Slovenia: Opposition and ruling coalition at war over referendum

Slovenia: Opposition and ruling coalition at war over referendum

The Slovenian opposition Left and the Social Democrats (SD) gathered and presented more than 28,000 signatures before the National Assembly, in support of a referendum against the additional investment of EUR 780 million in the Defense sector scheduled for 2021-2026. This number of signatures exceeds ten times the threshold set by Law to kick off a referendum procedure. Now, the opposition is eyeing the number 40,000 that will allow them to call for a referendum.

The government has already proposed that the National Assembly pass a decree declaring a referendum on this act inadmissible, as a legal opinion commissioned by the Defense Ministry shows it would be unconstitutional.

The bill meets all three criteria which do not allow subjecting it to a referendum under Slovenian law: it is formally a law; it contains urgent measures to provide for certain constitutional values; these values concern Slovenia’s defense, security and eliminating the consequences of natural disasters, according to a legal opinion penned by Matej Avbelj and Igor Kaučič for the Institute of Constitutional Law.

The Defense Ministry posted on Twitter today that referenda on defense acts are not admissible under the Constitution. Defense Minister Matej Tonin added that the resolution on the army development by 2025 originated in 2010, during SD-led government’s term in office. The list of the planned purchases goes back to Andreja Katič’s term as defense minister, he explained.

Left coordinator and MP Luka Mesec, during the submission of the signatures told the press that this conveyed a message to the government that it was unthinkable to spend money on weapons amid a health, social and economic crisis.

The Left and the SD opposed the government’s act passed one week ago, which earmarks EUR 780 million in additional defense spending in the next six years, arguing that the government should instead invest in healthcare and measures to alleviate the social and economic aftermath of the crisis.

The bulk of the funds will be allocated to the procurement of armored personnel carriers and setting up a medium infantry battalion group, while an aircraft and two helicopters are also to be purchased.

The bill proved controversial as soon as it was announced in mid-2020, while in October the National Assembly rejected a proposal to hold a consultative referendum on the matter.

However, the Left and the SD insisted and started collecting the required 2,500 signatures to launch referendum proceedings the day after the bill was passed last Friday.

The fact that the required number of signatures was exponentially exceeded at a time when additional barriers in their collection had to be overcome due to the coronavirus restrictions, sends a strong message regarding the citizens’ thoughts about the government measures, Mesec said.

SD MP Matjaž Nemec said the most important issue now was the question of admissibility of the referendum. “These are extremely large amounts of money, which should be directed elsewhere … We need strong healthcare and economy,” he said.

After filing the necessary signatures to commence referendum procedures, the referendum initiators will be given 35 days to collect 40,000 signatures required to call the referendum.

If the National Assembly endorses this view, the Left said it would resort to the Constitutional Court. A decision on this will be made at an emergency session. /ibna