News roundup - Monday, 3 April

Ljubljana, 3 April - Below is a roundup of major events on Monday, 3 April:

Golob says N Macedonia's EU accession talks must not be suspended

BRDO PRI KRANJU - PM Robert Golob and his Macedonian counterpart Dimitar Kovačevski signed a declaration on boosting cooperation, with Golob assuring Kovačevski that Slovenia strongly supports North Macedonia on its path to the EU, stressing its membership talks must not be suspended. "This process must be concluded as soon as possible," Golob said, adding that this was a historic moment for North Macedonia. Kovačevski thanked Slovenia for support so far in all areas, especially in its efforts to join the EU and NATO. "Slovenia's support has not been only political and declarative but tangible and practical," he said.

Slovenia and Serbia want to improve rail transport and travel

BLED - Slovenia and Serbia will set up an international task force dedicated to boosting railway transport speeds as there is still room for improvement of railway transport between the two countries, infrastructure ministers Alenka Bratušek and Goran Vesić told the press after their meeting. Austria, Croatia and Italy will also be invited to join. The idea is to reintroduce a night Ljubljana-Zagreb-Belgrade night train, while there is currently no direct rail link between Ljubljana and Belgrade. The two ministers were also scheduled to meet the management of railways operator Slovenske Železnice in Ljubljana.

Analyst: Đukanović's defeat creates political vacuum in Montenegro

LJUBLJANA - The defeat of long-serving Montenegrin leader Milo Đukanović in Sunday's presidential election creates a political vacuum in which two dominating ideas in the country - one pro-Serbian and the other liberal pro-European - will clash and the outcome will show what his defeat will mean for Montenegro and the region, Faris Kočan from the Ljubljana Faculty of Social Sciences told the STA. Đukanović leaving office marks the start of the end of his more than his 30-year political career and probably indicates that his DPS will lose in the June early general election, he said.

Pirc Musar congratulates new Montenegrin president

LJUBLJANA - President Nataša Pirc Musar joined a number of politicians from the EU and the Western Balkans in congratulating Jakov Milatović on being elected Montenegro's new president in Sunday's election. "I look forward to excellent cooperation and joint engagement to strengthening the European path of Montenegro and the Western Balkans region," Pirc Musar twitted.

EU Commission approves Slovenia's air travel subsidy scheme

BRUSSELS, Belgium - The European Commission has approved Slovenia's airline subsidies programme aimed at boosting passenger air connectivity, the Infrastructure Ministry confirmed for the STA, and announced that a call for applications will be published as soon as possible. Ten routes are being prioritised and EUR 16.8 million have been made available for the next three years. The list includes Brussels, Skopje, Prague, Berlin, Vienna, Copenhagen, Athens, Madrid, Amsterdam and Helsinki. If any funds remain available after the call, they will be made available in subsidies to carriers flying to Rome, Stockholm, Oslo, Barcelona, Lisbon, Prishtina and Paris.

Govt and farmers agree no property tax for two years

LJUBLJANA - PM Robert Golob, Agriculture Minister Irena Šinko and Natural Resources Minister Uroš Brežan met representatives of farmers to discuss their demands. They agreed to form a task force that will review all open issues in the coming three weeks. Anton Medved, president of the Trade Union of Slovenian Farmers, said Golob had assured them that a property tax the government had recently announced would not be implemented in the coming two years. Šinko said certain solutions were agreed but declined to reveal details. Medved said that if no progress is made in the three weeks, the farmers will step up their protests.

Phasing of EU cohesion funds on track, officials say

LJUBLJANA - Slovenia will fully use the cohesion funds that were made available to the country in the EU's previous financial perspective and all is on track for drawing funds from the 2021-2027 package, Cohesion and Regional Development Ministry officials told the press. State Secretary Marko Koprivec said that close to 90% of the almost EUR 3.1 billion in funds available in the 2014-2020 scheme had been drawn so far. The deadline for securing the rest, about EUR 300 million, is the end of 2023. As part of the 2021-2027 package, Slovenia is looking at a total of EUR 3.2 billion in potential cohesion policy funding. First calls for applications for this year will be published in April, expectedly to total around EUR 600 million.

Branko Debeljak becomes new TEŠ director general

ŠOŠTANJ - The management board of HSE, the state-owned power utility that runs the Šoštanj Thermal Power Plant (TEŠ), appointed Branko Debeljak TEŠ director general for a four-year term, replacing Viktor Vračar. Debeljak, who has been working in leading positions at TEŠ for more than 20 years, will assume his new office tomorrow. Vračar took over as TEŠ director general in November 2022 after TEŠ was temporarily disconnected from the grid and Matjaž Vodušek, director general at the time, resigned.

State-owned hotel operator opts against outsourcing chambermaids

LJUBLJANA - After a state-owned hotel chain decided to lay off its chambermaids only to start outsourcing the same workers from a cleaning agency, Istrabenz Turizem, which is also state-owned, decided not to follow suit, public broadcaster Radio Slovenija reported. The 53 chambermaids remain direct employees of the company and another five have been hired to offset retirements and workers who had left, Istrabenz Turizem CEO Aleš Semeja told the radio station. Istrabenz expects this May to set a new record and its hotels are nearly fully booked for Easter as well.

Telekom Slovenije raising prices in May

LJUBLJANA - Telekom Slovenije, Slovenia's largest telecommunications provider, is increasing prices of most subscription plans in May. The price hike is not to adjust the prices to inflation, which hit 10.3% in 2022, although the company notified its users earlier this year a clause on adjusting prices to inflation will be introduced to the terms and conditions, allowing it to adjust prices to the annual inflation rate once a year. Telekom said the price rise is a result of "a strong pressure on costs" resulting from "higher energy prices, changes to labour costs, and higher financing costs". The other leading telecom providers are not planning such increases for now, but A1 increased the prices of certain plans at the start of the year.

German-speaking community talks to ombudsman about their status

LJUBLJANA - Representatives of the German-speaking community in Slovenia met with Human Rights Ombudsman Peter Svetina, bringing him up to date on their long-standing efforts to be recognised as a minority. They would like to be actively involved in tackling their legal status. The ombudsman stressed that defining special rights of ethnic minorities was primarily a political issue, but noted that his office had called on the relevant state authorities to take their position on the demands for recognition several times since 2003, the ombudsman's office said.

Education reform to focus on life competences and health

LJUBLJANA - The parliamentary Education Committee hosted a discussion on education changes planned by the government, with Minister Darjo Felda explaining that the reform would bring more physical activity for kids, more focus on foreign languages and digitalisation. The ministry plans to overhaul over 200 primary school curricula and over 160 secondary schools curricula, with 1,500 experts working on the project. Among other things, the aim is to create competences needed by the job market.

Mosaics by disgraced priest Rupnik in Lourdes could be removed

PARIS, France - Mosaics made by Slovenian priest Marko Rupnik in the Rosary Basilica within the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in France could be removed out of consideration for victims of abuse following sex abuse allegations against Rupnik. The final decision will be made in April, said Bishop of the Diocese of Tarbes-et-Lourdes Jean Marc Micas, according to an official statement from the Lourdes sanctuary. "Lourdes is a place where many victims turn to the Immaculate Conception for comfort and healing. Their anguish is great before the mosaics of Father Rupnik in this very place," Micas was reported by the Catholic News Agency as saying.

First documented cave beetle turned into giant model

LJUBLJANA - Researchers of the National Building and Civil Engineering Institute and the Museum of Natural History have made a two-metre model of Leptodirus hochenwartii, the first documented cave beetle in the world, found in Postojna Cave in the 19th century. The model is based on 3D images of a real beetle, which was only 13 millimetres long, and morphologically, its is virtually identical to the actual beetle, featuring all the details, including the colours. It is exhibited at the Museum of Natural History in Ljubljana.

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