Opposition welcomes energy aid package, but says comes too late

Ljubljana – The centre-left opposition is unanimous in saying the government measures to mitigate energy-price hikes are welcome but come several months too late and leave out several groups of population, as it has commented on a set of measures worth around EUR 200 million adopted on Saturday for households and companies.

“All European countries adopted such measures in October or November at the latest,” said Soniboj Knežak, an MP for the Social Democrats (SD), who also finds it problematic that the beneficiaries will receive the money only on 15 April.

He said the government had included pensioners with pensions below EUR 1,000 in the package, while forgetting that over 10,000 workers receive a lower monthly pay.

“Not enough, too late and non-systemic,” is how the Left’s leader Luka Mesec described the measures. Only certain groups will receive the energy vouchers, worth EUR 150, while the poorly paid, the unemployed and students “won’t get anything”, he argued.

Energy vouchers will be available to about 710,000 beneficiaries, including recipients of income support and welfare, recipients of child benefits with income of up to EUR 680 per person, pensioners with pensions below EUR 1,000, persons with disabilities, and large families.

Mesec sees a solution in starting systemic talks on raising pensions, wages and social transfers, “so that people can catch up with the prices that rise by the day”.

“People need aid now, not in a month’s time or two,” said Edvard Paulič from the Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ).

He also echoed his fellow MPs’ view that the opposition had urged the government to address electricity and heating bills three or four months ago.

SAB leader Alenka Bratušek meanwhile blamed the energy problems on the government, noting that it liberalised the oil derivatives market during the Covid epidemic and made inadequate staffing decisions in energy companies.

She said the one-off EUR 150 voucher will not even pay one monthly energy bill, adding the government should have lowered excise duties, VAT and all the items on energy bills except energy use already back in the autumn.

Janja Sluga, the deputy group leader of unaffiliated MPs, said energy costs have already increased more than EUR 150 for individuals, all beneficiaries will get an equal amount of money regardless of how much their energy expenses have actually increased, and the government will draw the money from the Climate Fund, which is intended for green measures.

The Pensioners’ Party (DeSUS) is happy that pensioners are among the beneficiaries, but added on Twitter that measures should be taken to help all the groups that had been strongly affected by high energy prices.

On the other hand, Labour Minister Janez Cigler Kralj, who is also in charge of the family, social affairs and equal opportunities, hailed the concept of the solidarity energy voucher as he arrived in parliament for a plenary session, saying it addressed the rising energy prices efficiently.

“Whenever you set up a universal system, an injustice or two could happen,” he said when asked by the press whether he saw the system as fair given that he as minister with four children will receive EUR 200, while a single person on the minimum wage is not entitled to the voucher.

While large families are entitled to EUR 150, those with four or more children will get an extra EUR 50. The minister admitted the question of him receiving the voucher was legitimate, but he said the government had been guided in setting up the system by the desire to help vulnerable groups.

The package also features lower network fees for electricity and lower contribution for production from renewables between February and April, as well as lower excise duties on electricity, heating oil and petrol. Part of these measures will affect the electricity companies through lower revenue.

Power market operator Borzen said the revenue from renewables contribution, paid by some end users, including households, will be lower by around EUR 20 million.

The Energy Agency estimates the shortfall for the entire electricity distribution system (five electricity companies and distribution system operator SODO) at around EUR 70 million.