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Minister Says Drawing of EU Funds $Very Successful$

Ljubljana, 19 December (STA) - Economy Minister Radovan Žerjav said the drawing of EU funds was $very successful$ as he took stock of the ministry's work in 2012 on Wednesday. Between February and November, EUR 522m worth of contracts were signed while Slovenia received EUR 432m from Brussels, the minister said.

"The amount we paid from the Slovenian budget was reimbursed from the European," Žerjav said.

In 2013, Slovenia will be able to draw EUR 1.1bn from European funds, but the referendum initiative on the budget implementation law could reduce this amount. "If the referendum indeed happens, I can say very clearly that Slovenia will not be able to get all the funds that are available," Žerjav warned.

In the period until the end of 2015, Slovenia expects to receive a total of EUR 4.1bn in European funds. "This is the potential which is important for stimulating economic activity," Žerjav said.

He added that a large portion of this funds were used in the construction sector, which is an additional reason why European funds were absolutely the first priority of not only the ministry but the entire government.

In the future, the ministry wants to use at least half of the available EU funds for economic incentives, support small and medium-sized companies, technological development, science, innovation and youth employment, state secretary at the ministry Monika Kirbiš-Rojs said.

In 2012, the ministry earmarked EUR 327m for the creation of new jobs, which resulted in 3,600 new jobs, Žerjav said. The funds available for this purpose will be increased in 2013 to EUR 476m, especially due to foreign direct investments and technology, he added.

The ministry also plans to continue preparing new measures for stimulating growth and creating a competitive business environment. A new package of measures aimed at the construction sector is in the works and will to a large extent involve measures proposed by businesses, including measures to reduce red tape, Žerjav said.

The minister is also upbeat about foreign direct investments (FDI). This year's call for bids brought 15 projects with 500 new jobs, for which EUR 6.2m was used. "This call was excellent, good and positive for the economic sentiment," Žerjav said.

An important role in attracting FDI will also be played by SPIRIT, the newly-established agency bringing together the Agency for Entrepreneurship and Foreign Investments (JAPTI), the Slovenian Tourism Board (STO) and the Technology Agency (TIA). SPIRIT will serve as a one stop shop for investors, something Slovenia unfortunately has not been able to offer thus far, Žerjav said.

Žerjav estimates the value of interests of foreign investors to stand at about EUR 50m and more. "I'm an optimist, but what is happening in Slovenia is not a positive development," he said, referring to the referendum initiatives.

Turning to the Slovenian banking sector, Žerjav said Slovenia should keep 25% in the systemic banks. With regards to other state property, he sees no problems in their sale.

"I agree with the sale of Telekom Slovenije, Petrol, Luka Koper or Mercator to a strategic partner which would ensure growth, development and jobs," the minister said.

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