The Slovenia Times

Opposition and coalition clash over Hungary's involvement in rail project


Ljubljana - The opposition-dominated parliamentary Public Finance Oversight Commission saw a heated debate on Thursday over whether Hungary should be let into the EUR 1 billion-plus project to build a second railway connecting the port town of Koper with the inland hub of Divača.

The session was called by the four centre-left opposition parties, which see Hungary's involvement as a threat to strategic infrastructure.

By contrast, the coalition and Infrastructure Minister Jernej Vrtovec argued that without the involvement of countries served by the port there would be no development for Luka Koper and no need for the second track.

The government has submitted an initiative for an agreement with Hungary in the construction and management of the track to the Foreign Policy Committee, which is to discuss the matter next week.

Today's session started with a series of procedural hiccups. Dušan Verbič from the coalition Modern Centre Party (SMC) suggested calling the session off on the grounds that the matter was outside the commission's remit.

Maša Kociper from the opposition Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB) disagreed. "We're talking about one billion euro in budget money. I really don't know what the right place is to discuss this then."

Verbič argued the proposal was still in the form of an initiative, drawing approval from Zmago Jelinčič, the leader of the opposition National Party (SNS), who argued the other opposition parties were just hassling the government.

Social Democrat (SD) Franc Trček countered by saying: "First there will be done facts, then the government will meet in a narrow format - probably Janez Janša, a flower pot, mobile and Twitter - and when the facts have been executed, everyone will be clucking, and the NSi, DeSUS and SMC will be wondering in surprise as if to say we don't know the government adopted that."

The opponents to Hungary's involvement argued that that the financing of the project had been agreed, with Andrej Rajh (SAB) asserting that for a EUR 200 million loan, Slovenia will pay Hungary EUR 300 million in interest and give it almost 50% managing rights in 2TDK, the company managing the track. "No sovereign country gifts infrastructure to foreigners," he said.

Minister Vrtovec denied the allegations, arguing that the real reason for the sniping was the size of the project and that Slovenia should look at what the competition is doing, noting foreign investment in the Trieste and Rijeka ports.

The minister also wondered where the opposition had read about a EUR 300 million Hungarian loan. "Where is this written, I'd like to know?" he said.

His predecessor in office, Alenka Bratušek, criticised the fact that the initiative for the agreement with Hungary was classified. Referring to newspaper reports on the loan and profit earnings, she said the government was promising a maximum 3% return to Hungary.

Bratušek, who served as prime minister in 2013-14, said Hungarian PM Viktor Orban had given her two pieces of advice - never to let the EU troika into the country and never let the state sell off its infrastructure.

Among other things, Matej T. Vatovec of the Left noted that MPs had already discussed Hungary's involvement for almost three years in previous terms and their conclusion was it was cheaper for Slovenia to secure funding for 2TDK itself.

Aleksander Reberšek of the coalition New Slovenia (NSi) argued against excluding hinterland countries from the project, describing today's debate as populist and serving Bratušek's attempts to keep her party above the parliamentary threshold.

"The second track cannot be the project of a single country. Projects that have involvement of more get more co-financing," commented Franc Breznik of the senior coalition Democratic Party (SDS).

The commission passed four resolutions, including one urging the government to withdraw the proposal for the procedure and the National Assembly to reject the initiative for the agreement with Hungary.


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