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Prime Minister Janez Janša on Nova24TV: No country that fails to recognise the rule of law can be an EU Member State

Prime Minister Janez Janša was a guest on A Talk with the Prime Minister broadcast on Nova24TV. He talked about the epidemiological situation in the country and the measures taken to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, the fifth anti-corona legislative package, the Government's international activities, the EU funding secured by Slovenia, the Demographic Fund and current political topics.

The Prime Minister initially spoke about the epidemiological situation in Slovenia and the growing number of infections with the novel coronavirus. He stressed that the number of infections per day was not the only relevant piece of data but also the number of people needing hospital treatment and the number of people in intensive care. "At the moment, these numbers are still better than the ones Slovenia had in spring, so the strict measures that were implemented then are not necessary for now. Whereas the number of daily infections is higher, their impact is smaller. The effect they have on the system and social subsystems is essential. Right now, the situation is still manageable," said the Prime Minister.

He went on to say that the number of newly infected would have been half less if the measures imposed to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus had been respected and not mocked by influencers with many followers. According to him, the situation is particularly bad in Ljubljana. "Infections are not only spreading at various assemblies but particularly in smaller groups of people socialising after those assemblies," said the Prime Minister, adding that it was problematic if the media did not treat this type of behaviour the same as, for instance, a Government minister seen not wearing a mask at a public event. "If this goes on, we will continue to walk in circles and will never be able to get rid of the virus. Of course more stringent measures can be adopted, but they have economic consequences and we don't have much in the way of reserves to mitigate these," he said.

As regards the media attack on Minister Kustec, who appeared at an event of the Olympic Committee of Slovenia without a mask, the Prime Minister said that he would not defend anyone, including a Government member, who disregarded the measures. However, he believes that the specific case of the media’s attack on Minister Kustec is an example of double standards. "The media condemned the person who, out of all the attendees, was most mindful of the rules, as can be seen from the many photographs from the event," said the Prime Minister, adding that responsibility for the event lied with the organiser. He also said that the Government had advised long ago that organisers of public events should avoid banquets, where a safe distance between participants cannot be maintained. According to the Prime Minister, the fact that this public event was broadcast on national television showed that words were one thing and actions another, which, he believed, was not good.

Responding to questions on the fifth anti-corona legislative package, Prime Minister Janez Janša said that all measures that were part of this package had been proposed by various chambers, associations and other stakeholders that were still affected by the coronavirus epidemic. The funding for the fifth package is envisaged in the revised national budget. "Right now, we are hard at work drawing up a plan for potential future measures if hospital beds continue to fill at this rate," said the Prime Minister. He added that, if this trend were to persist, Slovenia would soon enter the red zone, meaning that another epidemic would have to be declared and measures that we were partly familiar with would have to be adopted, which would come with its price. "The Government is devoting a lot of attention to preparations for the cold season of the virus. As are some other European countries," said the Prime Minister. According to him, Europe was still very out of tune on this issue.  He said that he realised wearing masks was unpleasant, "but it is a small sacrifice compared to what we would have to do if the healthcare system were overburdened, if people died because of the unavailability of other services, if very strict measures had to be implemented again and we had to pay the economic price for that." He expressed hope that the cold weather would mean cooler heads and that we would no longer listen to quarrelling about whether particular measures were necessary or not, "especially as we see that they are being adopted throughout the world and that experts are practically united in their opinion about them."

He also said that the fifth anti-corona package envisaged rewards or fair remuneration for workers in healthcare and social protection institutions who would be transferred elsewhere or would be working directly with COVID patients. The reward system is clearly defined and will no longer allow unnecessary remuneration, as when high amounts were unduly paid out on account of the epidemic by certain institutions, such as the national broadcaster RTVS, even though, according to the Prime Minister, they definitely didn't deserve them.

"In a situation that is extremely tense due to the novel coronavirus, public health must make use of all available capacities, and private practices must also be included. Someone who is in need of medical treatment has an interest in receiving it. On the proposal of the Ministry of Health, the fifth package of anti-corona measures thus provides for the possibility of a national public tender that will allow us to pool all existing healthcare capacities so that the current coronavirus situation does not increase waiting times further and endanger the health of thousands of people," said Prime Minister Janša.

When asked about the Government's recent international engagement and the opposition's accusations that cooperation with European Core Countries was lacking, the Prime Minister responded that Core Europe is no longer what it was upon its establishment. Today, Core Europe is that which advocates that the European Union should continue to exist and that it is capable of doing so, said the Prime Minister. "There are countries that realise there is no Europe without Europeans," said Janša, listing the participants in the Bled Strategic Forum, thereby rejecting the opposition's claims about the direction in which Slovenia's foreign policy is headed.

"The main goal of Slovenian foreign policy is to ensure that Slovenia has the best possible relationship with as many countries as possible and that such relationships bring economic benefits and greater security," said the Prime Minister. He also stressed the importance of good neighbourly relations. "Your neighbour is the first that can lend a hand, someone with whom you need to coordinate, especially in crises such as the spring epidemic." He added that foreign policy was a tool for advancing national interests. "As the national interests of each country collide with the national interests of another, these relations must be handled in as peaceful and non-conflict manner as possible.  Each new alliance that a foreign policy secures for the country is therefore a big step forward. And each conflict, each enemy created or made artificially is a big step backwards," said Prime Minister Janša.

As regards cooperation with other European countries during the epidemic, he said the following: "The Government I run was sworn in at the National Assembly the day after Slovenia declared an epidemic. As soon as I took office, I had a phone conversation with President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, who was prepared to help Slovenia but did not have the tools at her disposal to do that. At the time, the European Commission did not have warehouses filled with protective equipment or a plan."  That is why a strategic plan for controlling the epidemic is one of the priorities of the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the EU and was included in the programme of our trio with Germany and Portugal that is already underway. "In such situations, goodwill is of no use if there are no means or tools to help with. In practice, the only help is help in the form of protective equipment, the experts who came to Slovenia, the means of transport, the airplanes that we needed to deliver protective equipment." During the epidemic, such assistance came from Czechia, Poland and Hungary, said the Prime Minister. At that time, Slovenia was also in close contact with all neighbouring countries in the form of daily communication between prime ministers and competent ministers dealing with problems concerning kilometres-long queues, crossings and people returning. He believes this worked and averted chaos.

The Prime Minister went on to speak about the rule of law. "The European Union itself is founded on the rule of law. No country that fails to recognise this foundation can be an EU Member State," he said resolutely, adding that he didn't know of any Member State that had given up this foundation. And that was clearly established at the European Council summit in July. "But the European Council will not go along with someone trying to fill the concept of the rule of law with their view of how certain marginal groups should be privileged, introducing double standards into the concept of the rule of law where political prisoners in one Member State are tolerated while completely logical changes or reforms in the judicial system are disapproved of in another," said the Prime Minister adamantly. "Political calculations and trading within European Parliament can result in one majority or another, but the rule of law ends the moment a political vote is taken. The European Parliament is a political formation made up of various political groups. If a vote decides on the definition of the rule of law in one country or another, the European Union is on the fast track to disintegration. The happenings in the European Parliament have nothing to do with reality; it is merely something that happens in the Brussels bubble, where people don't know where the key problems that have to be solved actually lie," said the Prime Minister.

He also touched on the successful negotiations on obtaining EU funding at the EU Summit in July. "The key thing, namely that it was possible to negotiate a good net position for Slovenia, lies in the fact that we first had to negotiate a good overall package, as regards both the budget and the Recovery and Resilience Facility. And this happened based on an alliance between the south and the centre, that is between Central Europe and Mediterranean countries that were affected by the epidemic. An alliance of far more than half of the EU Member States was established," said the Prime Minister, adding that Slovenia has succeeded in presenting its position directly where decisions are made. In this regard, he also pointed to the good team that represented Slovenia at the negotiations.

He said that, in the future, it would be crucial to draw and invest the obtained funds. To that end, the Government has established an expert group that participates in Government meetings and resolves issues faced by individual ministries on an ongoing basis.

The Prime Minister also touched on the issue of a demographic fund. He stressed that the purpose of such a fund was to continue to grow and that every year there would be more money in the fund. "Part of what will be accumulated in the fund will be used to replenish the pension insurance fund budget, address the issue of long-term care, build homes for the elderly, and adopt family policy measures that are of key importance for the pension system’s long-term functioning," said the Prime Minister, adding that the fund will have to deliver results otherwise its managers will be replaced. The managers will also be under national supervision since representatives of the opposition will also be members of the supervisory board.

"The management of state property is dispersed among many state-owned companies, and approximately EUR 30 to 50 million is spent on managing and supervising these companies, and this cost will no longer be incurred once the demographic fund is established and management and supervision are in one place. Even if an anomaly occurs, it will be visible, identified and sanctioned," said the Prime Minister, adding that the demographic fund will be established to comprehensively address the demographic issue. "The demographic issue does not arise when the number of pensioners starts to increase, but when the number of births starts to decrease. Family policy measures address this issue at the very beginning. This is why the law provides for these measures to be partly financed from those funds. In addition, a representative of the young generation on the supervisory board will monitor the implementation of these policies," said the Prime Minister.

With regard to the current political developments and the situation in which the DeSUS party finds itself, the Prime Minister said he was convinced that DeSUS would remain a strong coalition partner. He stressed that internal party issues were concern of each individual party and that the SDS party did not want to interfere with other parties, and vice versa, that he did not want other parties to interfere with SDS. "The coalition respects this principle and that is why we have good relations. I do not want to assess the situation in DeSUS. If DeSUS remains a coalition partner, they will have their rights and obligations, and, in this respect, I do not see any problems with cooperation in the future," said the Prime Minister, going on to add that, in this Government, DeSUS is a party that has implemented almost 100% of its programme. He said he was surprised that the turmoil we are seeing has hit the very party that has achieved the most in this Government. In his opinion, this was also due to external interests, which are aimed not at forwarding DeSUS's interests, but at bringing down the Government.

With regard to early elections and the possible fall of the Government, the Prime Minister stressed that the leftist part of the opposition had only one goal in mind, namely to come to power, and this without a programme, without a constructive approach. "If we had an opposition with a programme, an alternative, that could propose better measures to curb the coronavirus, then we would live in a normal world, and if such an opposition gets enough votes to bring down this Government and strives to do things better, then so be it, but this is not what we have in Slovenia," said Mr Janša. In this regard, he stressed that he saw no programme objectives that would connect the left part of the opposition, which has disintegrated after giving up, other than that of wanting to come to power, claiming how bad everything is now.  "If they are the alternative, things will get only worse if they succeed in bringing down this Government," he was convinced.

At the end of the interview, he said that SDS, as the largest coalition party, could take part in elections at any time. "It would probably be easier to rule after the elections than it is now," he said, adding that, without coalition partners closing ranks to solve problems, who knows what consequences the period of the election campaign and the impact of the coronavirus during the cold months would actually have on the common good. "Since the stakes are high, the current coalition is not playing around with this. The Government will do everything in its power to work on resolving specific issues at hand, hoping that the external efforts to rock the coalition boat will not hinder our work too much," he concluded.

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