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Prime Minister Janez Janša: Managing the coronavirus will be much more successful if we cooperate

Prime Minister Janez Janša participated at the meeting of four presidents at the presidential palace today, which is traditionally organised by the President of the Republic, Borut Pahor. The meeting was attended by Prime Minister Janez Janša, President of the Republic, Borut Pahor, President of the National Assembly, Igor Zorčič, and the President of the National Council, Alojz Kovšca.

The purpose of these meetings, which have become regular and were introduced by Borut Pahor in 2014, is the exchange of opinions on those matters of the state which require extensive political cooperation and support for their successful resolution. The participants talked about the COVID-19 epidemic, the implementation of the decision of the constitutional court regarding the elections, and on the preparations on presiding over the EU Council, among other things.

After the meeting, Prime Minister Janez Janša told the media that we are faced with the last third of fighting the virus, where the forecasts of professionals advising the European Commission show that the two months ahead of us will be harder than the months before. “Even though there is light at the end of the tunnel, in the form of vaccines which have already been approved or which we expect to be approved in the coming weeks and months, it is clear that we will not be able to stop the version of the virus which we have been fighting so far, until late spring, when we expect to achieve an immunisation coverage,” said Prime Minister Janez Janša. He continued by saying that there are weeks and months ahead of us where, in addition to vaccinating and protecting the most vulnerable groups of people, we will need to combine all the measures we have taken this year, without risking what has become known in these last days, namely the spread of the mutated version of the coronavirus from the alleged epicentre in Great Britain. “We have been working on this intensively for the last two days, and have also been coordinating with the European Commission. All the information so far confirms an increased risk. This means that there is a certain increasing threat ahead, regardless of the good information about vaccination that we have received over the past weeks,” stressed the prime minister.

“This is the time in which we need stability a lot more than instability, and I agree with the President of the Republic that the coronavirus shall be defeated and that next year we will spend our Christmas holiday season without masks and in a more relaxed atmosphere, without restrictions of visits, and in a situation where life shall be normal again; but until then, there are still some steps ahead,” said the prime minister.

According to him, the success in managing the coronavirus depends on our current ability to cooperate. “The greater the cooperation, the lower the price; however, the higher the exclusion, the higher the price. It has always been this way, both in Slovenian history and in the history of other countries,” the prime minister is convinced.

“Regarding the new threat that has appeared now, we expect that the situation will be clarified throughout the day, yet it is already clear that the new version of the virus is not only present in the Great Britain, but also in other European countries, and even in our neighbouring countries,” said the prime minister, and added that measures for complete border closure have been coordinated through the night. “Before we decide on that, we will need to coordinate with the European Commission, because with a drastic measure like that, cooperation on both sides of the border is necessary in order to prevent even greater problems than those that people will already face,” said the prime minister. He stressed that “already today, we are advising against all plans for non-urgent travel until mid-March, and recommend postponing any such plans. We are also advising anyone planning to visit Slovenia during this time to delay the visit. We will be twice as happy to see each and every visit when such caution will no longer be necessary.”

“Considering the vaccination, the professionals have accepted a uniform opinion about priorities, whereas the quantities that have been announced will remain as they are. Particularly with fast vaccination of the high risk groups, we will have a significant impact on the most tragic consequences of the epidemic. All the things we currently need to give up; contact, visits, gatherings, parties, public life; everything can be caught up later on. The thing we cannot catch up on later is the lost lives, which is why I offer my condolences to all those who have lost their loved ones,” said the prime minister, and added that the vaccination strategy will be primarily directed towards the prevention of the acceleration of the drastic consequences of the epidemic.

“In regard to the election system, I believe that there is an elegant solution to fulfil the decision of the Constitutional Court by adjusting the size of the electoral districts to those principles. I believe that a sufficient majority will soon be formed in the National Assembly to accept such a law,” said Prime Minister Janša.

Considering the presidency of Slovenia to the Council of the European Union, Prime Minister Janez Janša recalled that Slovenia has been intensively included in the preparations of the programme at the very start of the mandate. “We are part of the trio with Germany and Portugal, in which Germany concludes its presidency at the end of the year and Portugal starts it next year. Subsequently, two priorities have been added to our common programme - creation of the strategic plan of the EU for tackling the pandemic, and creation of the plan to face the threat of cyber attacks. Since May, when they were added to the trio programme, both priorities were not just adopted, but intensive work has already been done on that, and no time has been lost in preparations for our presidency, because it is clear that they are permanent threats. The European Union, as was most clearly seen at the beginning of this year, was not prepared for any of them,” said Prime Minister Janez Janša.

He added that there is an immense amount of work in these fields, but it does not show. “The remaining institutions in Slovenia are carrying out the preparations, so there will be no problems, also because we are already experienced,” said the prime minister. He also added that the key question beyond the time of the presidency is linked to the end of the epidemic, and with the victory against the coronavirus that could be declared in the European Union. “This will happen when 70% of Europeans have been successfully vaccinated with an effective vaccine. If this does not happen until the start of our presidency, tackling the epidemic will be our top priority,” said the prime minister, because there can only be focus on one strategic priority inside the European Union, “because all the steps need to be coordinated, and what is most relevant and most important, as well as most threatening, is the first point with which we shall deal the most.”

He also added that our expectations about the presidency are flexible, and that “we are setting up reserves, in case there is another new threat during this time.”

Prime Minister Janez Janša also answered a few questions from the press regarding the current events, the vaccination and the mass testing for the coronavirus.

“In regard to the testing, which was announced by the former minister of health for today in Ljubljana, I would like to say that promotional rapid tests have been announced. Ljubljana is not among the most at risk regions by the number of infections; it belongs to those regions with lifted measures. In the last two days, we wanted to upgrade this promotional testing into the beginning of a system in which individuals could be tested with rapid tests, with the priority to do so in the most at risk regions. Work has been on-going in this field since Saturday, and tomorrow this should occur in some places in Slovenia, yet this will not be promotional testing, but the fulfilment of the plan adopted some time ago, in which, in addition to the tests carried out in health centres, residential care homes, and schools, every person who thinks they could be infected has the possibility to undergo a rapid test, and later check the result with a classic PCR test. At this moment, it is currently unknown in how many places this will be available tomorrow; however, we are working on providing as many as possible,” said Prime Minister Janša.

“Considering priorities for vaccination, those with the highest risk will come first. We are talking about those care recipients from residential care homes that have not yet recovered from COVID-19, the high risk groups in healthcare, the residential care homes and then the rest, according to the plan which has already been presented to the public many times. When the high risk groups have been vaccinated, others will follow in the order recorded in the application, where people have been able to register for some time,” said Prime Minister Janez Janša.

“Regarding political stability or instability: the media reported a constructive vote of no confidence in April this year, one month after the government swore in the midst of the worst conditions in the first wave of the epidemic. I believe SD announced the vote of no confidence, and I don’t remember a single day when this was not repeated, initially by one candidate, then by the next candidate for prime minister; a public tender was almost published for the prime minister position. This week was also full of various forecasts. If anyone has enough votes and can form a stronger government in this situation and composition of the National Assembly, then they should do so. My firm belief is that this is not possible. Perhaps, under great pressure and with your help, someone would be able to get 46 votes and overthrow the government. There are at least two parties in the so-called KUL coalition that support preliminary elections, which is what we tried to avoid with the formation of this government in March - the election campaign and political instability in the most severe part of the epidemic, in the period when the government and all sectors need to operate 24 hours per day, and where, with the constant fighting on the coronavirus front, we need to look at who is shooting you in the back and in the direction of the coalition partners. If anyone thinks they are contributing to the common good with this, then they think differently than the majority in this country,” said Prime Minister Janez Janša. He also asked whether anyone knew of an EU country, or a country outside the EU or anywhere else in the world, where the opposition’s main focus on the brink of the third wave of the epidemic was the overthrow of the government? “This is present nowhere, and we are unique in this. This is legitimate in the formal sense, but far from legitimate is everything else that is happening in the background, with pressure mounting on members of the parliament, information on buying votes to arrange something which should not exist in a normal country.”

“In March this year, DeSUS and SMS, who were prepared to form a mixed coalition consisting of the various parties with different opinions about the past, but prepared to cooperate for the common good, for the present and for the future, prevented something that someone now wishes to re-establish. The time of high risk, where we all shall pay a high price,” said Prime Minister Janez Janša, who continued: “I ask myself why there can’t be a timeout of 2 months, a vote of no confidence may be submitted and votes may be counted even then, why is this happening now? It is not the government’s task to vote for no confidence against itself, that is the right of those who believe they can provide a better alternative in this formation of the National Assembly. If this better alternative existed, then the previous government would not have stepped down,” said Prime Minister Janša.

“Regarding cooperation with the other political parties: The coalition offered all parties in the country, even the two minority representatives, a chance to cooperate during the epidemic in May this year, whereby no obligations were placed on the opposition, while the government and the coalition had the obligation to harmonise all key solutions with the opposition. Unfortunately, only one party and both minority representatives decided to sign the agreement. The offer still stands, because it was not offered on a “take it or leave it” basis, everyone could have proposed different forms and different articles, and additional commitments for the government. Instead, we were rejected. We repeated the offer many times, and it still stands. We are always prepared to cooperate with anyone who wishes to help in fighting the epidemic or harmonise any other issues,” said the prime minister.

He also added that the “main current issue after the government submitted PKP7, despite complications with DeSUS, and in which the aid for the economy and the people worth hundreds of millions of euros, is the non-governmental organisations fund.” “I should add that the proposal that every one of us who is paying personal income tax should pay 1% instead of 0.5%, came from the Debureaucratisation Council and the Olympic Committee. We believe it is fair for the people to decide themselves who to give that 1% of personal income tax to - the fire department, Karitas, the Peace Institute, or someone else. By doubling these assets and leaving the people to decide for themselves, we returned to the original proposal of some years ago, when there was an option for everyone to allocate part of their personal income tax to someone who they believed is working in their interest.”

“The government effectively said that it will no longer decide who to give the money to. If the National Assembly adopts a different decision, then we will respect it. When this option was put into law two years ago, this was not the government’s proposal, but an amendment of the Levica political party, which later received the majority of votes. If the majority of the National Assembly deem it more fitting for the administrative committee to allocate the money, and not the people paying the personal income tax, the government will respect its decision. This is therefore not the final decision, as it was two years ago when the main purpose was degraded. The government will not fall apart because of this, because this is a matter of only a tiny fraction of assets in the entire anti-corona package in which we are addressing the issues of more than 700,000 people in Slovenia, while for some, the largest problem is the non-governmental organisations, which themselves say they cannot get 5 euros from people. They should therefore ask themselves about their usefulness,” concluded the prime minister.