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.


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, (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, 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

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.

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…

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.



Slovenian Elections: The Great (TV) Debate

Touchy subject. Tomorrow will see the first two debates since the election campaign officially began last Friday. In fact, a small ratings war is about to ensue between RTVSLO (state television) and privately-owned POP TV. The former is to broadcast its flagship high-octane conflict-prone programme Pogledi Slovenije at 2000hrs (until 2130 approx.) while POP TV is to start the first debate at 2055hrs and lasting well into the night. But there’s a catch…

Pogledi Slovenije: No seats at this table for Zares, LDS, NSi and SNS (source)

Although the law on RTVSLO specifies that it has to treat all parliamentary parties equally (and – to accommodate the Christian Democratic NSi – the definition of “parliamentary” has been stretched to include parties in the European Parliament), authors of Pogledi Slovenije decided not to invite leaders of Zares, LDS, NSi and SNS, Gregor Golobič, Katarina Kresal, Ljudmila Novak and Zmago Jelinčič. Obviously, the choice of guests in the studio is ultimately editorial one. Journalists hate to be told what to do. However, this is state/public television we’re talking about. The taxpayers are paying 12 euro per month per household in order to finance it and at least during election campaign they should be entitled to a larger and less editorialised scope of relevant information.

Producers of the show claim that tomorrow’s programme is not an election campaign debate and that they’ve selected guests according to their poll ratings, where the four parties that were left out indeed score only a couple of percent each. Now, technically, Campaign Rules of RTVSLO state that campaign-related programming will start on 14 November. The programme is on tomorrow, on the 10th, so everything should be OK. Really? No. The law on RTVSLO states that all parliamentary parties should be represented during the election campaign – and that started Friday last. So, on one hand we have RTVSLO’s campaign rules, on the other the law under which it operates. Guess which takes precedence. What’s more, even though producers and the info desk (under whose jurisdiction falls the Pogledi Slovenije programme) claim this is not an election debate, it is being marketed as such.

So, whether one likes it or not, not inviting Kresal, Golobič, Novak and Jelinčič is unfair and possibly not legal. Ljudmila Novak and her NSi (for which RTVSLO usually bent over backwards to find it a programming slot) seem to be aware of that as they threatened legal action to gain equal access to programming. Should they succeed (although it is hard to see how a court would decide on this in only a few days), Zares, LDS and SNS would probably applaud wildly, especially since the latter three parties co-signed a letter demanding the very same thing from RTVSLO. However, no dice.

Slightly off-topic. A funny if somewhat bizarre debate ensued on Twitter when it emerged that LDS and Zares went into cahoots with the nationalists over air time. Some people were appalled that the two progressive and libertarian parties would join forces with a nationalistic party whose leadership is often bigoted, insulting and even retarded and promotes values which are anything but civilised. Some say that any level of cooperation with the nationalists is unacceptable and that LDS and Zares are losing credibility for it.

Pengovsky begs to differ. Politics makes for strange bedfellows and it should not be at all surprising that liberals and nationalists find themselves on the same side. This is one issue, where the parties’ immediate interests are more or less the same, albeit with different motivations. They are not running bag for anyone, nor are they signalling long-term cooperation. Winston Churchill once famously said that if Hitler invaded Hell, he would make at least a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons. While nowhere near the same order of magnitude, the mechanics are more or less the same. Sometimes you don’t have the luxury of picking your allies. Sometimes you’re just happy there’s someone else fighting on your side.

Interestingly enough, the privately owned POP TV has no problem hosting leaders of all parliamentary parties plus the two heavywight newcomers that very same evening.

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Thaler…. Emen Thaler

By now half of what was once known as the Free World knows about the sheer stupidity of Zoran Thaler MEP who was caught red-handed in the Cash-for-laws scandal. But in case you missed it or are too busy either running a revolution in Libya or keeping Fukushima Dai Chi from complete meltdown, here’s the gist of it

Zoran Thaler in “undercover” action. (source)

Sunday Times ran a sting operation codenamed Cash For Laws aimed at fishing out corrupt MEPs who would take considerable amounts of common European currency in exchange for filing legislation on behalf of various interest groups (in this case a fictitious London-based Russian banker). After kicking a few rocks around, they found one under which four MEPs were hiding: Pablo Zalba Bidegain of Spain, Ernts Strasser of Austria, Adrian Severin or Romania and Zoran Thaler of Slovenia. The mechanics of this were painfully simple. British journos posing as lobbyists would sit down with each of our Fantastic Four and feed them a story about this Russian client of theirs who would fork out 100 k€ to be split among the four of them were they to take part in an “advisory group” to the said Russian banker. Having covertly recorded the conversation it all made for a few memorable pwned moments.

Revelation of Thaler’s mischief naturally prompted a deluge of moral panic, outrage and general hypocrisy. But the fact that an MEP was looking for ways to make money on the side is hardly surprising. To be sure, it’s not kosher, is a direct violation of the representative-of-the-people and all that shit and leaves a really bad taste in one’s mouth, but it is not surprising. After all, the European Parliament is infested with lobbyists and the supra-national nature of the institution makes transparency all the harder to achieve (let us skirt the issue of depth-vs-breadth of the EU for now). Fact of the matter is that influence and legislative powers of MEPs are increasing while accountability has not exactly followed suit. This of course makes for a very fertile ground for both legitimate and ilegitimate, legal and illegal particular interests and influences being brought to bear by various pressure groups.

But what is surprising, is the incredible amount of stupidity, arrogance and casualness with which Thaler approached the issue. His demeanour in the incriminating video shows him as this incredibly suave guy oozing coolness, as if it was all in a day’s work. You know. Go to work, drop by the office, coffee at the parliamentary group’s HQ, debate the directive on fish droppings, file an amendment, vote, post-vote cocktails, have dinner with lobbyists, agree to represent special interest, go home and then do it all over again. This casualness bordered on arrogance when Thaler proposed he serve as a member of this “advisory group” for a year after which the “lobbyists” would decide whether he’s good enough for them. The now-former MEP for Slovenia was apparently so sure of himself and his actions that he decided to play the long game, possibly counting on some serious money down the road.

Which is probably the reason he acted stupid in the first place and agreed to be in this “advisory group” whose members were tricked into believing they will split some 100k€ among them. Provided the Sunday Times fished out only four rotten MEPs, this means a yearly fee of 25k€, whereas Thaler got a 30k€ severance pay upon tendering his resignation. So, you get 30k€ for doing the right thing and resigning and 25k€ for doing the wrong thing and perverting the legislative process (in addition to a 7k€ minimum pay-check every month). The only way this computes (apart from the possibility of the MEP in question being severely retarded) is if he hoped for some serious dough later on. And odds are he was doing just that. It transpired that apart from “doing a bit on the side”, Thaler (who, by the way, served as Slovenian foreign minister twice) tried to persuade the phantom Russian banker into a 1.5 million euro investment into a restaurant in Slovene Istria he holds a stake in. 1.5 mil, that’s a lot even for a corrupt MEP.

Facepalms don’t end there, however. Thaler’s initial reaction to the clustefuck of his own devising was that he knew all along that the whole thing was a scam and that he wanted to discover who was behind it. So, besides being an elected representative of the people, he styled him self as a double agent, a mole in the dark world of lobbyists and special interest, who wants to expose the bad guys inflicting unspeakable damage to institutions of the EU. One man against the armies of capital.

Yeah. And then the marmot wraps the chocolate. Were there a contest for the lamest excuse ever, Thaler would have won the second prize. He wouldn’t win because his excuse is that lame. I mean, wtf? It wasn’t even funny, his explanation. It wasn’t even cheesy, although some time ago Thaler was jokingly renamed from Zoran to Emen (Emen Thaler, get it?) But this they-were-out-to-get-me reflex is getting real old real fast. True, they were out to get him, but for a reason!

The whole thing is of course highly embarrassing for Slovenian PM Borut Pahor as well. Namely, although he is not a party member, Thaler ran for MEP on Pahor’s Social Democrats ticket and indeed headed the entire list. SD were quick to put a daylight between Thaler and themselves, but to little avail. The damage was done and all the party can do is to try to contain it as much as possible. This was done mostly by cutting Thaler loose immediately, not in the least by his fellow Social Democrats’ MEP Tanja Fajon who immediatelly called for a full and unfettered investigation into the corruption claims and called for any and all MEPs who are implicated to resign immediately.

In all honesty it has to be said that for the time being, the corruption seems to be spread evenly among the major parliamentary groups in the European Parliament. Or, at the very least, the Sunday Times knows how to ensure political neutrality even in corruption cases 🙂 But as far as Pahor’s Social Democrats are concerned, they have their work cut out for them. Just repeating that Thaler never was a party member will not be nearly enough. Their only break comes in the fact that even in Slovenia European Parliament is considered a distant and somehow less important institution.

But the extent of the fallout will depend on the behaviour of Thaler’s sucessor. The SD were close to another fuckup as next in line for Thaler’s seat was Pahor’s advisor Andrej Horvat who is also being investigated on corruption claims. Regardless of whether the charges are valid or not, sending him to Brussels would send a seriously wrong message. PM Pahor realised that soon enough and started twisting Horvat’s arm to take a pass on the Brussels seat. But Horvat was not easily convinced (either as a tactic or for real) and it was only yesterday that he finally said that he will not take Thaler’s stand and even that after Dušan Kumer and Miran Potrč, two reliable party heavyweights, twisted and apparently broke Horvat’s arm.

Thus Zoran Thaler (who, by the way sports appallingly bad English, especially for a guy who was this country’s foreign minister twice) will be succeeded by Mojca Kleva, a member of the upcoming generation of Social Democrats. How she will handle her new-and-unexpected political promotion remains to be seen. Although she has some experience in the corridors of Brussels bureaucracy and politcs, she runs the risk of being eaten alive by the sharks in the pool. But (full disclosure) pengovsky knows her personally (we’ve been colleagues at the university) and is convinced that she will put up a decent fight at the very least.

My only regret is that I never took the time for that coffee we kept promising each other for the past three years 🙂


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