CSOs in Slovenia win lawsuits, while cooperation between CSOs and state continues
Cooperation continues between government institutions and environmental civil society groups
The new Minister of Environment and Spatial Planning Simon Zajc, appointed in March 2019, has committed to continue the positive cooperation between the Ministry and the civil society organizations (CSOs) initiated by his predecessor.
The CIVICUS Monitor had previously reported that when assuming office, the former Minister of Environment and Spatial Planning Jure Leben, had established a ministerial Council of Cooperation with civil society through which CSOs will be consulted on draft legislation, funding and other matters related to environmental issues in Slovenia. The body was finally established in December 2018 and it includes 10 representatives from CSOs selected by their umbrella organisation CNVOS. This move by the recently appointed then Minister Jure Leben was positively received by CSOs and was a step forward. CIVICUS Monitor had reported in April 2018, that previously the environmental NGOs in Slovenia have experienced resistance from the Ministry, when attempting to meaningfully engage in dialogue with the government on issues of concern in the sector.
Positive court developments: environmental and cultural civil society groups win lawsuits
In another positive development for civil society in Slovenia, in February 2019, the Administrative Court invalidated the environmental permit for the construction of a hydropower plant project called HPP Mokrice. The decision is in a response to a complaint filed in December 2018 by the association Društvo za preučevanje rib Slovenije (DPRS – Society for the Study of Fish of Slovenia). The hydropower plant project will be blocked until the Environmental Agency issues a new decision . The investor, the Slovenian hydroelectric power company HESS, had continuously denied DPRS access to information such as studies and monitoring data. DPRS says that the denial of access to these documents prevented them to conduct an effective environmental assessment. The court ruling sparked criticism in the media against DPRS and environmental CSOs in general. Some local journalists questioned the legitimacy of environmental organisations to have a voice on such matters.
For example, CSOs stated that during a discussion, on 29th April 2019, on the national TV news show Odmevi about the termination of the environmental permit for HPP Mokrice waterplant, environmental groups were presented in a “biased” and “inaccurate” way. Particularly, CSO believe that the questions of the presenter contained misleading information on the role of civil society working on environmental issues who also questioned the funding of environmental CSOs. In a response letter to the editor-in-chief of Odmevi, the national platform of NGOs in Slovenia accused the presenter for using “a series of false assertions and insinuations” about the environmental CSOs. They further requested an apology, stating: “We believe that Rosvita Pesek [the presenter of the program] should properly and publicly apologise to viewers and non-governmental organisations for her biased and inaccurate opinions on non-governmental organisations.”
In another court success for CSOs, at the end of January 2019, the Administrative Court issued its first decision in a number of disputes between several CSOs and the Ministry of Culture regarding the Ministry’s 2017 public call for tenders. The CSO’s complaints are connected to the Ministry of Culture's rejection, in 2017, of several applications for the public tender by CSOs for the co-financing of public cultural programs for 2018-2021. The Ministry’s rejection, according to the complaints, was without adequate explanation. The Court found that the decision of the Ministry to reject the concerned CSO applications was unlawful as there was a lack of transparency and infringed the constitutional right to appeal. The Ministry of Culture will thus have to re-evaluate the applications and provide clear and reasonable assessments. The first judgement was in response to the lawsuit initiated by the CSO Emanat Institution. Additionally, five other CSOs who also filed a lawsuit with similar complaints against the Ministry of Culture in 2018 (the Zavod Delak, Women's City, Women's Promotion Society for Culture, MoTA - Museum of Transitory Art and Nomad Dance Academy Slovenia) are expecting similarly positive judgements.
In mid-March 2019, a second lawsuit against the Ministry of Culture, this time concerning the lack of clear information in the call of proposals, was won by civil society. The Administrative Court annulled the decision of the Ministry of Culture rejecting the applications of concerned NGO and ordered its reconsideration.
Thousands of young people mobilise demanding action on climate change
On 15th March 2019, 11,000 people marched in Slovenia as part of the students' global climate strike that took place in over 100 countries mobilising youth demanding that politicians take urgent action on climate change. According to the initiators of the event, organised within the framework of the Youth for Climate Justice movement, 9,000 people gathered in Ljubljana, 1,000 in Maribor and Kamnik, 600 in Koper, 400 in Novo, 200 in Slovenskih Konjic, and 150 in Ormož. The protesters were c mainly young people, but also adults joined the protest who brought preschool children. The protest has been supported by the Environment Ministry and the teachers' trade union.
Commentators noted that this mobilisation was one of the biggest protests in Slovenia in the past couple of years. Representatives of the Youth for Climate Justice movement were received by the Prime Minister Marjan Šarec to discuss the demands of the protest. In response, the Prime Minister told the delegates from the protest that “the government is already doing a lot” of the requested measures, pointing to the Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning. He pledged that further actions will be taken to address the climate change demands.
CSOs notified CIVICUS Monitor that the Journalist Honorary Tribunal, a joint self-regulatory body of the Slovenian trade union and a society of journalists responsible for monitoring the respect of the Code of Ethics of Slovene Journalists, ruled that some journalists breached the Code while reporting on the Legal Information Center for Non-Governmental Organisations (PIC) and their work on refugees.
At the end of November 2018, the Prime Minister Marjan Šarec condemned businesses, including businesses in which the state owns a share, for advertising in media distributing xenophobic content. He referred to the companies’ social responsibility principles and called on companies to refrain from supporting media that is spreading such harmful content. He said: “You give legitimate support to hostile content. […] I end up calling you once again for a reflection: does the desire for profit really justify tolerance of intolerance. (Translated from Slovenian)”