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Opportunities and challenges of the South-East Slovenia region

Concluding today's visit to the South-East Slovenia (Jugovzhodna Slovenija) region, members of the Slovenian Government participated in a public debate with mayors, businesspeople and other actors of economic development and replied to their questions.

A public debate with mayors, businesspeople and other actors of economic development

A public debate with mayors, businesspeople and other actors of economic development | Author Kabinet predsednika vlade

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Opening the debate, the Mayor of Novo mesto, Gregor Macedoni, thanked the Government for their relationship with the local government and stressed that they wished for this relationship to continue. He said that the first steps had been taken in the region’s most important project, the establishment of a public university. A total of 96% of research funding provided by this region comes from the private sector, the mayor explained in his address.

The State Secretary at the Ministry of Health, Alenka Forte, then presented the current COVID-19 situation in Slovenia and in the region. Globally speaking, the epidemiological situation is bad. Europe ranks the worst among continents and Slovenia ranks the worst among European countries. The number of infections has been rising rapidly, which is why the Slovenian healthcare is facing the greatest crisis in its history. State Secretary Forte highlighted that intensive care units have already exceeded their usual capacities, which means that the Slovenian healthcare workers are putting in superhuman effort to meet the needs of their patients. According to Forte, it is important to mobilise the entire society so that everyone does everything they can. This includes complying with the recovered/vaccinated/tested rule and calling on the people to vaccinate. She emphasised that if we wished to contain the epidemic, vaccination coverage must exceed 80%.

Prime Minister Janez Janša went on to say that the situation in neighbouring and Western European countries was less serious, yet they had still adopted more rigorous measures than Slovenia. "We tried to adopt such measures in September, but unfortunately, the Constitutional Court disagreed," he maintained. "Currently, the only weapon we have is the COVID-19 vaccine. The higher the vaccination coverage, the less severe the consequences. We are currently at capacity in healthcare and the coming days will show whether we can handle the situation without any drastic measures. It is up to us to do all we can and get vaccinated as soon as possible. If not, another wave will follow and we will have to fight this virus for a very long time. Getting a third vaccine dose is also important," concluded the Prime Minister.

The Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Food, Jože Podgoršek, replied to a question on the pig farming crisis put by a debate participant and explained that the Ministry monitors issues concerning the sale of all products and not only animals from Slovenian farms. An ordinance to aid the pig farming sector, which is on the verge of a breakdown both in the EU and in Slovenia, is being publicly discussed right now. Pig farmers will receive the expected aid. The Ministry also drew up measures to increase demand from large-scale caterers. One important new feature is also the amendment of the Agriculture Act, which assigned the agricultural inspection service to monitor the implementation of the Decree on green public procurement.

The Minister of Economic Development and Technology, Zdravko Počivalšek, said that a programme will be drawn up for all troubled border regions by the end of the year. "Slovenia has borders with four countries. We have found out that the people from the southern and eastern borders move inland, while the people from the northern and western borders move across the border and then inland. If we do not create suitable well-paid jobs enabling young generations to stay in these areas, start a family and pursue a career, the Slovenian population will concentrate in just four or five major cities," said the Minister.

With regard to the issues raised concerning the social and labour markets, the Minister of Labour, Janez Cigler Kralj, explained that the labour market reform is ready and awaiting the position of the Strategic Council for Social Policy. The proposed solutions, particularly relating to the Financial Social Assistance Act and the Parental Protection and Family Benefits Act, also apply to Roma issues, which have been highlighted as critical in this region. The solutions are based on proposals that the ministry has collected in the field. New fault-based grounds have been proposed for the loss of rights to public funds, namely a final judgment of conviction imposing imprisonment for an intentionally committed criminal offence. Moreover, the parents who do not ensure the presence of their child in primary school will not be entitled to child benefits.

The Minister of Digital Transformation, Mark Boris Andrijanič, highlighted the importance of establishing the first Slovenian public technical university and emphasised the need to ensure that computer and information science studies are tuition-free or financed from public funds.

To the question of the invitation to tender for concessions for private higher education institutions, State Secretary Marjan Dolinšek replied that the matter is in its final phase and will be considered by the Government next week.

To the question of infrastructural connections, the Minister of Infrastructure, Jernej Vrtovec, replied that the region of Bela krajina will be connected to Central Slovenia, making it more quickly accessible, and that railway infrastructure from Grosuplje towards the rest of the Dolenjska region is already being considered as suitable for a second railway track. The Ministry of Infrastructure also supports the construction of a wind farm in Ribnica, which has great potential that is worth exploiting, Minister Vrtovec said.

The State Secretary at the Ministry of Environment, Metka Gorišek, pointed out that, during the regional visit, they received numerous commendations for their work and well-implemented projects, however, a weak spot remains, namely the siting of infrastructure. She stressed that the Ministry strongly supports changing the legislation to enable overcoming obstacles, because wherever there is a renewable resource potential (e.g. wind and hydro) there is also a habitat species that must not be destroyed.

The Minister of Development, Zvonko Černač, announced that the Novo mesto Hospital will also receive a share of the grant for the nursing ward under the REACT-EU initiative until the end of 2023 and thanked all stakeholders for their initiatives, suggestions and opinions. This aims to improve the regulatory part and, where possible, to refine the conditions in calls for tenders to make funding as easily accessible as possible.

At the end of the public debate, Prime Minister Janša again called on everyone to do everything they can in the coming days and weeks to contain the epidemic and to avoid bringing the public life and economy to a standstill. "This would prove extremely damaging to the economy, which is currently running at full speed. We expect the economic growth to more than exceed the deficit of the last year," stressed the Prime Minister.