First election debate dominated by Ukraine war

Ljubljana – The first election debate hosted by the public broadcaster RTV Slovenija on Thursday evening was dominated by the war in Ukraine and its consequences for Slovenia. Parliamentary parties expressed different views on NATO membership while they agreed that Slovenia should become self-sufficient when it comes to food and energy production.

Commenting on the interim chargé d’affaires that Slovenia is sending to Kyiv, Romana Tomc from the ruling Democrats (SDS) said that Slovenia had been a leader in efforts for peace all along and that the diplomatic mission to Kyiv was one of the many moves aimed at helping the Ukrainian people.

“Our policy is active, determined policy,” she said. Defence Minister Matej Tonin from the coalition New Slovenia (NSi) said he was convinced that the presence of Slovenian diplomats in Ukraine would at least to a certain extent reduce the intensity of Russian attacks.

In contrast, Marjan Šarec from the opposition LMŠ party said the mission would not contribute to ending the war and was in fact an unnecessary interfering of Slovenia, which should instead focus on the economic consequences of this war.

Tanja Fajon from the opposition Social Democrats (SD) said the mission had not been prepared in line with established diplomatic practices or coordinated with international organisations. She believes there is the danger of putting Slovenia in conflict with a military super power.

Alenka Bratušek from the opposition SAB and Luka Mesec from the Left said this was foremost Slovenia’s solo action and scoring of political points before the election.

Marjan Podobnik from the Connecting Slovenia and Ljubo Jasnič from the Pensioners’ Party (DeSUS) said any step towards peace was a good step. Jasnič believes Slovenia should stay neutral and take decisions together with the international community. Jelinčič echoed this, saying that “sending a man to Kyiv means sacrificing that man”.

Turning to Slovenia’s membership in NATO, Mesec said that NATO demanded Slovenia to raise its defence spending, while that money could be used for other purposes.

Tonin replied that Slovenia would need to allocate much more money for defence if it was not a NATO member while NATO guaranteed security to the country.

Jeličič begged to differ, noting that a military drone had recently crashed in Zagreb “undetected by any NATO observer”. Jasnič was also critical of NATO’s approaching the border with Ukraine in the past. He pointed to the 1994 agreement banning NATO to spread to Russia’s borders.

Asked whether a no-fly zone should be imposed over Ukraine, Podobnik said this was a matter “that would need thorough consideration and it definitely seems that NATO leadership is careful with the moves it makes because it is aware that things could escalate and lead to world war three. Solutions are not simple.”

Bratušek said that additional armament of Slovenia was partly needed but that funds should also be allocated for equipment that could be used for civilian purposes, for example firefighting helicopters.

Šarec agreed, adding that rush withdrawal from Afghanistan was a “black stain” on NATO.

According to Bratušek, investing in the army in the future will be difficult because of the borrowing of the current government. Tomc rejected this, saying the government was hiring loans to promote economic growth.

Touching on sanctions against Russia, Fajon said Slovenia needed a clear energy plan. “I’m not sure Slovenia is energy-sufficient for the next winter.”

All participants agreed Slovenia should become self-sufficient when it comes to food but they have different ideas on how to achieve that. Tomc and Tonin called for restructuring of the agriculture, Jasnič and Jelinčič said imports should be limited and domestic production favoured.

Fajon would introduce oversight over prices in the food chain, while Podobnik would increase funding for food self-sufficiency. Mesec stressed the importance of food infrastructure, and Šarec and Bratušek pointed to the setting of purchase prices.

Political staffing was also discussed, with representatives of the KUL coalition criticising the government for putting political preferences ahead of skills and Tomc and Tonin rejecting this, pointing to political staffing under the Marjan Šarec government.