Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Slovenians are urged to choose between Germany and Portugal

Dessislava Dimitrova, April 20, 2011

You can imagine what it is every now and then to see in your post box a bill that you have to read and interpret and decide whether it should become a law. This winter we received the new media bill, now the so called “mini jobs” bill, then one on the pension reform should come. [...] That’s a shame, not a democracy”. That’s what Jelica Greganovic, a correspondent of Serbian TV broadcaster B92 to Ljubljana, a blogger and a writer, told me recently. I turned to her in order to learn more about the referenda in Slovenia, the number of which since the country gained its independence 20 years ago has reached 14.

And while some would define this as a very positive issue, which should mean that decisions in this country are being taken by the voters, many, including Jelica, are asking why are people voting to choose members of parliament, when the ones who have to read and interpret the laws are not the lawmakers, but those same voters?

This is again proved by the latest referendum that was called on April 10, when 80% of the voters declined to back a government law on short-term jobs for students and pensioners. The government’s plans to make it easier for local employees to create new part-time jobs and this makes the labour market more flexible, failed to be accepted by the voters. Not only was the government law rejected (which means that the Parliament cannot clear it in the coming year), the referendum drew a relatively low turnout of below 40%.

Thus, the support, which the government led by Borut Pahor, is expecting for the pension reform, also remains doubtful. It is expected that the referendum, seen as a key government priority, will take place next month. Under a bill, endorsed by Parliament in December, the retirement age should be gradually increased to 65 for all from 57 for women and 58 for men.

"I'm going through hell with my ministers. We will have different referenda on different issues [...] but at the end of the day I do count on the common sense of people and their support for the reform [...] the most important one now is the pension reform. There is going to be a referendum on pension reform," Pahor said, adding that: "Either we will proceed with a package of reforms, or we will lose our definite goal to be more competitive. I propose to my people to choose the harder way, and this is the German way not the Portuguese way, but it's going to be their decision in the end of the day," he said.

While making up their minds how to vote on the pension reform referendum, Slovenians are going to receive one more draft legislation to read in their mail boxes – this time about illegal work (the referendum is scheduled for June). Except envisaging larger fines for illegal workers, according to the law individuals who have a registered business would no longer be able to do the same line of work for free for neighbours, which means, for example, that a construction worker would not be allowed to do repairs or paint his neighbour’s fence for free, or that a hairdresser would not be able to visit his clients’ at home.

As Jelica has it in her blog: “those anti-crisis measures caused unseen excitement among the people and one of the desperate local economists proposed banning home cooking in order to give impetus to restaurant owners. Volunteers' organisations were also tremendously happy, as they are going to turn to organised crime enterprises.”

Well, we have been quite criticised recently in the region for giving advice to other neighbouring countries, without us ourselves being the best example in the EU, but on this issue we could give some pieces of advice: Dear Slovenians, do not complain, it is better to have a choice rather than not to. And it is better if decisions are taken by you, instead of someone else. Greetings from the Bulgarians, who so far have only been threatened with referenda, but still do not have a real opportunity to have their say on key issues.