After a heated debate Slovene parliament yesterday finally ratified the arbitrage agreement between Slovenia and Croatia. In a somewhat curious development MPs voted with 48 votes in favour and none against, while the opposition collectively left the chambers and obstructed the vote. The vote will now be put to a referendum, which is expected to take place on June 6.
The debate went along the now familiar lines. The coalition more or less claimed that the agreement is the best thing since sliced bread (well, almost), while the opposition said that the whole thing is tantamount to high treason. In the last few weeks, as the government scrapped plans to hold a preliminary consultative referendum on the issue, the whole thing revolved around the question of a majority needed to ratify the document. The opposition claimed that the agreement deals in constitutional matters therefore it should be ratified with a 2/3 majority, just like the Lisbon Treaty or EU enlargements. The government on the other hand said that this is a bilateral treaty like so many others and that a relative majority suffices.
The government is of course right in this case. While it is true that the result of the arbitrary proceeding will deal in constitutional matters (i.e.: border between Slovenia and Croatia), the treaty itself does not. It only establishes a ways to come to a border solution which both countries will have to ratify regardless of the fact that they have committed themselves to abide by the ruling of the ad-hoc court of arbitrage.
But despite spewing tons of sulphur, magma, acid and volcanic ash in the coalition’s general direction, saying that the agreement will surely cut Slovenia from high seas, terminate it’s status as an Adriatic and Mediterranean country and otherwise spell eternal damnation for fearless seafaring Slovenes (Because if it didn’t why on Earth would Croats have ratified it at all? eeeer, because they… like… want to join the EU and were practically manhandled into cooperating? No, doesn’t count?), the opposition had precious little to work with.
Janez Janša, having been once already fucked by Ivo Sanader (the sensation was heightened by his own foreign policy inexperience and Dimitrij Rupel’s legendary ineptitude and self-righteousness) is in no position to oppose the agreement. He and his SDS have criticised the agreement plenty, but it is one thing to oppose it via legal and semantic interpretations of its text, it is quite another to oppose the document by voting against it.
Readers of this blog will remember the shitstorm Janša created after blocking Croatia’s NATO entry just because his government was shown to have done some creative accounting. The whole anti-Croatian thing nearly spun of control back then and he seems to have learnt his lesson. For now at least.
Therefore, rather than put his money where his mouth is and vote against the agreement, Janša and his SDS, followed by the rest of the opposition walked out of the parliamentary chamber and skipped the vote. The end result was thus 48 in favour and none against.
Janša’s “strategic withdrawal” can be interpreted in a variety of ways:
First (and possibly most likely) is the one where he just doesn’t want to be responsible for what would be rightfully perceived as sabotage of yet another attempt to solve the issue.
Second it is possible that he recognises that the document ain’t all bad and that there is actually a fair chance of a solution both Slovenia and Croatia can live with.
And third it might be that the public still favours the solution (the last poll showed some 55% in favour of the arbitrage agreement and 36% or so against) and he really doesn’t want to be caught on the wrong side of the public sentiment. Not now when the ruling Social Democrats have tumbled in the polls (from 17 to just 13 percent) and when more than 70 percent of people voters do not support the government.
So, as pengovsky wrote some time ago, Janša is trying to sit this one out for as long as possible, but his happy days are nearing an end. The coalition is expected to move to have a referendum called on June 6 and by then Janša will have to say whether he supports the document or not. So far he stopped just short of that.
However, he may have already passed the point of no return. Because if the agreement is a success, there is only one Slovenian who will be basking in the glory of the achievement and it will not be the leader of the opposition, if you catch my meaning.
But if the whole thing turns out to be a disaster, there will be a blitzkrieg campaign of “I told you so”, followed probably by collapse of the government and – you guessed it JJ at the helm and the dispute dragging on for another five to ten years.
And why June 6, you ask? It’s the last weekend before the World Football championship and apparently the government PR machine thinks that people will be a) at home and b) more positive-thinking. The fact that by then most of Slovenes will have already prepared their retreats at Croat seaside for the summer season (but not yet visit them) is believed to help as well. I’m not kidding. Given the volatility of the issue, it actually may come down to that.