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.

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Law on Mayor/MP Conflict of Interest Finally Passed. But There’s a Catch…

Well, hip hip hooray, bravo and jolly good. In what was the seventh attempt since 1993 the parliament last night finally passed a law establishing a conflict of interests between holding an office of mayor and MP at the same time. Thus a grave anomally of Slovene political system is fixed, since local and state matters are separated.

Luka Juri of Social Democrats. He too, should ask himself one question… (source)

As both readers of this blog know, Slovenia boasts an impressive two hundred and eleven municipalities. Within muninicipal jurisdiction one can find services such as primary health care, kindergartens, elementary schools, some waterway maintenance, parts of the road network, public transport, drinking water and seweage services, to name but a few. All of this is administered by two hundred and eleven mayors, municipal (or city) councils and administations, each passing its own acts and decisions. Among those two hundred and ten mayors, twenty-six enjoy a special privelege. Besides holding mayoral office they are also members of the parliament, serving as elected representatives of the entire nation.

So, you gotta ask yourself one question…

According to the constitution, each and every MP is a representative of entire nation. On the other hand, mayors are representatives of their respective municipalities and voters/residents. A conflict of interest in this case stands out like a sore thumb. Example. A zoning act is needed to allow for building of a new rail road network. But a particular municipality, through which the rail road would pass, wants to have an extension of its road system on that very spot. So, how does our illustrious mayor vote? Does he cast a vote for a much needed rail road which the country badly needs or does he vote against, because voters in his municipality want yet another road? And, ultimately, why should a mayor be in a position to hold the entire country hostage to his municipalitiy’s particular interest. You can also look from the other side. 210 mayors, all competing for various forms of state funding. But only 26 of them have direct access to the decision-making process which distributes the monies. Fair? I don’t think so.

Be that as it may, the new law now solves all that. No more wearing two hats at once, drawing from two different straws and whathaveyou. It’s time for them to ask themselves one question. What will it be, sir? Mayor or a Member of the Parliament?… Not so fast. First of all, the law will be used for the first time for 2012 parliamentary elections. So, no one will be forced to leave office on account of this law. Which is fair enough. You can’t change the rules in the middle of the game. However, the parliament is not the only game in town.

Problems ahead

Municipal elections follow parliamentary elections with a two-year offset. We just had one, fairly recently. Which means that those twenty-six double-hatted representatives of the people have a good three years of their term left. And since the game is not changing only on national but on local level as well since mayors/MPs can choose which of the two positions they will serve. Thus one could argue that the new law should be implemented only in 2014, when the current term of municipal authorities ends. This makes pengovsky far from happy, but is bound to happen. Too many people stand to loose too much to let it just slide.

Sadly, it doesn’t end there. The new law applies to MPs who additionally serve as mayors or deputy mayors. And therein lies the rub. Deputy mayors are in fact municipal councilmen picked by the mayor to serve as his aides. However, they retain their councilman status and – most importantly – their vote (the mayor does not have a vote in municipal council although he/she presides over council sessions).

So, the law creates a situation where one city councilman who happens to be deputy mayor can not run for MP whereas his non-deputy colleague, who otherwise has exactly the same range of powers, can freely not only run but get elected to serve in the parliament, where he can still enter a potential conflict of interest.

And now for the ultimate fuck-up

Municipalities are overseen by the government. But only the parliament has the power to establish or dissolve a municipality. Therefore it entirely possible that a city councilman who serves as an MP (a situation which is allowed by this law) gets to vote on the future of his municipality. And although the right-wing SDS and SLS stand to lose the most with this new law, the most clear case in point is actually an MP of ruling Social Democrats Luka Juri. Although not alone in this enterprise he is bending over backwards to prevent establishing the municipality of Ankaran, now part of the City of Koper, despite a decision by the Constitutional Court that all conditions for establishing the municipality have been met. He is in a clear conflict of interests but even under the new law he gets to keep his double position.

Don’t get me wrong. This law was long overdue and – again – hip hip horray, bravo and jolly good to the parliamentary majority (spearheaded by Franci Kek of Zares) for passing it. But this was only a step in the right direction, but as this will inevitably end up with the Constitutional Court, we’re not there yet…

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