Elections, “Patria”, and border dispute with Croatia

In Slove­nia the sec­ond half of 2008 was pre­dom­i­nant­ly char­ac­ter­ized by the par­lia­men­tary elec­tions which took place on 21 Sep­tem­ber. Oth­er issues involved an alleged cor­rup­tion case in the pur­chase of a large quan­ti­ty of mil­i­tary vehi­cles from a Finnish com­pa­ny “Patria”, involv­ing min­is­ters and offi­cials from the gov­ern­ment, the con­tin­u­ing bor­der dis­pute with Croa­t­ia, and the intro­duc­tion of con­tro­ver­sial vignettes on Sloven­ian high­ways. All issues are dis­cussed sep­a­rate­ly in the fol­low­ing paragraphs.

Victory of the centre-left in the elections to the National Assembly

The most com­pre­hen­sive pub­lic opin­ion poll, “Polit­barom­e­ter”, which had been last con­duct­ed three months before the actu­al elec­tions (end of June), indi­cat­ed prospects for the cen­tre-left. The poll showed that only 33 per­cent inter­viewed were sup­port­ive of the gov­ern­ment of then Prime Min­is­ter, Janez Janša. More­over, the par­ty-incli­na­tion dia­gram indi­cat­ed that Social Democrats[1] could receive much high­er sup­port than Janša’s Sloven­ian Demo­c­ra­t­ic Party[2].[3] As the elec­tions drew clos­er, oth­er pri­vate­ly com­mis­sioned polls showed this dif­fer­ence dimin­ish­ing, with the above men­tioned par­ties con­stant­ly exchang­ing the lead­ing posi­tion. Top­ics such as the “Patria” cor­rup­tion issue, cor­po­rate tycoons, and ide­o­log­i­cal polar­iza­tion dom­i­nat­ed the elec­tion cam­paign, while the most press­ing ques­tions such as the reform of the pen­sion sys­tem, the pri­vati­sa­tion mode of health ser­vices, the stim­u­la­tion of entre­pre­neur­ship, and long term sup­ply with cheap­er ener­gy sources, remained large­ly unaddressed.[4]

The result of the elec­tions brought about the vic­to­ry of the cen­tre-left coali­tion and a con­se­quent change of gov­ern­ment. The offi­cial results showed that Social Democ­rats won 30.45 per­cent of the votes, close­ly fol­lowed by Sloven­ian Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty with 29.26 per­cent. Borut Pahor, the pres­i­dent of the Social Democ­rats, was giv­en the man­date to form the gov­ern­ment. The gov­ern­ment coali­tion formed by the Social Democ­rats, New Politics,[5] Lib­er­al Democ­ra­cy of Slovenia[6] and Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty of Pensioners[7] was con­firmed in the nation­al assem­bly two months after the elec­tions were held.[8]

Par­al­lel to elec­tions and gov­ern­ment for­ma­tion, the Pres­i­dent of the Repub­lic of Slove­nia, Dani­lo Türk, heat­ed up Sloven­ian pol­i­tics by a deci­sion to wait with the appoint­ment of can­di­dates for emp­ty ambas­sado­r­i­al posts until after the elec­tions. After the elec­tions, he refused to appoint a num­ber of can­di­dates, all of course nom­i­nat­ed by the for­mer gov­ern­ment advo­cat­ing his deci­sion by can­di­dates’ non-ful­fil­ment of the legal­ly required cri­te­ria. Espe­cial­ly con­testable cas­es were the ones of Mat­jaž Šinkovec (poten­tial ambas­sador to Wash­ing­ton) and for­mer Min­is­ter for For­eign Affairs Dim­itrij Rupel (poten­tial ambas­sador to Vien­na). While Pres­i­dent Türk insist­ed on his right to an inde­pen­dent deci­sion guar­an­teed by the con­sti­tu­tion, legal experts were not unan­i­mous about the inter­pre­ta­tion of president’s com­pe­tences deriv­ing from the con­sti­tu­tion and there were voic­es stress­ing that lack of coop­er­a­tion between pres­i­dent and the gov­ern­ment could dam­age Slovenia’s inter­na­tion­al reputation.[9] After being denied the posi­tion of an ambas­sador to Vien­na, Rupel was appoint­ed Prime Minister’s spe­cial envoy for for­eign pol­i­cy by Pahor him­self. Despite Rupel’s many years of expe­ri­ence in the field of diplo­ma­cy, Pahor’s deci­sion was heav­i­ly crit­i­cised by his coali­tion part­ners as well as the gen­er­al public.[10]

Government officials accused of corruption in the “Patria” case

The cor­rup­tion plot sur­round­ing the pur­chase of armoured per­son­nel car­ri­ers by the Sloven­ian army was con­nect­ed to the high­est offi­cials and min­is­ters in the 2004–2008 Sloven­ian gov­ern­ment. The affair dates back to 2006 when the Sloven­ian army signed a con­tract for the pur­chase of car­ri­ers from the Finnish com­pa­ny “Patria”. The pur­chase was legit­imised as acqui­si­tion was claimed to be a part of oblig­a­tions of the Sloven­ian Army in respect to NATO, name­ly on the require­ments for par­tic­i­pa­tion in the organization’s mil­i­tary oper­a­tions. The pur­chase, which rep­re­sents the biggest arms deal in Slove­nia since its inde­pen­dence, con­tra­dicts with the Res­o­lu­tion of the Sloven­ian nation­al assem­bly on the gen­er­al long-term pro­gram of devel­op­ment and equip­ment of the Sloven­ian Army. Since 2006 the scan­dal acquired an inter­na­tion­al dimen­sion. It involved ques­tions on Slovenia’s government’s inter­pre­ta­tion of free­dom of media and the effi­cien­cy of the Sloven­ian judi­cia­ry sys­tem when it comes to alleged cor­rup­tion by the government.[11]

The con­tro­ver­sy was once again sparked by the broad­cast­ing of the Fin­ish TV show titled “The truth about Patria” dur­ing the cam­paign for Sloven­ian par­lia­men­tary elec­tions. In this show, aired on the Fin­ish nation­al tele­vi­sion “YLE”, the reporter Mag­nus Berglund accused Sloven­ian gov­ern­ment offi­cials of cor­rup­tion. The most promi­nent sus­pect impli­cat­ed with the scan­dal was then Prime Min­is­ter Janez Janša.[12] The Sloven­ian Min­istry of For­eign Affairs react­ed with a diplo­mat­ic note of protest addressed to the Finnish embassy in Slove­nia. In the note the Min­istry demand­ed expla­na­tions and proof for the alle­ga­tions made in the show. Finnish Prime Min­is­ter, Mat­ti Van­hanen, react­ed with a strong defence of media free­dom in Fin­land and said that his gov­ern­ment will not inter­fere in the work of journalists.[13] The note was also met with strong crit­i­cism from the “Inter­na­tion­al Press Insti­tute”. The lat­ter expressed con­cern about the use of diplo­mat­ic pres­sure for the pur­pose of lim­it­ing media freedom.[14]

So far there were no charges made in con­nec­tion with the case. The Sloven­ian pros­e­cu­tion came under severe pub­lic crit­i­cism and the Finnish “Nation­al Bureau of Inves­ti­ga­tion” exposed its slow response in the mat­ter. The new Min­is­ter of Defense Lju­bi­ca Jelušič also became a tar­get of crit­i­cism for cov­er­ing up the mis­takes of the for­mer Min­is­ter of Defence. So far there has been no pub­lic dis­clo­sure of any kind of evidence.[15]

No progress regarding the border dispute with Croatia

Rela­tions between Slove­nia and Croa­t­ia remain very tur­bu­lent, with a bor­der issue large­ly unre­solved. In July 2008, anoth­er inci­dent occurred when the Croa­t­ian author­i­ties post­ed signs allow­ing hunt­ing on sup­pos­ed­ly Sloven­ian ter­ri­to­ry. The Sloven­ian Min­istry of For­eign Affairs object­ed not only against signs put up by Croa­t­ian author­i­ties, but also because the ter­ri­to­ry in ques­tion was pro­tect­ed against hunt­ing under the Ram­sar Con­ven­tion on Wet­lands to which Slove­nia and Croa­t­ia are both con­tract­ing parties.[16] Anoth­er prob­lem arose when then Prime Min­is­ter, Janez Janša, indi­cat­ed in a speech in mid Sep­tem­ber that the bor­der dis­pute ought to be resolved accord­ing to ‘ex aequo et bono’ prin­ci­ple. Croa­t­ia object­ed and denot­ed this move as a politi­ciza­tion of the bor­der dis­pute for pre-elec­tion purposes.[17]

The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion has had a con­sis­tent posi­tion on the dis­pute through­out its dura­tion. It claims that the bor­der issue is a mat­ter of bilat­er­al rela­tions between the coun­tries and that it is not a sub­ject of nego­ti­a­tions regard­ing Croatia’s acces­sion to the EU. Then For­eign Min­is­ter, Dim­itrij Rupel, was scep­ti­cal about the Commission’s posi­tion. He stressed that Croa­t­ia dur­ing the nego­ti­a­tion process sub­mit­ted mate­ri­als con­tain­ing maps which pre­judged the bor­der with Slove­nia. Rupel demand­ed that such mate­ri­als be exclud­ed from the nego­ti­a­tion process.[18] The French EU-Pres­i­den­cy attempt­ed to speed up the dis­pute set­tle­ment with two fast-track pro­pos­als but none of them were sat­is­fac­to­ry to both of the parties.[19]

In Decem­ber, the bor­der issue was marked by the ‘red light’ dis­course. The gov­ern­ment announced that it was going to block Croatia’s progress in the EU acces­sion nego­ti­a­tions due to the fact that it was still using high­ly dis­put­ed doc­u­men­ta­tion pre­judg­ing the nation­al bor­der. Prime Min­is­ter, Borut Pahor, explained that the gov­ern­ment was only pro­tect­ing the nation­al inter­est and was try­ing to avoid even greater prob­lems that might arise when Croa­t­ia becomes a mem­ber of the EU.[20] Despite the severe­ly dis­in­clined Sloven­ian pub­lic opin­ion and oppo­si­tion­al polit­i­cal par­ties towards Croa­t­ian mem­ber­ship in the EU, the gov­ern­ment still strong­ly sup­ports Croatia’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in Euro-Atlantic inte­gra­tion. In Jan­u­ary 2009, the EU insti­tu­tions once again invit­ed the par­ties to resolve the dis­pute. While the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment called for a solu­tion at the Inter­na­tion­al Court of Jus­tice, the Com­mis­sion pro­posed a solu­tion to the dis­pute via medi­a­tion. Although Pahor wel­comed the sug­ges­tions, he stressed that “the government’s posi­tion on this issue will not change, unless the cir­cum­stances which had brought about the Sloven­ian block­ade of fur­ther Croatia’s nego­ti­a­tions with the EU would change in the first place.”[21]

Introduction of controversial highway vignettes

In the begin­ning of July 2008, Slove­nia intro­duced a new sys­tem of high­way vignettes which replaced the pre­vi­ous road toll sys­tem. As stat­ed by then, Min­is­ter of Trans­port, Radovan Žer­jav, the vignettes only rep­re­sent a tem­po­rary mea­sure which would lat­er on be replaced by a satel­lite road toll sys­tem. The fact that Slove­nia only issued one-year- and half-year-vignettes espe­cial­ly upset neigh­bour­ing Croatia[22] and Austria.

In Sep­tem­ber, Euro­stat issued a warn­ing to Slove­nia that the “Motor­way Com­pa­ny in the Repub­lic of Slove­nia” (DARS) would sta­tis­ti­cal­ly be placed in the pub­lic sec­tor, if there was no intro­duc­tion of short-term vignettes. With­out these, DARS’ incomes from the sale of vignettes would be regard­ed as tax rev­enue instead of pay­ment of ser­vices. If DARS’ exter­nal debt was to be regard­ed as pub­lic debt, the lat­ter would amount to almost 10 per­cent, and Slove­nia could find itself in a seri­ous vio­la­tion of the Sta­bil­i­ty and Growth Pact.[23]

In Octo­ber 2008, the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion issued a for­mal warn­ing to Slove­nia, stat­ing that its cur­rent sys­tem of vignettes is dis­crim­i­na­to­ry to oth­er cit­i­zens of the EU. The Sloven­ian gov­ern­ment denied any such accu­sa­tion, explain­ing the new road toll sys­tem has no direct or indi­rect dis­crim­i­na­to­ry effects with regard to nation­al­i­ty. The argu­ment in defence used by the gov­ern­ment was that there are many Sloven­ian cit­i­zens who also use high­ways very sel­dom thus being put in the same posi­tion as oth­er infre­quent users from the EU.[24] The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion was not sat­is­fied with the answer and con­se­quent­ly, in accor­dance with EU reg­u­la­tion, sus­pend­ed fur­ther pro­ce­dures for financ­ing the con­struc­tion of a part of Slovenia’s high­way network.[25]

 

 

 

[1] Social­ni Demokrati.
[2] Sloven­s­ka demokrats­ka stranka.
[3] Cen­ter za razisko­van­je javne­ga mnen­ja: Polit­barom­e­ter 6/2008: Javnom­nen­jske raziskave o odno­su javnos­ti do aktu­al­nih razmer in doga­janj v Sloveni­ji (Pub­lic opin­ion sur­veys on the atti­tude of the pub­lic towards cur­rent affairs and devel­op­ments in Slove­nia), avail­able at: http://www.cjm.si/sites/cjm.si/files/file/raziskava_pb/PB6_08.pdf (last access: 13 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[4] Miroslav Konči­na: Pred­vo­lil­na soočen­ja – reži­ja vsil­jenih in jalovih tem? (Pre-elec­tion debates – direct­ed by imposed and fruit­less top­ics?), Dnevnik, 13 Sep­tem­ber 2008, avail­able at: http://www.dnevnik.si/debate/komentarji/1042206517 (last access: 12 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[5] Zares, a new lib­er­al polit­i­cal par­ty, with the cen­tral per­son­al­i­ties large­ly drawn from the Lib­er­al Democ­ra­cy of Slovenia.
[6] Lib­er­al­na demokraci­ja Slovenije.
[7] Demokratič­na stran­ka upoko­jencev Slovenije.
[8] STA: Državni zbor imen­o­val novo vla­do (Nation­al assem­bly appoints the new gov­ern­ment), 21 Novem­ber 2008, avail­able at: http://www.sta.si/vest.php?s=s&id=1339946&q (last access: 2 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[9] RTV Sloveni­ja: Nered, Mar­jet­ka: Vele­poslaniš­ka vroči­ca – grožn­ja ugle­du države? (Ambas­sado­r­i­al fever – a men­ace to nation­al rep­u­ta­tion?), 27 Octo­ber 2008, avail­able at: http://www.rtvslo.si/modload.php?&c_mod=rnews&op=sections&func=read&c_menu=1&c_id=185641 (last access: 2 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[10] Erna Strniša: Rupel poseb­ni odposlanec pre­miera (Rupel appoint­ed Spe­cial envoy of the Prime Min­is­ter), RTV Sloveni­ja, 27 Novem­ber 2008, avail­able at: http://www.rtvslo.si/modload.php?&c_mod=rnews&op=sections&func=read&c_menu=1&c_id=187743 (last access: 5 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[11] Rok Praprot­nik: Ekskluzivno o aferi Patria (Exclu­sive­ly on Patria affair), Dnevnik, 20 Novem­ber 2008, avail­able at: http://www.dnevnik.si/novice/slovenija/1042223612 (last access: 15 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[12] Dnevnik.si: Objavl­jamo sloven­s­ki prepis odmevne odd­a­je finske tele­viz­ije (Pub­li­ca­tion of the Sloven­ian tran­script of the noto­ri­ous Finnish tele­vi­sion show), 2 Sep­tem­ber 2008, avail­able at: http://www.dnevnik.si/novice/slovenija/1042203958 (last access: 15 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[13] STA/Dnevnik: Fin­s­ki pre­mier sporočil Janši, da se vla­da ne more vmeša­vati v delo tele­viz­ije (Finnish Prime Min­is­ter informs Janša that the gov­ern­ment can­not inter­fere in the work of tele­vi­sion), 4 Sep­tem­ber 2008, avail­able at: http://www.dnevnik.si/novice/slovenija/1042204550 (last access: 15 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[14] STA/Dnevnik.si: Med­nar­o­d­ni inšti­tut za tisk kri­tizira odziv slovenske vlade na fin­s­ki doku­mentarec o Patrii (Inter­na­tion­al Press Insti­tute crit­i­cizes Sloven­ian government’s response to the Finnish doc­u­men­tary on Patria), 11 Sep­tem­ber 2008, avail­able at: http://www.dnevnik.si/novice/slovenija/1042206250 (last access: 15 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[15] Dnevnik.si: Fin­s­ki nacional­ni urad za preiskave ostro kri­tizira sloven­sko poli­ci­jo (Finnish Nation­al Bureau of Inves­ti­ga­tion aims sharp crit­i­cism at Sloven­ian police), 9 Sep­tem­ber 2008, avail­able at: http://www.dnevnik.si/novice/slovenija/1042205417 (last access: 15 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[16] STA: Hrvaš­ka odpravni­ca poslov na MZZ zara­di tabel v kra­jinskem parku Sečovl­je (Croa­t­ian chargée d’affaires at the Min­istry of For­eign Affairs due to the signs in the land­scape park Sečovl­je), 25 July 2008, avail­able at: http://www.sta.si/vest.php?s=s&id=1305585 (last access: 6 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[17] STA: Hrvaš­ka zavrni­la Janševe izjave o ‘načelu prav­ičnos­ti’ glede meje (Croa­t­ia rejects Janša’s state­ments on the ‘ex aequo et bono’ prin­ci­ple regard­ing the bor­der), 15 Sep­tem­ber 2008, avail­able at: http://www.sta.si/vest.php?s=s&id=132044 (last access: 6 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[18] RTV Sloveni­ja: EU zavrnil Ruplove izjave (EU rejects state­ments by Rupel), 14 Octo­ber 2008, avail­able at: http://www.rtvslo.si/modload.php?&c_mod=rnews&op=sections&func=read&c_menu=16&c_id=184745 (last access: 10 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[19] RTV Sloveni­ja: Na mizi nov fran­cos­ki pred­log (New French pro­pos­al on the table), 16 Decem­ber 2008, avail­able at: http://www.rtvslo.si/modload.php?&c_mod=rnews&op=sections&func=read&c_menu=1&c_id=189027 (last access: 28 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[20] RTV Sloveni­ja: Tudi vla­da priž­gala rdečo luč (The gov­ern­ment turns on the red light as well), 18 Decem­ber 2008, avail­able at: http://www.rtvslo.si/modload.php?&c_mod=rnews&op=sections&func=read&c_menu=1&c_id=189240 (last access: 8 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[21] STA/Reuters/RTV Sloveni­ja: Bloka­da vsaj do prve­ga pre­mi­ka (Block­ade at least until the first shift), 26 Jan­u­ary 2009, avail­able at: http://www.rtvslo.si/modload.php?&c_mod=rnews&op=sections&func=read&c_menu=1&c_id=191785 (last access: 26 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[22] RTV Sloveni­ja: Vin­jete osta­ja­jo trn v peti Hrvaške (Vignettes remain a thorn in Croatia’s side), 2 July 2008, avail­able at: http://www.rtvslo.si/modload.php?&c_mod=rnews&op=sections&func=read&c_menu=2&c_id=177414 (last access: 4 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[23] RTV Sloveni­ja: Zara­di vin­jet ob sta­bil­nost javnih financ? (Los­ing pub­lic finance sta­bil­i­ty at the expense of vignettes?), 30 Sep­tem­ber 2008, avail­able at: http://www.rtvslo.si/modload.php?&c_mod=rnews&op=sections&func=read&c_menu=1&c_id=183804 (last access: 5 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[24] STA: Vla­da v urad­nem odgov­oru zavrača očitke Brusl­ja glede vin­jet (In an offi­cial answer the gov­ern­ment rejects Brus­sels’ reproach­es regard­ing vignettes), 28 Octo­ber 2008, avail­able at: http://www.sta.si/vest.php?s=s&id=1332883 (last access: 5 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[25] Cir­man, Pri­mož: Zara­di vin­jet v zraku tudi evrop­sko finan­ciran­je dolen­jke (Euro­pean financ­ing of ‘dolen­j­ka high­way’ uncer­tain because of vignettes), Poslovni Dnevnik, 6 Novem­ber 2008, avail­able at: http://www.dnevnik.si/poslovni_dnevnik/1042219909 (last access: 5 Jan­u­ary 2009).