STA, 29 August 2022 - The Infrastructure Ministry has drawn up a draft bill to allow the government to declare a state of emergency in case of disruption in electricity or gas supplies. It provides measures such as consumption cuts, state guarantees to buy gas outside the EU, and even departure from environmental standards in case of a switch of fuel.
The draft, which has been submitted for inter-governmental consultation until 26 September, would make it possible for the government to declare a higher or lower level of risk to energy supply in case of existing or expected supply disruptions.
A lower risk would entail preparing for an emergency in the supply and notifying energy companies and consumers to get ready for an emergency and to take measures that are feasible.
A higher level of risk would kick in when a state of emergency is declared in the supply of natural gas and electricity. At this stage all of the national potential for generation of electricity and heat would have to be tapped.
The government would be able to directly decree state-owned companies to take measures to ensure reliable supply of energy.
During the period of higher risk, the provisions of the environmental permits concerning fuel and emission limit values would not apply to power plants, co-generation plants and other installations for which such an environmental permit is required if they needed to switch fuel such as gas for other source.
They would be allowed to derogate from the provisions of the environmental permits as long as they are not projected to exceed or have already exceeded alert levels for sulphur dioxide or nitrogen dioxide in the air.
During such a state of emergency, the temperature of the Sava downstream from the Krško Nuclear Power Plant from 1 October to 31 April would be capped at 3.5 degrees Celsius above the river temperature at the plant's intake, which is half a degree higher than specified now.
When it comes to gas, the parent company would be required to ensure gas storage in other EU member states as of 1 November of the current year in an amount equal to at least 15% of the average annual gas supply of the group under its control to final customers in Slovenia over the last five years.
The draft bill also envisages up to EUR 300 million in state loan guarantees to buy gas in countries outside the EU.
When a lower level of risk was declared, the draft foresees creating additional reserves of substitute fuel for gas-fired power plants for when they need to generate electricity but gas is not available.
Those additional mandatory reserves would be released under the higher risk scenario, up to the level where the mandatory stocks of oil and oil products (for 90 days) are still available.
Final consumers would be required to make a voluntary effort to reduce gas and electricity consumption from 1 October 2022 to 31 March 2023 by at last 15% compared to their average consumption in the same period over the past five years.
State-owned companies investing in electricity production facilities from renewable energy sources with an installed capacity of 250 megawatts or more would have to distribute half the electricity generated annually to households in Slovenia and form a supply community.
The government would decree the temperature of heating or cooling in public buildings and prescribe limits to the lighting of buildings, premises or spaces.
Natural-gas customers would have the right not to connect to or to disconnect from the gas distribution system, regardless of the provisions on priority use of energy products, on mandatory connection to the gas distribution network and on mandatory use of gas for heating of buildings and hot water for households, as set down in the relevant documents, without having to pay a contractual penalty.
Under gas supply contracts in force as the law entered into force, it would not be possible to charge penalties for lower gas consumption than contractually agreed.
Concessionaires for the commercial exploitation of water for generation will pay the same concession for the period between 2022 and 2025 as they did in 2020.
Electricity for losses in the transmission and distribution network would be provided at cost by electricity producers directly or indirectly wholly owned by the state if the price on the Hungarian stock exchange on the last day of June of the current year exceeds EUR 120 per megawatt-hour for the coming year.
STA, 26 August 2022 - Despite more than doubling its revenue, Slovenia's energy group Petrol posted a net loss of EUR 1.3 million in the first half of the year as a result of fuel price regulation, the company said on Friday.
The group saw sales revenue rise by 126% to EUR 4.2 billion, a figure well above the target, on the back of increased volume sales of fuels and oil derivatives as well as price hikes.
Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) stood at EUR 48.6 million, down by 52% year-on-year and 64% below plans.
The net loss is a result of the steep drop in EBITDA that was caused by the price regulation measures in Slovenia.
The price regulation forced Petrol "to sell fuels at a lower retail price than the purchase price 90% of the time between 15 March 2022 and the end of June".
"The company's EBITDA loss of EUR 108.9 million in Slovenia was caused by the government's freeze on retail prices of petroleum products from 15 March to 30 April and the reintroduction of the cap on 11 May for a period of 90 days, which was lifted prematurely by the current government on 21 June," the company said.
The group's EBITDA loss in Croatia, where the price regulation has been in force since 7 February, stood at EUR 14.5 million.
Adjusted gross profit for the first six months of the year totalled EUR 245.4 million, down 5% year-on-year and 19% below plans. The positive contribution to gross profit growth due to the integration of the company Crodux Derivati Dva into the group was reversed by the impact of price caps in Slovenia and Croatia.
In 2021, Petrol posted nearly EUR 5 billion in sales revenue and EUR 124.5 million in net profit. In the first quarter of this year, the group was still in the black as net profit stood at EUR 32.4 million and was higher than the quarter-one figure in 2021.
Petrol's chief financial officer Matija Bitenc told the STA that the company was hoping to reach an agreement with the government on reimbursement of damages it incurred during the first wave of price regulation in spring, under the previous government.
"We incurred costs, sold more fuel, but we did not cover the purchase price," he said." A request for reimbursement has already been sent to the government. Several meetings with the finance and economy ministries have been held but a final agreement has not been reached yet.
He also warned that the uncertainty might have an impact on the company's credit rating. In March S&P put Petrol on watch with a negative outlook as it awaits information about how important Petrol is for the state.
"The rating agency has so far assessed that in the event of any problems the state would come to the rescue ... Today their view is slightly different and they are wondering if this is still the case," he said.
A meeting with S&P is scheduled for September, until which time they want to know to what extent the damage will be reimbursed by the state. "Having Petrol in poor financial shape is not good for anyone at this time, least of all for the taxpayers," he said.
With its current rating Petrol does not need bank guarantees to purchase oil derivatives, but if the rating is downgraded they would have to issue guarantees in the EUR 300-500 million range per month, he said.
The Economy Ministry told the STA there had been no final decision yet about compensation. If one is made, the government will first set the criteria for eligibility and require evidence.
"In recent months some oil companies have proactively sent 'notifications of damages' to the [ministry], but we do not consider these formal claims," it said.
Under the law on price controls, the government has the prerogative to decide whether to reimburse companies or not. It also decides on the appropriate means of compensation, either financial remuneration, tax benefits or other forms of financial incentives, it said.
STA, 24 August 2022 - A survey conducted by the Chamber of Trade Crafts and Small Business (OZS) among its members has shown the high energy costs are threatening the existence of one out of three businesses surveyed. As the situation is to worsen further, the chamber urged the government to set out measures to help the economy in 2023 as soon as possible.
Following a similar appeal issued by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GZS), its counterpart representing large companies, the OZS noted "enormous, even five-fold" increase in electricity and gas bills this year, expressing concerns for 2023.
The survey conducted among 820 entrepreneurs members of the OZS in recent weeks showed that three out of four expect the high energy costs will slash their profits and 32% said the existence of their company was under threat.
Almost one in three (29%) said they would have to scale down their operations and 15% were considering layoffs.
More than half of the surveyed businesses (53%) saw their electricity bills rise by up to 50% on last year, 29% say they went up by 50-100% and the remaining 18% are now paying 100-500% higher electricity bills.
As many as 69% of those surveyed have not yet signed contracts for power supply in 2023.
When it comes to gas bills, 59% reported an increase of up to 50%, 22% saw their bills go up by 50-100% and the remaining 19% reported a 100-500% surge.
Based on the survey, the OZS estimates the capping of prices for small businesses will cover most small entrepreneurs, but with larger consumers the government package to help businesses cope with high electricity and gas prices would not suffice.
The OZS urged the government to follow up with a more extensive scheme, as well as job-retention schemes to be able to furlough their workers or put them on shortened work time, which they say proved effective during the Covid-19 crisis.
Prime Minister Robert Golob has announced a meeting with business will be held within a fortnight to discuss the situation and solutions for next year. "If this year 40 million euro in aid was needed, it could come up to a billion next year," Golob said earlier this week.
STA, 20 August 2022 - The government has decided to subsidise agricultural reproductive material to help farmers overcome the high cost of energy. Some 43,000 farms will be eligible for a total of EUR 15 million funds earmarked at a correspondence session Friday evening.
Adopted as part of the measures to address growing food prices, the move aims to lower food production costs in primary agricultural production.
The war in Ukraine is having severe effects on the agricultural sector, as high energy prices are driving up the production costs, including through increasingly more expensive reproduction materials, such as fertilisers, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food said last night.
Agricultural Institute data shows that production cost for a hectare of wheat has grown from EUR 578 last year to EUR 937, according to preliminary data for this year.
Similar hikes are being reported for other crops. The increase is lower only in some permanent crops. The main reason for this are hikes in fertiliser prices, which had already gone up at the end of 2021 and continued to grow heavily in 2022.
The government earmarked EUR 15 million for the measure. Based on surface area data and other documentation, the ministry believes some 43,000 farms will be eligible for the funds.
STA, 18 August 2022 - A 1,530-metre tunnel that will make part of on an upgraded rail track connecting Maribor and Šentilj on the border with Austria was broken through on Thursday with the first train to run through it by the end of next year. The old tunnel will make part of a new cycling path.
The Maribor-Šentilj rail upgrade is valued at almost EUR 300 million, which makes it the biggest rail project in the country at the moment apart from the construction of a new rail track between Koper and Divača on the other side of the country.
The cost of the construction of the Pekel tunnel and a 900-metre-long Pesnica viaduct is valued at EUR 101 million.
The Pekel tunnel is located north of Maribor, to the east of the existing rail track, which is running through the Počehova tunnel. The new tunnel also includes a rescue tunnel.
"The new tunnel will make traffic faster and above all much safer, and the old one will be used more sustainably for cycling," Infrastructure Ministry State Secretary Alenka Bratušek said.
"The tunnel is being built using the so-called new Austrian method," Dejan Jurkovič of the Infrastructure Agency said.
The contractor is the Slovenian company Kolektor. "Our workers have proved that we perform work professionally, at high-quality, fast and efficiently," the company's representative Andrej Košir said.
One of the major challenges was the construction of the section below the expressway running through Maribor. "The tunnel is about seven metres below the motorway. Here, the daily progress was between one and one and a half metres, while on the north side it was about four metres," said Jurkovič.
The tunnel's construction is slated for completion by March 2023 after which it needs to be fitted with a track and other equipment. It is to open to traffic by the end of next year. "Traffic is expected to be moved from the old tunnel to the new one in late 2023," said Jurkovič.
Danes smo bili priča preboju predora Pekel, ki je del nadgradnje žel. proge Maribor-Šentilj-d.m.— Ministrstvo za infrastrukturo (@mzi_rs) August 18, 2022
Predor dolg 1530 m bodo v celoti zgradila slovenska podjetja. Gre za pomemben dogodek, saj dobesedno odpiramo nove poti in povezave in s tem omogočamo gospodarski in družbeni razvoj. pic.twitter.com/poz6vwI0R6
The EU-subsidised upgrade of the 18-kilometre Maribor-Šentilj railway also includes what Jurkovič said would be the longest rail tunnel in Slovenia. The Pesnica tunnel is to be completed in spring next year and will wrap up the rail upgrade project.
Following the upgrade, trains will be able to travel at speeds of up to 120 km/h, up from the current top speed of 80 km/h. The number of trains the track can handle will increase from 63 to 84 a day, and cargo capacity from 6.3 to 9.9 million tonnes a year.
STA, 18 August 2022 - The government confirmed on Thursday an aid package under which EUR 40 million will be disbursed to companies this year and next to help them cope with higher energy costs. Three different types of aid will be available, according to Economy Minister Matjaž Han.
EUR 20 million will be available this year and another EUR 20 million through mid-March 2023, in what Minister Han described as merely the first step in efforts to help the corporate sector.
Two types of aid respectively capped at EUR 500,000 and EUR 2 million per beneficiary will be available for the financing of higher energy costs.
This type of aid will cover at least 30% of electricity or gas costs provided that energy prices are at least twice above last year's average. A maximum of 30% of total costs can be covered.
A third type of aid is set aside for energy-intensive companies which will be eligible only if they are operating at a loss. In this case, up to 70% of their costs will be covered.
Companies that have access to regulated gas and energy prices - mostly small and medium-sized enterprises - are not eligible for the scheme, according to the government.
Han said the measure was in line with EU state aid rules and had been cleared by the European Commission. The bill will also be put to the Economic and Social Council, the country's main industrial relations forum.
"We've prepared this measure together with business and I'm glad that we concluded at yesterday's session of the business coordination committee that it represents effective aid to the corporate sector," he said.
The Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GZS) has already welcomed the aid scheme, describing it as "an appropriate measure considering the EU legal framework."
But it also noted that the aid will only suffice for the time being and said it expected additional aid in the autumn.
The aid package "does not address the major unknowns concerning the certainty of gas supplies or the very likely escalation of energy prices for business users next year," it said.
"In order for the economy to work as best as it can, it needs and expects a reliable supply of energy at acceptable prices."
STA, 18 August 2022 - The government has approved a EUR 41 million package to help vulnerable households and individuals and the disabled get through the energy crisis this winter. Some 63,000 vulnerable individuals and 7,400 disabled will be eligible for one-off aid of EUR 200.
The package was presented at a press conference following the government's session on Thursday by Labour Minister Luka Mesec, who said EUR 27 million would be paid out this year and EUR 14 million next year.
He said the aid was targeted to help households at risk and the disabled. The former group includes some 54,000 recipients of welfare payments, including the working poor, and 9,000 pensioners whose income is so low they receive security allowance.
Mesec said the households comprising several vulnerable individuals would see the payments added up; a household that includes two individuals who are at risk or unemployed will get EUR 314. If they have a child they will get a further EUR 118 if the child is not included in organised care or education, and half that amount if her or she is.
The disabled will also get EUR 200 each. "If they live in a household that is at risk they will get the allowances they are entitled to as members of such households as well as the 200 euro allowance for the disabled," Mesec said.
"It is important that during the distribution period from 1 November to 31 March next year, we'll invite all those who are eligible for social aid but are not getting any to join the social security system. Analysis shows these are primarily people who live alone and are over 65 years of age. These are mostly women, many of whom don't not even know they are entitled to social aid or a security allowance," he said.
The one-off aid will be paid the same way as other welfare payments. The households will be able to spend the money whichever way they see fit.
STA, 16 August 2022 - The UK energy and natural resources company Ascent Resources and its Slovenian subsidiary have formally submitted a request for arbitration against Slovenia following complications in the country green-lighting their gas project near Lendava. The company has revised its damage assessment from EUR 100 million to over EUR 500 million.
The request was submitted to the Washington-based International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), Ascent Resources said in a press release.
The move follows notices of dispute filed in July 2020 and May 2022 in which "Slovenia was formally notified of the existence of a dispute under the Energy Charter Treaty and the UK-Slovenia bilateral investment treaty," the company said.
Ascent Resources CEO Andrew Dennan said the company remained "amenable to discussing settlement with the Republic of Slovenia following its review of the matter or otherwise pursing our damages claim through to a binding result for the company."
Ascent claims Slovenia had led a populist campaign against it, preventing the development of the Petišovci oil and gas field.
The dispute dates back to 2019, when the Environment Agency (ARSO) said an environment impact assessment was required, a decision which was later also backed by the Administrative Court.
Ascent claims that such an environment impact assessment was not required and had never been required under Slovenian law and that the agency's decision went against the conclusion of the country's own expert bodies.
The company also says that the minister of the environment and spatial planning had repeatedly made public statements portraying Ascent, as well as the Petišovci project, in a negative light.
Moreover, the company believes that leaks were made by ARSO to the press. "This further demonstrates that ARSO was biased against the investors and that ARSO's decision was politically motivated."
Moreover, in May changes to the mining act took effect, imposing a complete ban on fracking. Ascent says this was the culmination of the country's campaign against it.
Its board believes that "statements made during the parliamentary debate on the ban leave no doubt that the investors were being specifically targeted by it".
STA, 16 August 2022 - The local authorities in Ljubljana have announced that couriers of the food delivery companies Wolt and Glovo will have to wear identification numbers so that their traffic violations could be reported in what is an attempt to improve traffic safety in the centre of the capital and respond to the growing number of complaints.
As Ljubljana Mayor Zoran Janković announced at Tuesday's press conference, this will be done in agreement with the two companies that have the largest number of delivery staff in Ljubljana.
Janković assessed that "a very large number of delivery staff in the city centre violate traffic rules", with the local authorities receiving up to ten complaints a day.
A particularly large number of violations are being reported in Čopova Street, which connects the Slovenska Road with Prešeren Square and the Ljubljanica riverfront south of the square.
As of today, each courier of Wolt and Glovo will have their own personal number displayed in a visible place, Janković said, adding that "order must be respected".
The mayor noted that the move was about safety for pedestrians, especially the elderly and children, as there had been quite a few accidents.
Clemens Brugger, the director of the Slovenian branch of Wolt, and the regional courier manager at Glovo Blaž Marolt have agreed that the common goal of the initiative was safe traffic for all residents of Ljubljana and of couriers.
Brugger said that the vast majority of their couriers delivered food on time and without committing traffic violations, adding that the project would "help identify the handful of violators".
Marolt added that the company would "talk with the violators who will be reported multiple times, and if complaints continue, they will be dismissed".
Brugger said it was not up to Wolt to punish traffic violations, which was in the domain of the competent authorities, and Janković added that it would not be possible to punish violators if they were not caught by the police or traffic wardens.
Reservations have also been expressed about the idea as the financial standing of couriers could suffer as the pay depends on the number of performed deliveries.
The mayor said that couriers who think so should present better proposals, while a courier who participated in the press conference added that "if you think that you don't have enough time for a delivery, you can reject it."
"There is no need to rush," he said, while expressing scepticism that identification numbers will resolve the situation fully, although it is expected to reduce the number of violations.
Janković added that further steps could be taken depending on the number of complaints and information provided by the competent authorities.
STA, 16 August 2022 - Slovenia's economy grew at an annual rate of 8.2% in the second quarter of the year driven by domestic and foreign demand, according to preliminary figures released by the Statistics Office on Tuesday. The rate is a slowdown from the nominal annual rate of 9.6% in the quarter before as the latest data shows.
Household expenditure was the biggest driver of domestic consumption, as trade in services had the most positive effect on foreign demand.
Domestic consumption increased by 8% with household expenditure going up by 10.6%. Gross fixed capital formation rose by 6.4%. Changes in inventories contributed 1.1 percentage points to GDP growth.
Exports growth outpaced growth in imports as a result of a high increase in exports of services. Total exports went up by 8.7% and imports by 8.5% over the second quarter of 2021.
Exports of services increased by 38.7% as imports of services rose by 22.4%. By contrast, merchandise exports rose at a slower pace than imports of goods like in the previous four quarters.
External trade balance contributed 0.6 percentage points to GDP growth.
Total value added increased by 8.7% compared with the second quarter of 2021. Trade activity grew by 20.8% to have the most positive impact for the third consecutive quarter.
Services continued to grow strong, with the information and communication industry expanding by 13.7% and professional, scientific and technical activities expanding by 12.4%.
Meanwhile, growth in manufacturing had been slowing for the fifth consecutive quarter, but it remained positive, at 2.7% year-on-year in the second quarter.
Total employment in the second quarter increased by 3.4% year-on-year to 1,080,000 persons. Most new jobs were created in construction, manufacturing and professional, scientific and technical activities.
According to data adjusted for season and work days, which is used for comparisons within the EU, Slovenia's economy expanded by 8.3% year-on-year in the second quarter. It grew by 0.9% on the quarter before.
The Statistics Office will present more detailed data at a news conference on Thursday.
STA, 10 August 2022 - The Court of Audit has issued the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SAZU) an adverse opinion for its 2020 operations, establishing a number of shortcomings and irregularities regarding jobs, pay, allowances, purchase of services and oversight of funds, while also taking issue with the academy's legal status.
The audit report, released on Wednesday, says that two sets of internal rules were adopted and signed by the administrative director, who is not authorised to do so.
It also reveals shortcomings in the document classifying jobs at SAZU, including failure to specify the number and types of certain jobs at individual organisational unit.
In one vacancy advertisement, SAZU did not set down all the job conditions required for that job, thus lowering the job criteria.
One employee was placed in a higher pay bracket than her starting bracket and was thus overpaid by EUR 100 monthly.
She also received a higher monthly years-of-service allowance, and without an agreement on increased workload, a performance bonus of EUR 4,700.
Two workers meanwhile received full pay despite being unable to do the tasks in line with the employment contract because they worked from home.
Six workers received EUR 822 more than they should in commuting costs.
The court also finds SAZU Day problematic in that it is a work-free day for SAZU staff while they receive pay as usual.
It notes in the report that in Slovenia, a worker has the right to a work-free holiday only on the country's bank holidays and other work-free days set down by the law.
The audit report also identifies a failure to establish adequate internal oversight in awarding funds to SAZU's Science and Research Centre (ZRC).
SAZU did not verify the legal basis and the amount of funds for invoices of at least EUR 5,000 before paying the money to ZRC, says the report.
It also avoided the application of the public procurement act when purchasing printing and publishing services, and purchased software services that were available free of charge.
The court moreover points out the dilemmas regarding the legal status of SAZU and the impact the vagueness has on its operations.
Under the SAZU act, the academy is an autonomous institution of its members and a public legal person with rights and obligations set down in the SAZU law and in the SAZU statute. Conditions for its work and development are secured by the Republic of Slovenia.
The court has issued a set of recommendations for SAZU to eliminate the irregularities and tasking it to report back to it on the progress.
SAZU said it would fully follow the recommendations and would duly report back to the court on the remedial measures implemented. SAZU president Peter Štih also said that most of the flaws found by the court had been tackled in the meantime.