Referendum on the Family Code: Aftermath

The result of Sunday’s referendum on the Family Code left many people disappointed. Also, it left many people happy, especially those who felt that the supporters of YES campaign (including yours truly) were annoying little pains in the asses. But be that as it may, the rejection of the Family Code with a 54% against vote does have a couple of very serious rammifications.

First and foremost it’s the fact that children who live in same sex families still have only one “legal” parent, whereas their non-biological parent has zero legal relation to the child. True, there are ways around that, but that’s courts recognising legal loop-holes and not having a straight-up legislative solution. Secondly, a wholesome legislation regulating all types of partnership remains a distant prospect. And when I say distant, I mean it literally. Before 2012, the last time the parliament was about to vote on same-sex marriage and rights (although not as comprehensive a law as the Family Code) was way back in 2004. which means that at this pace, the next time Slovenia will decide on this issue will be 2020. Just lovely. :/

On the upside, however, even though the Code was rejected, the debate surrounding it, sour as it was, did plenty of good. This was the first time for a lot of peolpe to learn that so called “rainbow families” do in fact exist and that their lives are in every way similar to those of “traditional families” except for a set of really painful and awkward complications, such as the non-biological parent being unable to take sick-leave to tend the child.

So, why was the Code rejected, despite the last poll projecting otherwise? A lot of attempts at explaining it were given: that it was a case of slacktivism; that people don’t give a fuck; that the NO campaign mounted a last-ditch attempt and succeeded; that their lies simply paid off. Well. pengovsky’s take on thing is that for the general population this was a lot to take in as it were. No matter how tollerant people claim to be, they tend to be wary of people who are “different”, especially in an area as intimate as family relations. But even if you cross that brige, you stil have to have the people make a combination of a rational and emotional decision to cast a YES vote. And this is where things ground to a halt in my opinion. Most people were simply unable to make an emotional connection to the kinds of situations the Family Code provided for, even though they may have been able to rationalise into accepting it.

It would therefore be very benefitial if the effect of the YES campaign would go beyond just bringing out (too little of a) vote. If the momentum of raising and maintaining awarenes is kept, then the whole thing probably was not in vain. If, however, NGOs and other progressive groups which came together on this issue are again scattered wide apart, then… well… cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war… for the backlash of the conservative side will be fast and furious. This wasn’t just about gays and their children. It was about the society as a whole, whether it would continue in a more tolerant way or if it will start sliding back into ages past. On this issue status quo is simply not possible.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Constitutional Court Shows Cojones

As Slovenia watches in awe the incredible amount of stupid that is being produced live during the third and final reading of the Family Code and with the more open minded part of the population hoping for a ground-breaking vote finally recognising that everyone deserves a family, pengovsky brings to your attention yet another ground-breaking vote which was taken on Thursday last and made public on Monday. In what was probably the gutsiest in-your-face move in recent years, the Constitutional Court defeated the informal across-the-aisle agreement that was struck in the parliament and established a new municipality of Ankaran.


Ankaran (photo by Darinka Mladenović)

A little bit of background, if you will: Ankaran is a town that was until Monday a part of the Municipality of Koper where the industrious (and I mean that in the broadest sense of the word) Boris Popović is the mayor. For some time now townsfolk of Ankaran felt neglected by Koper administration. Whether or not that indeed was the case is more or less irrelevant, fact of the matter is that they felt that way. Moreover, there was a long-running dispute over how monies paid by the Port of Koper for degradation of environment were distributed between Koper proper and Ankaran. It all ammounted to a definitive “yes” vote when a referendum on Ankaran becoming an independent municipality was held. At the same time in another part of the country, a referendum was held on whether the town of Mirna (until then part of Municipality of Trebnje) should also become a municipality unto itself. This was to prove to be crucial to the fate of Ankaran.

Now, there are several conditions an area must meet in order to be eligible for municipality status in Slovenia. These are not very strict conditions which is probably the reason this country now boasts as much as 212 municipalities with as many mayors and municipal administrations, thousands of council members and so on. One of the conditions is, of course, the will of the people. Both Mirna and Ankaran fulfilled all the necessary conditions and the parliamentary act of establishing both municipalities was thought to be a mere formality. Wrong. While a vote on establishing the municipality of Mirna was a no brainer, MPs flat out rejected establishment of Ankaran. And did it several times. It became apparent that enough people both on local and state level were interested in Ankaran remaining within municipality of Koper, that they denied the people of Ankaran what was due according to the law.

Enter the Constitutional Court. In fact, the court was engaged even before, because it suspended 2010 local elections in Trebnje and Koper pending results of local referendums. But when Ankaran was denied, the Court was petitioned and ruled that Ankaran should have been granted municipality status. It also instructed the parliament to make this happen toute-de-suite. This, however, did not happen. Or rather, it almost did. The parliament passed the law which was then vetoed by the National Council (the ill-conceived second-chamber-wannabe) and then all of a sudden the parliament did not approve the law in the second vote. If things were fishy in the first place (the first attempt to create Ankaran municipality was defeated in the committee stage of the process), by now they outright stunk, especially since MPs opposing Ankaran came from both sides of the aisle. And when those same MPs proposed a special law allowing local elections in Koper municipality with Ankaran still included, it was plainly obvious that there was a tacit agreement (pengovsky won’t use the word conspiracy but feel free to think it) to keep Koper intact.

Petitioners from Ankaran again filed a complaint with the Constitutional Court which then took an almost unprecedented step of allowing the elections in Koper to go ahead, but in an area excluding the town of Ankaran, thus en passant creating the municipality. Mayor Popović and MPs which kept Ankaran a part of Koper went apeshit. In particular, Luka Juri of ruling Social Democrats (who, incidentally, is also a Koper city councilman) almost had a fit and started babbling about how the court abused its powers and how a constitutional amendment should be passed to circumvent the court’s decision.

Truth be told, the court did push an envelope a little. It’s decisions are usually limited to recognising possible unconstitutional provisions and/or to instruct the parliament on how the legislation should look like. Rarely did the court take it upon itself to pro-actively decree a new reality on the ground. But in this case the court was faced with a situation where a) it’s own instructions to the parliament on the issue at hand were blatantly ignored (separation of powers); b) the parliament ignored that Ankaran fulfilled any and all legal criteria for becoming a municipality (legality of decisions) and c) the parliament, when faced with exactly the same situation vis-a-vis Mirna municipality, voted to establish the latter without as much as blinking an eye (equality before the law). Bottom line, the Constitutional Court found that the Parliament acted unconstitutionally regarding the court’s own decisions and did the only thing possible to amend this: it acted pro-actively and created the municipality of Ankaran, with first local elections to be held there in 2014. Much to the delight of some and anger of others.

The question now is whether the court will have the same kind of cojones when it will be asked by the government to deny the referendum on the new Family Code, which will most certainly be called if the code survives the vote later today.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Pension Reform Awaits Landmark Ruling And/Or Referendum

I know this is starting to look a bit like Groundhog Day, but I’m afraid it cannot be helped. As of tomorrow Slovene labour unions led by Dušan Semolič will be collecting 40 000 signatures necessary to hold a referendum on the recently passed pension reform.


Wars are not won in the battlefields but in the temples – Sun Tzu (Constitutional court, source)

So we will have not one but two referendum bids, the other one trying to kill the law on menial work. While both laws are a part of “reform legislation” the pension reform is obviously crucial, which is why the government is doing everything in its power to impede this latest referendum. And with good reason too, as the unions made it abundantly clear that they will draw no punches in this fight. As a result both sides are now tangled into a complicated multi-sided tug-of-war where a whole lot of players who have their own agendas might get sacrificed as pawns in a much larger game called The Relative Stability of Public Finances.

In fact it is quite possible that some sacrifices have already been made. The one thing PM Borut Pahor and labour minister Ivan Svetlik must avoid at all cost is to make the referendum on pension reform a referendum on the current government. Which is precisely what labour unions leaders are aiming to do. Should the succeed, the pension reform would be as good as dead, especially with the government’s popularity points being at an all-time low, barely reaching mid-20s.

So it seems (and I am being cynical here) that plan B, which is being implemented just in case, is to make the people vent as much anger as possible before the referendum on pension reform comes up and possibly make proponents of the referendum look bad for wanting the referendum in the first place. Case in point being the referendum on RTV Slovenia which PM Pahor basically fore-fitted and left minister of culture Majda Širca to fight her own battle. The same might very well go for the referendum on law on menial work, especially since both referendums will – should the proponents collect the necessary signatures – be probably held only a week apart, with a vote on menial work first and pension reform second, by which time the voters just might have vented enough. Combined with an effective PR onslaught the government might just barely make it.

So, this looks like plan B (if it exists at all, that is). What’s plan A? Not having a referendum in the first place.

Namely, the government has asked the Constitutional Court to rule whether the referendum on pension reform is constitutional in the first place. The argument goes along the line of pension reform being necessary if Article 50 of the Constitution (the right to social security). In other words, if the pension reform is nixed on the referendum, then the state cannot fulfil its welfare role any longer, hence an unconstitutional situation would occur. Additionally, the state will also try to argue that the pension reform is a question of state budged, as the law on referendums prevents holding a referendum on several issues, one of them being the budget.

Obviously the unions will claim the above is not worth a pair of fetid dingo’s kidneys, despite the fact that they will be told that the government increased the minimum wage when crisis struck for real and that it should be the unions who should compromise this time around.

Can the government pull it off? Unknown. This will be a landmark decision by the Constitutional court. Should it side with the government, this will really take the wind out of unions’ sails and pave the way for a speedy adoption of the rest of the reform package (or whatever is left of it). On the other hand, should the court deny the government and the referendum goes fort, then the government is back to plan B (insofar it even exists) and then hope that people will vote against their instincts and support the pension reform.

And while we’re on the issue, many people – including some whose opinion pengovsky values – think that the reform, such as it was passed is not really a reform. Which is probably true. What we have here is a very watered down version of the original proposal which probably ensures solvency of the pension fund for the next decade or so (that’s two-and-a-half terms) and then the whole thing will start all over again. But maybe combined with everything else, this might give this country just enough of a kick to eschew falling down. Whether this will be enough to break the gravity pull and go for the stars? Well, things and projects are brewing, but they have little to do with welfare state. That’s more of a innovation thing.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Referendum On The Law On Menial Work: A Case Of Assisted Suicide

As of yesterday the Student organisation of Slovenia is collecting 40 000 signatures needed to hold a referendum on the recently passed Law on Menial Work. Yes, another referendum is looming, the second in as many months and god-knows-which in the entire history of this country. This is the same law that sent students (and pupils) to streets on 19 May last year and produced the final proof that on the whole they are a bunch of irresponsible brats who generally can’t tell their ass-hole from from their ear-hole. Case in point being the said referendum which is a) un-fucking-believable and b) stupid.


Student protests gone sour in May 2010 (source: the Firm™)

Starting with a) I’m amazed at how leaders of the student organisation have the balls to do anything but sit quietly in the corner and do as they’re told. I mean, whatever clout they had with the “grown-up” politics and the general public, they’ve lost it last May as far as I’m concerned. There you have an organisation and its various branches and dependencies with combined yearly budgets of about 16 million euro (no, it’s not a mistake), there’s no real oversight and almost zero consequences in case of any wrongdoing. But then a demo goes bad and rather than trying to contain the situation they split the scene and blame everyone else. So much for responsibility and cojones. And yet, once the dust is settled and miraculously no one is even forced to resign (let alone charged with endangering public safety or something like that) those very same people go for a referendum? What is this? Some kind of a Vaudeville act?

But it does not stop there. Not only is this latest referendum bid (while perfectly legal) very dicey from an ethical point of view. It is also b) one of the more shining examples of shooting oneself in the knee we’ve witnessed in the past year or so. And with that in mind it is little wonder that the student organisation enlisted help of labour unions. Hey, why fuck yourself when you can get ass-rammed by others and be treated to a dirty sanchez.

Namely: The law on menial work (malo delo, link in Slovene only) will largely overhaul student work in Slovenia which has in recent years become more or less the only form of employing young people, especially in the private sector. The problem, which soon became common to tens of thousands of young people was, that despite having worked more or less full time for years on end, this did not officially count as experience, nor did it add towards their retirement age. Since the state paid for student’s social security, the pension fund was none better off and therefore student officially had zero years of working experience. And since most companies required at lest a couple of years’ experience even for entry-level jobs, you can see where this leads to: one big vicious circle, where young people can’t get a job, as a result can’t get regular income, as a result of that they can’t get a loan with the bank and are thus unable to gain any firm footing of their own, creating the unhealthy environment of ever longer stays at mama-hotels.

That labour unions are assisting the student organisation in their self-destructive enterprise is a deviously Machiavellian act which is aimed at maintaining the status quo, i.e.: keeping the students at bay, obstructing their entry into the real labour market as much as possible. In other words – while the student organisation is committing suicide on the students’ behalf, the labour unions are happily assisting. Though it may seem otherwise, students have no representative in this is debate. The only one who possibly cares for their interest is the government with this law, but one shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that this is some kind of random act of human kindness. The law is a necessary element of shaking up the labour market and benefits it brings to the students are only a side-product of a larger enterprise.

What we have here is a situation where labour unions have long stopped representing “class interest” and are now only representatives of an ever-thinning group of people who want to retire as soon as possible, not caring about successive generations. Student organisations are also keen on keeping the status quo, primarily to maintain a cosy source of financing via “student agencies”, employment agencies dedicated exclusively to students, where they took a cut from every student’s income for “providing him/her with work”. If anyone is creating added value in this country, it is the high-skilled low-wage workforce (mostly students) but they are cannot expect any mid- or long-term rewards, thus only exasperating the problem of ever worse social security. But no one is speaking on their behalf, although everyone pretends to.

This is not an ideal law. Should it be enacted, the students will face increased job competition, because the unemployed and pensioners will compete for jobs previously held exclusively by students. However, the upside is that now the time spent working will count towards everyone’s pensions and work experience, students included. Furthermore, there will be no need to artificially extend student status (as was the accepted practice for the last twenty years) in order to be able to get work through “student agencies”, thus possibly radically reducing the amount of time people spend at the university. Right now it takes people seven-to-eight years on average to graduate in what is usually a four-to-five-year course.

So in general, students will be better of in mid- and long-term while they will quite probably be able to compensate short-term drawbacks by being better educated and more flexible than the competition of unemployed 45-year-olds or retired 65-year-olds, not to mention the fact that students probably wouldn’t touch the old farts’ jobs with a ten-foot pole in the first place.

Enhanced by Zemanta

De Referenda

Once more unto the breach, dear friends!

In the wake of the fiasco that was the referendum on RTV Slovenia, both the ruling coalition as well as the opposition are (again) mulling changes to referendum legislation. This was of course expected but it is none the less a most unwelcome turn of events, especially since constant abuses of referendum legislation in the minds of what seems to be majority of the voters now warrant limiting legal possibilities for holding a referendum.

There are broadly three sets of proposals in this debate. What (hopefully) follows is their deconstruction.

Set a referendum day

Proposed by Slovene Democratic Party (SDS) of Janez Janša. What the largest opposition party proposes is that a specific day in the year be set by law in advance and on that day any and all referendums which were called early enough in the year are to be held. On the surface, the proposal is quite appealing: no matter how many referendums are called, all the votes are held on the same date and instead of spending four million euro per referendum, you spend four million once and be done with it.

However, there is a huge – and I mean galactic – caveat. Let’s say for argument’s sake that the referendum date would be set on 1 June and the decision to hold a referendum would have to come no later than 30 May, because a month of campaigning has to be allowed for. Technically this means that any law passed after 30 May on which a referendum is to be held, will be “on ice” for up to thirteen months. If there ever was a neat way to temporarily block a law, this is it.

As we know, calling a referendum is a piece of cake in Slovenia, especially if you’re a political party which can muster 30 signatures in the parliament. This was was the case with almost every referendum ever held in Slovenia, be they consultative or subsequent (legislative). If the proposed provision were to be enacted, a law – no matter how urgent or crucial or just plain practical – could be blocked out of sheer politicking just by collecting the necessary signatures. Add to that the fact that by the time the referendum will be held the debate on the issue will have died long ago ans with it all the niceties connected with either “yes” or “no” vote, and you get a situation where the electorate is even less informed about the issue once it actually comes up for a vote and – even more – has to vote on multiple issues at the same time.

Indeed, one can easily argue that the idea of a single referendum day (or even two) per year in fact decreases democratic standards in Slovenia which are not all that high to begin with. Furthermore: although the idea was floated by the largest opposition party it is a given that – despite being prone to losing crucial battles – SDS will in time again be the ruling party in Slovenia. When that happens, such a provision on referendum would work very much against them, especially if they would be still given to radically altering legislation across the board. Actually, pengovsky refuses to believe that SDS leadership is as short-sighted as not to see that and that the entire idea is simply a red herring or a tactical move which – after it will be rejected by the parliament – will enable them to claim that they tried to do something

Set a quorum necessary for validity of referendum

We’ve been over this already in some other setting. But the bottom line is this: if a vote is called and majority of people don’t bother to show up, how can it be that their decision to stay at home has more merit than decision of the minority (no matter how small) which decided to exercise their right to vote? Seriously, people…

Revoke the 30 MP signatures provision

Floated by the ruling left-wing coalition – notably Social Democrats led by PM Borut Pahor – the idea sounds, well, tempting. No doubt a lot of people would see it as taking candy from a spoiled brat. But not really. You see, the “30 signatures” provision is in the constitution for a reason. It is an essential element of a system of checks-and-balances. It provides the parliamentary minority with an instrument to prevent what de Tocqueville and Mills called “tyranny of the majority”. Because not all decisions are good or sensible, even though the majority voted in favour. So the provision goes beyond it’s current use as a political weapon of legal destruction.

Yes, the provision was abused many times under circumstances that -although perfectly legal – didn’t really warrant invoking it. But the parties currently running the show will inevitably come into a situation where they will be glad that the provision is in place. Even more: Slovenia may come into a situation where a question, vital to the future of the republic will be decided on and the only voice of reason will be a small, across-the-isle ad hoc coalition with the “30 signatures” provision being their only hope of preventing a decision of disastrous consequences.

And if you think this is a purely hypothetical scenario, think again. We saw that film a couple of times already. Or at least variations of it. In pengovsky’s opinion, the “30 signatures” provision was and is intended to be used in extreme cases. That it was abused doesn’t mean that it has to be abolished.

What to do?

Nothing. Direct democracy and checks-and-balances are not things you tamper with in a heat of a moment. Besides, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with current referendum legislation. It’s just that it is being abused beyond any sense of decency. But that is not a question of legislation but rather a question of political culture.

Enhanced by Zemanta