Left initiates referendum on APCs purchase, govt to challenge it in court

Ljubljana – A day after parliament endorsed an agreement with the Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation (OCCAR) to buy armoured personnel vehicles, the opposition Left started collecting signatures in support of a referendum on the ratification act. The government will challenge the referendum petition at the Constitutional Court.

The Left had already tried to block the law in December by submitting a petition for a consultative referendum, which was voted down by the National Assembly last week. Unlike a legislative referendum, which the Left is launching now, a consultative referendum would not be binding on the government.

The Left has been taking issue with as yet unofficial price tag on the project. This has almost doubled to EUR 412 million for 45 vehicles since the Miro Cerar government first started talks on the project in 2017. At the time 56 vehicles were to cost the country EUR 207 million.

The Defence Ministry says the estimated value of the project is indeed EUR 412 million, but for 53 vehicles along with maintenance, logistic support and training, while the price of the planned 45 vehicles should be lower.

The ministry argues the vehicles are needed for Slovenia to set up a battalion-sized battle group as it has been promising to NATO for years.

The Left says the deal is too costly as well as unnecessary at a time when the money is much needed elsewhere, such as rental housing or healthcare.

Defence Minister Matej Tonin said the Left was only trying to put a spoke in the army’s wheels, in an “obvious abuse of the institute of referendum”.

Under article 90 of the constitution “referenda on ratifications of international treaties are banned”, which he expects the Constitutional Court will soon establish. The government will challenge the referendum initiative at the court as soon as it is formally submitted.

The Left already failed in its previous attempt to have the Constitutional Court annul a law last year on EUR 780 million investment in the Slovenian Armed Force, or to quash parliament’s decision to rule a referendum on the act inadmissible.

“This international treaty will be ratified this term, as Slovenian soldiers truly deserve the best that is available on the market,” the minister said, adding that their security and Slovenia’s credibility in NATO and broader international community were at stake.

Tonin said the ministry went about the Boxer deal in a “maximally rational way”. “We no longer planned 130 and more vehicles as the previous governments but are only buying the absolute minimum needed, that is 45 vehicles,” he said.

The Left’s data on the deal’s value “is absolutely inaccurate”, Tonin said because the ministry was yet to receive the first offer from the OCCAR which would be a starting point for talks. He hopes the deal with OCCAR to be signed before April, that is in the current government’s term.

Boxer vehicles “are the best that the market can offer”, he said, adding that Slovenia was buying the equipment for the next 20 to 30 years so it could not afford to buy equipment that was ten, 15 years old.