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Janez Janša: With the EU plan for recovery Slovenia gained more room to manoeuvre to extend certain measures

Yesterday, Prime Minister Janez Janša was a guest on the programme A Talk with the Prime Minister, which was broadcast on TV Slovenija 1. The Prime Minister spoke about various current issues, such as Slovenia’s efforts to fight the coronavirus epidemic, the EU’s response to the crisis, the upcoming recession and the economic recovery of Slovenia. The Prime Minister and the TV host also discussed the functioning of the coalition and the cooperation between the coalition and the opposition.

Prime Minister Janez Janša was a guest on the programme A Talk with the Prime Minister, which was broadcast on TV Slovenija 1.

Prime Minister Janez Janša was a guest on the programme A Talk with the Prime Minister, which was broadcast on TV Slovenija 1. | Author Kabinet predsednika vlade

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First, the Prime Minister said that the current crisis is “deep, but we hope it won’t last long.” He added that “we will do everything to ensure that the recession does not turn into a depression, as was the case in Slovenia after the last economic and financial crisis, which started in 2009. At the moment, we are still in the phase of decline. This means that according to all the forecasts of Slovenian and other notable institutions, this year will be marked by a fall in economic growth and by measures to mitigate the consequences of the epidemic. Next year, we will hopefully experience a V-shaped rebound and restart growth. The optimistic forecasts also predict this,” said the Prime Minister.

In relation to the opening of the borders with our neighbouring countries, the Prime Minister stated that the epidemic is now at the stage when infections are manageable and this is not the case only in Slovenia, but in most European countries, which means that public life does not need to be shut down and measures can be eased. “However, we still have new infections, even in Slovenia. We also have a new case among health care workers, which is why we need to be careful. But a border is a two-way street. First, the epidemiological situation must be favourable on both sides of the border and second, countries must be prepared to isolate these individual infections,” emphasised Prime Minister Janša, who added that we have an additionally complicated situation regarding the opening of the borders due to our border with Italy, which was the epicentre of the epidemic. “In all the projections made in cooperation with experts, the Government assessed that the measures relating to the opening of the borders can begin to ease more substantially after June 1. And we are not there yet. The end of the epidemic has not been officially declared yet. Hungary, where the epidemiological situation is similar, was the only country we were able to reach an agreement with to ease border restrictions for both nationals before June 1 and partially also with Croatia. Croatia’s epidemiologic situation is more complex than it seems and consequently stricter border restrictions are implemented for entering the country. The waiting times are also longer there, which is unfortunate for Slovenians,” added the Prime Minister. He pointed out that Croatia tries to track every citizen entering the country in order to be able to isolate possible infections that might occur. “If Slovenia already had an app for tracking infections or if Europe had agreed to use a common app for tracking infections, all this would be easier. France, for example, approved one today and many other countries had approved one even earlier. In Slovenia, we suggested this in March, but our proposal wasn’t successful,” recalled Prime Minister Janša, who added that the purpose is not to invade privacy, but “to isolate the virus, not people, and to track the virus, not people. In my opinion, the virus does not have the right to privacy.”

The Prime Minister also spoke about measures planned by the EU for recovery after the coronavirus epidemic. “Slovenia’s position in the overall package is somewhat more favourable than we anticipated at first. For this reason, in the third anti-corona package, which is currently being adopted by the National Assembly, the coalition today decided to add an extension of these measures, such as the extension of subsidies for temporary lay-offs in the affected sectors. At the same time, from June 1, subsidies for shorter working hours will also be available, which means that in June both of these measures will be implemented because we assessed that we had gained additional room to manoeuvre and we are at that critical point in time when we need to offer additional help to the economy and the people, so they are not left without work,” emphasised the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister also announced a fourth package of measures, but which will be smaller than the previous three. He pointed out that no EU Member State or any other country around the world affected by the epidemic has any final calculations yet. “The data is still coming in and we don’t know the size of the budget hole yet, nor do we know how much longer this situation will last. If the situation evolves as we anticipate, we will be able to cover most of the urgent matters, such as expenditure on salaries, on the unemployed, the financing of all the measures from both packages and from the fourth, smaller one. Funding will be ensured, which means there will be no need to lower pensions, shorten maternity leave, or adopt the measures that we were forced to adopt in 2012 when we assumed the government in the third year of the crisis,” said Prime Minister Janša.

Regarding the further easing of measures, Prime Minister Janša emphasised that the Government adopted a decision to allow events of up to 200 people. “Epidemiologists say that if the situation remains stable, this number could increase to 500 on June 15 and then there are almost no remaining restrictions. In short, June will be the month when we balance everything and if everything is fine, then we will be able to have volunteer firehouse festivals and concerts in July,” said Janša.

Relating to care for the elderly in the context of the epidemic, Prime Minister Janša stressed, inter alia, that the further organisation of care for the elderly and the construction of new homes for the elderly would need to be based on new standards, enabling the work to be organised in such a manner that the outbreak of infection is limited, should there be one.

Regarding the coalition's work, the Prime Minister highlighted the coalition's discussion on how to organise in the current situation of fighting on two fronts: "On the one hand, we are still struggling to definitively contain the first wave and to prevent the second wave or at least to control it without shutting down public life. On the other hand, we need to tackle the consequences of the epidemic, which includes adopting unpleasant or unusual measures. This is a demanding task," said Prime Minister Janša, adding that they had also debated how to organise in a manner that would enable the realisation of some priorities mentioned in the coalition agreement, although many of them had been made impossible by the macroeconomic shift: "We have agreed that due to the challenges we are facing, at least for this year, wider cooperation is needed. The coalition therefore put forward a proposal today to restore or establish anew the form of cooperation known in the 2004–2008 term as the Partnership for Development. We propose the same approach to all opposition parties and to the two representatives of the national minorities: to participate in drafting the key legislation that needs to be adopted, as well as the legislation that would have to be adopted in any case in the context of reforms, without having to join the coalition and assume responsibility," said the Prime Minister and pointed out that in the 2004–2008 term 52 systemic laws had been coordinated with the opposition accordingly. Janša added that he deemed any person elected president of a political party, particularly a parliamentary one, a partner worthy of consideration and collaboration: "I would be very pleased if the majority of parties joined the partnership. It will be established even if not all of them join. Then again, even back then, not everyone was in favour. I see here a way to decrease tensions," pointed out Prime Minister Janša, adding that he knew how the opposition felt, "since we have spent most of our political life in opposition and nobody has ever offered us any partnership."

Furthermore, the Prime Minister addressed the double standards when dealing with threats by people to notable officials. He mentioned the case of Zagajski, who threatened to kill the then-Prime Minister Borut Pahor: "There was a whole drama. He was arrested and received a harsh prison sentence. I think he had expressed his threats to a policeman. I believe he is still locked up. When I was Prime Minister and an armed policeman threatened to assassinate me, he was acquitted and the case was time-barred. Now, when people threaten murder, the prosecution says that's not a felony. We should use the same criteria for all," argued Prime Minister Janša critically.

Furthermore, while discussing the anti-government protests, the Prime Minister explained how the Second World War had begun: "It looked something like this: Hitler sent to Poland his mercenaries dressed in Polish uniforms. They attacked a border post. Germany claimed it was attacked by Poland, Hitler went on radio and announced: 'At four o'clock, we start firing back.' It was something similar when the government 'attacked' the media and protesters. The protests against this government, where people were yelling 'Kill Janša', had begun before the coalition and the government were even formed. We did not attack the protesters. The protests against the government had begun before it was even formed, and the media have been enticing and supporting them," noted Janša.

When the show host expressed criticism regarding the Prime Minister's posts in social media about certain journalists of TV Slovenija 1, the Prime Minister explained that social media are a form of defence against monopolies: "In a large way. They are of course many other things, but in a way a chance for individuals to defend themselves. In this case, I have only been defending myself. To address the details mentioned by your colleagues, I can list the things presented in court. There must have been some 100 notes, articles, publications and false accusations, before I reacted as I did, which I regret. However, its spirit was not the one included in the lawsuit, which failed.

Concerning amending the electoral legislation, Prime Minister Janša said that the Constitutional Court did not require that electoral districts be abolished, but that they be made approximately the same size. "For instance, my own electoral district, in which I have been elected numerous times, is three times larger than Hrastnik or some other district. In the proportional system, this is not a big issue. The problem, however, is that it is not the same to campaign for 30 000 voters as it is for 7 000 voters, since candidates are not in an equal position. In a proportional system every vote counts, but our system is such that the people think they are voting for a candidate, when in fact they are voting for a party," explained Janša, adding that the problem could be resolved easily. "The problem is the drama caused by those who see an opportunity to abolish electoral districts. Should they be abolished, in two or three terms most deputies in the National Assembly would come from Ljubljana and the other seven regional capitals," said Janša and proposed the solution that the law establishing electoral districts, which does not require a two-thirds majority but a simple majority, should be made to conform with the Constitutional Court decision: "Come autumn, I think there will be an acceptable solution on the table."