Published below is an interview with Prime Minister Janez Janša for the magazine Grosupeljski Odmevi. The interview was conducted by the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Brane Petrovič.
Prime Minister Janez Janša, first of all, thank you very much for your response, for taking the time for our local newspaper, and for being willing to answer a few questions, despite all the commitments that we know you have as the Prime Minister leading the Government, which has a great amount of hard work to do. You were also elected a deputy in the Grosuplje district, and we still consider you to be a local resident.
There is much work going on in the Municipality of Grosuplje, as the locals and everyone else who drive through or otherwise pass by can see. A new flood barrier is being built, the railway station is a construction site, we have new pavements, and then there is the e-vignette. It was in Grosuplje that we were the first to link car parking and onward travel with public transport using a single card. New investments are flourishing or are being intensively prepared all over Slovenia. We have you to thank for the huge amount of EU funds flowing into Slovenia. With hard work, prudence and sound decisions, we can certainly be optimistic for the future. How do you assess the Government’s work and Slovenia’s achievements under your leadership? Are you satisfied?
A Latin proverb says that if you don’t progress, you regress. Over the past two years, the Government has shown that Slovenia can progress very fast. Our entire term of office has been marked by the coronavirus pandemic. To mitigate its impact, we adopted and sent to the National Assembly for approval ten packages of measures. In deciding on the measures, the Government was guided by the principles of proportionality, efficiency and solidarity. We did our best to ensure that no one is left behind. All with the aim of keeping the economy running as smoothly as possible during the partial closure of public life and preserving as many jobs as possible. According to objective indicators, we have taken the right path. Before the end of the year, we managed to make up for the decrease in economic growth that hit us a year earlier as a result of the pandemic. Real gross domestic product is now higher than it was before the pandemic. At the end of the last year, Slovenia recorded the highest level of employment in its history.
As a result, average wages and pensions are now higher than they were before the pandemic. Real household income per person today is 10% higher than it was just before the pandemic, while gross fixed capital formation is 6.8% higher. The value of companies on the regulated capital markets increased by a third. With all these measures, public debt increased by only 7.4 percentage points relative to GDP, well below the average increase in government debt as a result of measures to mitigate the impact of the pandemic among the most developed countries. We have also been successful in controlling public finances. A recent analysis by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has shown that Slovenia is the second most successful OECD country in terms of the quality of the economic rebound in the context of the pandemic.
However, our work is not yet finished. We will face many challenges in the future, one of the key ones being to effectively tackle demographic trends. Slovenia has the eighth oldest population in the world, one of the oldest in Europe. We are the country with the highest demographic risk by 2050 on the European continent. The systemic law on long-term care, which we have managed to adopt after 20 years of coordination, 127 versions and endless studies, is one of the measures that effectively addresses this very problem. However, we also need to regulate housing for young people, infrastructure projects and many other matters.
Over the past year, we have achieved many important victories that will set Slovenia on the path to the largest investment cycle in its history. Soon, every community will be able to see the fruits of our labour, as indeed many already have. The budget adopted for 2022 and 2023 allocates funds for renovating and building schools, kindergartens, hospitals, housing, care homes, roads and sports facilities, for constructing and repairing water distribution systems and for flood safety in an investment amount never before seen since Slovenia’s independence.
Grosuplje is a global municipality. The mayor Dr Peter Verlič also stresses the importance of cooperation, networking and openness to the outside world. In recent years, under your leadership of the Government, this could also be said of Slovenia. The last six months in particular can make us proud. We have proven ourselves by holding the Presidency of the Council of the EU. How does that make you feel? What was it like being the prime minister of a country holding the Presidency of the Council of the European Union?
Above all, it was a great responsibility. In fact, the Government had a triple burden. Most of our energy and time was taken up dealing with the coronavirus epidemic, which has been one of the most difficult trials in decades. We were totally unprepared to face this dangerous virus. Thanks to the unselfish work of many, including professionals, medical and nursing staff and many others too numerous to mention, we managed to prevent the worst case. I would like to take this opportunity to once again thank all those who, in these difficult times, put the interests of the people and the health of the nation before narrow selfish interests. There were also those who did not do so and made a bad situation worse by their irresponsible, even divisive, behaviour. I would also like to thank the many municipalities, including the Municipality of Grosuplje, which made it possible for life to go on as normal as possible during the epidemic, which is a result of good local self-government and the right decisions made at the municipal level.
Furthermore, the Government has not forgotten about Slovenia’s investment and development potential, and the issues regions and municipalities are facing. Each month, the Government visited one or two Slovenian regions. The impact of these visits is tangible as many stalled projects received attention due to the Government’s visit, which set them in motion once again. We are aware that Slovenia is not only Ljubljana and that people know best how to make the most of the money received by the local community. Local communities are often well-versed in getting the most out of the funding provided.
The Presidency of the Council of the EU was, of course, also a major and demanding challenge for all ministers, but we managed it well together. Despite the continuous difficulties of the epidemiological situation, we were able to carry out most of the planned events, including those at the highest level, in person. The advances made were manifold and significant. The priorities we set for ourselves at the outset of the Presidency proved to be well thought out, taking into consideration that we also had to respond to many unforeseen crisis situations. We are pleased to have reintroduced the debate on EU enlargement among European leaders, and to have successfully and efficiently carried out a large part of the discussion on the future of the European Union. One of our greatest achievements is the consensus we reached after the withdrawal of NATO from Afghanistan, when Europe and Slovenia were threatened by a new wave of migrants. After difficult coordination, all 27 EU Member States followed our proposal to keep our borders closed and to not repeat the EU’s mistakes of 2015, when we were overwhelmed by migrants from the Middle East.
I admire that you take time out of your busy schedule to visit regions across Slovenia and also abroad. You have also visited your hometown of Plešivica, where you went to school (Žalna, Grosuplje and Stična) as a child and teenager. You have certainly kept an eye on the development of these regions since Slovenia gained independence. As a relevant actor and at the same time an external observer, you have probably noticed the leaps in the development of our municipality, which, according to the latest survey, ranks 10th on the list of the most developed municipalities in Slovenia.
My sincere compliments on such a great achievement. To rank among the top 5% in the country is a remarkable accomplishment. I am delighted that the municipality of my birth has made such a breakthrough in development. The town in which you are born and where you spend your childhood remains in your heart forever, even if your path takes you elsewhere. Under the leadership of Mayor Peter Verlič and his highly capable municipal administration, the municipality has developed by leaps and bounds. It has also proven its worth during the epidemic. There are also several ongoing joint projects to improve connections and development. For example, the Ivančna Gorica-Grosuplje-Ljubljana railway line will be upgraded, the already mentioned upgrade of the Grosuplje railway station will be carried out, a new police station will be built in Grosuplje in the municipal centre during the period 2022-2025, projects are being prepared to build cycling links between the town of Grosuplje and the neighbouring villages, the Bičje stream will be cleaned up, etc.
The municipality is also implementing or has implemented projects co-financed with European funds, such as the improvement of roads and cycle paths, and the development and introduction of new products in the wood sector, while small and medium-sized enterprises have been incentivised to pursue a digital transformation.
During the last two years, the Government has increased lump-sum payments for Slovenian municipalities. Increasing lump-sum payments improves the quality of life for all, brings about regional development, facilitates more investment and makes an important contribution to the economic recovery. At the same time, it means more funding for kindergartens, schools, roads, municipal, sports and cultural infrastructure, firefighters, etc. This Government sees this as its responsibility, and we see the accusations made by some that these are only “pre-election goodies”, because the money is going to the people, as a compliment and confirmation that we are doing good work for the people.
Allow me to take this opportunity to ask you a more relaxed question. As we know that you may not have a lot of free time, it is certainly all the more precious and valued. What do you like to do, what means the most to you, when you just put all your work commitments to the side and, as we like to say, take some time for yourself?
Unfortunately, there is never enough free time. Certainly, my schedule hurts my family the most, so I try to spend all of my free time with them. I try to combine our time together with activities that help me to recharge my batteries, as the saying goes. We like to hike, ski and try to spend as much time as possible outdoors. It is not enough, but I believe that one day there will be time for all of that. Nowadays, the challenges in our life are different and I feel that I could not respond to them in any other way.
Is there anything else you would like to tell the citizens of Grosuplje and the readers of the Grosupeljski Odmevi magazine?
I have mentioned one of the major challenges facing Slovenians in the future, which is the declining birth rate and ageing population. Fortunately, Grosuplje is above the national average in this respect. There are 20% more young people under the age of 14 than those older than 65. This ratio shows that the ageing index for the municipality of Grosuplje is lower than the ageing index for Slovenia as a whole. I believe that we will maintain these trends in the future, that Grosuplje will be a municipality that offers an environment where young families can realise a quality life, where the experience of the older population and the energy of the young continue to contribute to Grosuplje remaining one of the most successful municipalities in Slovenia, and even breaking through to the very top. Furthermore, my wish for everyone is that together we will soon recover from the epidemic, live without health limitations and go full steam ahead into the spring.
Thank you very much for your time, your answers and your kindness. I wish you every success in whatever the future holds for you.