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Challenges and opportunities of the Zasavje Region

The government finished its visit to the Zasavje Region with a public forum in which it discussed the challenges and opportunities in the region with representatives of business interests and local communities.

Prime Minister Janez Janša first emphasised that he had visited the Zasavje Region fifteen years ago and that many improvements since then were now visible, but that many of the same problems still remain. Two key indicators reveal the context of all other problems: the first one is that the region has more actively employed people than jobs, which means that people must drive to work elsewhere, and the second one is transport infrastructure.

However, according to the prime minister we can also see positive examples in the region of how its potential has been taken full advantage of in the past fifteen years, and the standard of living in the municipalities has also risen.

Prime Minister Janša also emphasised that in the coming years European Funds will enable large investments to be made in the region.

He warned of the uncertainty due to the current COVID situation and the autumn wave of infections, as not enough people nation-wide have been vaccinated. Janša thanked healthcare workers in the region and the mayors for the high percentage of people vaccinated in Zasavje.

The Minister of Health Janez Poklukar said that the Zasavje Region had the highest percentage of vaccinated people. 67% of adults in the region have received the first jab, and 53% of the whole population are now fully vaccinated. He also praised Trbovlje general hospital, which during the epidemic and current fourth wave has more than proved its abilities, as despite treating patients with COVID-19 it has also been carrying out other programmes in full.

The Minister of Infrastructure Jernej Vrtovec answered questions and proposals from the audience by saying that road and railway infrastructure are a precondition for the development of business activities and the mobility of the region’s inhabitants. The greatest challenge is building the 3rd lane towards Izlake for slow vehicles, the construction of which will begin in 2023. The time schedule has been determined and the project is worth millions of euros.

The government also recognised the water potential of the middle Sava. The construction of three hydroelectric power plants is currently in the siting phase, which is progressing very rapidly.

The Minister of the Environment Andrej Vizjak added that it took sixteen years for the concession contract for the project of hydroelectric power plants on the Sava to be signed. “This is a great achievement for development in Zasavje”, emphasised the minister.

He went on to say that Zasavje is the region with the largest investments being made in a renewable resource energy project, and that the ministry would also strive to prepare measures to improve air quality, and would earmark more funds, at least 25 million euros annually, for the cleaning and maintenance of watercourses.

Answering a question from a representative of the Regional Development Agency, the State Secretary in the Government Office for Development and European Cohesion Policy Monika Kirbiš Rojs said that efforts would have to be made until 2023 for funds to be drawn from the old financial perspective. Unfortunately, the government inherited an unenviable situation which meant that agreements for the development of regions only started in the last year. However, until 2029 we will have at our disposal a historically large amount of European Funds totalling almost 10 billion euros.

The Minister of Labour, Family, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities Janez Cigler Kralj said that companies that are the drivers of development are asking him to introduce a development cap. A decision will have to be made between so-called false solidarity and real, or just solidarity.

The Prime Minister Janez Janša added that the development cap is a measure that we must introduce if we do not want Slovenia to become a pool of cheap labour, and instead we continue developing and keep up with those creating greater added value.

The Minister of Digital Transformation Mark Boris Andrijanič announced that the government will propose tax relief for highly qualified workers coming from abroad. We are aiming to attract experts who left Slovenia several years ago, said Minister Andrijanič, we want to get Slovenia’s knowledge and skills back.