50 is more than 100

The upcoming elections to the European Parliament continue what pengovsky calls a perpetual election campaign. Starting in 2006 Slovenians went to the polls every year since and will continue to do so until 2010 (inclusive). There will be a short pause in 2011 which will be followed by a super-election year in 2012, when both parliamentary and presidential elections will be held.

This year’s European elections come only nine months after the parliamentary elections of 2008 when Social democrats won by the thinnest of margins and Borut Pahor put together a left-wing coalition which is high on friction factor from the beginning, not to mention that it has an economic crisis to handle. With this in mind it is all the more clear why European elections are seen as a sort of a test for the ruling coalition. Even worse – as two ministers of Pahor’s government are running for MEPs, a cabinet shake-up is possbile (although not very likely), which would throw this quarrelsome coalition off balance yet again.

European parliament is composed of 785 MEPs, only seven of whom come from Slovenia. They are elected by a proportional voting system with a preferential vote, where every party runs a list of maximum seven candidates. Voters choose either a list (a party) as a whole or a particular candidate. The number of seats each party wins is proportional to the percentage of the vote it gets. If a party wins more than one seat, MEPs are seated in the order they appear on the list – unless a particular candidate on the list won enough preferential votes to “jump queue”. On the whole, each seat corresponds to approximately 14,5 percent of the votes cast, although this can vary as a lot of smaller parties might not make it above this “threshold”.

The above suggests that turnout is crucial. Small turnout can cause seemingly enormous fluctuations in votes cast and crucially affect the end result. Thus in 2004, when Slovenes voted in euroelections for the first time, the turnout was appallingly small (only 44%) and christian-democratic Nova Slovenia got most of the vote even though they were only a slightly-more-than-a-marginal political force in Slovenia. Indeed, Nova Slovenia has the most to lose this time around. They’ve dropped out of the parliament in 2008 parliamentary elections and are holding on to political survival by their fingernails. While they publicly state that they hope to repeat the result of 2004, the reality is much bleaker: they can only pray (pun very much intended) to win one MEP. Just as it was the case in parliamentary elections in 2008, the bulk of NSi electorate seems to have moved to Janez Janša’s SDS. Which is good news for the former PM, as his party seems poised to win as many as three EP seats, which would be a first in the short history of European elections in Slovenia and would mean that SDS won the elections beyond the shadow of a doubt.

However – winning more seats at the expense of your ideological allies only goes so far.

Ruling Social democrats of PM Borut Pahor seem certain to win two MEPs. Together with the projected result of SDS this would result for the bulk of Slovenian EP quota and throw the field wide open for the remaining two seats. As I wrote above, NSi can only hope to win one, as do all three junior coalition members: Zares, LDS and DeSUS. The latter stands little chance of success, but remember the paragraph about attendance: the smaller the attendance, the bigger the possible upsets.

Today, five days before the elections it seems like the opposition SDS will win three seats, ruling SD two, at least one seat will go to either LDS or Zares, whereas the seventh seat will be a toss-up between LDS, Zares, NSi and possibly DeSUS and SLS.

Naturally, the result will be interpreted in a zillion different ways. While the number of seats will of course be important, percentages won will be the thing to watch to get a quick snapshot of the political balance of power. Obviously, most people will be interested in the difference between Janša’s SDS and Pahor’s SD. In parliamentary elections six months ago the latter got only marginally more votes than the former (both won about 28 percent of the vote) and if this balance is not disturbed too much, even if SDS wins three seats and SD only two, than it will be safe to say that Social Democrats held out pretty well. Anything less than that, and it will be obvious that SDS regains some ground it lost to SD six months ago.

However, it could be that SD is not losing to SDS but to Zares and LDS, its two major coalition partners (DeSUS being the third). So it will also be interesting to see how the coalition parties will fare as a whole. Remember, SDS expanded its base mostly at the expense of Nova Slovenija (NSi) and it could very well be that it made only marginal headway in the “swing vote” category. If SD, Zares, LDS and even DeSUS rack up a healthy percentage, then Janša, who is increasingly alone in the opposition, will have to rethink his tactics.

There are numerous other lists and parties running in these elections. The Greens and the Youth party are the eternal underdogs which – with every election – look more like a group of dedicated amateurs than a serious policial party. If these guys were for real, they’d have merged long ago, as their platforms are painfully similar. But as things stand, they split up even the poor vote they do get. Then there’s Jelinčič’s nationalists, who are in a bit of schizophrenic position: they are anti-European and yet they run in an European position. Their message is therefore appropriately muddled.

But then, there are what we call “parachuters”, people who have zero chance of being elected and who run on the wildest of platforms. My favourite is Nedeljko Dabić, a candidate for Christian Socialist Party, whose slogan is “50 is more than a 100” and who runs on a radical solidarity platform – that every company must share 50% of its profit with its employees. Sounds nice. But first we have to have companies creating profits! :mrgreen:

Fire

On 18 May Slovenian foreign minister Dimitrij Rupel Samuel Žbogar was in Brussels to officially deliver a letter containing Slovenian response to the latest proposal by Commissioner Olli Rehn to solve the border dispute between Slovenia and Croatia. However, agent Sam failed to make the drop, because a fire broke out in the European Commission building in Brussels. The package was eventually delivered by our man in Brussels, so there was no permanent damage.

The contents of that letter were pretty much along the lines of “we want to amend the latest proposal and don’t give a rat’s ass about Croatia accepting it because we feel it is biased in favuor of Croatia“. Namely, Zagreb sent word that as far as it is concerned the negotiation process is over as they’ve accepted Rehn’s latest offer and that’s it. So the Silent Finn summoned both Samuel Žbogar and his Croatian counterpart Gordan Jandroković back to Brussels to explain themselves, but guess what happened…

I guess someone really doesn’t want this solved :mrgreen:

Entropa (Hitting Too Close To Home)

As you probably know by now, the Czech presidency of the EU is blushing and fuming with anger ever since it transpired that artistic instalation Entropa was not a collaborative effort by 27 artistist from 27 member states and that it does not exactly extol the virtues of being one big happy European family.

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Slovenia, the birthplace of tourism

In fact, the entire instalation was made by David Černý and two associates and rather than singing the song of European happiness, it cinycally takes it apart, selects and exaggerates a particular – mostly well chosen – national stereotype. On top of that, all the sculptures are put in a plastic frame often found in scale kit models, suggesting that Europe is a product rather than an idea. And to top it all there’s the name: Entropa, combination of Europe and entropy.

It could be brushed off as yet another prank by the enfant terrible of the Czech art world. But apparently it hit too close to home for some people. The following is taken from the relevant Wikipedia entry:

* Austria, a known opponent of atomic energy, is a green field dominted by nuclear power plant cooling towers
* Belgium is presented as a half-full box of half-eaten Praline chocolates
* Bulgaria is depicted by a series of connected “Turkish” squat toilets
* Cyprus is jigsawed (cut) in half
* The Czech Republic’s own piece is an LED display, which will flash controversial quotations by Czech President Václav Klaus after the sculpture’s activation
* Denmark is a face depicted in Lego bricks, reminiscent of the cartoon controversy
* Estonia is presented with a hammer and sickle-styled power tools, the country has considered a ban on Communist symbols
* Finland is depicted as a wooden floor and an [apparently drunk] male with a rifle, imagining various animals
* France is draped in a “GR?VE!” (“STRIKE!”) banner
* Germany is a series of interlocking autobahns, described as “somewhat resembling a swastika”, though that is not universally accepted. Upon activation, the cars are supposed to start moving.
* Greece is depicted as a forest that is entirely burned
* Hungary features an Atomium made of its common agricultural products melons and Hungarian sausages, based on a floor of peppers
* Ireland is depicted as a brown bog with bagpipes protruding from Northern Ireland; upon activation, the bagpipes are expected to play music every five minutes
* Italy is depicted as a football pitch with the players holding balls in the “strategic position”
* Latvia is shown as covered with mountains, in contrast to its actual flat landscape
* Lithuanian soldiers are depicted urinating on Russia
* Luxembourg is displayed as a gold nugget with “For Sale” tag
* Malta is a tiny island with its prehistoric dwarf elephant as its only decoration
* The Netherlands has disappeared under the sea with only a several minarets still visible; upon activation, this piece is supposed to emit the singing of muezzins
* Poland has a piece with priests erecting the rainbow flag of the Gay rights movement, in the style of the U.S. soldiers raising the Stars and Stripes at Iwo Jima.
* Portugal is shown as a wooden cutting board with three pieces of meat in the shape of its former colonies of Brazil, Angola, and Mozambique
* Romania is a Dracula-style theme park
* Slovakia is depicted as a Hungarian sausage (or a human body tighten by Hungarian tricolour)
* Slovenia is shown as a rock engraved with the words first tourists came here 1213
* Spain is covered entirely in concrete, with a concrete mixer situated near the Basque country
* Sweden does not have an outline, but is represented as large Ikea-style self-assembly furniture, containing Gripen fighter planes
* The United Kingdom, known for its Euroscepticism and relative isolation from the Continent, is “included” as missing piece (an empty space) at the top-left of the work

Personally, I think this is a lovely provocation, not unlike what Slovenian designers did with The Youth Relay twenty years ago. It says more about the object of the mockery (in this case member states) as it does of the object of the art. In case of Slovenia it takes apart this country’s totally unfounded conviction that it is the centre of the world and that all great things somehow started here. Even tourism, for crying out loud! So in the instalation the rock that is Slovenia states that “the first tourists came here in 1213”. Gotta love it! (Full text of descriptions can be found here)

But in this particular case the fool in the room turned out to be the Czech presidency which (not unlike Slovenian presidency a year ago) was trying to come across as more European than Europe itself. Thus, the point of Entropa has been proven by the very people who aimed to discredit it. The fact that Černý made up 26 other artists, their biographies and even accompanying texts, only further shows that the European idea is artificial at least in part. That in itself if not necesarily bad as it does help to be reminded of that every once in a while. Just so we don’t get carried away.

The Luck Of The Irish

Despite being cautiously pro-European (mostly for geopolitical reasons, but that the way things are), I must say I’m kind of glad the Irish voted against the Lisbon treaty. The European Union has around half a billion citizens, and yet a mere 800.000 votes brought the Lisbon treaty to a grinding halt. And while one may argue that this is a case of a minority imposing its will on the majority, I think it atcually shows that democracy in the EU – for all its failings – is alive and well.

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Ireland votes NO (source)

Think about it. The way things stand now, the EU is still nothing more than a association of nation states (although a very closely bound one). Member states have not relinquished its their sovereignity, but have opted to excercise it via a common political entity which goes by the name of the EU. However, this does not – should not – preclude the right of every member state to excercise its sovereignity in full as it sees fit. And if the Irish constitution calls for a referendum of any and all matters of international association, then so be it.

Furthermore, the initial statemets of a number of European politicians – including the man who happens to be my prime minister – show that Irish “no” was a much needed reality-check which hopefully burst the bubble of “planned democracy” the EU and indeed most member states are infested with. It is one thing to know the result of a political proces in advance due to predictability of political players and factors, it is however quite another to devise ways and means which only keep the illusion of the decision-making process as being democratic, where in reality there is only one “acceptable” decision.

Most European leaders, shocked by the fact that the Celtic Tiger gave them the finger, said that “they expect the ratification process to go forward“. Janez Janša (presiding over the EU for 14 more days and counting) even said that the Irish Taoiseach Brian Cowen will “explain the reasons for this outcome“.

Waddafuckyoumean go forward and will explain??? As far as I know the Irish government stated beforehand that there will be no re-run on the referendum, so the “no” is final. There’s nothing to go forward to and nothing to explain. Secondly: True, none of them forgot to add that the democratic decisions must be respected, but… There shouldn’t be any “buts” here. Are EU leaders trying to say that there are referendums that count and referendums that don’t? When France and The Netherladns rejected the European Constitution, everybody went “That’s it! Game over!” and now when Ireland said no, they’re trying to pretend it didn’t happen?

I realize that a lot of work has been put into the Lisbon treaty and I’m convinced that it is a good treaty and that it would benefit both the EU and member states including Ireland. It would also allow expansion of EU to include Balkan states and finally Turkey (both of which are a must). There are, however, no shortcuts. If this treaty went down badly in Ireland, imagine what the result of such a referendum would be in France or the UK, or any other “old” member state, whose people have long ago fallen out of love with the EU. Even worse, imagine that the Irish are somehow coerced into ratifying the treaty, which is followed by quick accession of Balkan states into the EU in the next ten years. How on Earth will you explain to the people that Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina must become members if you can’t even properly explain why a simple treaty is a good thing?

The rejection of the Lisbon treaty by Ireland is the best thing that could have happened to the EU at this moment. Not because it slowed the process of enlargment (that’s bad), but because it showed that a lot must be done on the home front as well. Perhaps starting to rebuild trust between the citizens of existing member states and their elected officials might be a good way to go about it. Once that is achieved, a lot more faith will be put into politicians’ abilities to tackle “big issues” as well.

Slovenia once was a member of a multinational super-state. As time progressed it was coerced more and more into decisions it didn’t want to take. And then one day it walked out. Perhaps unbeknownst to them, the EU leaders are making the very same mistake Yugoslav leaders did some 25+ years ago. Back then noone really believed that anyone would leave the federation. And today noone really belives anyone will leave the Union. History, however, has a nasty tendency to repeat itself at the hands of those who forget it.

Laura Non C’e

Today’s post is not strictly politics, but as it relates to yesterday’s pit stop by George, Jr. I hope you’ll forgive me. The lighter side of presidential summits can sometimes be quite intreaguing and almost funny. In absense of any real news, the government PR people have released the summit menu, for guys and gals alike. Therefore you can sleep in peace knowing that George, Janez and Jose yesterday had Istrian proscutto with green asparagi and was able to wash it down with a glass of Rebula white wine, but…. C’mon, people! George is a reformed alcocholic! He shouldn’t be allowed within 50 feet of a bottle! Ferfuckssake! What were you thinking! George and wine make for a bad time :mrgreen:

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The Prez and The Other Prez put their glasses on to read the fine print of the first Slovene Bible (photo: BOBO)

But at least the presents were chosen a bit more carefully. JJ gave the man a state-of-the-art mountain bike which go for a nifty 4k euros a piece which will surely come in handy when George will be doing circles at his Crawford ranch. And when he’s not herding cows, giving speeches or whatever it is former presidents with a ranch do, he’ll be able to contemplate reading a facsimile of the first Holy Bible in Slovene language printed in 1584 by Slovenian protestant intelectual Jurij Dalmatin, which – in all honesty – is quite a beautiful present. It would, however, be even more appropriate if the man were presented with a fascimile of Catechism or Abecedarium by Primož Trubar, the first and second book in Slovene language ever (1550s), especially because Slovenia celebrated 500 years since Trubar’s birth only a day earlier. Wouldn’t that be something? You just threw a big party for the first ever book in your language and the Big Kahuna misses the show by a couple of hours, but you are still able to present him with a copy of your object of celebration. Apparently not all the dogs are barking at the Protocol of the Republic of Slovenia.

But OK, enough bitching and smartassing about it. The guy and his woman were here, they talked the talk and walked the walk. And how did the whole thing look like at street level? Here’s Laura Bush’s motorcade in downtown Ljubljana as shot by yours truly yesterday morning. With a bit of a musical background, naturally 🙂