The Slovenia Times

Minister says path to NLB sale compromise determined


Vraničar Erman said that today's meeting with European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager had tried to address the issue highlighted by the Commission in the previous round of talks: improving corporate management at the bank.

"We thus proposed that the commitments made in 2013 be upgraded with the appointment of a so-called blind trustee, an independent expert who would take over managing the investment in the name of and for the state," the minister said.

Slovenia committed to selling 75% minus one share in NLB in exchange for the European Commission approving a EUR 1.55bn in state aid to the bank in 2013.

At least 50% was to be sold by the end of this year and the rest until the end of 2018, but the government halted the two-phase procedure to privatise the bank in June.

The appointment of the blind trustee cannot be considered an independent measure, but it could be considered if tied to a new privatisation deadline, Vraničar Erman said. She added that it was not clear as of yet what the deadline would be.

The minister also noted that the final result in the talks remained that Slovenia be allowed to keep 25% plus one share in the bank after the privatisation is concluded.

While Slovenia proposed that the trustee be appointed by the government through an international call for applications and approved by the Commission, the final process was subject to talks, Vraničar Erman said. Under the proposal, the European Central Bank would also have to be notified about the matter.

The minister also said that the situation was not simple at all as seen by the slow progress in the talks. Vraničar Erman and Vestager today met for the fourth time since the privatisation was halted.

"I think it's important that we've determined today the path that could lead to a compromise, acceptable to both sides, and we'll intensively work on finding it," the minister said.

She added that she had the mandate to seek a compromise, while it was on the government to make key decisions. She believes that the coalition will support further steps in the negotiations with Brussels.

Slovenia is still willing to have NLB compensate the state for the 2013 bailout by paying money to the state or into an emerging fund which would finance projects of small and medium-sized companies.

The proposal could be back on the table "in the coming days or weeks when we seek suitable additions to the initial proposal", the minister said.

Brussels, meanwhile, reiterated the importance of respecting the privatisation commitment after today's meeting.

"Partial sale of the state's stake in NLB is an important commitment for ensuring a long-term sustainability of the bank, based on which the Commission approved the significant state aid to NLB in 2013," the Commission said.

It added that it had already okayed the two-phase privatisation upon Slovenia's request in May and that EU member states were responsible for honouring their commitments. The Commission and Slovenian authorities will remain in contact.

According to Minister Vraničar Erman, talks will continue as soon as possible, as time is running out for Slovenia. The state has until the end of the month to appoint a trustee to manage the sale of NLB's Balkan subsidiaries, a sanction for failed privatisation.

The minister said she had notified Commissioner Vestager of the government's decision that it would not appoint the trustee on Thursday.

While this could be a failure to meet one of the elements of the 2013 decree, Vraničar Erman believes it would not have significant consequences as talks in Brussels would continue before the end of the year.


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