“You borrowed at an interest rate of 5 to 7 percent, and you did not want to accept cheap money from the European bank resolution mechanism. You put the weight of all the money you borrowed for the rehabilitation of the banks on the shoulders of Slovenian taxpayers and future generations,” Prime Minister Janez Janša said in his response to Alenka Bratušek’s parliamentary question, adding that the borrowed money was allocated for the rescuing of the banks, including those that were tycoon-owned, but now, the money is going directly to the people and towards saving the economy.
At Monday’s session of the National Assembly, Alenka Bratušek was the first to ask Prime Minister Janez Janša a question. She began by saying that the new borrowing violates not only the human rights of those who are now having to pay back what was borrowed but also the human rights of future generations, including the unborn. “What I just read is what Janša wrote years ago,” she said, adding: “However, today, when you are leading the government, the state is in more debt than ever before.” According to her, the public debt at the end of last year amounted to 82.5 percent of GDP, which is a little more than 36 billion euros. “Every Slovenian is indebted for more than 18 thousand euros, that is the data; those are the facts,” the president of the SAB party pointed out. “What changed, why is this not as big of a problem today as it was a few years ago?” she asked. “We have a difficult year behind us, marked by the virus. Were all the measures correct and effective? Could we have done things better? Have you ever wondered what we did wrong to reach the highest mortality rate, why did our schools stay closed for the longest amount of time out of all the European countries? What went wrong, were the results what you anticipated? What went wrong in the second wave, what caused Slovenia to mess up completely, and what will be different if the third wave happens?” Bratušek asked the government.
The money that Alenka Bratušek’s government borrowed went to the tycoon banks, but now, the money goes to the people and the economy
“What has changed since the time I wrote what you just read?” Prime Minister Janša began answering Bratušek’s question, continuing: “The interest rates have changed, and the international and domestic environment has changed. And another thing that has changed is that the money we borrowed last year went to the people and the economy, with the intention of preserving jobs. The money you borrowed was used to bail out the banks, including two tycoon banks, for which you allocated half a million euros, so that those who would have to go bankrupt at the time, if the debt had been recovered, are instead driving yachts and Porsches nowadays, as well as buying villas in Ljubljana. Last year, Slovenia did not borrow more than the average; we also borrowed very cheaply and even issued bonds with a negative interest rate, which means that the taxpayers will have to repay less than what was borrowed,” he explained. “You borrowed at an interest rate of 5 to 7 percent, and you did not want to accept cheap money from the European bank resolution mechanism. You put the weight of all the money you borrowed for the rehabilitation of the banks on the shoulders of Slovenian taxpayers and future generations,” he also told pointed out.
Bratušek then asked once again what will change in the future and accused Janša of turning to the past instead of talking about the future. Janša replied that he was merely answering her question. “If the questions relate to the past and begin with a quote from the past, then I believe I have the right to respond to that,” he said. He also explained that as far as the closure of schools is concerned, anyone can show a graph. The fact is that Slovenia’s schools were not closed the longest among all of the countries in Europe, as neighbouring Italy had its schools closed for much longer; however, we all have different approaches. Not a single school day was lost in Slovenia because the Ministry of Education organised the education process in a way that enabled distance learning. The school year is not lost, and it can always be extended if necessary. “And as for the dead, every single person we lost is one too many; I absolutely regret every death. In the last few days, we are facing the death toll of about ten people a day, which is a lot. However, in Germany, which has a significantly better healthcare system than we do, they lose between 500 to 600 people a day,” he pointed out. Janša also added that the statistics will actually matter once the epidemic is over, which will hopefully be soon. And that is when we will be able to actually check things. “It is also not true that Slovenia has the highest number of people who die after falling ill; Slovenian healthcare cures more people than German healthcare,” he explained. “And what you are saying is an insult to all those who work tirelessly, day and night.”
Jelinčič wants to open the restaurants; however, the epidemiological situation does not allow it
Zmago Jelinčič Plemeniti began his speech in his typical style and said: “It is high time for the restaurants and bars to open.” Everything has been closed for more than four months now; the caterers are desperate; people are nervous; they need to socialise. Hospitality is one of the most affected industries in Slovenia, so it is sensible and important for the restaurants and bars to reopen, so they will be able to recover. All of the bars followed the measures, as did the guests, Jelinčič reminded the MPs of the times when restaurants and bars were still open and pointed out that practically no one got infected there. Now, however, people are gathering in private garages and not following any of the measures. “Allow for the terraces to open first, say until 9 p.m. And the restriction of movement should be pushed to at least 10 p.m.,” he suggested, pointing out that all of the hygienic measures, as well as maintaining the distance between the guests, should remain in place, and the restriction of sitting behind the bar should also be maintained. “There is one more nonsense measure that I need to point out, namely, that caterers are currently not allowed to sell alcohol. I have no idea why; this is like the prohibition in the twenties in the United States. That, too, needs to be sorted out. It is usually the people from the same bubble who socialise in restaurants and bars anyway,” he pointed out.
“I do not know of a single country in Europe with a similar number of daily new infections, which has the bars and restaurants open,” Janša responded. “It is true, though, that this industry is among the most affected, and we understand the severity of this situation,” he admitted but pointed out that in this situation, it is necessary to focus on the priorities. The virus does not spread on its own, it spreads through contact, and limiting contact simply means limiting the spread of the virus. When deciding between schools and restaurants, schools will always be a priority. However, the government is planning on allowing the terraces to gradually reopen in the regions with a better epidemiological picture, for example, on the Coast – however, the epidemiological picture is currently worse there than it is in, for example, the Posavje region. How quickly the terraces and restaurants will be able to reopen depends entirely on us. We are in the phase of stagnation, at the end of the second wave; however, other variants of the virus are also present, so there is no guarantee that the restaurants will be able to stay open until the end of the year – even if they do reopen sometime before that. “When it comes to opening restaurants too soon, some risks are definitely not worth it,” the Prime Minister pointed out. Jelinčič then reminded everyone that Croatia opened its terraces on Monday, and things are also open in Serbia. “Everything is more or less open in Bosnia, in Italy, they are gradually reopening everything, and the bars are open until 6 p.m. People are getting more and more nervous; things are escalating in different ways, and this also needs to be taken into account. At least the open-air bars could be reopened,” the SNS party leader suggested. “The countries you mentioned have less than two hundred new cases daily, Croatia even has less than one hundred, if the statistics are correct, which means that there are not as many people infected there and the risk is lower,” Janša replied. We still have between 700 and 800 new infections a day. The Czech Republic also opened bars around the New Year, and today they are in a state of emergency and had to call the army for help. “Let’s do everything we can to get to the yellow phase; then we can count on things like that to start reopening. Before that, reopening would be unreasonable; I do not know of a single epidemiologist who would support that,” the Prime Minister added.
The fall in GDP was smaller than expected
Marjan Šarec reminded the MPs that on the 25th of May 2020, the Prime Minister said that if the epidemic recurred, we could speculate on what measures would have to be taken and what the new financial normalcy would be. We are doing everything we can to prevent that from happening, Janša said at the time, but it did happen. “My question is whether the government is planning any cuts in people’s incomes in the future, so are you planning on any so-called saving, and when,” Šarec asked.
“We are not planning to make any cuts; we are planning for a recovery,” Janša responded. We can say that the macroeconomic year 2020 in Slovenia has ended significantly better than the forecasts from May predicted and also better than what the European Commission predicted. A 7.1 percent drop in GDP was forecast; however, the official data shows that GDP only fell by 5.5 percent, which is 20 percent better than what was forecast, despite the severe second wave. Other countries that did fairly well in the first wave of the epidemic were also faced with a worse second wave because the people did not believe that the situation is serious. Unemployment rose by one percent in 2020. Unemployment rises every year in January, and it already fell this February, largely also due to the measures. We reckon the recovery will be faster. Last year, Slovenia also had the fastest growth in construction in Europe. “Not because we are that great, but more so because you did not build a lot in the previous years. You preferred to invest the money in Metelkova and Rog. We are about to face the third wave of the epidemic, but we expect to make up for this fall from last year. We will do better than predicted,” Janša announced.
“Your numbers are not accurate, and I really hope you are not planning to make any cuts,” Šarec said, citing some data that was supposedly provided by the Fiscal Council, to which Janša replied that all agencies had rated the credit ratings for Slovenia as good or stable or have even improved them. Last year, Slovenia issued a 60-year bond for the first time in its history, as well as a bond with a negative interest rate. “Show me someone who has gotten cheaper money in the market in the history of this country so far. I can also make comparisons; unemployment was lower in December 2020 than in December 2019, when you were leading the government, and there was no epidemic. But this data says nothing because it is seasonal. Comparisons like this are simply misleading,” he warned and explained that they would do everything in their power to increase the employment rate in Slovenia.
The last to ask a parliamentary question was MP Anja Bah Žibert. “We are entering our second year of the world fighting this pandemic,” she began and reminded everyone that last year, the former Deputy Prime Minister Alenka Bratušek said that nothing had been done in the field of healthcare by the former government. Nowadays, however, she is talking about the number of deaths, bad measures, and borrowing. “This year, we have the vaccine, and I would like us to go through this crisis together – by cooperating. However, it seems to me that the focus is now on making the government fail instead of trying to cooperate. How would you assess Slovenia’s fight with the epidemic so far and are there any other measures being prepared?” she asked.
“God help a country where a man who does not distinguish between the month-by-month comparison and year-to-year comparison in terms of unemployment can lead the government. This is something that is taught in the fourth grade of primary school,” Janša commented on some of Marjan Šarec’s additional comments. And as for the measures, he said that, in addition to the lifting of the measures according to the traffic light system, they are also planning to introduce an additional assessment of possible alternatives to the measures – which is something that is currently being dealt with by the experts – because in certain areas, the measures actually cause damage. For example, high school students have not been in school for months now, and the experts are now checking whether it is possible to reduce contacts elsewhere so that high schools could be reopened. “With the possible rapid spread of the more dangerous variants of the virus, a dilemma arises as to whether or not we should reduce the possibly risky contacts according to the traffic light system, or should we actually stop all public life for a certain period of time. The situation with the capacities in the healthcare system is currently favourable, but that might quickly change again,” he warned.