The Slovenia Times

Foreign Policy Committee set to discuss Hungary's rail investment


The government's motion for the project, currently estimated at EUR 1bn, is labelled confidential and the meeting tomorrow will take place behind closed doors.

Slovenian and Hungarian governments have been talking about this project for a while. State Secretary Jure Leben, who is in charge of the project, has insisted that negotiations, the launch of which might be permitted by the committee tomorrow, have not yet started.

So far, talks have been taking place far from the public eye, which is customary in such cases, according to Leben. Prime Minister Miro Cerar has also said this was common practice.

They both also underlined that the deal the governments will work out will be presented to the public and will have to be approved by the parliament.

Hungary's participation in the project is one of the most controversial aspects of the project, as reports suggested that the government was willing to redraft the concession contract with Luka Koper, the operator of Slovenia's only sea port.

This has been rejected by the Infrastructure Ministry. Leben has said several times that the government was not discussing with Hungary anything that would harm Luka Koper's interests; the company's ownership is not on the table, neither is the ownership of infrastructure, he said.

The biggest opponent of Hungary's participation is the opposition Left, which has called on the government a number of times to stop the talks and redraft the plans so as to exclude investments from outside.

Hungary is to invest EUR 200m in the project. The Left believes that foreign capital is harmful and unnecessary. The party believes that Slovenia can build the track alone and keep both the infrastructure and the profits to itself.

Infrastructure Minister Peter Gašperšič has said that Slovenia considers Hungary a partner in this project. Its cooperation would not only bring money but also clients.

Leben also said that if Hungary withdrew from the project, Slovenia would have to use funds earmarked for other much-needed infrastructure projects.

European Commissioner for Transport, Slovenian Violeta Bulc, has also expressed the importance of multilateral cooperation in such projects.

The Commission encourages stable financial plans and if these also involve potential clients this ensures a greater stability in the completion of the project, she has said.

"The decision about potential partners lies... solely in the hands of Slovenia. But any cooperation that is also cooperation within EU corridors is all the more desired by the EU," the commissioner has said.

The Commission has so far approved more than EUR 153m in total from the Connecting Europe Facility mechanism. The country has already signed an agreement for the drawing of EUR 44.3m for preparatory works.

Slovenia is currently working out with the EU the contract for the drawing of the remainder of the funds. In general, this type of funds demand that financial plans are completed within 12 months after the signing of the drawing contract.

Leben has said that Slovenia wants to draft the contract in a way that would protect the funds even if the partner withdraws from the project.

According to sources in Brussels, negotiations are going well and the contract could be signed in the coming weeks or months. Leben expects the contract to be signed in April.

Bulc has expressed hope that the contract will be signed already in the spring. It is important that the financial plan for the project is completed. If this will not be the case, the funds will be lost, she said.

Hungary's cooperation is not the only unknown in the project, which was challenged in a referendum in autumn. Although the voters backed the government's plan, the opponents have managed to stop a relevant bill from taking effect by challenging the referendum legislation at the Constitutional Court.

The Constitutional Court ruled last week that the two referendum acts were unconstitutional while ordering the Higher Court look again into the second rail track bill.

Sources in Brussels say that in principle, the Constitutional Court's decision is not likely to affect the drawing of funds; however the Commission will have to consult the government in Ljubljana about this.


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