The Slovenia Times

PM: "Reducing Deficit Precondition for Getting House in Order"



Expressing confidence that Slovenia is on the right path to leaving the crisis behind, Cerar has told an interview with the STA that the efforts of the ruling coalition and its partners in society have focused on responsible economics and respecting limits in spending with the aim of consolidating public finances.

Assessing that there was still room for improvement in the public sector, Cerar said that an analysis of where optimisations could be made was close to being finalised. Shortcomings have been identified in areas such a public procurement, management of real estate and working processes, but Cerar also believes that the use of digital solutions presents a possibility for optimisation.

In addition to tackling these shortcomings, the government also wants to promote better motivation and fairer remuneration of public servants.

He said that the government has focused in its first months of dialogue with social partners and partners in other fields. "We are building a social peace, a trust, so that we can then begin with carrying out reforms."

For this year the government is planning to take the first key steps to implementing reforms in healthcare as well as changes in a number of other fields, he said.

Cerar reiterated concerns with some of the recent findings about the operations of the Bank Asset Management Company (BAMC), the bad bank created to help with the bank bailout and subsequent corporate restructuring of indebted companies. He said the government had reviewed an audit by the Court of Audits on operations of BAMC between 2011 and 2013 at its last session.

While the government has no intention of interfering in the independence of BAMC, the findings are being studied and once all the key facts are known, the government will act within its powers, said Cerar.

The prime minister shares the view that privatisation has become an ideological topic which is being driven politically by its opponents.

"In the background there are broad submerged interests of those who stand to lose the possibility of being able to plunder at the expense of the taxpayers...The forcefulness of the attacks suggests that the criticism is not merely about principled and legitimate concerns about our future but that there is also the issue of losing privileges."

He said the government was working on defusing the ideological tensions which have in large part been prompted "by a list of 15 companies which has not been thought through carefully enough" by forming a professional and transparent plan for managing state assets.

The adoption of criteria as part of the state asset management strategy will require months and discussions on classifying individual companies will begin only in the next phase, he added.

Responding to concerns expressed by the smaller coalition partners regarding privatisation, he highlighted that that the decision on the list of 15 companies to be sold off was taken by the previous government, which featured the Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) and Social Democrats (SD), and confirmed by parliament.

"This is a legal obligation which was taken at the highest level, in addition to being a political and a symbolic commitment," said Cerar.

Despite the challenge faced by privatisation, he said the coalition was firm and "relations were decorous". There is no consideration of remaking the coalition, although efforts are focused on building broad consensus that span beyond the coalition, he said.

As an example, he pointed to the recent strong support for the implementation bill on the fiscal rule at first reading in the National Assembly. Calling this a success, he said that "our approach can breed cooperation".

Saying that the opposition has a legitimate right to criticise the government, he said that some of the comments made at the outset of the term predicting the government would not make it to the end of the term or even through the first year were a show of a "lack of political culture".

"Decent politicians do not make such negative statements at a ceremonial time when the new government is being formed."

Touching on his SMC party, which was formed only a month before the July general election with the promise of creating a new political culture in the country, Cerar announced that the party of around 3,000 members would hold a congress in March.

"We are a young party that is growing," he said, adding that congress will be dedicated to changing the name and making some minor changes to its bylaws.

He said the SMC's focus was expanding its membership and its presence on the ground. "In the last month, we have established a number of programming committees which are a platform for experts and the civil society to gather and contribute their views on actions for the government and parliament."

Asked about the recent debates on Greece's debt, Cerar highlighted that four years ago Slovenia provided EUR 260m in in aid and over EUR 1bn in guarantees to Greece.

"There is no doubt that it is difficult for Slovenians and their government to see the hardships that many citizens of Greece are facing. But Greece has to fulfil its promises." He said Slovenia itself was dealing with a complex economic situation "in which almost every citizen can feel and see how painful a process this is".

"Slovenia therefore can't and must not accept any write-off of debt or other measures which would lessen Greece's commitment to structural reforms...Otherwise as the prime minister of Slovenia I will be forced to demand the same for Slovenia, given that common rules must be applied equally to all."

"This does not mean that within the EU the government is not willing to discuss political and other measures which would enable the Greek people a more flexible path to structural reforms and financial consolidation. But they must carry out the basic tasks to which they have committed themselves."

While admitting that he would personally like to see more looseness in EU rules, he said that "they represent a beneficial incentive for Slovenians to act as good masters, to live within the bounds of one's means and to steer development in a sustainable way".

This principle needs to be heeded by all EU members if Europe is to make common economic progress and nurture its bonds and its institutions. Additionally, the bloc needs to retain an ear for ensuring that wealth is distributed as fairly as possible and that those in need are looked after.

Assessing that Slovenia was no exception in living beyond its means in the past, Cerar said: "We have become professionals at privatising profit and socialising losses, for which we are all paying, bar a few skilful cheats who continue to run from the hand of justice."

He said the task of the government and other players in society was to surpass the "plundering practices and mentality" of the past and create a political stability and build on it by establishing a better legal and political culture.

Cerar also spoke of a need for a balanced response to the growing terror threat in Europe. "Freedom and security are values which must be provided in suitable equilibrium. This is the achievement of Western civilisation and I think we should never abandon it."

Assessing that the terror threat in Slovenia has not increased, he said the country "was well aware that it was positioned in a sensitive transit area and that we must remain vigilant at all times."

Following a recent meeting of the National Security Council, analysis were prepared that would allow quick changes in legislation in the event of major changes in the situation. For now the assessment is that the country does not require such changes, although conditions demand somewhat greater supervision of people travelling to the Middle East and war areas or those expressing radical views, he said.

According to Cerar, one way to overcome such phenomena is promoting tolerance in society and creating an environment in which "no individual will feel pressed up against the wall so as to resort to radical measures".

"People need to be reminded that no faith, religion or ideology justifies violence against fellow human beings. Democracy allows every person to express their opinion but does not represent tolerance to violence."

In response to the crisis in Ukraine, Slovenia is sticking to the need to respect international law, Cerar said, adding that it stands with other EU members "in acting against everyone who is violating this". "If Russia escalates the situation, we will stand behind possible new political and economic sanctions."

However, he said Slovenia was opposed to ideas for third parties to provide arms or military assistance to Ukraine. "The right path is the path of dialogue, diplomacy, negotiations and pressure using well-crafted economic sanctions."

Saying that the fallout of crisis is being felt in Slovenia, he stressed that the country was interested in find a successful solution and the "preservation of good economic and political relations with Russia".

The prime minister also called for more internal harmony in Slovenia, expressing hope that the 25th anniversary of the first democratic elections and the independence referendum and the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II would act as uniting forces.

"Even if it proves too difficult for some, I believe our future lies in greater cohesiveness. That does not mean the absence of plurality of opinion and of critical thinking, but one step of our future must be a greater respect of our history and achieving peace with it."

Asked about his experience with politics since making the move from law, Cerar said that politics was a major challenge for an individual given that it "is often a place where negative forces concentrate and try to get out the worst in you".

"To be honest, personally I often feel that certain facts and injustices or even foul stories and lies that are spread in politics and even in the media want to drive me into a bad mood or make me angry, but I always see that this would make no sense. I always remember that I'm here in order to overcome such thinking."

"When negative things happen, we should tell ourselves: this is it, this is a challenge for which we have been put here to overcome. If enough of us gather - and I think we will be able to recognise each other - we will help each other to achieve the common goal - a better and more successful society."


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