers and a disintegrating health system.

The polls showed a high possibility of an SDS victory, although in the debates nobody seemed to be willing to join a coalition with the SDS leader Janez Janša, who eventually takes 24.96% of all the votes, far ahead of the runner up Marjan Šarec’ List 12.66%. President Borut Pahor does his job and first proposes Janša as the Prime Minister and coalition leader. Janša fails to gather the support of 46 votes in the 90-seat strong parliament to make the government operationally possible and steps back into the opposition, while Marjan Šarec forms a left-leaning minority government with a support of Levica (aka the Left), who decide to remain in the opposition. The coalition agreement includes raising the minimum wage and pensions, as well as lower taxation of labour, supplemented by higher capital gains tax.

All our stories on the elections are here.

Disputes with Croatia: NLB and maritime border arbitration decision

In 2013 the then leader of the Slovenia, Alenka Bratušek, claimed to have saved the government from bankruptcy by promising to privatise NLB in return for state recapitalisation of the bank, which in the years 2011, 2012 and 2013 amounted to €2.2 billion, in addition to €2.3 billion of the bank’s bad debts that were transferred to The Banks Assets Management Company (BAMC), or the so-called “Bad Bank”. 

In 2018 NLB (Nova Ljubljanska Banka, since 1994) lost two cases with regard to the Croatian savers in LB (Ljubljanska Banka, until 1994), an issue Slovenia wants to put in the context of other remaining issues that originate from the dissolution of Yugoslavia. However, the bank might now need to pay about €400 million to the Croatian savers, which is why before the elections the SDS tried to pass a constitutional law that would presumably protect the bank from having to make such payments.  

A Croatian company from Umag extended its shellfish farm in the Bay of Piran, which Croatia continues to treat as part of its territory, while for Slovenia the arbitration decision on the disputed territories – which grants Slovenia most of the Bay – entered into force on January 2018. Slovenia wrote a protest letter to the European Commission, but no one seemed to take it seriously. Slovenia hence decided to file a lawsuit against Croatia for not following the arbitration agreement.

More problems in the health department

In February Aleš Šabeder took up leadership of the chaotic University Medical Centre in Ljubljana. Soon he faced mounting problems at the paediatric heart surgery department, where due to in-fighting there is a continual loss of surgeons. By the end of 2018 the health minister Milojka Kolar Celarc found an ad hoc solution by establishing a National Institute for Congenital Heart Disease, which would allow hiring foreign doctors on much higher pay than domestic ones, a move which now appears to be causing more problems than it solves.

All our stories on Slovenian healthcare are here.

September 13: New government’s constitutional session

The first surprises came with the first session of the new government. Ministers confirmed new state secretaries, among them Damir Črnčec, who became National Security Secretary in the Prime Minister’s cabinet. A former close colleague of Janez Janša, Črnčec is also known for his anti-immigration tweets, which compare refugees to cancer and call for their deportation. Šarec tries to calm the upset voices on the left by guarantees that if Črnčec continues to express such views he will have to go.

Among the tasks Damir Črnčec and Interior Minister Boštjan Poklukar face are not only the challenges of migration, but also the case of a paramilitary group, the so-called Styrian Guard, formed by self-proclaimed Duke of Styria Andrej Šiško during the summer.

Work then begins, as Šarec first travels to Brussels, then to Berlin, and then meets with the head of NATO.

Minimum wage

The Left began pushing for a two-stage rise in the minimum wage, something that was part of the coalition agreement. Accordingly, the minimum wage would be raised from the existing €638 net to €667 in 2019 and to €700 in 2020.

Business representatives were unhappy with this, as well as with the proposed rise in corporate income tax, currently at a nominal 17% one of the lowest in Europe. Ivo Boscarol, the CEO of Pipistrel, a successful light-aircraft company that in earlier years was a regular recipient of state subsidies, denounced the proposal and threatened to move his company to Italy. Pipistrel, despite the less favourable tax environment across the border, in fact built a factory in Italy in 2012 so that its aircraft could be licenced for export to the United States.

Another successful businessman, Igor Akrapovič, joined the threats to take his business out of Slovenia and the positions of both men were supported by Sonja Šmuc, the executive director of the Slovenian Chamber of Commerce.

When Levica finally prepares a bill for a rise in the minimal wage in November, Ms Šmuc explained to the national broadcaster that the raise “wouldn’t make anyone satisfied but instead make a lot of dissatisfied people: someone who now receives €700 will then be seen as if they are on a minimum wage, and therefore we are creating a country of the wealthy poor.” She later claims that her statement was taken out of a context.

Medical achievements

While the new government faced a plethora of problems with a corrupt and dysfunctional health system, this did not seem to have affected the level of medical expertise. Dedicated teams of doctors and nurses at the University Medical Centre Ljubljana successfully carry out the first transplantation of both lungs in September, effectively establishing the lung transplantation programme in the Centre.

One month later there was another breakthrough in the field of plastic reconstructive surgery.  A patient who lost her entire nose to cancer was provided with a new one, constructed from the patient’s own tissue, which grew on her arm for about a month before being successfully transplanted to her face.

NLB finally sold – cheaply

On November 14 NLB shares were finally listed on the London and Ljubljana Stock Exchanges. Alenka Bratušek thus fulfilled her promise to Brussels, but was unlikely to be satisfied with the price. The State sold its 59% share for a mere €608.6 million, much less than Slovenian taxpayers had invested in it.

All our stories on privatisation in Slovenia are here.

First minister of the new government falls

The beginning of November saw a second round of election campaigns, as new mayors and city councils were to be chosen on November 18, when foreign residents also had a right to vote.

On November 13, the new Minister of Cohesion and former mayor of Komen Marko Bandelli was forced to step down after sending an inappropriate message to the new mayoral candidate:: “I’ve been informed that you are running for mayor’s office. (…) If your campaign is all about fighting the neighbours, then you should know that no support will come from me. And you know yourself the importance of un-support from the two important departments such as cohesion, EU regional development funds and above all infrastructure.”

It is not the first time Bandelli doesn’t  seem to understand the gravity of the matter. He had previously used the emergency blue lights on his official vehicle for no reason other than he was late, telling the media that he had the right to do so. This time he admitted his mistake, adding that he could redeem himself by doing a good job. Prime Minister Šarec had other reasons for wanting him gone, however, as Bandelli also failed to prepare a presentation for the Finance Minister on the situation with regard to drawing on EU funds. When the 5th of November deadline for this task had passed, Bandelli then asked to be given more time.

Pensions

The party leader Alenka Bratušek was surprisingly protective of Bandelli, although he still lost his job. She stated that she expects equal treatment by Prime Minister Šarec for all government officials, and at the same time seized the “opportunity” to strike back. She reminded Šarec to respect the coalition agreement and government commitment to raise pensions, or else...

Marjan Šarec’ comment on the demand by SAB (Stranka Alenke Bratušek) is that “to claim that only one coalition party cares for the pensioners is quite pretentious.” Was he worried that SAB was about to leave the governing coalition? “They didn’t show much of intention to leave.”

SAB stops pushing on this issue and proposes Iztok Purič as the new cohesion minister.

All our stories about pensions in Slovenia are here.

SDS against the Global Compact for Migration

In the second half of November the SDS began its campaign against the UN pact on migration that would be signed at the UN conference on December 10-11 in Marrakech. The SDS claims that the agreement does not differentiate between legal and illegal migrations and demands an advisory referendum on whether or not Slovenia should join the agreement.

The temperature went up at an irregular parliamentary session on the matter, where we could hear everything from curses to orders to take a member out of the parliament.

All our stories on migration in Slovenia are here.

Local elections 2018

At the local elections on November 18, citizens elected new mayors and local councillors. Ljubljana re-elected Zoran Jankovič, while another well-known mayor, Franc Kangler, lost his seat in Maribor to a challenger, Aleksander Saša Arsenovič.

In Koper the incumbent Boris Popovič lost to Aleš Bržan, with a mere seven vote difference. Popovič filed a series of complaints and when a mistake was discovered at one of the polling stations the difference went from seven to seventeen and Bržan became the new Mayor of Koper.

The end of strikes

At the beginning of December and after two months of negotiating the government and unions sign an agreement which will raise almost all salaries in the public sector. 

Impeachment proposal against Prime Minister Šarec

On December 21 Janša's SDS and Jelinčič' SNS filed an impeachment proposal against Prime Minister Šarec due to his government's failure to secure full financing of private schools. The impeachment was not supported by the opposition NSi, and Šarec responded that while this particular attempt to remove him from office was not to be taken very seriously, it should serve as a reminder that there is an opposition in Slovenia and that it’s not going to sit around idly.  

In 2018 Marjan Šarec also became a regular character impersonated on the Radio Ga-Ga  show, where he began his career as one of the show’s performers.

11 Dec 2018, 19:00 PM

STA, 11 December 2018 - The three right-leaning opposition parties preparing an impeachment against Prime Minister Marjan Šarec have decided to wait with the motion until the parliament discusses Democrats-sponsored legislative changes aiming to raise state funding for private schools to 100%.

The Democrats (SDS), New Slovenia (NSi) and the National Party (SNS) were planning to file the impeachment motion today, but the NSi is to supply the needed signatures when the legislative changes make the parliamentary agenda later this month.

The parties decided to impeach Šarec after his government said it did not support the SDS-sponsored changes in late November.

While the government implied the changes failed to tackle the funding issues comprehensively, the SDS says that the changes would implement the 2014 decision by the Constitutional Court that ordered Slovenia to raise funding for private schools teaching public curricula from 85% to 100%.

Education and Sport Minister Jernej Pikalo said today that this was a political issue and a decision that should be made by the coalition.

"One of the future coalition summits will have to deal with this," said the minister who expects long coordination due to the balance of power in the National Assembly. At this moment "nobody has enough votes to go either way".

He said that his position on the issue was clear: private is only for some, while public is for everybody. He underlined however that every decision by the Constitutional Court must be addressed: "These are the fundamentals of the rule of law."

Most coalition partners meanwhile believe that impeachment would be a premature step. However, Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) MP Jurij Lep said that the motion was legitimate and he has little doubt that it will be filed.

While the prime minister's office has not responded to the news of impeachment being planned, his party said that coalition partners would discuss the motion.

Brane Golubovič of the Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ) was critical of the opposition, saying that he would have expected them to seek dialogue about the changes before deciding for impeachment.

He also said that the coalition was very busy at the moment with the 2019 supplementary budget. "Without it neither public nor private schools will get funds next year".

Matjaž Han, the Social Democrats (SD) deputy group head, commented that the opposition had run out of ideas, adding that previous Education Minister Maja Makovec Brenčič faced a no-confidence vote due to the same changes.

"This is about more than just EUR 300,000, it's a symbolic move," Han said about the changes that would raise funding for private schools.

The junior opposition Modern Centre Party (SMC) meanwhile underlined that a Constitutional Court decision must be respected.

The Left, the minority government's partner in the opposition, is against additional funds for private schools. In fact they want to change the Constitution so as to restrict state funding only to public schools.

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