Bill on EUR 780m defence investments passed

Ljubljana- Parliament has passed a bill which earmarks EUR 780 million in additional defence spending in a six-year period between 2021 and 2026. The bulk of the money will be spent on purchasing armoured personnel vehicles and setting up a medium infantry battalion group, while an aircraft and two helicopters are also to be bought.

Of the 85 MPs present in parliament on Friday, 48 voted in favour and 36 against the bill, which part of the opposition would like to subject to a referendum.

The passage of the bill was welcomed by President Borut Pahor, the commander-in-chief of the Slovenian Armed Forces (SAF), who said an important step had been taken in the modernisation of the army.

Defence Minster Matej Tonin tweeted he was “happy the bill, which earmarks 1% of the annual state budget for investments for security, was passed”.

Tonin has said on several occasions the long-term survival of the SAF depended on this bill. He maintains that only the really urgent investments were included in it, such as personal equipment for soldiers and the modernisation of infrastructure, foremost barracks.

In the first two years, the annual price tag of the investments will be EUR 100 million, but the annual figure will grow to EUR 145 million in the next four years.

Tonin told MPs earlier this year the defence budget had virtually halved since 2010 as the defence sector had paid the highest price of the 2008 financial crisis.

He also said that with the new law, Slovenia’s defence spending per capita would rise to some EUR 200, or half of what comparable countries allocated for security.

The coalition parties and the opposition National Party (SNS) agreed the law would enhance security and enable Slovenia to meet its international commitments.

MP Jožef Horvat for New Slovenia (NSi) said in parliament today the bill in fact brings an additional EUR 50 million a year for investments in the SAF.

The bill proved controversial due to a large amount it entails as soon as it was announced in mid-2020, and in October the National Assembly rejected a proposal to hold a consultative referendum on it.

However, the Left repeated its call for a referendum today, announcing to start collecting tomorrow 2,500 signatures to call it.

Its leader Luka Mesec said that while the party was not against the army as such, the time to buy arms could not be worse as the country is facing a health and welfare crisis.

His views were largely echoed by the leaders of the Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ), the Social Democrats (SD) and the Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB).

But while the SD will help the Left in the referendum effort, the SAB is apprehensive about calling a referendum amid the coronavirus epidemic.

SAB leader Alenka Bratušek listed the order of priorities she believes the government should take into consideration: “Healthcare, social care and economy first, and then also the urgent investments for the SAF.”

The opposition may not have an easy time advocating the referendum as a legal opinion commissioned by the Defence Ministry shows it would not be in line with the constitution.

The bill meets all three criteria which do not allow subjecting it to a referendum under Slovenian law: it is formally a law; contains measures urgent to provide for certain constitutional values; and these values are Slovenia’s defence, security and eliminating the consequences of natural disasters, says the legal opinion, penned by Matej Avbelj and Igor Kaučič for the Institute of Constitutional Law.

The ministry commissioned it because the law is “of extremely great importance for the SAF to operate” and would like to see in put in place as soon as possible.

The legal opinion also says the law meets all the criteria for parliament to decree that it cannot be put to a referendum, which the government asked it to do already on 23 September.