MPs reject motion for referendum on Demographic Fund

Ljubljana – The National Assembly rejected in a 46:43 vote on Tuesday a proposal from the centre-left opposition for a consultative referendum on the government-sponsored bill on the national Demographic Fund.

The bill was adopted by the government last autumn and its passed a second reading in the National Assembly in March.

A third reading and possible passage of the bill was suspended by the consultative referendum motion filed by the opposition Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ), Social Democrats (SD), Left and Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB).

They argued that the fund would not shore up the public pension fund as is its stated purpose, but give the government centralised control over ownership and management of state assets and power to make staffing decisions in state companies.

“The government is trying to buy itself one year until election so that it could do what it pleases with state assets in the meantime,” Luka Mesec of the Left said in today’s debate.

The bill, under which the National Demographic Fund would emerge through a transformation from Slovenian Sovereign Holding to take over the management of almost all state equity assets, worth an estimated EUR 8.6 billion.

Andreja Zabret of the LMŠ noted that the wording of the bill is phrased so as to give political parties and the government all levers for managing and supervising the fund.

If the Demographic Fund is to be established in the proposed form, its contribution to the underfunded pension system would be negligible, while the government also wants to finance long-term care and family policies out of it, she said.

“We need a fund that will actually and exclusively contribute to reducing the shortfall,” Zabret added.

Dejan Židan of the SD labelled the bill as “cuckoo egg of the currently ruling parties”, noting that they would like to bring state asset management under one roof and disperse profit instead of using it for financing future pensions.

Alenka Bratušek of the SAB said that money earned through the management of state assets should be intended solely for pension, and that assets needed to remain in state ownership, with the fund only managing them.

The arguments from the opposition were rejected by Finance Ministry State Secretary Peter Ješovnik, who also denied the criticism that no public consultation was held about the bill and that it had not been discussed with social partners.

Jašovnik said that legal bases for the passage of a Demographic Fund bill had existed since 2014, and noted that capital investments in as many as 45 companies had been sold between 2013 and the end of 2020.

While the group of four unaffiliated MPs said they would endorse the referendum motion, the opposition National Party (SNS) was against it. “This is nothing else than undermining the government,” SNS deputy Jani Ivanuša said.

While the MPs of the opposition Pensioners’ Party (DeSUS) had different views of the bill, Monika Gregorčič of the coalition Modern Centre Party (SMC) took issue with how the referendum question was formed.

The proposed question reads: “Do you agree with the National Assembly passing the bill on the national Demographic Fund, which does not solve the problem of funding of pensions, but increases the possibilities of the Janez Janša government to staff in state companies and privatisation?.”

Jožef Horvat of the coalition New Slovenia (NSi) said that had the initiators had “fair intentions, the questions would have been set in a fair spirit.”

Suzana Lep Šimenko of the ruling Democrats (SDS) said that the bill represented clear progress in the management of state assets, making it transparent, safe and profitable.

Gregorčič added that the proposal was a political move by the opposition to delay the bill, stressing that its “basic goal … is increasing the value of state assets for co-financing of compulsory pension insurance.”

As the proposal for the consultative referendum was rejected, the opposition is expected to initiate a legislative referendum once the bill is passed.

Members of six trade union confederations meanwhile held a symbolic rally in front of the parliament building today to express support for the referendum motion.

Lidija Jerkič, the head of the largest confederation ZSSS said that endorsing the referendum would mean that the government was serious about social dialogue after trade unions had withdrawn from the Economic and Social Council.