Slovenian finance minister-elect plans budget changes, debt reduction

By Marja Novak

By Marja Novak

LJUBLJANA, March 11 (Reuters) - One of the first tasks of Slovenia's incoming centre-right government will be amending the 2020 budget plan to compensate for the effects of the coronavirus crisis, its expected finance minister Andrej Sircelj said on Wednesday.

Sircelj is due to be confirmed by parliament late on Friday, along with the rest of the cabinet of Prime Minister Janez Jansa, who was elected by parliament on March 3.

Sircelj told a parliamentary finance committee that he hoped to reduce public debt to below 60% of GDP, the maximum level allowed for EU members, in two years. However, the reduction partly depended upon the longevity of the coronavirus crisis, he added. Last year public debt was 66.4% of GDP.

According to Sircelj, the budget would also have to be amended because he believes the existing plan, prepared by the outgoing government, does not include all budget spending, particularly spending on social benefits and wages.

The outgoing centre-left cabinet planned a budget surplus of 0.8% of GDP this year, on a par with 2019. Sircelj did not say whether the budget would remain in surplus after amendments.

Slovenia has so far reported 57 cases of coronavirus and decided to close some border crossings with Italy and perform health checks at others.

Sircelj said he expected a global and European recession over the next few quarters due to the epidemic.

He said the future government was determined to cut red tape, but was not in a position to significantly reduce taxes. "We will cut red tape in the country and make it more desirable to people who want to live and invest here," he said.

The outgoing Prime Minister Marjan Sarec resigned in January, saying he did not have sufficient support in parliament to enforce important legislation. An election is due in the middle of 2022.

Sircelj, 61, is a member of parliament and a member of Jansa's centre-right Slovenian Democratic Party.

He used to be a state secretary at the finance ministry and was a member of the board of directors of the European Investment Bank in 2008 and 2009. (Reporting By Marja Novak; Editing by Alex Richardson)