By: Sara Bertoncelj / Nova24TV
“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 have hung all the money for the rehabilitation of banks on the shoulders of Slovenian taxpayers and future generations,” Prime Minister Janez Janša answered Alenka Bratušek’s parliamentary question and added that their borrowed money went to rescue banks, including tycoons, and now it goes directly to people and to save the economy.
At today’s parliamentary session, Alenka Bratušek was the first to ask a question to Prime Minister Janez Janša. She began by saying that the new borrowing violates not only the human rights of those who now have to overpay, but also the human rights of future generations, including the unborn. “That is what Janša wrote years ago,” she explained, adding: “Today, when you lead the government, the state is indebted like never before.” According to her, the public debt at the end of last year totalled to 82.5 percent of GDP, a little more than 36 billion euros. “Every Slovene is indebted for more than 18 thousand euros, that is the data, that are the facts,” emphasised the president of the SAB party. “What has changed that today this is no longer such a problem as it was years ago,” she asked. “We have a difficult year behind us, marked by the virus. Were all the measures right and effective? Could we have done things better? Have you ever wondered what you did wrong to have the highest mortality rate, to keep our schools closed for the longest time? What went wrong, were the results as you anticipated? What went wrong that Slovenia completely failed with the second wave and what will be different if the third wave happens?” All this is what Bratušek blamed the current government for.
The money borrowed by the government of Alenka Bratušek went to the tycoon banks, now it goes to the people and to the economy. “What has changed since the time of the aforementioned quote,” Janša began with his answer: “Interest rates have changed and the international and domestic environment has changed. The other thing that has changed is also that the money we borrowed last year went to people and the economy to keep jobs. The money you borrowed went to rescue banks, including two tycoon banks, in which you gave half a billion euros so that those who would have to declare bankruptcy if that debt was collected, can today drive yachts, Porsches, and buy villas around Ljubljana. Last year, Slovenia did not borrow money above average, we also borrowed money very cheaply and even issued bonds with a negative interest rate, which means that taxpayers will repay less than we 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 have hung all the money for the rehabilitation of banks on the shoulders of Slovenian taxpayers and future generations,” he blamed Bratušek.
Bratušek once again asked what would be different in the future and blamed Janša of turning back instead of talking about the future. Janša replied that he was only answering questions. “If the questions are about the past and they start with a quote from the past, I probably have the right to answer that,” he said. He explained that as far as school closures are concerned, anyone can show their graph. The fact is that schools in Slovenia were not closed the for the longest time in Europe, even the neighbouring Italy had schools closed for much longer, but there are different approaches. Not a single school day was lost in Slovenia, because the Ministry of Education organised itself so that children and students could use distance education. The school year is not lost, and it can also be extended if necessary. “And regarding the dead, every death is one too many, I absolutely regret every death. The last few days we have a death toll of about 10 people a day, which is a lot. But Germany, with a significantly better health care system, has between 500 and 600 a day,” he pointed out. He also added that the statistics will be somewhat valid when the epidemic is over, hopefully this will be soon. And then we will be able to check things. “It is also not true that the most people die in Slovenia, out of the people who fall ill, Slovenian healthcare cures them more than German healthcare,” he explained. “And this type of talk is an insult to those who work night and day.”
Jelinčič would open inns, the epidemiological situation does not allow it
Zmago Jelinčič Plemeniti began his speech in his own style and said: “It is high time that restaurants open.” Everything has been closed for more than four months, the caterers are desperate, people are nervous, they need to socialise. Hospitality is one of the most affected industries in Slovenia, it is sensible and important that these matters are opened and revitalised. All bars followed the measures, as did the guests, Jelinčič recalled the intervening time when the catering times were open and warned that no one was infected there. Now, however, people gather in garages and disregard restrictions. “Let the terraces open first, let’s say until 21:00. And the restriction of movement should be moved to at least 22:00,” he suggested and reminded that all hygienic measures, maintaining distance, etc. should of course be taken into account, and the ban on socialising behind the bar should also be maintained. “Another point should be noted, namely that caterers are not allowed to sell alcohol now. I do not know why; this is like a ban in the 1920s in the United States. This needs to be sorted out too. In restaurants, people who are from the same bubble are already socialising,” he added.
“I do not know a country in Europe that would have about the same number of infections per day and has their restaurants opened,” Janša replied. “However, it is true that this industry is among the most affected and we understand this situation,” he admitted, but stressed that in this situation it is necessary to weigh what is a priority. The virus does not spread on its own, it spreads through contact, and limiting contact simply means limiting the spread of the virus. When weighing between schools and inns, schools usually win. However, it is counted on that the terraces would open gradually in better regions, for example on the Coast – but unfortunately today the picture there is four times worse than, say, Posavje. It is up to us how quickly the terraces and inns will open. We are stagnant, at the exit of the second wave, other versions of the virus are present, so it is not said that the inns will be open until the end of the year – even if they open. “Some risks in the direction of opening too quickly are out of place,” the Prime Minister warned. Jelinčič reminded that Croatia opened its terraces today, and they are opened in Serbia as well. “Everything is more or less open in Bosnia, in Italy there is a gradual opening and the bars are open until 18:00. People are getting more and more nervous, things are escalating in different ways and this too needs to be taken into account. At least those open-air bars could be relaxed,” the SNS party leader suggested. “The countries you mentioned have less than two hundred infections a day, Croatia even less than a hundred, if the statistics are correct, which means that the virus is rare and the risk is lower,” Janša replied. We still have between 700 and 800 infections a day. The Czech Republic also opened bars around the New Year, but today they are in a state of emergency and had to call the army for help. “We should do everything we can to get to the yellow, and then we can count on things like that to start relaxing. Before that, doing so would be unreasonable, I do not know an epidemiologist who would support it,” the Prime Minister added.
The fall in GDP is smaller than forecasted
Marjan Šarec reminded that on May 25th, 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 working to prevent this from happening, Janša said at the time, but it happened: “My question is whether the government is planning any cuts in people’s incomes in the future, so-called savings, and when.”
“We are not planning on that, we are planning a recovery,” Janša replied. We can say that the macroeconomic year 2020 in Slovenia ended significantly better than the forecast from May and better than the forecast of the European Commission. A 7.1 percent drop in GDP was forecasted, the official figure is 5.5 percent, so 20 percent better than the forecast, despite a severe second wave. Elsewhere, the second wave was worse where the first wave was better because people did not believe in the seriousness of the condition. Unemployment rose by one percent in 2020. Unemployment rises every year in January and it fell in February, largely due to measures. We reckon the recovery will be faster. Last year, Slovenia had the fastest growth in construction in Europe. “Not because we would be so very good, more because you have not built much in previous years. You preferred to invest money in Metelkova and Rog. The third wave of the epidemic is still ahead of us, but we expect to make up for this fall from last year. We will be better than predicted,” Janša announced.
“Your numbers are not accurate and I hope you are really not planning on cuts,” said Šarec, citing some data to be provided by the Fiscal Council, while Janša replied that all agencies had rated credit ratings in Slovenia as good or stable, or they have made them even better. Last year, Slovenia issued a 60-year bond and a bond with a negative interest rate for the first time in its history. “Show me someone who has gotten cheaper money in the market so far in the history of this country. I can also compare, unemployment was lower in December 2020 than in December 2019, when you were leading the government and there was no epidemic. But this figure says nothing because it is seasonal. Such a comparison is only misleading,” he warned and explained that everything will be done to increase the number of people in employment in Slovenia.
The last to ask was MP Anja Bah Žibert. “It will be the second year since the world started struggling with the pandemic,” she said, recalling that last year Deputy Prime Minister Alenka Bratušek said that nothing had been done in the field of health. Today, however, they are talking about the number of dead, bad measures, about borrowing money. “This year we have a vaccine, I would like us to go through the crisis together, with cooperation. But more than collaboration, we see throwing spanners in the works. How do you assess Slovenia’s fight with the epidemic so far and are you planning any other measures?” she asked.
“God help a country where you can find a man at the helm of the government, who does not distinguish what a month-by-month comparison is and a year-by-year comparison regarding unemployment. This is the fourth grade of primary school,” Janša commented on some of Marjan Šarec’s interim comments. As for the measures, he said that in addition to the prediction of the traffic light of relaxing, they are also planning an additional assessment – this is now being dealt with by the profession – of possible alternatives to the measures, because in certain areas the measures actually cause damage. For example, high schools, students have not been in school for months and the profession is now checking whether it is possible to reduce contacts elsewhere so that high schools can be opened. “With the possible rapid spread of more dangerous strains of the virus, a dilemma arises as to whether to reduce risky contacts according to the traffic light, or to actually stop public life for a certain period of time. The situation with the capacities in the health care system is currently favourable, but that may change again,” he added.