It was 1991. Yes, Slovenia had become an independent and sovereign country and no, it was not easy. I believe and I know that what was happening then was of the utmost importance. But … is it really necessary to drag that year up again and again, every single time, and use it for all sorts of comparisons? Every. Single. Time.

It is 2022. Yes, this is the 21st century, and no, the Soviet Union no longer exists. It collapsed many years ago. It cannot be restored. Though … someone would like nothing more. Someone is using the 19th century methods and basing their views and – even worse – actions on twisted and misguided theories of history. Because of fear of democracy.

It will be 2050. Yes, that is when Europe is supposed to become the first carbon-neutral continent, and no, 2050 is no longer that far off. It is closer than 1991! THIS IS THE FUTURE.

The future cannot be someone who is stuck in the past. In days gone by. The future cannot be someone who sees everything and everyone as enemies. If there are none, they will make some (up), because they simply cannot function otherwise.

Yes, the future is nations freely choosing their own destiny, and no, I am not just talking about the people of Ukraine. But I will continue with them, because today we are holding an extraordinary plenary session to debate the Russian aggression against Ukraine. We are set to adopt a resolution. I expect it to be tough. We will demand even more determined sanctions against the Putin regime, but also against the Lukashenka regime, which is supporting the attack on Ukraine. The oligarchs who support the Russian regime must no longer be able to buy palaces in London and spend their summers on yachts in the Mediterranean. I expect financial and political isolation. The unity of the EU.

Unity which, by the way, I would expect in many other important areas as well. Whereas what traditionally happens is that there is always someone who starts asserting their own interests and who thinks that they can do whatever they – and they alone – please in this community. Even at the cost of trampling on a fundamental value such as the rule of law. I mention this because this is what it is all about. Whichever way you look at it, this is the fundament on which the EU stands or falls.

This is also why this was the central theme of our conversation last week, when Stephane Sejourne, president of my political group, Renew Europe, visited Slovenia. He came to express his support for all those of us/you who understand that change is needed.

Change is also needed, for example, in the media sphere. Not that the media themselves should change (I am, of course, referring to those worthy of the name, not to propaganda). What I am saying is that decisionmakers should strain every sinew to improve the situation. Free and critical media are indispensable for holding authorities to account. For democracy. And, ultimately, for peace. This is what we discussed during yesterday’s event on media freedom in the EU.

My basic thesis was that Russia could and can attack because the Russian media (both private and public), or, more precisely, their editorial policy, act as an extension of the government, even if the government’s instructions are absurd. They don’t care. They don’t care that Russian propaganda is telling its people that Russia is only conducting a ‘military operation in Ukraine’ in order to ‘oust the Nazis who are depriving the Ukrainian people of their freedom’. But … in the information age of social networks, presenting alternative facts will not be possible forever.

No one is eternal. Truth be told, I wouldn’t mind if the Russian president, who has ruled for 20 years and is even bombing civilians, were swept away by a democratic wave. It’s about time. For a change. In Russia and … elsewhere.

And in April too. 🤞

– Irena

On Monday, 28 February 2022, MEP Irena Joveva was invited by ALDE, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, to participate in a panel on media freedom in the EU. She based her contribution to the debate on the current situation in Ukraine, which she linked to some EU countries, and described some upcoming legislative proposals in this area.

MEP Joveva’s basic thesis was that Russia’s attack on Ukraine is possible mainly because the public and private media, or their editorial policy, are an extension of the Kremlin, as they follow its instructions and adapt their reporting to fit the government’s narrative, even if keeping to that narrative is absurd:

“Russian propaganda is telling its people that Russia is merely conducting a military operation in Ukraine because it is trying to topple the Nazis who are depriving the Ukrainian people of their freedom.”

According to Joveva, this is a clear example of how media freedom is important and essential, and above all not a given. She said that in the information age of social networks such a presentation of alternative facts will not be possible for long, and she praised the courage of all the journalists and correspondents who are willing to take risks in order to provide us with all the information from the ground.

In Russia, these elements can be observed in their extreme, but they are also manifesting themselves in a milder form in some EU countries, she said, explaining that she was referring in particular to Poland and Hungary, where the governments have already managed to completely subjugate the public media – just as the Janez Janša Government is trying to do now.

In extreme cases, such populist and authoritarian tendencies lead to murders of investigative journalists, even on EU soil, simply because they investigate and report on corruption. Joveva also mentioned other methods, although less aggressive, but which are still extremely harmful to media freedom, such as budget cuts, suspension of funding, funding cuts, journalist discreditations, strategic lawsuits, selling private media to pro-government oligarchs, etc.

Joveva then outlined some of the legislative proposals: “The most important is the European Media Freedom Act, which should exclude the media sector from the current competition law and give it the special place it deserves. This would allow the European Commission to block controversial takeovers of some media outlets, such as the Polish attempt of a forced sale of TVN24 to the state-owned oil company, or the concentration of Hungarian capital close to Orban in Slovenia, which has become even more pronounced in recent years.”

The next step, she said, should be to harmonise national legislation in the field of public service media, which would prevent politicians in power from exerting influence on public services. Another important piece of legislation is the so-called anti-SLAPP Directive, which would allow for a judicial mechanism for the dismissal of court proceedings in those cases that would be identified as strategic lawsuits against public participation. These practices are becoming more and more frequent, but their only goal is to silence journalists, as such lawsuits try to exhaust them so that they no longer report on corruption or abuse of public office.

All this – alongside the implementation of the Copyright Directive and the Audiovisual Media Services Directive – should benefit the media in Europe. But some challenges remain, cautioned Joveva, concluding her address by saying:

“But it is important to bear in mind what the experience in Russia is reminding us once again … that free and critical media are essential for the accountability of the authorities to the people, for democracy and, ultimately, for peace.”

A recording of the event can be viewed HERE.

Today, on 28 February 2022, the Savus newspaper published an interview with MEP Irena Joveva and Marjan Šarec, the LMŠ President. You can read it in full below:

Joveva, who was elected from the LMŠ party list, comes from Jesenice. She lives and breathes the values such as honesty, work and solidarity. In Brussels, she is actively co-shaping policies that enable development and a fair transition for regions such as Zasavje, and she is energetically addressing the issues that matter to young people. In the former Yugoslavia, the Jesenice ironworks was one of the important industrial centres. You could say that you come from a place that resembles Zasavje as it used to be.

My father worked in the Acroni steel mill for 40 years, my mother was a cleaner. I am proud of the fact that I come from a working-class family. In a difficult economic situation, my parents searched for a new opportunity in a new environment, starting practically from scratch. They could not spoil me as a child as they simply didn’t have the means for that, but they nevertheless gave me everything. I believe that a working-class background is a good foundation for a healthy attitude to life, because it helps you keep your feet on the ground, in touch with people’s real problems… And yes, it is probably very similar in Zasavje.

Is work still a value?

You know, due to new forms of work and turbulent labour market conditions, it may sometimes seem it is not, but it is. Work most certainly still is a value. At the European level, we have been working very hard over the last two years to ensure that every EU citizen can get a quality job with adequate pay. But providing adequate pay is also linked to providing appropriate education. The resolutions that we are adopting address the potential of the education system in the sense that that the goal of education will not be to get a degree just for the sake of it, but that there will be an increasing focus on vocational and professional education and lifelong learning. Work is and always will be a value. Above all, every type of work deserves respect, and workers should be appreciated and properly rewarded for it.

Innovative stories are being created in Zasavje, too. Here you will find high-tech companies that are becoming important players on the global market, but they are always faced with staffing challenges. This is also because the road to Zasavje, which is in the heart of Slovenia, seems like a road to the end of the world. Everything simply cannot be done remotely. 

We may be aiming for a digital society, but that does not mean that basic infrastructure can be neglected on that account. People need high-speed broadband internet, but they need good public transport connections just as much and, ultimately, modern road connections, including the never-realised tunnel link to the Štajerska motorway. I am convinced that, if this link existed, investors would be keen to exploit the advantages of Zasavje and bring their companies to the region. In this respect, the current Slovenian Government should, first and foremost, make use of the European funds available, primarily from the Just Transition Fund, but also from complementary sources at the national level.

Zasavje very much counts on grants available to coal regions in transition …

… And these funds are not scarce. A total of EUR 538 million will be allocated to Slovenia. The inclusion of your region, alongside the Savinjska region, was one of the greatest achievements of Marjan Šarec’s government. It is true that the scope of programmes for drawing on these funds is limited by the regulation, but there are still many opportunities for using them in a productive manner. At the same time, this allows for the setting of a long-term strategy for the region’s development in terms of green transformation, which must also be based on economic development. To that end, it is essential to have a good vision of the kind of Zasavje you are aiming to achieve. If, after the mining activity was discontinued, the region was left with a surplus workforce and the economy developed rather haphazardly, Zasavje now has an opportunity and a chance to chart a clear development path for itself. Should it strengthen its crafts and business sectors? Attract investors, achieve a breakthrough with high-tech companies? How should it attract the workforce it needs? Does it provide for the necessary housing, schools, kindergartens, what quality of life does it offer? What do the people living here want? Is the local administration able to come up with good projects for the absorption of the development funds that will actually contribute to the region’s growth? All these are tasks that you, the people of Zasavje, have to set for yourselves, and this is what will determine the success of the development strategies and the future of Zasavje. But there is no doubt that the EU will provide substantial help in making these plans a reality.

The future will be highly electrified, and we still haven’t decided which sources we intend to get our electricity from. In Hrastnik, the largest solar power plant in Slovenia has already been built on degraded mining land, and another one is planned.

We can no longer turn a blind eye to the energy crisis. We are in the middle of it. As our electricity consumption grows, we will have to decide which sources will be used for its production. My compliments to the region and the municipality of Hrastnik. Zasavje used to be an energy region once, now it can become a good practice example of the transition to a low-carbon society. There is a political consensus in Slovenia that, in addition to the construction of a new nuclear power plant unit, we urgently need significantly bigger investment in renewable energy sources in order to secure a stable source of energy. In my view, solar energy makes by far the most sense for Slovenia. In addition, the price of solar panels is declining sharply and it is already cheaper than energy produced from other sources. In parallel, this will reduce our need to import raw materials, such as gas. Furthermore, from the point of view of the European legislation, the current investments in solar energy will quickly be recouped because of the polluter pays principle, which is reflected, for example, in the price of emission allowances.

How do you see Slovenia in 20 years? What happened to the dream of becoming the new Switzerland and could we become the Silicon Valley of Europe?

Above all, I see Slovenia as a country where, I hope, the new generation of politicians will be better than – pardon the expression – the current old set. I’m not referring to the new generation that learns its ways primarily from the current power structures, but the one that fights against them. I’m referring to the generation that is aware that it must decide its own future. Young people are becoming more and more politically active and they really can change many things for the better, but they need to be given the chance and taken seriously, because they are not trying to rub anyone up the wrong way, they are fighting for the right cause. After all, they are also fighting for my daughter, who, of course, is not yet able to do so herself in this way, and I hope that – precisely because of the young people who are active now – in 20 years’ time she will not even have to. We have a wonderful country, let it become development-oriented country, a country that is breaking new ground, and, above all, let those at the top take care of their citizens. That is what I want today, tomorrow and in 20 years’ time.

Yet young people are leaving in large numbers. Zasavje, in particular, has a very poor demographic profile.

Youth emigration is a problem faced by many EU countries. It reflects the ambition and desire of young people to build a quality life for themselves. Most often, they leave during or immediately after their studies, when they go out into the world to gain new knowledge and experience. If they return, this is beneficial to their home country, but this depends on the country’s attractiveness and the adequacy of the living conditions. It depends, in particular, on whether the country is successful in tackling housing issues and astronomical rents, in providing adequate education, offering quality and flexible jobs, creating the right conditions for young families, etc. The current government is doing a poor job in youth policy as a whole, which was even more pronounced during the pandemic. This is unacceptable. Creating good conditions for young people and investing in them is an investment in a positive future.

We find ourselves in a super-election year. How does Brussels view political developments in Slovenia?

Concerns did not vanish with the end of Slovenia’s Presidency of the Council of the EU. We are no longer in the forefront to the same extent, but this does not mean that Brussels is unaware of the situation in our country. Everyone hopes for a change to happen and is counting on it happening in April. But the change cannot happen in Brussels; we have to take care of it at home. The claim that all politicians are equally bad, that we are all the same, is not true. Nor is it true that elections do not change anything. You know what really cannot bring about any change? Abstaining from elections. That is why I really want to see a high voter turnout and people realising how important it is for them to go out and vote and to use the power they have. Because they really can demonstrate power.

Marjan Šarec: “You can be an example to us all”

The people of Zasavje are considered to be upright, determined and persistent. It is the tradition of mining that has shaped you this way. Now, you are becoming a globally competitive knowledge hub, a crossroads for new, innovative and clean technologies that not only open up new jobs with higher value added, but are also attractive to young people. This is a great success that cannot be ignored. At the same time, you have driven a major polluter out of your valley. You can be an example to us all.

Last November, when I visited Zasavje with Deputy Rudi Medved, I said that all potentials for the development of your region should be exploited, and that it is essential that all municipalities work together, overcoming the silo mentality, to make more efficient use of the European funds available. The establishment of provinces, which the LMŠ supports, would certainly help to achieve this.

Our Party’s guiding principle is that we build on reality, not illusions. We don’t make big promises, but our promises are realistic, which we try to deliver on. The slogan “Normalisation. Solutions. Development.” confirms this. We have shown – both when in power and opposition – that “we walk the talk” and that the main motives of our political engagement are to co-create a different and better future and to stand up for a fair and better regulated country, our homeland.

Irena Joveva, MEP, spoke to TV IDEA on Friday, 25 February 2022, about the current developments both at home and in the EU. Among other things, she expressed her position on the Russian aggression on Ukraine, the rule of law and the state of the media, and presented her views on this year’s super-election year in Slovenia.

Joveva started by strongly condemning Russia’s invasion of and aggression against Ukraine, but added that condemnation itself will not help people but rather that decisive action was needed. She advocated all-encompassing sanctions that would also reach Russian president Vladimir Putin, his cronies and oligarchs, as that would render him the most isolated. At the same time, she commended the EU’s swift and unified response.

“It must be made very clear to the Russian president that no one is almighty. That not even he is almighty, despite leading a country such as Russia. That we live in the 21st century where there are international law, treaties, commitments, memoranda, and agreements, and that no one can simply do whatever they want. Most certainly not someone who is nostalgic for old times.”

The speakers went on to touch on the area of the rule of law and the recent ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union dismissing the appeals by Hungary and Poland against the new EU legislation on the conditionality linking the disbursement of EU funds to the respect of the rule of law. In so doing, the Court reaffirmed the validity of the European rules allowing for the suspension of payments of EU funds in the event of non-compliance with the rules regarding the rule of law. Joveva stressed that suspension of funding over rule-of-law issues is a measure of last resort, yet necessary for those Member States or leaders who do not respect the rule of law and who misuse European taxpayers’ money for their own personal or spurious interests.

When asked about the influence of Hungarian capital on developments in Slovenia, Joveva replied that it was primarily the result of close links between the Slovenian and Hungarian Prime Ministers. She sees the situation as a potential returning of favours between Janez Janša and Viktor Orban. She stressed the importance of a change of power in the upcoming election so that Slovenia does not join the likes of Hungary and Poland.

In response to the question about the state of the media in Slovenia, Joveva expressed concern that the situation in this area had been poor for a long time, but with the current government coming to power it had deteriorated drastically. Independent media are thus subject to smear campaigns, attacks and pressure. To counter that, the EU is drafting the European Media Freedom Act, which will equip MEPs and the European Commission with stronger tools to act in this area.

At the end, the two interlocutors touched on the current “super-election year” 2022. Joveva said it is indeed a pivotal election because Slovenian citizens will be deciding on whether we continue sliding into illiberalism or step back onto the path of liberal democracy. She believes that people are aware of the importance of this election, which she sees as a kind of a referendum.

Take a look at the video (in Slovene) of the conversation, where Joveva also spoke on other topics, such as the recent visit to Ljubljana of the President of the Renew Europe political group in the European Parliament, the health crisis, and the latest Eurobarometer survey.

Today, on 23 February 2022, MEP Irena Joveva hosted a virtual round table entitled A Vision for a RENEWed European Union as the closing event of a two-day working visit by Stéphane Séjourné, President of the Renew Europe political group in the European Parliament, an MEP and a close associate of French President Emmanuel Macron. Marjan Šarec, LMŠ party president, also participated in the discussion alongside the two hosts, both MEPs, Irena Joveva and Klemen Grošelj.

Initially, everyone present stressed the importance of the April elections in Slovenia, Hungary and also in France. “These are key moments for Europe because national elections are also European elections, which we and the electorate must be aware of. However, the French elections are slightly different as we are trying to re-elect the same president, while you want to find an alternative to the existing government. Nevertheless, I see similarities in particular in terms of the kind of society we want, open or closed, Stéphane Séjourné said, noting the importance of liberalism, the power of civil society and the significance of the free market. Marjan Šarec believes that the elections in any Member State affect the stability of the whole European Union, saying, “If one link in the chain is problematic in this regard, it affects everyone. At the moment, Slovenia is among the three problematic countries, which is why elections are so important.” He added that the election on 24 April will be actually a referendum on the kind of country we want to live in. He believes it is crucial for people to exercise their right to vote, because every single vote counts. Irena Joveva also considers European values to be key for the future, which Renew Europe also strongly advocates:

“Our political group is very heterogeneous. We frequently have different views, but we are really united when it comes to the main issues. These are our values. Our principles. The fact that we are unwavering in defending and strengthening European values, the rule of law, civil liberties, fundamental rights, that we are fighting injustice and discrimination, for the freedom of the media… In the European Parliament, we are practically always the ones who tip the scales one way or the other in the decision-making process.”

Stéphane Séjourné added that Renew Europe is addressing the priorities that are at the heart of the political debate about democracy and economic recovery. In the wake of the health crisis, a new development model will have to be drawn up to enable Europe to be competitive over the next 15 years. The US and China are also investing heavily in development. At the same time, Renew Europe is also working to maintain the rule of law, as well as bringing social and democratic issues to the fore. According to Šarec, Renew Europe is also facing a great responsibility, as the EU needs a liberal centre in the wider area, and at the same time he expressed his satisfaction about the work and international visibility of MEPs Joveva and Grošelj.

Green policy and sustainable solutions are also among Renew Europe’s main priorities. Séjourné said they wanted to achieve radical decarbonisation and strike the right balance while at the same time adopting the right measures to help the economy. For Grošelj, the biggest challenge in terms of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 is securing sufficient investments in research and development, which is also one of the anchors of the LMŠ programme. “The research and development findings need to be translated into new technologies that will spur new ideas, create new high-quality jobs, and provide high personal income that will be sustainable, as well as public education and public health. In doing this, the European Parliament will play an extremely important role; it will set a common legal framework, and this will be a driver of further development and progressive policies.”

Speakers also touched on the rule of law. Grošelj believes that it is the cornerstone of the European Union, but some leaders are tearing it down, so regulators must invent ever-new regulations. Séjourné highlighted the functioning of the independent media and the judiciary:

“If the media is not free and judges – who decide on election-related appeals – are not free, then the election cannot not be fair.”

In his view, the rule of law mechanism must act primarily as a deterrent – to deter some other European leaders from acting foolishly. Grošelj pointed to the need for independence of state and regulatory institutions that scrutinise the work of the executive, “If there is no rule of law, then the state cannot function, but it is the choice of each individual politician as to what they will do.”

Joveva also mentioned the division that exists in the political and civil spheres in Slovenia, “They say no one should be excluded, while they are doing exactly that with those who criticise them. They talk about communists being to blame for everything in this world, let alone in our country, while using those very same methods themselves.” Šarec believes that Slovenia is not divided into two equal parts, “Seventy-five per cent of people think along centrist lines and entirely in line with EU values. They don’t care about politics enough to fight about it. That can only happen if someone provokes it.” At the same time, everyone thinks it is important, above all, to have a forward-looking view.

Stéphane Séjourné also commented on current developments in Ukraine by saying, “Diplomacy has done everything to avoid the events that could happen in Ukraine in the coming days. The talks must go on, but serious sanctions must also be adopted which are being discussed at the EU level at the moment.” He said that despite the government control of the media, public opinion in Russia is not sympathetic to what is going on in Ukraine:

“President Putin is a man of the 20th century, he is nostalgic and misses Russia’s greatness. He uses the tricks of old dictatorships, which have already failed, for instance, the manipulation of public opinion and of elections.”

Séjourné believes that the Ukrainian crisis is about the borders of the European Union and that we are also defending the Ukrainian people and their right to sovereignty and self-determination. Concerns are also justified for the Baltic states bordering Russia.

At the end of the round-table discussion, Stéphane Séjourné added, “At the moment, there are two different visions of society. We wish to avoid slipping into illiberalism or the decline of certain countries. I don’t want to dramatize it, but it’s really a referendum. These elections have a European momentum. We need to mobilise and motivate young people, who are difficult to engage today, because democracy is taken for granted. We were born into it, and we don’t know what it’s like to live without democracy. We must say that what we have achieved is the result of national struggles, revolutions, and the struggle for the independence of countries. We can lose all of this very quickly – we can see the instability in Russia and Ukraine and how societies can change completely. It’s always easier to demolish than to build.”


On Friday, 18 February 2022, MEP Irena Joveva hosted Nika Kovač, the Slovenian Woman of the Year and Director of the 8 March Institute, on her Instagram profile. Among other things, they answered questions on how to deal with insults on social media. Kovač stressed the importance of community and the fact that such comments have to be challenged: “Because you decided to do so, a girl named Nika noticed it and when she was going through a tough time, she remembered and did the same.”

Nika Kovač is currently studying and living in New York, but right at the start of the conversation she declared that she would always choose Slovenia. According to her, the US is remarkable in the sense of what you can see there and who you can meet, but at the same time the US is a highly individualised society. They do not have free health care, free higher education, communities… These are the basics that we do have and we have all the opportunity to secure a very beautiful society for ourselves, she said.

She won the title of Slovenian Woman of the Year a few days ago, which, as she said, means a great deal to her, because it shows people’s support for her and for the values of the 8 March Institute: hope, solidarity, desire for change.

She and MEP Joveva could not avoid the question of how they deal with various negative comments on social media. Kovač recalled that Joveva, too, had spoken out publicly and sincerely about her experience in this regard: “I believe that we serve as an example to each other. I am very grateful to you for doing so back then.”

They concurred that it is important to fight such comments, as their only purpose is to hurt you, make you doubt yourself, confuse or weaken you on your way.

Nika Kovač also responded to questions about what she likes to do in her leisure time, what music she likes to listen to, whether she has a role model, what she is currently reading and why she loves writing so much. Joveva added that she, too, very much likes to write, to which Kovač responded that she considers this to be very important and the right thing to do, as politicians also have to inform people about developments by means of in-depth but at the same time clear communications that do not underestimate readers.

The two women also spoke about the coming weeks and the parliamentary elections to be held in April. According to Kovač, we are about to take a big decision about which course Slovenia should take. “In the past, everything happened at the abstract level of empty promises and it did not seem worthwhile getting engaged. Now, we are trying to show that our voice does matter, and even if we fail at times, it serves as a message that it is possible to build a different world and that we need to build it together. Only community can move things,” the Slovenian of the Year concluded.

You can watch the recording of the conversation on MEP Joveva’s Instagram profile.

It is important to get experience. One absolutely needs experience. Who will hire you if you haven’t got professional experience? Experience, experience, experience… Work experience is of high value. Of course, it can be, but bills, too, can literally be of high value. And experience will not cover them.

The European Commission dedicated 2022 to young people. Let us have the European Year of Youth, it said. Great! It is right to put young people at the heart of European policy-making. This should be the case even in the absence of the pandemic, which has robbed them of so many opportunities.

We talk a lot about young people in the European Parliament. A considerable number of documents, resolutions, reports, acts and pieces of legislation are adopted in this regard. During this plenary session, we voted on the report entitled Empowering European youth – post-pandemic employment and social recovery. This is precisely because of the designation of this year as the European Year of Youth.

Basically, the document is a very good starting point for young people. It addresses the importance of strengthening European youth, investing in them, developing specific programmes to tackle youth unemployment and promoting new solutions for their social inclusion. It offers young people opportunities aimed at facilitating labour market inclusion, developing skills for the future, improving integration and access to education.

Great! But unfortunately, the report contains a huge black mark. The unpaid (!!!) traineeships. This is what I am referring to in the first paragraph.

The issue of unpaid traineeships has been on the EU’s agenda for many years now, but it has never been resolved once and for all. This is largely due to the proponents of the laissez-faire principle and of economic (neo)liberalism, who argue that the state cannot and should not interfere with the economy. The proponents of unpaid traineeships justify their position by arguing — listen to this — that young people willingly choose this form of work. 🤨

Such people seem to regard every individual in the jobs market as equal, but at the same time they are deliberately oblivious to the obvious inequalities between them.

The fact is that during their education – and later, during their first job search – young people are placed in a very uncomfortable position. They are forced to do unpaid traineeships through forms of soft coercion. Either because their educational programme requires them to undertake a traineeship in order to graduate successfully, or because, when entering the labour market, potential employers require them to have work experience before they can even get their first job. A paradox in all its glory.

Traineeships are not a choice. Fifty per cent of all young people in the EU undertake unpaid traineeships. And as we know that doing a traineeship is in reality doing the work of a regular employee, this half of young people are deprived of their rights and taken advantage of by employers.

What is more, unpaid traineeships perpetuate the cycle of “privilege for the privileged”. Why? Because it is only middle- and upper-class people who do not have to worry about rent, food, transport and all other living costs who can afford to undertake unpaid traineeships. But if a student cannot afford to work without being paid, they are automatically deprived of the skills that would enable them to get a better job in the future. This puts them in a fundamentally unequal position. So much for the argument of equality of individuals in the labour market.

Young people MUST have equal opportunities. And a PAID traineeship is a step in the right direction.

During this term, we have already taken an important step towards abolishing unpaid traineeships in October 2020, when we voted on this in the context of the Youth Guarantee Resolution. At that time, I was proud to see 574 votes in favour of ending unpaid traineeships. Today, however, I am deeply disappointed. Firstly, because the report allowed unpaid traineeships in the first place, and even more so because the amendment calling for their ban was not supported in yesterday’s vote.

Absolutely unbelievable. It is utterly shameful that we have taken such a retrograde step, particularly in the current situation.

If years are being dedicated to the young generation, then we must prove all the more that we care. This time we have failed. But I believe that we — the ones who REALLY care — will succeed one day.


Today, on the day of the announcement of the judgment of the Court of Justice of the European Union regarding the actions of Hungary and Poland brought against the EU’s rule of law conditionality mechanism, the Večer newspaper published a column by MEP Irena Joveva. Joveva writes about the paranoid illiberal politics and certain lack of power of the EU, as well as about the possible levers of pressure on those Member States that do not respect the fundamental values of the EU. Read a brief summary of the column below.

Joveva begins with a quote from a feature aired on Polish public television, which used a Swedish Netflix series to manipulate the migrant issue. The column goes on to explain the modus operandi of illiberal populist and authoritarian governments, to which the EU often needs to respond with certain legislative proposals, one being the upcoming European Media Freedom Act. The political subjugation of the media is, however, not the only segment that disintegrates societies in countries with populist authoritarianism, “The same can be observed in the judiciary, prosecutors’ offices, regulatory agencies, cultural institutions … Anything to maintain a corrupt regime. All the while authoritarian elements are only a means to an end, which is most usually kleptocracy and clientelism.”

In continuation, Joveva focuses on paranoid illiberal politics that, according to her, can never be compatible with democracy. She highlights the Rule of Law Conditionality Regulation on the basis of which EU funds can be frozen for certain countries. The Court of Justice of the EU has just announced today that this regulation is in line with the EU acquis, which means that the respective legal challenges by Poland and Hungary were dismissed.

Joveva expresses her firm conviction that, following the Court’s ruling, the European Parliament’s pressure on the European Commission will gradually increase because MEPs simply cannot accept that EU funds are disbursed to illiberal regimes which will then use them to undermine the foundations of the EU. Joveva underscores, however, that the freezing of EU funds is a measure of last resort.

She concludes the column by criticising the paradoxical actions of post-communist countries, while being aware that liberals (in a broader sense) must improve on their ability to address tensions.

You can read the column in full in today’s printed or online edition of the Večer newspaper (in Slovene).

Today, 15 February 2022, MEP Irena Joveva attended the Think and Speak Up! event, which addressed the issue of low levels of active citizenship among young people, one of the biggest problems facing modern democracies. She spoke with secondary school students from Gimnazija Ravne na Koroškem, and the project was organised by the IPM Academy in cooperation with Slovenian secondary schools.

During the debate, Joveva listened to the ideas of young people, who took the role of decision-makers and presented their proposals for action in the field of youth policies, with the aim of implementing the EU Youth Strategy 2021-2027. The event was also attended by the Mayor of Ravne na Koroškem, Tomaž Rožen.

Students presented ideas and solutions in three strands: sustainable green Europe and rural development, quality jobs and quality learning, and gender equality and mental health.

In the first part, students addressed the challenges in the fields of energy, investment in public transport and the need for higher taxes on polluters. In the area of development steps for rural youth, they highlighted, among other things, the desire for better transport infrastructure, modernisation of schools and active state support for local farmers.

In response to their suggestions, the MEP described the measures proposed by the students as very realistic, noting that most of them are already being implemented. She introduced the students to the European Green Deal and the 2050 climate neutrality target, and explained the importance of the taxonomy or classification of green investments, pointing out that despite the inclusion of nuclear energy in the taxonomy, the future lies in truly green investments such as wind and solar energy. She spoke about a cross-border carbon mechanism which would ensure that also non-EU producers pay for pollution, and touched on the Recovery and Resilience Fund, the Common Agricultural Policy and the importance of digitisation.

In the second strand, young people focused on quality jobs and quality learning. They proposed setting up non-formal learning communities at the local level. In addition, they stressed the importance of creating more jobs for young people and the need for fair pay and payment for overtime.

The MEP commented that the areas of education and employment are most effectively regulated at local and national level, as they fall under the competence of the Member States. She supports the idea of the young that holiday work and work placements could also count towards years of service. A related topical issue, she pointed out, is an amendment to the EU Youth Strategy that would ban unpaid work placements, which is expected to be adopted this week in the EP Plenary. She also touched on the minimum wage and the problem of precarious work, stressing that the key solution in this respect lies with employers.

In the final strand, students focused on gender equality and mental health and well-being. Most of them agreed that the ubiquitous stigma and stereotypes associated with this topic are still a major problem.

“What is needed is a change to the mindset. And this will happen with the next generations.”

Concluding her remarks, the MEP assured the young audience that she understood that politicians often get on their nerves, but impressed upon them that this is not always justified, because not everyone is the same, and she therefore disapproved of generalisations. She thanked the participants for their suggestions and the solutions they offered and encouraged them to remain active and curious.





Today, MEP Irena Joveva (Renew Europe/LMŠ) hosted a virtual round table on “Mental Health – Issues and Challenges Facing Adolescents”.

In an interesting discussion on this pressing issue of contemporary society Joveva was joined by Maria Soraya Rodríguez Ramos, MEP and Co-Chair of the European Parliaments’ Coalition for Mental Health and Wellbeing and member of the European Parliament’s LGBTI Intergroup, Assist. Prof. Andreja Poljanec, psychologist and psychotherapist, Head of the Psychology Department at the Ljubljana Branch of Sigmund Freud University Vienna, Assoc. Prof. Andrej Naterer, professor of anthropology at the Faculty of Arts, University of Maribor and co-author of the Mladina 2020 (Youth 2020) survey, Klemen Selaković, author of the Slovenian podcast Aidea, where he meets and communicates with many young people; Marjan Šarec, Deputy and President of the LMŠ party, and Aljaž Kovačič, LMŠ Deputy who also moderated the event.

Marjan Šarec began by stressing the importance of the mental health of young people, who were already subjected to many pressures even before the epidemic: “The LMŠ is certainly not oblivious to this. Rather, our party’s political programme sets out the goal to regulate the mental health sector in a systemic manner. This means that it should be governed by appropriate legislation and that a mental health service or office should be set up in the relevant ministry.”

Similarly, Irena Joveva focuses most of her work on young people, who, she says, are equal, fully-fledged and indispensable members of a developed and modern society and deserve to be treated as such. “There are more and more young people who regularly experience loneliness and stress. Experts point in particular to stress-related disorders such as anxiety and depression, but also to eating disorders, anxiety disorders and behavioural and emotional disorders. The pandemic and the measures taken as a result of it merely compound all of them,” she said, also mentioning the impact and pressure from parents and social networks. As a shadow rapporteur on behalf of Renew Europe, Joveva will contribute to the report on the impact of COVID-19 closures of educational, cultural, youth and sports activities on children and young people in the EU, and make sure it includes the need to provide timely help to young people in mental distress and to improve society’s awareness of mental health issues.

Soraya Rodríguez Ramos highlighted, among other things, the most extreme manifestation of mental health disorders that we have seen in recent months   ̶ suicide among young people. “It is heartbreaking that every year in Europe, 1,200 children and adolescents aged between 10 and 19 take their own lives, which is the equivalent of three young people every day. It is imperative that we attend to young people’s mental health from their earliest years and in the settings where they spend most of their time. Schools can serve as platforms that help to raise awareness of specific illnesses and fight the stigma and bullying that continues to surround them,” she said, outlining a range of actions that Renew Europe is working on to address young people’s mental health, including digital solutions and online counselling.

Andrej Naterer presented the results of the Youth 2020 survey, which revealed worrying trends: “Stress among young people has more than doubled, young people say they feel it most days. The proportion of young people who are lonely has tripled. COVID has contributed to loneliness, but not significantly, as loneliness was already increasing before COVID and will persist and increase once the pandemic is over. And there is also a growing presence of anxiety among young people.”

Andreja Poljanec mentioned the distorted expectations and experience of maturity, as 18-year-olds tend not to be as mentally mature as their physical appearance might suggest: “As adults, we too often neglect the needs of young people because we experience them as too insignificant to deal with, when in fact the neurological stress response in young people is greater because of this overall immaturity.” It is important that adults listen to young people and gain their trust. “The fact that there is so much depression means that young people are losing hope for the future,” she added. She and Aljaž Kovačič mentioned the modern trend of parents’ high expectations, which later manifest themselves as anxieties in children.

Klemen Selakovič spoke about the fact that in today’s world, change is greater and faster. “It is becoming more and more difficult for adults to understand young people and young people feel it. I would agree – the world expects a lot from us, but in reality, we expect a lot from ourselves, and I feel the same myself. I constantly get cues as to what I should be and what I should have.” He sees the solution in changing the social values that influence young people. “We need to move away from performance metrics and ask ourselves if these are really the goals we should pursue in life,” he summed up.

Andreja Poljanec also touched on the aspect of environment and peers, as being close to family and friends goes a long way towards adolescents not developing mental disorders. She would like to see changes in the curricula at all levels of education and that those who work professionally with young people would be equipped with the modern knowledge and skills needed for working with young people. Andrej Naterer also mentioned research showing that our sensitivity to stress has increased, while at the same time societal pressures are mounting.  Activities that worked against stress in the past now add to it: “They, too, have a competitive element nowadays. If you do sport, there’s always someone better, if you do yoga, there’s always someone doing more asanas.” The findings show that good family relationships are the first line of defence, followed by good relationships within the extended family, in the neighbourhood and with friends. It is the spread of egoistic behaviours that we have been witnessing in recent years that is tearing us apart and increasing stress. The solution lies in improving relationships and in consciously withdrawing from stress-inducing impulses, including constant online presence. Klemen Selaković confirmed that depression is a disease of difficult personal relationships, but also stressed the importance of one’s own engagement: “One has to ask oneself if it really is the parents, mother, capitalism who are to blame for everything? If you believe that, then you are not taking responsibility for your own life.”


Photo: Matej Špehar