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Prime Minister Janez Janša in Lendava: Slovenia and Hungary maintain good and friendly relations

Today, Prime Minister Janez Janša met with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

The main event of today's meeting was the signing of the agreement between the Government of the Republic of Slovenia and the Government of Hungary on cooperation in the economic and social development of the ethnically mixed area on both sides of the Slovenian-Hungarian border. On this occasion, Minister of Education, Science and Sport of the Republic of Slovenia Dr Simona Kustec and Hungarian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Levente Magyar signed a cooperation programme in education, culture and science between the Government of the Republic of Slovenia and the Government of Hungary for the period 2022–2025.

At the working meeting, which took place during the signing ceremony, the prime ministers discussed the state of bilateral relations. Both countries hold an intensive dialogue at all levels, which resulted in the meeting of both government teams in Celje on 15 September 2021, while also strengthening economic cooperation, as Hungary ranks seventh among the Republic of Slovenia's foreign trading partners. The talks focused on encouraging the economic and social development of the ethnically mixed areas on both sides of the border.

Since 2017, the Republic of Slovenia has been carrying out development programmes in the area where the Hungarian national community lives, and in 2020 Hungary began to carry out a development programme in the area where the Slovenian national community lives in the Porabje region. A development programme will be drafted on the basis of the signed agreement to provide additional funding for the period 2022–2026 that will help address development gaps as well as ensure suitable conditions for the operation of minority media, and cultural and educational institutions. As regards the latter, the Government of the Republic of Slovenia highlighted the urgent need to improve the material conditions for the functioning of the Slovenian national minority in the Porabje region. Special emphasis was devoted to the younger generations and the provision of opportunities for the preservation of the language and culture of the national minority as well as for business and job opportunities in their home environment.

In the morning, Prime Minister Janša first met with the mayor of Lendava, Janez Magyar, at the Lendava Town Hall, where they discussed current topics. After the meeting of the prime ministers with their delegations, which also took place at the Lendava Town Hall, the signing ceremony and a press conference with both prime ministers took place.

"Almost exactly thirty years ago, in November 1992, Slovenia and Hungary signed an agreement on protection and cooperation in the development of the national minorities on both sides of the border. This was the first such agreement that Slovenia signed with a neighbouring country and today, after almost thirty years, I am very pleased and happy that we have just signed an agreement that builds on the one from thirty years ago and all the other agreements that have been reached in the meantime, with a document that is very concrete and on the basis of which, over the next five years, EUR 5 million will be invested in the development of the minorities on both sides of the border through the programmes to be presented, which will significantly help the economic and social development of the minorities and their organisations in both the Prekmurje and Porabje regions," said the Prime Minister in his opening remarks. He also took this occasion to thank everyone who worked on and coordinated the agreement.  "We agreed to embark on this project at the meeting of both governments in Celje on 15 September 2021. I am also pleased that today, together with the Hungarian Prime Minister and my colleagues from the Government and other colleagues on both sides, we have noted that much of what we agreed on in Celje has been implemented and that we have made concrete steps forward, including in terms of the connectivity of the energy systems of the two countries , in terms of infrastructure projects, and that the overall economic and trade cooperation between the two countries has been strengthened in the meantime," added the Prime Minister.

"The increase in trade between Slovenia and Hungary in the last year, compared to the previous year, is almost 20%, which shows that businesses on both sides of the border have discovered potentials that hitherto had not been exploited," said the Prime Minister, adding that these potentials are even much greater and that we would be very happy to build on and exploit them in the future. "Hungary ranks seventh among Slovenia's trading partners, it is a neighbouring country that is developing rapidly, it is a winner in the recovery from the pandemic," said Prime Minister Janša, congratulating the Hungarian Prime Minister on economic growth of more than 7% last year, on the strengthening of Hungary's economic position, and on the remarkable success of the country in mitigating the consequences of the epidemic. "In view of all this, we can strengthen our economic and other cooperation in the future so that Hungary is not only Slovenia's seventh most prominent foreign trade partner, but because it is a neighbouring country and because economic ties between neighbours in particular are doubly beneficial, so that we can move forward with the joint efforts that we will put into this cooperation," said Prime Minister Janša.

"I am extremely pleased to sign this agreement on cooperation in education, training and culture," said the Slovenian Prime Minister. In his words, the two countries on both sides represent a very important bridge for this cooperation and will continue to build on this basis. "We also discussed mutual support when it comes to the international role of both countries, specifically the candidacies for the presidency of the UN General Assembly and Slovenia's candidacy for a non-permanent seat on the Security Council, as well as the challenges posed by a much more unstable environment in Europe and the eastern neighbourhood, partly also in the Balkans, than in September, when we last discussed this situation," said the Prime Minister.

"We hope that there will be no further escalation of the conflict in Ukraine and on its borders, because in the end this will not be good for anyone and we will all suffer, but especially, at least in the beginning, the economy will suffer, not only those directly involved in the conflict, but also more broadly, especially in the neighbourhood. We both belong to this region and indeed our common wish is that there be no escalation and that a peaceful solution be found; we call on all those who can contribute thereto in any manner to do so," stressed the Prime Minister.

He concluded that elections would be held in both countries in April. "Nevertheless, we must not forget the issues that go beyond the day-to-day political affairs. Economic, cultural and other cooperation between the two neighbouring friendly countries is something that goes beyond the pre-election period and will continue regardless of the results of this pre-election period," underlined the Prime Minister.

Prime Minister Janša thanked the Hungarian Prime Minister for the excellent cooperation during the last year, when Slovenia held the Presidency of the Council of the EU and Hungary headed the Visegrad Group. "One of the first visits when Hungary took over the presidency was to Slovenia and I am thankful for the many topics we effectively coordinated and the many dossiers we closed," said the Prime Minister, in thanking the Hungarian Deputy Ferenc Horvath, who was the mastermind behind today's agreement and the creation of the fund.  "We are also in the process of reaching an agreement on a similar approach and the establishment of a similar fund with the Italian Government when it comes to assistance provided to nationalities or minorities in both countries, so what we have done today is also good practice for others," concluded the Prime Minister.

The Hungarian Prime Minister Orban pointed out the good and friendly cooperation between the two countries at the press conference, saying that sincere friendship and cooperation will continue to bring us together. He also spoke about some other current issues, including developments on the Ukrainian-Russian border, the indebtedness of European countries, and economic restructuring to the detriment of the West and to the benefit of the East. "These will all be major challenges and together we will find answers more easily than if each country looks for answers on its own", said the Hungarian Prime Minister.  Prime Minister Orban also highlighted the role of the Slovenian Prime Minister during the independence process, adding that strategic issues were always present in their joint talks.

The prime ministers continued by answering questions from the press.

"I think we see the problem in a similar way, and if I recall the European Council discussions, in addition to the increase in energy prices, one of the reasons is that we are trying to move too fast in some steps we are taking with respect to the green transition, and this is where the European Union will have to strike the right balance, and in the decisions to be made in the future – some of which have already been taken – to ensure that the green transition does not cause or deepen energy poverty and that everything does not fall through again, as has already happened once," said the Prime Minister in response to a question from a Hungarian journalist about developments on the energy markets. He recalled that when Slovenia first held the Presidency of the EU Council and then the European Council in 2008, the green transition was a priority and high on the European agenda, but the economic and financial crisis struck and for five years it was no longer on any agenda. "I am glad that there is now more sound judgement in this approach. The first very important decision in this respect is the European Commission's taxonomy delegated act, where natural gas and nuclear energy are included in the green transition as part of the solution, because it is absolutely clear that without nuclear energy, the climate goals that have been set cannot be achieved," the Slovenian Prime Minister stressed. "There are a number of concrete steps Slovenia is taking to reduce energy poverty. Just today, the Slovenian National Assembly is holding a session where a law is being discussed that will significantly relieve the burden on consumers of electricity and other energy sources, either through subsidies for the most vulnerable consumers or by reducing certain charges such as network charges, so that bills will not be as high as they would be otherwise, threatening people's standard of living and deepening energy poverty," added the Prime Minister. 

Asked about the situation at the Lendava spa and whether the state should exercise its pre-emption right and become a strategic owner in Sava, the Prime Minister said that the Lendava spa was not discussed today.  "This tourist facility was sold during the previous term of office, not to the Hungarian Government, but to a private buyer, who probably did not speak about this with the Hungarian Government either then or now."

"As regards exercising the pre-emption right to buy with regard to the sale of a minority stake in Sava Hotels, where a foreign fund is selling this stake to another fund, a correspondence meeting of the Government is currently taking place on the basis of a proposal to recapitalise SDH in an amount enabling SDH to exercise the pre-emption right. I think that in the evening there will also be a meeting of the Supervisory Board of KAD, because this is one of the entities that also has the right to exercise the pre-emption right, and I hope that a similar decision will be taken there," said the Prime Minister, noting that in addition to the proposal for the recapitalisation, the materials for the correspondence session of the Government also contain an obligation for SDH, in the event that it consolidates ownership, to carry out a forensic investigation of the business operations of these companies, together with the subsidiaries, for the past 10 years. "It is not the intention of the state to become the largest hotelier, as is the case only in Cuba. The intention of the Government is, as was also expressed when we concluded the coalition agreement, to consolidate and concentrate ownership and then to find a strategic partner who will also invest in these tourist resorts," clarified the Slovenian Prime Minister. "This is not a matter of a few tens of millions for a minority share, it is a matter of the hundreds of millions that need to be invested to make these tourist facilities serve their purpose with a competitive offer. What is happening now is the first step, but the final step is to find a strategic owner on the basis of an international tender or a procedure that is in line with Slovenian and European legislation, and this owner must not be a financial fund that that acquired the property for speculative purposes, but someone who is involved in tourism," said Prime Minister Janša.

Asked about the developments in Ukraine, the Prime Minister said that we have been following not only the latest developments, but also the developments before that with concern, and the latest developments with heightened concern. "We spoke about this a lot at the informal EU summit and my first impression is that there is complete unity in Europe, that everything must be done to de-escalate the situation, that is, to seek peaceful solutions, and from this point of view, any sabre-rattling on the borders with Ukraine does not contribute to this, but takes us further away from it," the Prime Minister said.  He underlined that he had said publicly in Brussels that the escalation of the conflict would ultimately have no winners. "If someone thinks they can win a war, history teaches us that the greatest defeats are victories in the wrong wars or battles," the Prime Minister said. He added that, given the current level of technological development, especially in the military field, any escalation of the conflict would not produce a winner. "All those who are rattling sabres should be very much aware of this," said the Prime Minister.

"In any case, this situation, which is already bordering on a hybrid war wherein cyberattacks are taking place, is causing great economic damage, which will start spilling out across Ukraine's borders to neighbouring countries and the EU as a whole, especially if this situation continues and if there is actual aggression," the Slovenian Prime Minister said. He went on to say, "We have various limited possibilities to influence the de-escalation of the situation, and we are also in talks about my visit to Ukraine at the end of this week, if the situation allows it. We are also talking to colleagues in other EU Member States about an initiative that might facilitate de-escalation, but it is still at a very early stage. We hope that we will take this initiative to the next step and that we will not be overtaken by this escalation, which is taking place according to the classic formula."

Asked about the relations between the two countries after the elections, the Prime Minister said that as far as relations between the two countries were concerned, they were two friendly countries. "We are both members of NATO, the EU, the OECD, and Schengen, and this friendship and cooperation is not and will not be tied to the results of the elections, but I can say that in some things, cooperation with neighbouring Hungary, especially when it comes to the protection of minorities, has recently been much better than it was in the first 20 years, when we signed the agreement 30 years ago. In the 2004–2008 term, we had joint cabinet meetings, many things were agreed, some were implemented and some were not. Since Viktor Orban has been in charge of the Hungarian Government, aid to the Slovenian minority in the Rhineland has increased sixfold, which speaks for itself," the Prime Minister said. He called to mind that also during the migrant crisis in 2015, the then Slovenian Government was very critical of Hungary for erecting a fence on the border with Serbia, but these words had not yet fully dried when Slovenia was also confronted with a wave of migration, and at that time the Slovenian Government, which had been so critical before, humbly went to Budapest and requested a wire fence. "Hungary helped at the time and Slovenia managed to stem the tide and secure not only the Slovenian border, but also the Schengen border," the Prime Minister said, adding that we are able to work in cooperation with Hungary. "I believe that we will continue to live in an atmosphere of friendship, regardless of the political colour of the government on either side, but experience has taught us that whatever we agree on with the Hungarian Prime Minister, we also deliver," said Prime Minister Janša.

"We also intend to win in Slovenia and I believe that we will build on all the agreements partially reached today in the next term. The two governments will have to work together in the future, because we are in the same area, we share the same destiny, but it is easier to work together if there are governments on both sides that share similar European values," added the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister concluded by saying, "We are a little worried about the coalition that has opposed the current coalition in the neighbouring country. We see some strange examples of nostalgia for both fascism and communism. Slovenians have had bad experiences with both and we would like neither to prevail," concluded Prime Minister Janša.