Slovenia will hold a referendum to ask citizens to approve a €1bn project on the expansion of the rail link between the port of Koper and the inland hub of Divaca on September 24.
The Koper-Divaca railway is strategically important as it connects the capital Ljubljana with the country’s sole Adriatic port, Koper. This is also the main maritime gateway for Hungary, handling over three-quarters of its container trans-shipments.
Slovenia’s largest planned infrastructure project, the railway faces opposition from some within the country. The biggest opponents of the project are lobby group Taxpayers Standing Our Ground and the main opposition Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS), which claim that the project would cost too much.
Polls show a majority of Slovenians are likely to vote in favour of the project going ahead. However, an upset would be a heavy blow against Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar's government ahead of the 2018 general election.
Cerar has argued since the outset that the referendum is politically motivated. He says the project will accelerate the country’s economic growth, create new jobs and improve infrastructure. According to the ruling Modern Centre Party (SMC), the main argument in support of the law on the project is the fact that the rail track will be financed not only by taxpayers, but also by those who will benefit most from it, and that an independent body will supervise its construction.
However, opponents claim that the project is too expensive, that it will harm taxpayers and jeopardise the environment.
The Taxpayers Standing Our Ground managed to mobilise over 40,000 Slovenians to sign a petition calling for the referendum, after which the parliament voted on July 4 to allow the referendum to take place.
Opposition remains strong, with 19 of the 32 groups and parties officially registered for the referendum campaign declaring themselves to be against the project, according to a list published by Slovenian Press Agency (STA).
Aside from Taxpayers Standing Our Ground and the SDS, opponents include several opposition parties represented in the parliament — the Christian Democrats (NSi) and the Left opposition parties — plus non-parliamentary parties such as the Christian Socialists of Slovenia - Krek's Socialists, the Party of Equal Lands, Greens of Slovenia, the Christian Democratic Party, Voice for Children and Families and the Pirate Party. Numerous NGOs are also against the project.
They have been campaigning against Cerar’s SMC, the Social Democrats (SD) and the Union of Pensioners' Associations, which have spearheaded the campaign for a yes vote.
A poll by daily Delo published by local media on September 4 found that 73% of respondents supported plans to build the second track of the railway, although only 45% definitely planned to turn out and vote, RTV Slovenija reported.