Rule 34a

That Slovenia fought against watering-down of the Telecom Single Market directive (a.k.a. Single Digital Market) was for all intents and purposes the most surprising piece of information coming from this sorry little excuse for a country in the last ten days or so. Even more surprising than the decapitation of the bad-bank where the CEO and chief of the supervisory board were dismissed over excessive pay. And infinitely more surprising than the story of the NSA and German BND bulk-intercepting international calls from Slovenia between 2005 and 2008. Both of which will get written up here in due course. But first, this net neutrality thing.

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(source: savetheinternet.eu)

You can read it up, but the nuts and bolts of it are fairly simple: either everyone gets to use the web under the same conditions in terms of speed, access and services provided or network operators get to decide which services or users get preferential treatment (for a price, of course) and which get to crowd with the rest of us sorry bastards on the slow end of the interwebz. Or, what could happen is that the network operators get to pick their favourite service(s) and charge less – or nothing at all – for their use, relegating every other competing service to the status of an also-ran. Point being that under the proposed Single Digital Market directive the telcos get to pick the winners and the losers.

This is about where and how you’ll get your news, for example. Or your porn. Not that there’s much difference, but still. On the neutral net, where telcos/network providers compete with one another with plans, prices and ease of access, you’re able to pick and choose between RTVSLO, BBC, Russia Today, NaturalNews.com (yuck) or even FoxNews. On the not-so-neutral net your provider will most likely limit you to a handful of news sites, at least one of them being their own. Everything else will either be available at a premium or at lower speeds. Or both. The same goes for porn. The neutral net brings you PornHub, Redtube or plain old /hc/ board on 4chan.org, depending on your fancy. The other web brings you your provider’s porn service. It is a sort of Rule 34a.

 

If it exists, there is porn of it – no exceptions. Provided you pay for it and we get to deliver it.

 

And would you really like your network provider to know exactly what sick turn-ons you have? Methinks not.

And this is just the way things are today. Imagine a couple of years from now, when the IoT takes off for real. You buy a net-enabled fridge telling you what’s missing and updating your shopping list. But on the not-neutral web your network operator gets to choose which brand of the fridge gets preferential treatment within its network or which on-line shops are available for such a device. Hell, it can even limit your online shopping experience, preventing you from getting the best deal out there. Or maybe it can charge you extra if your wifi-enabled car needs an update. The list goes on forever.

Also, this is about cats.

All of the above makes it all the more astounding that Slovenia actually took up the issue on the EU level. I mean, here we have arguably the single most important long-term policy issue since the introduction of the euro and this country actually wants to do something? Wow. Just wow. In fact, Slovenia and the Netherlands were out-voted on the issue, with Croatia and Greece abstaining, while the 24 remaining member states green-lighted the draft (page 13 of the link).

You see, the thing is that next to the Netherlands, Slovenia is the only EU member to have set net neutrality as a legal norm. More or less. In Slovenia at least the legislation was watered down via lobbying by the telcos, but not enough to prevent the first-ever rulings by AKOS, the comms watchdog, which in January fined the two largest mobile providers for providing zero-rating services. And now, as the year slowly draws to an end, the European Commission put forward a draft Single Digital Market directive which would have made these rulings next to impossible as it basically trades the much-hailed abolition of roaming charges (two years hence) for a two-speed Internet (most likely to commence in various forms immediately). Little wonder Slovenia and the Netherlands have problems with it since it directly undermines their national legislation, several orders of magnitude better than what the draft directive provides for.

At its most crudest, this is a case where a drop in profits in one segment of the industry is mitigated by a free-fire zone of surcharges in another segment. Not to mention the fact that the move will have massive repercussions far beyond the consumer sector. Limiting speed and/or access to information will impact education and research, creative industries will once again be divided into haves and have-nots and home will no longer be simply where the wi-fi is.

This, despite the name, will be anything but a single digital market.

The ball is now in the European Parliament’s court. Last year, the EP shot down a directive draft which – compared to the current one – was more than acceptable. But with Brussels packing more lobbyists than Washington D.C., one can never be sure of the final outcome. (Slighty OT: Here is a handy tool on lobbying stats, courtesy of Politico.eu).

Which is why a number of grass-roots initiatives sprang up all over the EU to, well, save the internet. In Slovenia, too, where media and the politicos have apparently finally started paying attention. Whether this will be enough remains to be seen, but if the fate of the ACTA treaty a few years ago and the recent Safe-harbour ruling by the European Court are omens to go by, then this whole thing can still be overturned.

Because as it stands, for all the goodies it brings vis-a-vis mobile roaming, the TSM directive in fact heralds yet another social stratification. This time of a digital nature, ordained by the industry whose hey-day has long since passed.

SuperKarl and Croatian Rapid-Fire Mode

Karl Erjavec is one lucky sonofabitch. In fact, he is so lucky that his middle name could well be changed from Viktor to Felix. I mean, the lucky with this guy is so strong that if he’d been thrown out of an airlock in the middle of the universe, he’d beat the probability of survival of two to the power of 276,709 to one against. Because that’s how improbable it is that Karl Erjavec found himself at the epicentre of not one, but two political and diplomatic scandals in Slovenia and was told by PM Cerar that he will not seek his replacement.

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SuperKarl and the Mystery of The Arbitration. Sounds like a film with Harrison Ford

You see, if this was a time like any other, Erjavec would be flying out of the ministry, legs first, over a scandal with Slovenian ambassador to France where she allegedly embezzled state funds, repeatedly went on unauthorised leaves and fabricated reports. Shit was apparently brewing for some time, while the wrongdoing was uncovered months ago by an internal audit results of which were then sat on by the foreign ministry. The report was released only yesterday after the Information Commissioner ordered the ministry to do so, following an apparently unusually long deliberation on the issue.

However, since Slovenia is momentarily embroiled in the Arbitration Agreement omnishambles which already claimed the two directly involved senior diplomats, PM Miro Cerar apparently decided against beheading the foreign ministry in what is shaping to be a crucial, all-hands-on-deck period in the arbitration on the Slovenia-Croatia border dispute.  Not to mention the quite probable outbreak of a political crisis in Slovenia dismissing the leader of the second largest coalition party would probably incur. Thus SuperKarl lives to see another day.

Namely, after the initial panicky response to what is now dubbed PiranLeaks, Slovenian political class is finally getting its shit together. Thus a new national arbiter will be appointed soonest (probably today), circumventing the usually protracted process in the parliament, in the hope that the arbitration proceedings can continue and ultimately conclude. Which is precisely what Croatia wants to prevent.

The government of Zoran Milanović went into rapid-fire mode, upping the ante almost daily. Thus on Sunday FM Vesna Pusić was still writing a concerned letter to the Arbitration Tribunal, formally notifying it of what had happened, but on Monday PM Milanović already announced the government is considering withdrawing from the arbitration altogether. And when his Slovenian counterpart Cerar said neither country can quit the arbitration (as per agreement), Milanović retorted by saying that it can and it will.

This is the point where things start to get tricky indeed. For all its bravado (probably amplified by the de facto election campaign Croatia is in), the incumbent Croatian government has talked itself into a rather cramped corner. Not putting their money where their mouth is would mean certain ruin for Milanović and his fellow political travellers. But the signals they are receiving are anything but clear and/or encouraging. Namely, the European Commission stated in no unclear terms that it expects the rules of the agreement to be adhered to and for the tribunal to finish the job at hand. The tribunal itself demanded Slovenia explain its version of events. Whether or not this heralds a chastising of Slovenia or not remains to be seen, but it does suggest the tribunal sees itself fit to handle the current clusterfuck as well.

Point being that Croatia used up most of its ammo (provided there’s not another batch of phone-taps waiting to miraculously appear in Croatian media) while everyone else barely made a move. This, too, suggest the pace of Croatian moves is dictated by internal political dynamics (looming elections) rather than the arbitration itself. And while one can fully expect attempts at broadening the field (like Zagreb filing a complaint with the Int’l Maritime Tribunal in Hamburg), the fact is that the Arbitration Tribunal has it within its power to conclude the proceedings as per the agreement. Even if that means unilaterally appointing a new arbiter for Croatia, since Vukas is rumoured to be stepping down at the behest of the government in Zagreb which will not name a replacement, or so the wisdom goes.

Unless, of course, Slovenia has a trick or two up its sleeve, as well. That, at least, that was the translation of Branko Grims’ cryptic praise of SOVA, the Slovenian spook service yesterday. Namely, Gizmo (generally, a pretty undesirable character) said the country’s intelligence services had done an excellent job which led to speculations that Slovenia, too, had been listening in on Croatian convos (link in Slovenian).

If that really is the case, one can only hope no one is stupid enough to actually release the recordings. We’ve seen enough embarrassment these days to go around. Twice over.

UPDATE
This, via the STA

 

Shituation in Greece: What We Have Here Is Failure To Communicate

A few things need to be said vis-a-vis the impending Greek clusterfuck. Namely, we’ve been listening for weeks on end how the two sides, that is the heavily indebted Greece on one side and the don’t-call-it-Troika on the other were haggling over the finer points of tax hikes, spending cuts, projected values and sums calculated. But for some time now the one thought that has been bugging pengovsky was that we’ve seen it all before. Not in terms of the current economic and financial omnishambles – although one could argue that nothing has apparently been learned either from the Cypriot example or from previous failures of “saving Greece” – but more generally.

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(source)

While most of the following is, obviously, based on media and other reports which inherently carry their own bias, it would seem that what we’ve got here is a failure to communicate. The shituation in Greece is not unlike the run-up to World War One or The Cuban Missile Crisis. In both cases, the conflicting sides were convinced they understood the position of the other side perfectly and in 1914 it ended in disaster, while in 1962 disaster was only narrowly averted. This is what happens when parties involved expect each other to behave according to their respective plans. When that doesn’t happen, bad things occur. And when bad thing occur, every new move, if not carefully calculated, only adds to the clusterfuck. And it is safe to say that calculated and measured moves were very few and far between, on both sides.

Greek PM Tsipras and his stellar FinMin Varoufakis seem to have expected the EU will simply roll over for the two of them after Syriza won the Greek elections. As if things will automatically start moving in a new and more healthy way just on their say so. Well, they didn’t and had they understood what was it that the Troika was after, they would not have spent months grandstanding and posturing (look ‘ma, no tie!) around Europe, achieving practically nothing. But on the other hand, had the Eurogroup and especially Frau Merkel understood what the Syriza victory in Greece actually meant in terms of legitimacy of austerity policy (rather than trying to prove to Greek voters they voted wrongly), things might have moved forward, despite the initial clumsiness of the Greek Duo. As things stand, there is not an innocent party in this sorry story. All of them have boxed themselves in with their own rules of engagement that could only degenerate into the current shituation.

As pressure bar goes way up into the red, accusations of communists in Athens trying to set Europe alight as well as accusations of fat cats in Brussels trying to make an example of Greece and shift the burden of the bailout squarely on the shoulders of the poorest strata of Greek society. Neither are exactly true, in pengovsky’s opinion.

Yes, this is an ideological fight. Whoever maintains that it is only the Greek government who is flaunting ideology suffers from a massive (self-inflicted) blind spot. Even adhering to pure maths means taking an ideological position. But just as the Greek government is “far left” only in terms of the general European discourse being right-of-centre, the don’t-call-it-Troika is a far cry from a 21st century incarnation of the Sherrif on Nottingham, case in point the latest proposal by the European Commission which, for example, calls for a larger cut in defence spending, a wider base for luxury tax, closing of tax loopholes, et cetera.

Point being there is nothing to be gained from an ideological shouting match. Other than shifting the blame, that is. Which is what the current rush to win the battle for interpretation looks like. Not so much wanting to find a way forward but making sure the other party is to blame when things go all the way south. Thus Varoufakis says Greece has a clear conscience re negotiations. That may be. And I’m sure Merkel, Dijsselbloem and the lot feel the same.

Isn’t that nice. The whole common currency project is about to go tits-up, possibly dragging the Union with it but everyone will have a clear conscience. Here’s a newsflash: you dimwits were not tasked with runing the show to have clear consciences but get shit done.

Conspiracy theories aside, plenty of European press seems to be clamouring for a “12th hour deal”, either counting on Tsipras/Varoufakis to see the light or Merkel, Draghi and even Juncker balking at the idea of going down in history as leaders under whose stewardship the euro (and by extension the EU) started to disintegrate. This line of thought has a big problem: Both “The Institutions” and the Greek government are convinced it is precisely their actions which can save the euro/EU while actions of the opposite side are “uneuropean, inhumane and illogical”. Not necessarily in that particular order. It is, as KAL some time ago so aptly pointed out, a classic case of irresistible force meeting an immovable object. It seems doubly ironic that a renowned expert in game theory should be an active participant in the dismal failure of the entire enterprise. Yes, I’m looking at you, Yanis.

True, both Greece and the don’t-call-it-Troika seem to have gone so far down the chute that a working deal is for all intents and purposes impossible without either of the sides caving in completely. So perhaps what is needed is a non-working deal? Something both sides need to save their respective faces (if not asses), knowing full well that the goals laid out will not be met. Because it is not as if all the previous goals set for Greece were met with flying colours.

So, here we are, with Greek banks closed, capital controls in place and EUR 60 cash withdrawal limit per bank account and/or person. Save a surprising yes vote by the Greeks on the #greferendum (which would, in turn, probably trigger new elections, further complicating events), the country is moving rapidly towards leaving the euro. Just how this plays out no-one knows.

A wise man once said that to jaw-jaw is better than to war-war. The same goes for current omnishambles. The EU and the euro were always perceived as one-way streets. If Greece leaves the euro and possibly the EU as well, the Pandora’s box will have been opened and things thought impossible will suddenly become deceptively easy and many-a-politician’s weapon of last resort. Because if Greece leaves the euro, why not Germany? I’m sure a relevant political party with an anti-euro agenda would appear in no time.

Oh, wait…

 

Tele-kom, Tele-go

The supervisory board of the Slovenian Sovereign Holding (SDH) is expected to finally end the sad saga of the sale of Telekom Slovenije today. The state owned telco was put up for sale as a part of the deal then-PM Alenka Bratušek and her FinMin Uroš Čufer made with Brussels in 2013 to avoid a bailout that would send Slovenia into the special Olympics category together with Greece and Cyprus (as well as Ireland and Spain, to a lesser extent).

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Telekom Slovenije management might get new bosses soon (source: The Firm™)

To cut a long story short, the company was put up for sale soon after the SDH was formed and when it became clear that the new Slovenian government will go ahead with the attempted sale, despite PM Cerar’s vocal reservations during the election campaign, all hell broke loose. Cerar’s government nearly went tits-up with the SD threatening to quit the coalition (but didn’t and wouldn’t, because gravy train), there was a very public and very loud stooshie between the PM and his defence minister Janko Veber of SD, who was then relieved of his duties. And in general, as the days passed, the debate on Telekom was becoming ever more charged.

But in the end Deutsche Telekom, the supposed bogeyman in this story did not even place a bid, leaving Cinven, a British fund to go at it alone. Which was a bit of a #wtf moment, especially for opponents of the sale as it became clear that people are not exactly queuing to snap up the company. And after much wrangling the final offer was around 110 euros per share with additional 20 per share later on if certain conditions are met and benchmarks achieved. Yesterday, Telekom Slovenije (TLSG) traded at 98 euros per share. And in the end it was all about whether the SDH will accept Cinven’s offer. And this is where the fun really starts.

The issue is so charged both politically and emotionally that any politician with at least a half-developed survival instinct would rather walk away from it or find a way to maintain status quo. And every so often even PM Cerar gave the impression that he would rather see the Telekom problem simply go away. But it didn’t and in the end, the SDH management OKd the Cinven deal and kicked the issue upstairs, to the supervisory board. Which after much deliberation OKd the deal as well but kicked it upstairs to the government, acting as SDH’s shareholder assembly. And after even more deliberation (an eight-hour cabinet meeting on Sunday last), the government decided to kick the issue downstairs, to the SHD supervisory board, saying they’re paid to do it and that it’s their job.

Thus an interesting situation was created whereupon the SDH management, its supervisory board and government green-lighted the deal, and now everyone is looking around, waiting for someone to say “sold!”. The Board is apparently scheduled to meet later today as to catch a deadline set by Cinven. The fund is threatening to pack-up and leave should the deal be nixed or final decision somehow delayed yet again.

But on the fate of the deal hinges the internal dynamic of the coalition. Namely, should the deal go south at the very last moment (and that at the moment seems unlikely, despite the massive pressure from anti-privatisation camp), the SD, now barely hanging on would probably score massive points, overtake United left (ZL) at the top spot in the polls and probably start calling the shots within the coalition. Most of them, anyway. Because not only is the SD fighting a politically symbolic battle, the outcome will have massive repercussions for the party in terms of access to resources, influencers, decision makers, and the party’s own political prospects.

Watching very carefully will be Karl Erjavec of DeSUS, who is mostly sitting this one out, but is gearing up for a similar fight over Zavarovalnica Triglav, the largest insurer in Slovenia. If Miro Cerar and his SMC prevail, then Teflon Karl better start preparing a different strategy to keep Triglav in state hands and, by extension within his sphere of influence. If, however, the Telekom is not sold, then Erjavec can simply cash in the support he gave to the SD prior to election, divide the spoils and live happily ever after.

Not that the anti-privatisation camp is throwing in the towel, either. While the SD will probably not leave the coalition over the Telekom (not that it could, with its six votes, anyhow), they are trying everything else. Thus yesterday evening an 11th hour attempt was made at derailing the deal. Mladina weekly ran a story about a due-diligence, commisioned by a potential bidder which supposedly showed Telekom shares are worth as much as 190 euro.

Now, under normal conditions would have been a bombshell. But these are not normal conditions. The pressure brought to bear in this case is beyond anything we’ve seen in recent history. At the very least, this is the first time the wrangling, arm-twisting and threats are done out in the open, at the highest level of politics and public life in general. Therefore, the first question that begs asking is why is it then the British fund is the only bidder? This phantom bidder could have made an offer of say, EUR 150 per share and still make a deal of the decade. But it didn’t. And that’s all that matters.

At any rate, whatever the fuck the SDH supervisory board decides today, will probably mark the end of a period. Not just for Telekom Slovenije, but for Slovenian politics. The fallout will be massive. If the deal falls through, what little credibility Cerar’s administration gained at home and in Brussels, will have disappeared as the PM will be seen as being shoved around easily. If, however, the SDH board does finally OK the sale, Cerar’s problems are far from over. Not only on account of DeSUS holding a baseball bat to fend of privatisation of Zavarovalnica Triglav but also because the anti-privatisation camp nearly succeeded this time around and will be anything but disheartened in the next round.

And while early elections are not in the cards any time soon (not yet, at least), life in the ruling coalition will become increasingly difficult as the SD seem to have found their voice (their only problem being that it is the same voice the ZL is using, only much more effectively). With this in mind, the possibility of a coalition expansion or even reshuffle seems plausible.

 

 

Same-Sex Legislation (Predictably) Not Yet Home Safe

Remember when pengovsky wrote that the new same-sex weddings legislation is not yet home safe? Well, guess what…

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Modern Centre Party – SMC (source)

The SMC seemingly flip-flopped on the issue, saying they will not challenge a referendum initiative which would yet again put up the same-sex weddings issue to a popular vote. Naturally most of the supporters of same-sex weddings went apeshit and the SMC was served a proper Twitter-storm. Its intensity was probably confounded by the fact that in the eyes of many people the SMC finally saw the light by voting in favour of the legislation (and doing so en bloc) but has now retraced its steps and found itself on its pre-election neither-nor position.

And, admittedly, it did not look good. Even since Aleš Primc and his band of merry men initiated yet another referendum bid to strike down this harmless but ideologically very loaded piece of legislation, it was more or less the accepted wisdom that the parliament will use the recent changes to the constitution to their fullest effect, prevent the referendum on the grounds of this being a human-rights matter and then let Primc fight it the Constitutional Court. Well, apparently not. At the very least, not just yet. Namely, the ruling SMC stated they’ve no intention of denying the people a vote on an important issue. Later they’ve signaled the decision may be revised but at any rate this turn of events made a lot of people unhappy and they sure let the SMC know.

There are a couple of ways to digest this. The most obvious one is to say that the SMC flip-flopped on the issue or – even worse – that its support for the legislation was not genuine but rather a price they had to pay to join the ALDE (liberals) political group on the european level. This is possible, especially if reports from some months ago are correct and UK LibDems did indeed take issue with SMC sitting on the fence on this prior to elections. But one would like to think that European parliamentary groups take themselves slightly more serious than that and that a true about-face on same-sex weddings would have wider recriminations for the offending party.

So chalk that one to “possible, but not likely” column. A bit more likely is the possibility of the SMC parliamentary group not being entirely on the same page on the issue. There are thirty-six SMC MPs, most of them with little political experience and – understandably – of 50 shades of liberal ideology. So the decision not to go against the referendum head-on (not yet, at least), might have something to do with that. Keeping 36 people on-board on a highly divisive issue while they’re all lobbied and bombarded with arguments from all sides is not an easy task.

And finally, it could be the party simply got scared of its own power and what it can do with it. With great power comes great responsibility and never in the history of Slovenia did such a greenhorn party with such a politically inexperienced leadership hold so much power. And it seem probable, to pengovsky at least, that the moral imperative of ethical policy making simply got the better of them. As a result, Slovenia will once again be the battleground of rational-but-useless arguments in favour of same-sex weddings, opposed by emotional outcries backed up by manipulations, fear mongering and blatant lies by the opponents. The rhetoric is already there. Now it will only get worse (Slovenian only).

But the referendum rules have changed since the Family code was struck down two years ago. Which brings us to the fun part.

Because while the SMC said it will not impede the referendum initiative, there are unofficial signals it might back the bid to prevent the referendum. And while the (centre-)left parties are pushing forward with the bid, they can do didly squat without votes of the SMC. The way this works is that once the petition to hold a referendum is filed, the parliament can decide by a simple majority the referendum is illegal as it deals with basic human rights which then leaves it to the petitioners to challenge the decision at the constitutional court. And with the current composition of the constitutional court suggesting anything but a clear dismissal of the referendum, it seems reasonable to expect that the legislation allowing same-sex weddings will be challenged on a referendum one way or another.

And if there is a referendum, the new rules stipulate that the legislation is struck down if a majority votes against it, but only is this majority represents more than 20% of all eligible voters. Which means about 340.000 people will have to make the effort and cast their “no” vote on referendum day. Which is quite an obstacle.

With this in mind, other dimensions open up which put the SMC decision into a slightly more nuanced perspective. For example, it is not entirely clear whether the special session of the parliament can already be called. Namely, if you wanted to truly dot the i’s and cross the t’s (as lawyer-heavy SMC is probably inclined to do) it seems reasonable to wait and see whether the referendum petitioners will actually collect the necessary 40.000 confirmed signatures. While they’ve done it before, this is a condition that should not be taken for granted. If by any chance Primc & Co. fail in collecting the signatures, then the whole brouhaha will have been in vain and the SMC will have been vilified for nothing. Politically, at least. At the very least, this means the party still has about three weeks to decide whether to fight the referendum in court or not.

But the last – admittedly most wildly optimistic – scenario is also the most interesting. What if, just what if the referendum is held without being challenged in court and fails? What if the majority of the people votes in favour of the law or at the very least decide same-sex weddings are a non-issue and don’t bother to vote, thereby helping the legislation to survive? If that were to be the case, the SMC would suddenly be in the position to claim it gauged the public mood much more accurately than any of the left-wing parties. And even if their reasoning did not go this far, a favourable referendum outcome would give them back much of the political credibility they’ve lost in the past couple of weeks.

At any rate, there are a number of ways this story can unfold and not all of them are negative. But as pengovsky was warning even as the left was celebrating, the hard work had only begun.