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Wednesday, May 31, 2023

With the proposed constitutional changes, Slovenia is establishing a “quasi-presidential system”!

By: Petra Janša

“The situation is actually even worse than if NSi had formally joined the government coalition. This may be something we do not agree with, but it would be a legitimate decision of the sovereign party,” SDS president Janez Janša wrote in relation to the recent actions of the NSi opposition party.

We recently presented in Demokracija magazine what the constitutional changes would bring. As we know, the draft constitutional law on amendments to the Constitution of the Republic of Slovenia was presented to the mayors on behalf of the government by Janez Pogorelec, a prominent member of NSi. Together with the other three members of the expert commission, namely Dino Bauk, Ciril Ribičič and Aleš Zalar, Pogorelec proposed to the members of the commission at the meeting of the constitutional commission to start the process of constitutional amendments, which happened. Thus, with 11 votes in favour and five against, the members of the constitutional commission recently first gave the green light for the start of the process of constitutional amendments, with which the coalition proposes to transfer the authority to appoint judges on the proposal of the judicial council from the National Assembly to the president of the republic. The aforementioned expert group is expected to prepare an opinion on the draft constitutional law by the end of April.

Strong opposition in SDS

On behalf of the proponents, Lucija Tacer, an MP for the Gibanje Svoboda party, ruled in the debate that the opinion of the expert group supports key substantive changes that would relieve the process of appointing judges from “inappropriate politicisation”. According to her, it will be possible to discuss the concerns raised when the draft of the constitutional law is prepared.

The proposed constitutional changes are strongly opposed by the opposition SDS. According to MP Branko Grims, the proposed changes will not lead to a more transparent and efficient judiciary, consistent with the principles of the Slovenian constitution, but will only additionally “consolidate the deviations of the Slovenian judiciary”. He emphasised that the president of the republic is also a politician. “It is an escalation of politicisation, whereby one part of politics is excluded, which of course also excludes a part of the control that the procedure in parliament can bring,” Grims believes. His party colleague Franc Breznik reminded that in recent years, the National Assembly has only in exceptional cases refused to nominate individual candidates proposed by the Judicial Council. In Breznik’s opinion, the proposal for constitutional changes is also worrying because it interferes with the supervisory role of parliament and the balance of power between the three branches of government. According to him, the changes would further deepen distrust in the Slovenian judiciary.

NSi as part of the coalition?!

In the coalition Gibanje Svoboda and Levica, they emphasised that the changes bring the withdrawal of politics from the appointment of judges, and the role of the President of the Republic will be mainly protocol. Gibanje Svoboda MP Mojca Šetinc Pašek emphasised the autonomous and independent position of the judiciary in relation to politics as key. The leader of the Levica MPs, Matej Tašner Vatovec, also emphasised that the President of the Republic will not play a decisive role in the appointment of judges. “At the moment, the National Assembly has this decisive function, and for the past two years we have been able to observe very plastically that it was not some corrective that the National Assembly would perform, because the judicial council is not a good enough filter to prevent any anomalies, but it was very specific targeted pressure on certain judges who were directly or indirectly connected to certain court proceedings in which the head of the largest opposition party was involved,” he said. Regarding the supervisory function of the National Assembly, he reminded that it also considers the reports of all judicial bodies and, at the same time, has the opportunity to discuss the state of the judiciary.

NSi also supports the initiation of procedures for amending the constitution. Transferring the appointment of judges to the hands of the President of the Republic would also change the composition of the judicial council. The coalition proposal does not envisage this, but the leader of NSi MPs, Janez Cigler Kralj, is convinced that they can reach a consensus in the process of changing the constitution.

With the help of NSi, reduce the power of the National Assembly

The Gibanje Svoboda, SD and NSi also recently submitted a proposal for constitutional amendments to the National Assembly, which would transfer the confirmation of ministers to the President of the Republic on the proposal of the Prime Minister from the National Assembly. According to them, the proposed changes would result in a more efficient and rational procedure for appointing the government. When appointing ministers, the President of the Republic would primarily have a protocol or formal role and would not be able to reject the appointment without extremely weighty reasons, the same as, for example, when promulgating laws, explained the leader of MPs of the opposition NSi, Janez Cigler Kralj, when submitting the proposal, emphasising that NSi entered the process of amending the constitution with a willingness to find compromises. In the light of concerns about curtailing the supervisory function of the parliament, the proposal for constitutional amendments allows for the possibility of preserving the hearings of ministerial candidates before the competent working bodies of the National Assembly. For the implementation of the proposed constitutional changes, the proponents need a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly, or the votes of 60 MPs. However, they do not have these for now, as SDS and the Levica oppose the proposed changes in this form. In the Levica, they are not opposed to the initiation of the procedure for amending the constitution and the public debate, but they are opposed to any Prime Minister having too much discretion in appointing and dismissing ministers, explained the leader of the Levica’s MPs, Matej Tašner Vatovec. According to them, the current role played by the National Assembly in appointing the government is important mainly in terms of maintaining relations between the executive and legislative branches of government.

SDS on the “quasi-presidential system”

The SDS believes that the proposed changes establish a “quasi-presidential system” in Slovenia. For them, the withdrawal of the possibility of interpellation of an individual minister also remains controversial. They consider a system in which the National Assembly would approve the Prime Minister and his ministerial team with an absolute majority in the package as sensible, said SDS MP Branko Grims. “Our proposed mechanisms are very simple, but above all they are fair to people and good for democracy. We would approve the entire team, the Prime Minister, all the ministers, people would know exactly what it was about, but we would no longer elect the Prime Minister separately in parliament, because that is unnecessary, and according to their proposal, that is exactly what remains. It would be fair to come with the programme, the person, and the team, and the same could be true for the issue of no confidence vote,” said Grims. The recently submitted proposal is unacceptable for the SDS, and the proponents are also criticised for the fact that it was created in a way that the coalition first agreed on it, but it is “obviously wider than we thought”.


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