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Parliament passes legislation to accelerate major investments

Ljubljana, 29 May - The National Assembly passed in a 53 to 14 vote an emergency law aimed at accelerating major investments to help the economy, which has been strongly affected by the coronavirus epidemic. New provisions also shield domestic and EU bidders from unfair competition from third countries.

Under the law, the government will draw up a list of investments which will be handled as a matter of priority by the relevant state bodies granting construction permits and other approvals.

Procedures will be coordinated by a newly-founded taskforce, but all procedures will still be led by relevant administrative bodies.

The government has stressed that there would be no changes to the procedures but merely better coordination to avoid unnecessary procedural delays and duplication of procedures.

All projects will have to benefit the Slovenian economy, so strategically important investments will be treated as matters of public interest.

The law also gives priority to the projects in judicial proceedings.

The list is expected to be finalised in the first week of June but some media reports suggest is is already close to being completed.

The third development axis and the new track from Divača to Koper will almost certainly make the cut, along with hydro plants on the central Sava river, the Pragersko rail hub and the upgrade of the railway from Ljubljana towards Gorenjska.

The public part of the new Ljubljana bus and train terminal has reportedly been included as well, as has the extension of the National and University Library (NUK II), a project that has been more than thirty years in the making.

Another major step is the inclusion of European Commission guidelines on participation of third-country bidders which determine that bidders from third countries that are not parties to international agreements on free trade and public procurement do not have to be invited to tenders.

This move is seen as a way to protect Slovenian and EU builders from much cheaper competition from countries such as Turkey and China, whose construction majors have been snapping up major deals in the EU.

In the debate, New Slovenia (NSi) MP Blaž Pavlin said that between 400 and 500 projects were on hold due to red tape, while Ivan Hršak of the Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) said that the legislation could kick-start half a billion euro worth of investments.

The opposition Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB) said it would not object to the legislation knowing "the extent to which key state investments affect economic recovery and the standard of living".

Gregor Petrič of the coalition Modern Centre Party (SMC) welcomed the provision that requires the use of European Commission's guidelines in bid selections involving bidders from third countries.

"Because of the danger of competition of non-EU construction companies, here I'm referring above all to Chinese and Turkish, the European Council urged the European Commission and member states to act," Petrič said.

The SD, on the other hand, believes the legislation is sloppy and harmful, and that its consequences would be irreversible. "We support investments and environmental conservation, not either/or," MP Matjaž Nemec said.

Željko Cigler of the Left meanwhile said that the bill was "completely empty in terms of substance" and that the investment selection criteria was too lax.

© STA, 2020