Recent reports in The Slovenia Times regarding Fraport, the new foreign owner of Ljubljana’s Brnik Aerodrom who wish to increase the fees paid by national flag-carrier Adria Airways, will be grist to the mill for the trade unions vehemently opposed to Slovenia selling off the family silver.

The great Slovenian fire-sale is gathering apace, with privatization being seen by the current administration as the best way to shrink or roll back the state, terms popular with a government wishing to cut their national deficit but with little regard for the outcome, leaving them vulnerable to claims of short-termism and anger from the electorate, many of whom will lose the relative security of being employed by the public sector.

It cannot be correct that neighbouring Croatia has its eyes on virtually all of Slovenia’s food industry, giving credence to what Dusan Semolic, head of the ZSSS trade union, likens to hyenas preying on Slovenian property. Further stating that privatization is rarely good news for the employment prospects of the workers ‘inherited’ by their new, private-sector paymasters, Semolic goes on to claim, with some justification, that the finance raised from privatizing state-institutions merely goes into a national budget black-hole, paring down the deficit but not being used to stimulate growth or create fresh employment opportunities. Many of the Slovenian state-owned companies at ‘risk’ of being privatized are allied with universities and scientists and, have benefited accordingly. This would presumably end once ownership has passed into private hands, where issues of impartiality and self-interest would inevitably be brought into question. Even Elan, the famous ski manufacturer is being eyed by several overseas companies, one of which being the Slovenian-owned company Boba Ing who, would surely be more popular than a Czech or German based purchaser.

Returning to the issue of Brnik, it could be argued that for years the airport and Adria Airways have had a relationship best described as cosy, a situation not uncommon between a country’s primary airport and flag-carrier. It should though be stated that Adria have made great strides in lowering its ticket prices and rewarding travellers who purchase “First Minute”, somewhat mitigating the loss of a complementary meal on, for example, the Manchester to Ljubljana route. Whilst it is true that Adria desperately needs to expand the choice of routes it offers and the size of its fleet, Fraport will do nothing to encourage either by imposing an increase on the charges it levies on Adria for the privilege of using Brnik, a move that could prove to be counterproductive if as reported, it places in jeopardy the planned new routes to Berlin and Stockholm scheduled to commence in 2015. More worrying still, cuts to existing profitable routes cannot be ruled out. Having yet to fully show their hand, Fraport might be seeking to break up any perceived hegemony enjoyed by Adria and stimulate growth by attracting other airlines with greater scope to variegate their routes, thus bringing in much needed tourist euros to Slovenia, a country where 80,000 employees are reliant upon the tourist trade. Whilst there should be some privileges afforded to the national flag-carrier by a country’s main airport, Fraport have no emotional tie to Adria and despite not wishing to push them to the brink, the German-based company will want to see a significant return on their investment on acquiring Brnik by attracting different airlines to partner with, ones who offer a less rigid but more diverse portfolio of routes. It is certainly hoped that an autumn and winter service to Slovenia from Manchester can be introduced.

It would therefore appear that Adria Airways have two options. On the one hand it can continue to operate solely out of Brnik, where its fraternal relationship with the airport has now passed from a publically-owned embrace to a private-sector shrug of indifference. Already paying 10 million euros per annum, the rumoured ten percent increase for the use of Brnik will only serve to render the swingeing restructuring endured by Adria as a worthless exercise, especially if the aforementioned routes to Berlin and Stockholm are unable to ‘get off the ground’. Adria do though have a second option. Already being concerned by how many of Slovenia’s citizens choose instead to fly from regional airports in Italy and Austria, Adria needs to remembered that Brnik is not the only airport in the country capable of handling an increased volume of flight movements. Recently purchasing the majority shareholding of Aerodrom Maribor, the trade-union backed savings bank Delavska hranilnica have crucially ensured Slovenia’s second city has an airport controlled by Slovenian hands, proving that not all of the country’s assets have to be hawked around the boardrooms of continental Europe. Delavska hranilnica’s investment will not though just be symbolic, merely to stave off foreign ownership of what is a chronically underused facility. Seeking to tap into the charter and scheduled flight sectors to complement its raft of existing cargo and private charter routes, there cannot be a more appropriate time for Adria to move some of its routes from Ljubljana to Maribor. Naysayers will point to the fact that Maribor is not Slovenia’s capital, nor does it occupy as central a location as Ljubljana. Nevertheless, it has been proven that many Slovenians who opt to fly from airports in neighbouring countries are willing to travel distances that are relatively small – Slovenia is after all a small country – to use facilities that offer a greater choice of routes, at prices they can afford. Not all air traffic into Ljubljana is business related; there is therefore no reason why some holiday charters for Slovenian nationals cannot be operated from Maribor to the Mediterranean, North Africa and the like. With the recent Champions League success enjoyed by NK Maribor and the positive news regarding the albeit short-term rescue of Maribor Pohorje’s ski infrastructure, there are reasons aplenty why Aerodrom Maribor can become a serious competitor to Brnik and, start the fight back against the prevailing culture of publically-listed assets falling into the hands of foreign ownership. Such a counteroffensive, I believe, would prove popular with the electorate who must be alarmed at the slow but steady erosion of Slovenia’s national identity, which for so long has been synonymous with the many institutions now at the mercy of falling under foreign jurisdiction.

Further reporting on these issues can be found at:

The Slovenian Times – Fraport, Brnik and Adria Airways

RTV Slovenia – Union unrest over privatization controversy

The Slovenian Times – Ski Manufacturer Elan up for sale