The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

Slovenian parliament is debating a massive legislative package today, aimed at mitigating effects of the covid-19 lock-down is having on the economy and jobs.

With apologies to Mr. Eastwood…

But in what is apparently becoming a world-wide trend, the powers that be stuffed in a couple of provisions expanding police surveillance and investigative powers while circumventing judicial oversight. All in the name of curbing the epidemic.

Naturally, things got pretty heated pretty fast.

The Good

The vast majority of the legislative package (in effect, just one big, fat bill) deals with the waste the epidemic is laying to the economy and the labour market. The latest numbers by the central bank show a projected GDP decline of between 6 and 16 percent and the measures the government designed to assuage that have won praise across the political spectrum.

While it follows the general contours of similar sweeping measures by other EU governments (and others around the globe), the three-billion-euros worth of assistance, write-offs and deferments provides relief to the labour force, entrepreneurs and self-employed, as well as people working under precarious conditions.

That said, the details are being ironed out as pengovsky writes this and the end result might not be exactly as advertised when the government presented the bill last week.

Nevertheless, this is the most massive, comprehensive and sweeping piece of government intervention Muddy Hollows has ever seen. The banking bail-in/out back in 2013 was in the same ballpark, but was nowhere near as wide-ranging.

This is not the first set of measures (the parliament already passed a billion’s worth of measures last week) and it most likely is not the last set either, so it is not unfathomable that when all is said and done, the final tab will be well north of five billion euro. How’s that for shock and awe?

The Bad

The legislative package is massive. And while the parliament will debate this in an extraordinary session and is expected to pass the thing, there is much procedural work to be done, including voting on more than a hundred amendments to the bill itself.

This kind of made a moot point of the tweet PM Janša sent out the other day calling on legal experts to come up with a way to shorten the eight-day period between confirmation of the law and its coming into effect. The idea didn’t really pass the smell test and even president Pahor, who will usually go out of his way to accommodate any PM whose surname starts with “J” and ends in “-anša”, put his foot down and said the eight-day period stays.

Not that the government was deterred by this in any way. They dug out an old bill on amending The Referendum and Popular Initiative Act which once already died a horrible death in the parliamentary committee and are trying to ram it through the legislative process using an emergency procedure.

To cut a long story short (as pengovsky will surely write about this yet), the amended act would ban referendums on laws dealing with security emergencies and remedies to natural disasters. Which may sound reasonable but the devil, as always, lies in details. In this case, what constitutes a remedy to a natural disaster. Or what constitutes a natural disaster, for that matter.

That said, the referendum bill is not yet on the parliamentary agenda.

The advent of the police state, however, is. At least, it was until yesterday. That’s according to the Office of the Information Commissioner which went apeshit over articles 103 and 104 of the anti-coronavirus bill.

The two articles would give police sweeping powers not only over stay-at-home and quarantine orders but also any and all measures and ordinances the government has adopted under the banner of curbing the epidemic.

Moreover, if a person were ordered to quarantine, they could have their location tracked via their mobile phone without a court order, which is a clear invasion of privacy and a breach of a shitload of constitutional provisions.

In short, the cops would be able to do cop things without a clear option of redress for the citizens or serious judicial oversight.

Which is why the news that most of these provisions were amended the fuck out of the bill during the committee stage (second reading) of the legislative procedure was quite welcome.

Still, the question remains why and how exactly articles on surveillance and policing find their way in what is ostensibly an economic and social relief bill.

The Ugly

And then there’s article 37a of the Defense Act being invoked by the government.

The provision which gives the army policing powers over civilians while controlling the border was the direct result of then PM Miro Cerar and SMC losing their cool back in 2015 is now coming back to haunt Muddy Hollows. Just as pengovsky predicted back then.

Interior minister Aleš Hojs claims that the Slovenia-Croatia border is facing increased migrant pressure and that the police are overstretched on account of the coronavirus epidemic. Which sort of begs the question, why did the minister then send a third of the police force on leave.

You see, while the numbers of illegal border crossings are indeed higher they are still in the mid-hundreds and are not overwhelming. And even if that situation were getting out of hand, the police are not really busy inland, as there are no public events or mass gatherings on account of the self-isolation orders.

Not only that, just days ago, the government confined Slovenians to their place of residence, as a supposed next step in the “fight against the epidemic”. The move didn’t go down well, and was criticised by the head of NIJZ (basically, the highest ranking public health official) as overreaching and unnecessary, especially after the government was signalling days earlier that social distancing measures were effective.

Needless to say, the NIJZ head (who himself replaced his predecessor after she wouldn’t toe the government line on how to curb the epidemic) is now slated as a short-timer.

Point here being, that the government is ramping up measures not because it necessarily needs to but, in large part, because it wants to. The fact that it is the interior minister who wants the army activated, rather than Matej Tonin, the guy actually overseeing the army, only drives this point home.

There is no logical connection the coronavirus epidemic and the army having policing powers. And yet, this is precisely what the government claims: that the epidemic is somehow making the southern border of Muddy Hollows less safe. And that’s despite the fact that the army is already a part of the border patrols.

What that minister Hojs wants to achieve is to have the army operate independently of police units and possibly even outside the police chain of command.

Furthermore, while claiming that the army will only be deployed alongside the southern border and will never, ever be used to police Slovenian civilian population, the text of the measure as filed by the government provides for a five-kilometre-wide corridor alongside the border in which the army could play police. This corridor obviously includes many populated areas and even small urban centres.

The potential for shit hitting the fan here is enormous.

Now, the government needs sixty votes (two thirds) in the parliament for the measure to pass. At of this writing they can muster 53. But while the hard-left Levica party is adamantly opposed to the measure, SD, SAB and LMŠ are actually hedging their bets a bit and are for some unfathomable reason trying to negotiate with the government over the exact conditions for invoking article 37a.

Especially funny in this regards are the LMŠ and SAB which for some reason think they can pressure the Janša government into a less forceful use of the army policing civilians.

Which is about as naive a thinking as Miro Cerar’s was back then when the provision was unveiled.

Once the army is activated as a policing power, it will be really hard to deactivate. Especially under current conditions where the government is running a de facto state of emergency, even though the parliament never declared one (yet another borderline legal issue).

In this instance, the parliamentary defense committee did not support invoking article 37a, even though SAB voted in favour. This time around, the LMŠ, SD and Levica held out and the executive overreach was stymied. This is good.

However, there’s still every chance the opposition fucks this one up as interior minister Hojs will surely have another go at it.

LMŠ always were on the hawkish side of the national security debate. And SAB apparently suffer from delusions of grandeur. But if they think they can curb the authoritarian instincts of this government by having it co-opt silly shit like reducing the operating corridor from 5 kms to 2 kms, they’ve got another thing coming.

Moderating influence

This whole approach not unlike the SMC boasting that it was them who got articles 103 and 104 of the anti-coronavirus package amended and/or thrown out during the parliamentary debate.

It’s nice of them to try and remind us they’re liberal as fuck, but just how the hell did those two articles get into the bill in the first place, huh?

If SMC and its leader Zdravko Počivalšek really want to be the moderating influence on PM Janša and his ilk, they need to start doing that within the executive branch. Leaving it to the opposition and then jumping on the bandwagon is not unlike claiming you’ve cracked the problem of protective masks shortage only to be reduced to posting pictures of shipments that actually make it to Muddy Hollows.

Oh, wait…

UPDATE 02/04/20: Last seven paragraphs edited for clarity on Art 37a, style and fuck-off attitude.

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Agent provocateur and an occasional scribe.