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APPG delegation visit to the Republic of Slovenia

A UK delegation of the British-Slovenia All Party Parliamentary Group visited the Republic of Slovenia on 28th to 30th May 2014 to strengthen economic and diplomatic ties between our two countries and, in particular, build on the already firm friendship between our respective legislatures. The delegation consisted of myself as Chairman of the APPG, Ms Sheryll Murray MP (Conservative Party), Mr Angus MacNeil MP (Scottish Nationalist Party) and Lord Lyndon Harrison (Labour Party).

We landed in the capital Ljubljana the morning of Wednesday 28th May and had our first meeting with representatives from Slovenia’s banking and investment sector including Mr Sibil Svilan, Executive Board President of Slovenian Investment Bank, Mr Mitja Gaspari, Economist and former Governor of the Bank of Slovenia and Mr Borut Jamnik from Modra Zavarovalnica; a leading provider of supplementary pension insurances in Slovenia. The meeting took place at the Pen Klub restaurant, a historic haunt of writers and intellectuals since it opened in 1967. The purpose of this meeting was to get an overview of privatisation and macroeconomics in Slovenia as well as investment processes.

Later that day we met with the Slovenian Parliament’s British Friendship Group, who we had hosted in UK the previous year. The hour long meeting was focused on the comparison between our two countries’ governments, on topics such as minority governments, the current coalition and how to work in one, of which the Slovenians were very knowledgeable due to their coalition in 2012, and the representation of women in parliament. Other issues where raised such as female trafficking, co-operation and links between Croatia and Slovenia, and the recent visit to the UK from Slovenian Prime Minister Alenka Bratušek.

We then met with the President of the National Assembly Mr Janko Veber, who we had discussed the appointment of European Commission President and the need to replace the ageing rural, agricultural workforce by creating placements and schemes aimed at young farmers. The meeting was concluded with a tour of the Parliamentary buildings.

Our final meeting that day was with Ms Nataša Goršek Mencin, Head of the European Commission Representation in Slovenia jobs. Concerns were raised during the meeting about the 70% of state owned banks, the dispersal of EU structural funds, and how the railway on Slovenia’s coast had still not been built, which was slowing economic investment.

We started our second day with a breakfast meeting with UK Embassy representatives including Chargé d’Affaires Christopher Yvon and Senior Political Officer Alenka Černe. The role of the embassy was explained, how vital it is in promoting trade between the two countries and that more should be done to encourage UK small and medium sized businesses to invest in Slovenia. We then went to the Bank of Slovenia to meet with the Governor, Boštjan Jazbec. Concerns were shared on EU banking unions, and the inadequacy of the backstop 55 billion euro to intervene on a failing bank.

Later that day we met with the Delegation of the Committee on Foreign Policy with Deputy Chair Mr Jožef Kunič and the Chairman of the Committee on EU Affairs Mr Jože Horvat. The history of Russo-Slovenian relations was discussed as was the annexation of the Crimea. We also discussed the student exchange programme between the University of Nottingham, only UK University where Slovene can be studied at degree level, and University of Ljubljana which we were pleased to learn was prized very highly by the Foreign Policy Committee. During our final night in Slovenia we attended a Reception hosted by the Chargé d’Affaires, Mr Christopher Yvon, at the British Residence.

On our final day we were privileged to meet with the Slovenian Prime Minister, Ms Alenka Bratušek. The Prime Minister, a clearly impressive stateswoman, dealt excellently with the questions from the group, especially as she had only recently lost her position as leader of the Positive Slovenia Party and has now created her own political party.

The visit was a great success, furthering strengthening the relationship between two European democracies with very different political histories. I would like to thank Laura in my office and Natasha from the UK Embassy for organising the trip and the British Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (BGIPU) for generously sponsoring the delegation.

Neil Parish MP