Prime Minister Janez Janša: The anti-corona package represents a financial cushion for the period following the coronavirus epidemic.
The Government is also drafting a second anti-corona package, the purpose of which will be in particular to resolve the issue of liquidity in the Slovenian economy, and a third package in which the legislator will outline the exit strategy for the period following the end of the epidemic.
As part of the urgent procedure, the deputies of the National Assembly are today discussing the act proposal on intervention measures to contain the COVID-19 epidemic and mitigate its consequences for citizens and the economy, as submitted for discussion by the Government.
The Prime Minister further elaborated on the act proposal.
The transcript, which has not yet been authorised, is provided below.
JANEZ JANŠA: Dear Mister President, thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak. Esteemed High Assembly.
In front of you is an act or, more precisely, a legislative package, which has never before been seen in this hall. From a proportionate point of view, no other parliament in any other country in the world has discussed such a proposal until this epidemic, except perhaps in the exceptional circumstances of a state of war.
The package amounts to approximately EUR 3 billion and will be financed outside the known frameworks of budgetary funding of public and other needs as practised in the past. The European Central Bank created this manoeuvring space, assisted by the European Commission. It has not yet been completed, but is almost fully developed.
We are in a situation most easily described as the invisible hand of the market being replaced by the visible hand of the state. This act incorporates many intervention measures which no government in a social market economy anywhere in the world would propose in a situation less extraordinary. But we find ourselves in different circumstances now. Only a month ago this National Assembly discussed various issues. Some even involved preparations for elections. It seemed that the situation in China as it was then, and even in neighbouring Italy, were distant and remote occurrences, and that there was a wall between us and the countries where the epidemic was rife; a wall through which the virus could not penetrate. We are still collectively in awe of how it was possible that, in a world where everything is globalised and where information is accessible almost simultaneously thanks to modern technology, such ignorance was actually possible.
Well, the situation is completely different today. There are tens of thousands of casualties around the world, many of them in our neighbouring countries. As of today, more people have died of the virus in our country than there were victims in the territorial defence units and the Slovenian Police during the Independence War. The number of people who have tested positive for the virus is approaching one thousand, and the number of those in need of intensive care is rising every day, including the number of those requiring hospitalisation.
There are two critical points. One critical point is the lack of personal protective equipment and critical medicinal equipment. This is being addressed promptly. So far, these items have not run out for urgent needs, and will not run short in the future, either. So, this situation offers grounds for optimism. The condition of teams working in the front lines is more critical. There are currently 110 people who have tested positive for the virus – this information dates from yesterday – in the healthcare system, i.e. doctors and nurses, who were the most burdened at this time. Those who were in contact with them are now in isolation, which means that we have temporarily lost the services of several hundred people who have the most experience and who have also made the greatest contribution in the combat against the spread of the epidemic. You are well aware that these capacities were already insufficient in Slovenian health care during uncritical times, but now the situation is even more grave due to these consequences. Everything that we are doing to contain the epidemic is primarily intended to help these capacities to suffice in the following days and weeks so that they will be able to help those in need of hospitalisation and intensive care.
A crisis situation has occurred in numerous retirement homes, which we are resolving promptly. The most vulnerable category of citizens can be found therein, and the consequences of delayed measures are most visible in retirement homes.
In addition to these consequences, which are direct results of the spread of the virus and the epidemic, we as a society – and we are not the only ones, nor are we an exception – also feel all other consequences due to the shutdown of public life, cessation of public passenger transport, termination of numerous activities, including in the business sector, activities which cannot proceed in public administration and in general. In addition to social and psychological consequences, these also cause financial repercussions. Some of these should be addressed as soon as possible and that is why the act in front of you aims at establishing conditions for enforcing the most urgent measures to contain the epidemic. We have yet to do this. We have not yet arrived at the peak and it will be clear in the next 10 to 14 days how successful these measures were. At the same time, the proposal strives to establish or set a financial cushion on the basis of which Slovenia will preserve the potential stored in its people, economy, culture, science, i.e. everything required for a normal life following the epidemic.
The proposal you received from the Government is not perfect. We have never claimed to know everything. It is impossible to draft flawless legislation in such a short time with the known bureaucratic complexity of the entire system necessary for you to receive an act for consideration. I have served in all compositions of this Parliament and I know that we sometimes received 60 or 70 amendments even for acts that governed very trivial matters and it took us two days to go through the material. What you have received in the form of this act is complex material that is not flawless and it also does not include 100 per cent of the calculations regarding the effects because this is impossible to do and no one has done this elsewhere in the world where similar acts are being passed.
In regard to the amendments, I repeat again – I think I am going to say this for the fifteenth time in the last few days; I do not know how much has come from you to the media or through other channels because I do not have time to follow it – but this act is the first chapter in a series.
The Government is drafting a second package intended particularly to resolve the issue of liquidity in the Slovenian economy, which is one of the key issues that needs to be addressed if we wish to function normally after the epidemic, to have jobs, to finally discuss next year’s budget in the autumn. If the Slovenian economy is not functional – I mean the economy in the broader sense that includes anyone who creates anything – then there will be no budget and the situation will be significantly more dramatic than anyone can imagine today.
The second package will also include corrections pertaining to the act that is before you. After the proposal was submitted to the National Assembly and after it was made public, we received many comments. Many were legitimate and many of such nature that at least approximate calculations have to be made before they are included in the act or else a structure collapses that was at least somewhat logical. Regarding the timeline, nothing will be delayed since three or four compositions of the National Assembly were unable to adopt or the Governments were unable to propose legislation that would govern the constitutional amendment, which prevents a referendum on acts that resolve crisis situation and are of a financial nature. According to current arrangements, this act has to wait for the National Assembly’s decision. The National Council stated that it does not require a veto, which is apparently not a problem regarding its decisions about acts discussed recently on this issue. Then there is the deadline for collecting signatures for the referendum initiative and everything else. We have already experienced delays in the enforcement of an act in practice; we know the procedure. Moreover, during this time of the epidemic, anyone – and that is their constitutional right – can collect 2,500 signatures and then all the deadlines in this act will be postponed.
Thus, the Government submitted to the National Assembly yesterday the amendment to the Referendum and Popular Initiative Act that governs in more detail what is written in the Constitution relating to the possibility of a referendum in such cases.
This Act is urgent and, as far as I know, requires a two third majority vote of deputies present. And at this point, I call on the responsibility of everyone voting on this or giving your vote so that the procedures urgently needed right now, and which must be passed by the National Assembly, will be possible.
As we have to solve this problem first, the relevant act and the second package may enter into force in the same week if, in the meantime, you amend the Referendum and Popular Initiative Act and provide the Parliament with the opportunity to work remotely, which, I believe, is under discussion to be carried out through amendments to the Rules of Procedure. And nothing will be lost which would not have been lost in any case.
The Government has been working 48 hours virtually without a break to meet the deadlines. One of the deadlines that will not be met and is important is the deadline for the payment of salaries to healthcare workers, to all those who have carried the heaviest workload in the past month. An additional bonus, i.e. between ten and 200 per cent of payment, is provided for them by the act, but healthcare institutions are currently not able to realise such payments. They may only pay a crisis bonus in the amount of 65 per cent of salary non-selectively – either that or nothing. And you know that this is not a suitable instrument for this situation. Beneficiaries have many questions, and there is plenty of dissatisfaction among them, and also among people who have been working not double but triple or quadruple shifts, and among people who have fallen ill as a result. Workers in healthcare institutions or healthcare listening to this should know that the act will enter into force, that there will be retrospective payment, but that the bonus will not be paid with salaries in April, as we have procedural issues that we have not resolved in seven years, but I hope that we or you will now be able to resolve them in a few days.
The second package is being drafted. Now that the first act has been published, we have received numerous proposals. We had received certain proposals before but particularly after the publication. Many proposals are good but cannot be part of this act as a simple amendment. If you propose an exemption from paying income tax at the end of the year and not freezing it, but propose an exemption from paying income tax for all who will receive the basic income or bonus, but do not provide this to people who will be working and receiving salaries during this time, grave social injustice will be done to 100,000 people, and such an amendment is proposed.
There are many other issues that do not have to be included in this package, whose deadlines will not expire; everything may be resolved without apprehensiveness, without night sessions in the drafting of the second package. Unfortunately, this act will be a series; a third package will also be drafted, in which you as legislators will have to determine the exit strategy for the period following the epidemic when the Government, hopefully, will adopt a decision that the epidemic ended on a certain day. I do not know when this time will come, and no one in the world does. But keep in mind that the breaking point will be the day when any national institution for vaccine certification in a developed country patents a vaccine and when producers of the vaccine will produce sufficient amounts thereof for large-scale application. That day the light at the end of the tunnel will be reached, stock markets will recover, and the situation will start to normalise. Until then, even if we curb this wave, there is no guarantee that it will not reoccur in the autumn; for this reason, we should bear in mind that we do not know how long certain measures will have to be in place along with other measures now being adopted. Therefore, I point out that 100,000 people are awaiting this act and its psychological effects. There were certain complications because of you and because of us or the way the executive branch drafts legislative proposals and then all this may be subsequently amended, which is what we are dealing with now; such complications will not occur in the drafting of the second package, and you may file all you want to file as an amendment with a clear conscience, not next week, but definitely this month and sooner than the last week in April, when the second anti-corona package will be on the table.
We will prepare numerous amendments too; there are vulnerable groups that were not included in this package, but the number is relatively low. This will be resolved in the second package, in the second step, in the second chapter, without anyone suffering harm in any way. This will be done much better, as we will be able to carefully consider everything that will be adopted.
We do not claim that everything is pure gold, we do not claim that there are no mistakes in all these complex issues, that a safeguard is missing or that there is one safeguard too many. Two million people who have been observing the process are bound to know more than some hundred people who participated in the drafting of this act; what mattered here was speed. I hope that certain issues related to the speed that has become rather relative will be settled subsequently without much harm.
In conclusion, I would like to say that sessions of the former Slovenian Assembly, which had three chambers, were held almost every day and independence legislation was adopted exactly 30 years ago in the same hall, which had not yet been renovated. Crucial acts were adopted with a few votes of the then government majority on that day 30 years ago in March 1991. Three months after the plebiscite, Slovenia, which was preparing for independence, had not yet adopted the budget, although it had been proposed by the Government the previous autumn, when the opposition at the time raised objections. Key funds for all independence measures were only ensured in April, and some of them were realised later with great difficulty. Nevertheless, we did it.
After twenty years, the people who filed the most amendments to our independence acts proposed that Slovenian Independence Day be named Independence and Unity Day. History does not have to repeat itself. All the Government has proposed here was in good faith. Without us thinking that we are the smartest, that we know it all.
We have engaged numerous experts of all political beliefs and will continue to do so. I would like to point out that the same approach is present in this National Assembly at a time when there is no internal enemy, there is only an external one. What we are facing and what the whole world is facing is described in books on biological warfare, and there are thousands of them. Theories have also been developed on the so-called hybrid warfare which is partially present given the fact that certain instruments of cyber threats have been used. In spite of that, no one was prepared for this. No one was prepared for this. Numerous international institutions did not react soon enough, instruments are not working.
The only help worth mentioning is that which we have received from certain Central European countries, despite asking all countries for help. There are countries south of Slovenia that are in a worse situation. They do not even have 100,000 face masks, while the epidemic is expanding. It will take some time before these international instruments return to normal.
The European Commission has adopted certain measures in time, while others are being drafted. The European budget for the next seven years will be completely different, but the negotiations have not yet concluded. Many funds will be available to eliminate the consequences of the epidemic. As a country, we will have to invest or draw in real time, not with significant delays as we have done before. Countless rules that formerly applied in this European framework do not apply any more. Rules in the sense of the amount of permitted state aid, borrowing, and so on. A completely new framework is being created, which, however, has not yet been finalised. In this regard, considering that I do not believe that you have been informed of this discussion in detail, which is crucial and is being held within the European Union, it is important that the area we joined with a vast majority of votes at a referendum and in praise of which we happily sang the European anthem in 2004, functions in a way that will give people hope that it actually exists and can be supportive. To this end, Slovenia joined the group of countries which includes Spain, France, Ireland, and certain other countries within the euro area, which demand a corona bond be issued to eliminate the consequences of the coronavirus epidemic, and which will provide funds to mitigate and eliminate the consequences of this epidemic at approximately the same price. Otherwise, Europe's north-south divide will be even greater once the epidemic is over.
Differences will be more profound, people’s trust in European instruments will be even lower, and the destiny of the common currency will be seriously challenged. Our future fiscal profile will also largely depend on whether we will manage to provide such an instrument or a similar one to finance the mitigation of the main consequences of this epidemic.
If we provide this instrument, and if there is a vaccine in the autumn as per the latest forecast by the European Commission, we may, with relative optimism, rely on the fact that the fiscal consequences of this epidemic will be spread over the next 20 or 25 years and that perhaps, in a few years, we will not feel this in terms of the quality of life, welfare, etc. If this does not happen, we will go back 20 years to when we were outside of the European Union even if we are formally still part of it, and will have to be responsible mainly for ourselves, and there is also a big question as to whether we will still be able to use the common currency.
This is how serious things are. This epidemic also affects the usual international relations and the allocation of the geostrategic power in the world, which will have macroeconomic and microeconomic consequences. For this reason, I am calling on you to give the Government some space to deal with these things and to allow the National Assembly to function in the future.
The Slovenian Constitution envisages other options for such a situation. The Government has discussed this and decided not to propose the delegation of powers from the National Assembly to the Government in the meaning of the article of the Constitution which enables it. To this end, the National Assembly must be operational; if it is not and if remote sessions are not an option, if any one of us is tested positive tomorrow, you will all have to isolate yourselves and the state will not have the ability to decide in real time in a situation which will not be easier for at least a few weeks, but will be even more difficult than that of today. Therefore, this is extremely important.
The Act Amending the Referendum and Popular Initiative Act is just as important as the act you are reading, so that we do not have to wait for weeks for an act to enter into force. The adoption of your Rules of Procedure is equally important. If the National Assembly cannot meet and powers are not delegated, which the Government has not proposed, a vacuum will be created and there will not be anyone who can take real measures in real time. There will only be lawyers writing expert opinions, but in the end, harm will be done to all.
I am again calling on everyone, including the opposition. I spent most of my time in the National Assembly in the opposition. I know what it is like to propose amendments which are all rejected. In the drafting of the second package, I promise that we will cooperate to the maximum extent. Everything which makes sense, which will not disrupt the structure, which will resolve problems, as you said, of specific vulnerable groups, will be included in this act, as it would be unfair if anyone was left out.
Thank you very much.