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Prime Minister Janez Janša: Fight back against the pandemic had taken 80 or more per cent of the energy and the time of the Government

At today’s press conference at Brdo pri Kranju, Prime Minister Janez Janša, Deputy Prime Minister Zdravko Počivalšek, Matej Tonin, and the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Jože Podgoršek presented the achievements on the occasion of the first anniversary of this administration of the Government of the Republic of Slovenia and the priorities of work for the coming period.

At the outset, Prime Minister Janez Janša said that the Government led by him had taken the oath almost a year ago. However, what has happened over the past year is not comparable to any year or part of any mandate so far in Slovenia’s history. „Maybe this time can be compared to 1991 and a time of independence, at least as far as the challenges are concerned, the effort and the intensity of the measures the Government had to take at this time,” said the Prime Minister. He added that we did not build this Government based on the efforts we took to overthrow the previous Government. Namely, the previous Government resigned itself at the beginning of the pandemic. Although, according to the Prime Minister, one of the possible motives for that resignation has remained hidden, „we may have discovered it. Approximately four years ago, there was a delegation from the World Health Organisation in Slovenia. At that time, they assessed the readiness of individual countries for a potential pandemic. Various evaluations were made, and for most areas, Slovenia received a relatively poor assessment. We also received suggestions as to what to prepare for in the event of a pandemic. Today, as we look back on what was done by 2020, we can conclude that nothing has been done, despite the unequivocal guidance given by the WHO to the Slovenian Government at that time,” said the Prime Minister. He added that this was probably why the Government gave up at the very outbreak of the pandemic in Europe and Slovenia.

„The parties who formed the coalition were aware that we are taking on a heavy burden on our shoulders. In addition to the complexity of the coalition itself, which is made up of parties of different profiles, it will first be necessary to manage the pandemic and then to reach the basic objectives of the agreed Coalition Treaty,” said Prime Minister Janez Janša. He pointed out that the pandemic was a significant test than had been shown at the outset for all – Slovenia, the rest of the world and the western hemisphere. “The experts pointed out that there would be several different waves, but no one had precise predictions. We followed these warnings and immediately after the first wave, which Slovenia successfully passed, reformed the national plan for dealing with the pandemic. We also did many things that were already advised by the WHO four years ago. And what was not done in four years, we did in a few months and warned in time of the second wave, which was not taken seriously enough in Slovenia in general,” said the Prime Minister. He continued that their combat against the pandemic had taken 80 or more per cent of the energy and the time the Government devoted to individual items on the agenda. „Considering how much we have dealt with the consequences, how to mitigate them and curb the spread of the pandemic – when we draw the line, we see that much that could be done given the objectives of the Coalition Treaty remained unrealised or is ahead of us at the moment,” said Prime Minister Janša.  He added that it was quantitatively possible to measure the Government’s efforts to combat the epidemic and mitigate the consequences of the pandemics. „If we look at all the measures gathered in the eight anti-corona packages – given what other countries in the European Union adopted during this time –, we can see that we are practically the only ones who have addressed everyone. We have not left out even those categories that have been omitted by everyone else. We have exceeded significantly in the positive sense the forecasts given at the time when the pandemic started almost a year ago,” said the Prime Minister. He reminded that at the time, the forecast for Slovenia was a drop in GDP at an average of 7%, 120,000 unemployed at the end of 2020, and a significantly higher government budget deficit. “The GDP drop was more than 20% lower than forecast. The figures for the unemployed show that there are less than 90,000 unemployed. And with the measures we have taken, we have maintained tens of thousands of jobs that would permanently disappear from the Slovenian economy,” said the Prime Minister. He added that we do not yet have the forecast for this year, just projections from the European institutions. Still, according to his forecast (if there will be no significant negative surprises given the fact what we know about the evolution of the pandemic), in this year, we can make up for the drop in GDP, and we can “grow as much as we fell last year”. 

„With the additional funds negotiated within the scope of the European Recovery and Resilience Facility, we will add additional resources. These will also allow us to do much more in Slovenia than in the past decade. Hence, we will be able not only to increase the country’s resilience to the pandemic and possible future coronavirus pandemic and similar ordeals but also repair things that need to be repaired in the health care system and care for the elderly. Besides, the state system will also gain the ability to react to crises, which we need in any case,” stressed Prime Minister Janez Janša.

„Despite the fact the pandemic accounted for 80% of our time, the Government strove to fulfil the key tasks and objectives of the Coalition Treaty, including systemic things that have remained intact for decades,” stated the Prime Minister. He also stated that the Democratic Fund Act is at the final stage of adoption before the National Assembly, which brings stability to the Slovenian pension system, transparent management of state assets and consequent dismantling of networks that negatively affect the processes of the Slovenian economy and society.

„During this time, we have remedied the most pressing issues in many Slovenian health institutions, which in one year have made up the capacity to deal with patients with COVID-19. However, the proportion of those who unfortunately died due to this disease is lower than, for example, in Germany. The Slovenian health care system successfully treated a higher proportion of COVID-19 infected patients than in Germany’s health care system. A big thank you goes to all those who made extreme efforts and ensured capacities in the Slovenian health care system. Thus, even in the most difficult times, Slovenia was not forced to transport patients to other countries, such as the Netherlands, which is considered one of the best health systems,” said the Prime Minister. He added that Slovenia did not have better equipment, capacities and salaries than Germany. This goal was achieved on an ethical drive due to additional sacrifices of tens of thousands in the Slovenian health care system. „It is them who should be thanked on the occasion of this anniversary,” said Prime Minister Janša.

In the coming year, in addition to the pandemic, which remains one of the critical tasks of the Government and coalition, and we do not know how long this is going to remain one of our essential tasks, the coalition is in its final mandate year. We are determined to deliver on the critical points of the Coalition Treaty before the year ends.

„Debureaucratisation is the first item on our list. On Thursday, we discussed the draft law of the debureaucratisation package prepared by the Strategic Council under Mr Simič. This is the first legislative package, and the Government has not completed the discussion. The draft law is still being coordinated with the social partners and the coalition. We are counting on the first package to go through the government procedure on Thursday and be adopted and enforced by summer. The first package already offers several solutions that will save Slovenians tens of millions of euros, millions of hours of work, bring them more leisure time or lifetime, given the many unnecessary and time-consuming barriers,“ said Prime Minister Janša. He announced the next package to come within the next two months. „The Government will propose all phases of the package by the end of this year. When they are adopted, Slovenia will be different, it will be more slender, it will be cheaper, and people will have easier access to services of higher quality,” said Prime Minister Janez Janša.

„Decentralisation is another strategic objective. From this point of view, a series of measures and laws have already been adopted. In future plan-making, we will continue to consider that Slovenia is not only Ljubljana, that we have 12 statistical regions and that some require special investment, care and protection of jobs and new programmes. The Government implements Decentralisation through all the systemic solutions it adopts and proposes,” said Prime Minister Janša.

„One of the long-term goals of all Coalition Treaties is long-term care arrangement. It is a fact that in the last 10 to 15 years, Slovenia did not make any investment in long-term care for the elderly and that more funds were given to the NGOs located in Metelkova mesto in Ljubljana than for the construction of nursing homes. This is a major deficit, which has also had a major impact on the victims of the pandemic,“ said Prime Minister Janša, adding that in nursing homes that look like run-down barracks, you cannot set red zones and provide safety and protection against infection. „Long-term care is a big strategic challenge, and the law, which will also assume the provision of adequate financial resources for implementation, will be discussed by September. With this, we will meet one of the objectives previously stated in the Coalition Treaties, discussed in election debates, however, and no serious attempt has been made in this direction so far,” said the Prime Minister.

„The pandemic has further exposed all the problems in the Slovenian health care system. One of these problems is the lack of personnel. One of the causes is the partial chaos in the system, which was largely resolved during the pandemics. Another reason is the inadequate pay system. In the last week, the final phase of preparations for the public sector salary system reform began. The health sector has decided to exclude itself from the single salary system and build a new sector alone. On this basis, sufficient staff can be provided and, on this basis, some other reorganisations where necessary,” stressed the Prime Minister.

„The pandemics is still in the run. Twelve countries of the European Union are officially in the middle of the third wave. We, too, had almost 800 new infections yesterday. Still, there are also some calming trends, reducing the burden on the Slovenian health care system to the extent that last week we were able to offer assistance to countries in the region, which are very affected and where they need assistance,” said the Prime Minister. He added that during this time and these days, together with the Prime Ministers of some other European countries, we are trying to persuade the European Commission to provide additional supplies of vaccines, which is comply with the system, i.e. that the Member states should supply vaccines from joint procurements according to the proportion of the population agreed at the outset. Since there have been some discrepancies lately, we are trying to correct this. „We are pleased to have completed the testing of new vaccines and approvals that have taken place or will have taken place in the following days. We are increasing the chances to vaccinate a sufficient number of residents of Slovenia and Europe by the summer and to have a more or less normal life after a little more than a year,” said the Prime Minister and pointed out, however that all other measures are still necessary. „The measure of rapid testing of high-risk groups for contact, such as scholars, shop clerks and employees in some other sectors. We can at least partially unleash public and economic life with vaccination coverage where there is a high risk of contact. However, all these measures will have to be taken into account by summer anyway. Still, we all hope that the situation in Slovenia will improve. But there are no guarantees for this. Given this picture and situation, which we see in one-third of European countries, the third wave must also be expected with reality and react in time.  The Government is determined to do so,“ said the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister also pointed out that we are doing our best to ensure that the opposition has so far exploited the pandemic to fight for power, nevertheless accedes to supporting urgent epidemiological measures. „On Wednesday, the President of the Republic will organise a meeting at our request with all the parliamentary parties. The entire expert group advising the Minister of Health is also invited. The Government will present the complete picture in all the details. The experts will also be free to present their vision, even if they partially in disagreement. We will present our predictions as regards vaccinations. We expect the opposition not to put spikes in the wheel regarding reasonable actions. Everyone is taking them, and we are no exemption,“ he said. He added that the opposition might criticise the Government and do whatever it likes, „but do not go against the measures because this kind of demolition is detrimental.“

In the end, Prime Minister also explained today’s participation in the press conference by Minister Podgoršek. „A year ago, the coalition was formed by the presidents of four parties. A lot happened in the meantime. Today, presidents of three parties are present here at this press conference together with Minister Podgoršek, who is present as a minister and a member of the Government. DeSUS has decided no longer to participate in the coalition and it will not participate in the opposition coalition. Namely, it became constructive opposition. The entire coalition and I have held several talks with representatives of DeSUS, including the previous President and now the former DeSUS member Mr. Erjavec, as well as members of the parliamentary group. DeSUS Members of the Parliament note that, in the past year, everything that has been discussed in the light of their proposals (which are part of the Coalition Treaty) was also implemented. They did not have anything against the Coalition Treaty as is and that they are prepared to defend the content they defended a year ago also in the future. The members of the party are not formally part of the coalition. Today, Minister Podgoršek is not here as a representative of DeSUS but as a minister who enjoys the DeSUS Group's support. As long as he enjoys this support and mine as well, he can continue to work. He has also agreed to act as an informal link to the coordination group,“ said the Prime Minister. He added that DeSUS had announced that it would be constructive in the National Assembly and that the coalition had welcomed this decision. „As far as the independence and views of DeSUS are concerned, we respect their decision as it is. We did not discuss it; this does not concern us. However, my position is that Slovenia will be all the more ordinary, the more independent parties it will have and where the MP’s will decide without listening to whispers of their „uncles“ or the media what to do. Still, every decision taken by the party authorities is a decision that I respect,“ stated Prime Minister Janez Janša.

„Because Slovenia faces challenges that are far greater than the ambitions in the programme of individual parties, and cooperation across the line of position/opposition is particularly welcome. From this point of view, we are counting on constructive cooperation with those formally in opposition in the National Assembly, with whom we have cooperated so far. Those with whom we have not signed the agreements but express their desire for constructive cooperation. If any of those strongly opposed to cooperation decide to cooperate, we will only welcome it,„ concluded the Prime Minister.

Prime Minister Janez Janša continued to answer press questions.

He pointed out that each time a vote in the National Assembly takes place, the coalition is counted. „This has been the case at the beginning of its term of office and will continue until the end of term of office. However, any coalition government may be terminated before the end of its term of office. The only Government that completed its mandate in the same composition was the one I led from 2004 to 2008. All the other had disbanded prematurely,“ said the Prime Minister. He added that SDS was ready for elections a year ago more than ever. „If we had acted selfishly in terms of party interest a year ago, we would have gone to the elections. Instead, we formed a coalition because we knew what the election campaign would mean at the time of the pandemic. We acted responsibly, and so did NSI, DeSUS and SMC. In the last year, with all the efforts and attacks of many, probably many regretted that we were so state-building because no one appreciated it. Still, we did it not for someone to appreciate it, but because we knew what an alternative would be in terms of the price you pay in times of crisis as a nation.“

He also said that SDS had conducted a consultation with voters in the last two weeks. „So far, we received almost 30,000 answers to questions regarding the current situation. Based on these answers, we will somewhat structure the programme. We have also received over a thousand new members. We’ve had more consultations like this before, but the response has never been that massive. This is an excellent indication for us of how voters evaluate the work of this Government and the parties forming the Government,“ assessed the Prime Minister. He also pointed out that the coalition is always more than just one party. „There are different parties in this coalition. If there were no differences, we would be just one party. There is a constant need for coordination, and within a year, we have demonstrated that we can do this in challenging times and circumstances.“

When asked about restructuring the Government, he said that this is possible every day. „When and if it happens, the media will find out. However, we are not anticipating like the opposition, which has been announcing a constructive motion of no confidence since last year, and almost had to ask them to put it forward,” said Prime Minister Janša. He also pointed out that the demography office will be established. „Slovenia’s demographic problem is a critical Slovenian issue, and the office will act as an institution that will horizontally coordinate measures aimed to increase our nation and not to diminish it,“ he said.

When asked about the dispute between Government Communication Office (UKOM) and the Slovenian Press Agency (STA), the Prime Minister said that the Government would fulfil its commitments to the STA as soon as the conditions will have been met. „However, the possibility for an institution financed from taxpayers’ money to deny the Government’s right to look at how legal obligations are fulfilled is possible only in Slovenia. Still, let me point out that this is not a dispute between the Government and the STA. There are many high-quality journalists and perform their work well. This is a problem of running this Agency, and it is about its general manager who thinks that the laws and treaties do not apply to him and that the Government is here to finance all of this, including a salary that is higher than ministers’ wages, who work 24/7.”

The Prime Minister also answered questions related to the appointment of prosecutors. „As far as prosecutors are concerned, the Government has appointed many prosecutors within a year, but some are still to be appointed. There is no deadline for the appointments, but the Government beats the prosecution by far given their velocity as far as the Government’s decision-making speed is concerned. Namely, we are waiting for the indictment for a billion laundered euros in Slovenia’s major bank as long as 11 years – and nothing happened so far. Yesterday, the media also highlighted the settlement with the multinational company, namely the constructor of TEŠ6. The constructor pledged guilty of corruption and paid damages. However, the Slovenian Public Prosecutor’s Office is unable to qualify this act with a severe indictment,“ said the Prime Minister. Regarding the question of European prosecutors' appointment, he also said that we demand knowledge of a foreign language for a secretary in the Cabinet. „But here, there was a problem because we expected European prosecutors to have good knowledge of a foreign language.  And now we are asking ourselves – if they do not know a foreign language, why were they appointed?“

Regarding the vaccination of MPs, the Prime Minister said that „we are waiting for our turn in line with the strategy proposed by the experts. As far as I know, AstraZeneca’s vaccine is proposed for our category, and we do not skip the line. None of the ministers belongs to a risk group to be eligible for vaccination before any other risk group,“ said the Prime Minister.