It’s been a while since pengovsky wrote up an instance of the constitutional overhaul the ruling coalition went about more or less from Day 1. You can refresh your memory here, here and here if you need to, but the item on today’s menu is the proposal to abolish the National Council. Funny thing is, pengovsky is about to break into the Mipos Dance of Joy over it, although the big honchos are doing it for all the wrong reasons.
National Council (source)
Namely, Gregor Virant‘s DL (formerly DLGV – they’ve dropped ‘GV’ some weeks ago), chief proponent of the move claims that the National Council is an oboslete institution, adding that the second chamber of the parliament is usually found in federal countries and is as such unncessary in a unitary Slovenia, costing money but adding little of value. Well, I’m sligtly sad to say that on this issue Gregor Virant is full of shit.
The current president of the parliament, former minister for public affairs, former state secretary (right-hand man) to the minister of the interior and a professor with the Faculty for Administration know full well that the National Council is not some cockamamie piss-pot institution but a virtually unckecked bastard of an instituion which weild a rather hefty arsenal of powers for which it has no clear mandate. Never has and never will. Among others, the National Council can use the so-called “deffering veto”, by which it can send a law back for another vote in the National Assebly (parliament propper) where it needs an absolute majority (46 votes) to be confirmed, even if it needed only a relative majority the first time round. But even more importantly, the National Council can call a referendum on a law with a simple majority of 21 counclimen (out of 40).
The problem is that none of the councilmen are elected representatives of the people. Rather, they represent special interests. No, really. They literally represent speical interests. Four representatives of employers, four of employees, ditto for farmers, crafts and trades, and independent professions, six councilmen representing non-commercial fields and twenty-two (22!) representatives of local interests. Need I say more? I do? OK…
As with most old democracies (and in this respect, Slovenian democracy is aging fast), the decision making process is ever more initiated and to an extent controlled by some sort of special interest and ever less by the general public. This in it self in not necesarily good or bad. As basic relations in a society are settled, for the time being, at least, other, more specific questions arise, where general public is less keen to take interest (a great manifestation of not-in-my-back-yard-syndrome). Thus special interests come to the forefront, be they local, regional, business, industrial, whathaveyou. The problem is, however, that – when left unchecked – special interest can not only act to bypass the common good (the interest of the public, if you will) but can also act squarely against it. A classic example of this would be drilling for oil in Alaska. Or, if you want sometihng closer to home, liquid gas storages in the Gulf of Trieste, just off the Slovenian Adriatic coast.
Ideally, the parliament acts to limit these particulars or find common ground between special and public interest. Now, we all know that is seldom the case, especially with specific pieces of legislation (case in point being the shooting-down of the media law near the end of the previous term, courtesy of a would-be media baron). But the point is that the parliament can and should act in the public interest. The thing is that in case of Slovenia, the legislative process can be (and often is) plagued by special interest not just at the bottom (during drafting period) but also at the top, after the parliament has passed a law and is up to the National Council whether to confirm it or enact the “deffering veto”. In short, under current system, special interest squeezes public interest from both sides, which is a) undemocratic and b) totaly unhealthy in the long run. Not to mention the fact that over the course of the last twenty years, sucessive National Councils and especially their presidents have tried ever so hard to win the status of a full-blown second chamber of the parliament, if not in theory, surely in practice.
Thus, the National Council is a far cry from an obsolete and unimportant institution as claimed by Gregor Virant and politically icreasingly lonely leader of Social Democrats Borut Pahor. Rather, it is a residual element of a corporativistic mindset which Slovenia (let’s be honest here) has never completely done away with, no matter the political option in power. As such, the National Council is in fact a long-term threat to democracy of this country. It is because of that that it must be abolished sooner rather than later. Sure, the current government (with the notable exception of Radovan Žerjav and his SLS who oppose the move) is trying very hard not to mention the elephant in the room and is making sorry-ass excuses as it goes along, but right now the problem is with the opposition. Unfortunately, Positive Slovenia of Zoran Janković is trying to have the cake and eat it by proposing modification to the role of the Council, but stops short of supporting complete abolishment. Thus one of the few constitutional changes which would have made sense (and there really are only a few of those) both in long- and short-term (I’m sure no-one would mind one less possibility for calling a referendum) looks dead on delivery.
BTW: if Slovenia ever gets around to establishing regions as the definitive layer of local self-government (stripping municipalities of much of their powers), we might consider the parliament getting a second, regional chamber. But we’ll cross that bridge if an when we get to it.