30 Aug 2022, 18:54 PM

STA, 30 August 2022 - Marta Kos, the ruling party's candidate for president, withdrew her bid for the 23 October election, citing "change of circumstances out of personal reasons". The Freedom Movement will discuss steps in the wake of Kos's decision in the coming days, the party said, adding that it would focus on local elections due on 22 November.

"I believe in a solidarity-based Slovenia, in a country where people respect and trust each other; I believe in a country that I would like to serve responsibly and promote those ideals," Kos, one of the vice-chairs of the Freedom Movement, said in a written statement announcing her decision.

Kos added that she would continue to fight for those values as a vice-chair of the largest ruling coalition party.

The former diplomat thanked everyone who supported her bid, pledging her commitment to the supporters and the shared values of her homeland.

Public opinion polls suggest that Kos does not have a chance to win the presidential election with Nataša Pirc Musar, a prominent lawyer and former information commissioner, favoured to win a run-off against Anže Logar, the former foreign minister who is now an MP for the opposition Democrats (SDS).

Commenting on Kos's decision to quit, political analyst Andraž Zorko said it was a disappointment for an important part of the electorate.

He wonders whether the largest coalition party can afford not to have its own candidate, saying that Kos's decision puts the Freedom Movement in "an unusual situation".

At the same time, it increases the chances of other presidential candidates, especially Kočevje Mayor Vladimir Prebilič and ex-Foreign Minister Ivo Vajgl.

Zorko also believes that Kos's move brings more uncertainty in the first round for Logar, as the votes that would go to Kos will now more likely go to Pirc Musar.

Nevertheless, Zorko ruled out the scenario that would see any of the candidates who have so far announced their bids to win the election in the first round.

Candidate Pirc Musar meanwhile wrote in response to Kos's move that she respects her decision while focussing on her own bid and voter signature collection.

Similarly, Logar told the N1 portal that he is continuing his own campaign and declined to comment on action by other candidates.

Prebilič is meanwhile confident that he will successfully reach out to the voters that would otherwise support Kos.

His campaign staff summarised his view by saying that Kos's withdrawal will leave a gap in this year's presidential elections, because at the core of democracy is voters having a choice of quality candidates, which Kos, although a rival, certainly is.

30 Aug 2022, 12:09 PM

STA, 29 August 2022 - Slovenian Foreign Minister Tanja Fajon defended EU sanctions against Russia in a debate at the Bled Strategic Forum on Monday, arguing there was no alternative. She acknowledged, though, that things may get tough. 

"Sanctions are necessary ... We have to say it clear who started the war and who is the aggressor... There is no alternative if we want to preserve peace and stability, and international order," she said.

Her remarks came during a wide-ranging debate featuring the foreign ministers of Austria, Iceland, Poland, Portugal, Poland and Turkey, and the French minister of state for European affairs.

Fajon said the EU had shown strong unity when it came to imposing sanctions, but six months after the start of the war there is a debate opening up as people start fearing that the sanctions will start hitting Europe's economies stronger than expected.

Recalling bouts of selfishness during the Covid pandemic, Fajon wondered what will happen if for some reason one country remains without gas it has been promised. She said this would test unity and solidarity.

"This will be the top test and challenge for all of us. That is why we have to stick together on our basic values," she said.

Fajon noted that the present time was "very dramatic and challenging", putting at stake not just the unity of the European Union but also the international order given how many geopolitical questions are currently open.

Turning to the Western Balkans, she said the region had been neglected as the EU had gone through crisis after crisis in the past ten or twenty years, "lost its strategic focus", and neglected enlargement policy.

Asked whether a change of qualified majority in the EU voting could help that, Fajon said that "we should just deliver on our promises", but noted that this was also a good opportunity for the bloc to "think outside of the box".

30 Aug 2022, 12:01 PM

STA, 29 August 2022 - Prime Minister Robert Golob and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen exchanged views on topical EU challenges, including the situation on the electricity market, as they met over working lunch on the sidelines of the Bled Strategic Forum (BSF) on Monday. 

Discussing the situation on the electricity market, where prices have skyrocketted in recent days, the pair agreed that voluntary gas saving and solidarity will be crucial in the coming months.

They also pointed to the need for the EU to remain ambitious in diversifying its energy supply and in the green transition, Golob's office said in a statement.

A changed geopolitical situation in Europe and the EU enlargement to the Western Balkans were also on the agenda, in particular Bosnia-Herzegovina's accession process.

Speaking to the press after the meeting, Golob said "a number of measures were discussed that must be taken, from very short-term ones to long-term measures that will last for years".

He hailed what he termed a "very open dialogue with the Commission", and said that Slovenia could and would contribute a lot in searching for solutions.

These solutions involve "protecting Europe's energy sector and energy companies from the speculative attacks that have been taking place over the past week", he said.

Von der Leyen, who also met with President Borut Pahor as part of her attendance of the BSF, meanwhile tweeted she had had "very good exchanges" with both officials.

"We discussed the importance of further strengthening ties with our Western Balkans partners and of tackling the situation on energy markets and security of supply," she added.

This was Golob and von der Leyen's second meeting since the Slovenian prime minister travelled to Brussels in June, the same month his government took office.

28 Aug 2022, 22:44 PM

STA, 28 August 2022 - President Borut Pahor and his Icelandic counterpart Gudni Thorlacius Johannesson called for a diplomatic solution to the Ukraine crisis as they met in Ljubljana on Sunday. They highlighted Slovenia's important role in the Western Balkans and reaffirmed the good relations between Slovenia and Iceland.

"It is a special honour for me to officially host the president of Iceland in a year when Slovenia is celebrating the 30th anniversary of international recognition of its full-fledged entry into the international community, including its admission to the United Nations," Pahor said, noting that Iceland was the first internationally recognised country to recognise Slovenia in December 1991.

The two presidents confirmed that relations between Slovenia and Iceland are good, as the two countries, which have similar positions, cooperate in the European Economic Area, NATO, the United Nations, the Council of Europe and other international alliances. At the same time, Pahor announced that Iceland supports Slovenia's candidacy for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

They again condemned the Russian aggression in Ukraine and noted that no one seemed ready to come to the negotiating table. They expressed their wish for negotiations to start as soon as possible in order to spare human suffering and to resolve the conflict peacefully. However, Pahor added that the Ukrainian authorities, state and people should not be pushed into a peaceful settlement of the conflict until they themselves were ready to do so.

The presidents underlined the importance of multilateralism and the political and legal order in the international community and pledged to work to revitalise and strengthen multilateralism.

They also highlighted that both Slovenia and Iceland were affected by internal social divisions and stressed the need to maintain a sense of community and promote tolerance. "We do not want to see differences grow in our societies. We want to see a society in which xenophobia is not allowed, in which hatred towards parts of society is not allowed and in which there is freedom of expression, freedom of religion and freedom to maintain society as a whole," Johannesson stressed.

Turning to the Western Balkans, Pahor said this was a region with great potential for development, but also as a region which, until the war in Ukraine, was the only one in Europe to have experienced war after the Second World War. He pointed out that the region should be viewed with particular sensitivity and stressed that Slovenia had good relations with all the countries in the region and was working to make Euro-Atlantic integration, in particular, faster and more effective.

The Icelandic president underlined the important role of Slovenia for the region and said that he believed that Slovenia, with its position and history, could do a lot of good in this part of Europe.

This morning, Foreign Minister Tanja Fajon met Johannesson and Icelandic Foreign Minister Thordis Kolbrun Gylfadottir. The officials talked about the importance of honouring international law in the light of the war in Ukraine, and the possibilities for cooperation, Fajon said on Twitter.

In the afternoon, the two presidents inaugurated a bench of friendship between the two countries in Bohinj.

Johannesson will attend the Bled Strategic Forum on Monday and take part in a panel of leaders. He will also meet with Prime Minister Robert Golob, President of the National Assembly Urška Klakočar Zupančič and Minister of Environment and Spatial Planning Uroš Brežan, Pahor's office said.

26 Aug 2022, 11:38 AM

STA, 25 August 2022 - The government decided on Thursday to reach an agreement on solidarity measures to ensure security of gas supply with Croatia. The agreement would allow Slovenia to ask Croatia to provide gas to Slovenia's protected customers if gas supply was disrupted, and vice versa. A similar agreement with Italy has already been ratified.

The draft agreement sets down the technical, legal and financial elements for such a solidarity mechanism between EU member states.

It is based on the EU regulation concerning measures to safeguard security of gas supply, the Government Communication Office (UKOM) said after the government session.

Slovenia would activate the solidarity support mechanism as a last resort, after having taken all possible measures to ensure gas supply to its protected customers, including cutting off the gas supply to unprotected customers.

Under the Slovenian law, protected customers are households but also basic social services connected to the distribution or transmission system, such as healthcare, education and care services.

The agreement obligates the country providing solidarity assistance to do its utmost to be able to offer the necessary amount of gas to the recipient country.

The recipient country may decide to accept a particular offer or not. If it accepts it, it also assumes the obligation to pay for the gas received, UKOM said.

If the agreement is signed, either party, Slovenia or Croatia, could ask for a solidarity gas supply.

In mid-June, the National Assembly unanimously ratified a similar agreement with Italy, and activities to sign one with Austria are also under way.

25 Aug 2022, 15:54 PM

STA, 25 August 2022 - The opposition Democrats (SDS) want the Culture Ministry to compile a report on the use of public funds by NGOs in the culture sector over the past decade. The request comes in the wake of a scandal in which Fotopub gallery head Dušan Smodej is alleged to have sexually abused young women. The SDS is worried one minister may have known about this.

SDS MP Andrej Hoivik told the press on Thursday that the SDS had asked for an emergency session of the parliamentary Culture Committee at which it will call on the ministry to produce the report to double-check the publicly accessible data on funding NGOs in culture in the last decade.

He said that more than EUR 55 million had been spent on art production, "from film production to exhibitions and various performances", in this period.

The SDS is convinced that "in a number of cases, cultural figures have abused their status, and their work has not contributed to increasing culture in the region".

Hoivik pointed to several recent art performances of "concern" to the SDS, including a 2021 installation by a group of artists entitled Breathe, in which naked people with bags on their heads stood in the window of the Fotopub gallery.

He said that "the recent developments" pointing at sexual abuse at Fotopub exhibitions showed that public funds are used to fund projects that are hardly "art with added value".

It is also extremely worrying that artists spend public funds on entertainment while not paying their subcontractors or submitting annual reports, as required by law.

Culture Minister Asta Vrečko told a Wednesday news show that the Fotopub Association of Contemporary Culture had not yet produced its 2021 report on the use of public funds.

Hoivik finds this to be unacceptable "given the information about girls, even minors, being abused at the performances organised by Smodej and about unlawful possession of illicit drugs".

The ministry told the STA on Thursday that the Fotopub Association, represented by Smodej, received EUR 57,000 in public funds as part of three calls for funding.

It got EUR 52,800 for the 2018-2021 period for the Festivalpub project and EUR 4,200 in 2015 and 2017, with the ministry finding no irregularities in the use of funds.

The association is, however, behind in submitting its 2021 report and was thus urged to do so by the end of August, the ministry explained.

Hoivik is also worried that some members of the government, or the coalition Left party, may have known about the alleged abuse of young women at Fotopub.

He pointed to "audiovisual evidence" on the internet showing that the Left's leader Luka Mesec, now labour minister, "was spotted at one of the Fotopub exhibitions".

The Left distanced themselves from Smodej and condemned any sexual violence already on Monday.

Mesec tweeted he had nothing to do with Smodej, announcing to press charges against those spreading the allegations, which appeared in several conservative media.

By Wednesday afternoon, no alleged victim reported any abuse in connection with the Fotopub scandal to police nor contacted an NGO which offered to provide them with support and financial aid to cover legal costs.

Police are continuing gathering information about alleged sexual offences, conducting interviews to try to identify possible victims, but so far there has been no positive confirmation, the General Police Department told the STA on Thursday.

Police activities are focused on verifying the authenticity of the accounts alleged victims have recently posted online anonymously.

Justice Minister Dominika Švarc Pipan issued a press statement today, condemning any form of violence and sexual violence in particular. She encourages any potential victims to report the alleged crimes to the police.

Media reports about sexual abuse by Smodej were triggered by an Instagram page called Against Violence by Dušan Smodej which contains a number of testimonies by individuals claiming to have been abused by Smodej or have witnessed abuse of or attempts to abuse young women, and instances of him giving date-rape drugs to young women.

Smodej, a 28-year-old from Novo Mesto, has meanwhile denied any abuse for the 24ur news portal and Slovenske Novice tabloid, insisting the allegations are the doing of a female acquaintance of his who has been sending him death threats and is blackmailing him for money with the online posts.

25 Aug 2022, 11:57 AM

STA, 24 August 2022 - More than 50 scientists have made an appeal to the government to annul the decision by its predecessor that the public interest of producing renewable energy overrides the public interest of nature conservation in the Mokrice hydropower station project.

"We ask for a professionally and legally consistent reconsideration of the (un)reasonableness of encroaching on nature at the confluence of the Sava, Krka and Sotla rivers," reads the appeal, signed by representatives of natural sciences, including biochemist Tamara Lah Turnšek and researchers Darja Stanič and Al Vrezec.

They believe the government, in prioritising the interest of energy, "failed to take into consideration the legal provision stipulating that natural resources, especially water resources, may not be degraded or destroyed if there are other less harmful options".

Such an approach "is not in the interests of Slovenian citizens and is distinctly contrary to the interests of the future generations". They say that short-term political or capital interests should not prevail in decisions that have a damaging or destructive impact on nature.

The signatories believe the deliberation of which public interest prevails in this case or the assessment of better solutions at the national level have not been conducted, as the procedures concerned have not been carried out in the actual process of adopting the Renewable Energy Action Plan or in the context of the comprehensive National Energy and Climate Plan. The latter does not foresee the construction of large hydropower plants until 2030.

They refer to a decision by the EU Court, which they say has set forth that the absence of better solutions for nature had to be proven, which they said the government failed to do satisfactorily at the national level in the case of the Mokrice plant.

Instead, the signatories support accelerating the construction of unit 2 of the Krško nuclear power plant. "Once the unit is operational, expectedly around 2035, there will be enough electricity in Slovenia and strategic projections show the country will have become a net electricity exporter," the appeal reads, adding that nuclear power plants have a very small carbon or biodiversity prints and that with the second reactor in place hydropower stations will no longer be needed.

As the second key energy potential they see solar power plants of all sizes.

The Administrative Court has recently decreed that the planned Mokrice hydropower station on the river Sava cannot get a building permit until it has ruled on legal action brought against the project by the Slovenian Native Fish Society.

25 Aug 2022, 11:49 AM

STA, 24 August 2022 - Foreign Minister Tanja Fajon is not in favour of the initiative that the EU should stop issuing tourist visas to Russian citizens, telling the Alpbach Forum in Austria on Wednesday that the measure would also hurt those who oppose President Vladimir Putin's policies and would like to leave the country.

"I'm not in favour of limiting tourist visas. Any visa restrictions would also prevent people who oppose Putin's policies and want to leave Russia from leaving the country. I believe that abolishing visas would be a risky move which could boomerang back on us," Fajon was quoted as saying in a press release from her ministry.

The minister took part in a panel debate on the EU's political awakening, which discussed Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the threat of energy and food crisis in Europe.

Fajon again condemned Russia's aggression and appealed for the war to end as soon as possible.

"We need wisdom and long-term political strategy. The current crisis has shown us and the world that the European Union is strong when united. This should be the guiding principle for the continuation of our geopolitical awakening," she was quoted as saying.

The speakers agreed that the EU demonstrated its unity in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the political momentum should be used for long-term geopolitical action.

Slovenia is yet to adopt its position on the proposal to stop issuing tourist visas to Russian citizens. Earlier this month the Foreign Ministry said the country would continue to "look for solutions together with EU member states".

Earlier this week PM Robert Golob said consultations on the matter were under way. "We're still far from a decision, we'll have discussion in the government and on the Foreign Policy Committee, only then will we take a decision," he told a televised interview.

EU foreign ministers are expected to discuss a potential ban on tourist visas for Russians at the informal meeting at end of the month.

24 Aug 2022, 14:30 PM

STA, 23 August 2022 - The Housing Fund, which has received EUR 108.25 million in grants from the Environment Ministry and a loan from the Council of Europe Development Bank (CEB), plans to build 1,244 public rental apartments across the country by 2026, the fund's head, Črtomir Remec, told the press on Tuesday.

Given the current stokck of 7,000 apartments and about 2,500 apartments under construction and planned, the fund expects to have 10,000 apartments available for rent in 2025, Remec said about the closing of the 2015-2024 national housing programme.

Another boost will be the EUR 38.25 million in grants that the fund won in a public tender published by the Ministry for Environment and Spatial Planning as part of the recovery and resilience plan.

The money will be spent on the construction of 714 public rental units at 11 locations in five statistical regions by the end of 2024, including 136 apartments (or 20%) intended for elderly people who need assistance.

All the projects include 10% of units for people with disabilities.

"This means that in total we have 30% of apartments for the disabled and the elderly, which is what has been our goal all along - to provide for all those with special needs, both young and old, regardless of the current demographic trends," Remec said.

He added, thought, that not all contracts for the projects had been signed yet.

Remec noted that a week ago a contract had been signed with the CEB on a EUR 70 million loan, which "we had to work hard for".

These funds will be used to build 912 public apartments by 2026 that will be available for rent in seven statistical regions, including 58 apartments for elderly people who need assistance and 10% of apartments for people with disabilities.

In certain projects, both the money from the recovery and resilience plan and the CEB funds will be used.

"If we combine the money from the recovery fund and the development bank, we have EUR 108.25 million in total and 1,244 public apartments for rent at 18 locations in nine statistical regions, of which 164 will be apartments for elderly who need assistance," he said.

Remec expects most of the apartments to be built by 2025.

Meanwhile, the Housing Fund will also finance municipal projects with a total of 421 new housing units at six locations (Celje, Ljubljana, Koper, Zreče, Slovenske Konjice, Novo Mesto).

Touching on the new national housing programme for 2025-2035, Remec said in the future municipalities and city funds should take on more tasks, "as the national fund cannot solve all the housing problems in the country".

24 Aug 2022, 11:23 AM

STA, 23 August 2022 - The National Assembly unanimously passed on Tuesday changes to the VAT act reducing VAT on electricity, gas, biomass and remote heating from 22% to 9.5% between 1 September 2022 and 31 May 2023.

The changes come as part of efforts to mitigate the cost of living crisis with Finance Ministry State Secretary Tilen Božič telling MPs that the VAT cut will only fulfil its purpose if prices are regulated as well.

Initially, this was not incorporated in the changes, and the senior coalition Freedom Movement filed an amendment to that effect with the support of the coalition Left.

Under the amendment, prices will be regulated for the duration of the VAT reduction for products which will be regulated on 1 September 2022.

At the moment, this entails electricity and gas for households, small companies and users classified as protected, including schools and care homes.

Božič said the Infrastructure Ministry was conducting a study to see what additional measures, including price regulation, would further contribute to reducing heating bills. The study is to be completed by the end of the month.

The changes have been fast-tracked through parliament and enjoy the support of all parliamentary parties, even though some expressed regret that VAT could not be lowered below 9.5% and that it does not apply to food.

The opposition Democrats (SDS) filed an amendment under which VAT would be reduced to 5%, including for heating oil, although EU law renders this impossible.

Nevertheless, the SDS believes that Slovenia should declare a state of emergency in energy and reduce heating oil VAT.

"You're worried that this would not be in line with the EU directive. But of course it is in line if we act for the good of the citizens," said SDS MP Janez Magyar.

Božič said the government did not want to propose a solution that would not be in line with EU law. "At first, it would feel nice in our pockets, until we would have to pay it all back with interest. No such lunch is free."

The revenue shortfall from the reduction to 9.5% is estimated at EUR 130 million, while a reduction to 5% would mean an additional EUR 50 million less in budget revenue, Božič said.

On Monday, Prime Minister Robert Golob said that the government does not believe the reduction to 5% to be necessary because the cut to 9.5% will be accompanied by the freezing of prices for electricity and gas. He said the government would rather use budget funds to cut VAT on food, if necessary.

The opposition New Slovenia (NSi) also said it would support the changes. However, the party wants a more comprehensive approach by the government, for example reduced VAT for basic necessities, above all food, MP Jernej Vrtovec said.

The NSi wanted to file an amendment under which the VAT reduction would also apply to food and beverages. But because the changes address VAT reduction for energy products, the amendment was not discussed.

All three coalition parties expressed support for the changes, but junior coalition parties expressed some misgivings.

The Social Democrats (SD) said a reduction to 5% would be a maximum expense for the public finance and would prevent any later additional actions.

SD MP Soniboj Knežak regretted that a solution had not been found for heating oil. "I don't know if that was a bureaucratic lapse," he said about the EU directive and expressed the expectation that a solution will be found at the EU level by the start of the heating season.

Meanwhile, Miha Kordiš of the Left underlined the need to regulate prices if the VAT cut is to have the desired effect. He also said the Left wanted to see regulation of food and heating oil prices, as well as a fair tax reform by the end of the year.

23 Aug 2022, 12:02 PM

STA, 23 August 2022 - Slovenia marks European Day of Remembrance for the Victims of All Totalitarian and Authoritarian Regimes on Tuesday. Several commemorative ceremonies will be held in Ljubljana, with President Borut Pahor laying a wreath at the monument in Congress Square.

A number of ceremonies will be held in Slovenia this afternoon in memory of the victims of totalitarian regimes, organised by the Study Centre for National Reconciliation (SCNR), the Military Vicariate of the Slovenian Armed Forces and the parish of St Nicholas in Ljubljana.

One of the ceremonies will take place at the Monument to the Victims of All Wars in Congress Square in the capital, where Pahor will lay a wreath and deliver an address, the president's office said.

At the invitation of Pahor, the ceremony will be attended by high-level representatives of the five largest religious communities in Slovenia: the Catholic, Protestant, Islamic, Jewish and Orthodox communities. Prior to the ceremony, the president is expected to receive the representatives at the Presidential Palace.

The victims of totalitarian regimes will also be commemorated with Mass at the Ljubljana Cathedral that will be celebrated by Ljubljana Archbishop Stanislav Zore.

The government commission for concealed mass graves meanwhile called on the government on the eve of the remembrance day to take initiative as soon as possible to determine the location of a tomb at Ljubljana's main cemetery where the remains of victims from a mass grave in the chasm in Macesnova Gorica in Kočevski Rog, a vast forest area in the south-east of Slovenia, would be buried.

Archaeologists have so far uncovered the remains of more than 2,000 victims of post-WWII executions and items found in the Macesnova Gorica chasm, where excavation started in 2017, which suggest that Slovenian war prisoners were killed there, the commission said.

In line with agreements reached, the commission expects research in the chasm to conclude this year so a funeral could be held in 2023.

The commission also expects Slovenia to continue to strive for the implementation of the right to funeral of all victims of war and post-war violence.

Before the remembrance day, the EU expressed solidarity with all victims of persecution around the world. EU High Representative Josep Borrell said that everyone should have the right to have or not to have, to choose or to change their religion or belief, and not to be subjected to discrimination or coercion as a result.

23 August was declared European Day of Remembrance for the Victims of All Totalitarian and Authoritarian Regimes by the European Parliament in 2009, and has been officially commemorated in Slovenia since 2012.

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