Opposition collects 28,000 signatures in support of army investment referendum

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Ljubljana – The opposition Left and Social democrats (SD) filed more than 28,000 signatures to the National Assembly in support of a referendum on EUR 780 million in additional defence spending planned for 2021-2026, which is more than enough to start a referendum procedure. Now they will seek to collect 40,000 verified signatures to call a referendum.

Left coordinator Luka Mesec told the press on Thursday as the signatures were filed that this was a message to the government that it was inadmissible to spend money on weapons amid a health, social and economic crisis.

The Left and the SD oppose the government’s act, passed a week ago, which earmarks EUR 780 million in additional defence spending in the next six years, arguing the government should instead invest in healthcare and in measures to alleviate the social and economic crises.

The bulk of the money is to be spent on purchasing armoured personnel carriers and setting up a medium infantry battalion group, while an aircraft and two helicopters are also to be bought.

The bill proved controversial 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.

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However, the Left and the SD insisted, and started collecting the required 2,500 signatures to launch referendum proceedings a day after the bill was passed last Friday.

The fact that the required number of signatures was exceeded by so much at a time when collecting them was much more difficult because of coronavirus restrictions sends a strong message what citizens think of the government measures, Mesec said.

SD MP Matjaž Nemec said the most important issue now was the question of admissibility of the referendum. “These are extremely large amounts of money, which should be directed elsewhere … We need strong healthcare and economy,” he said.

After filing the necessary signatures to start referendum procedures, referendum initiators have 35 days to collect 40,000 signatures required to call the referendum.

The government has already proposed the National Assembly pass a decree declaring a referendum on this act inadmissible 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 Defence Ministry said on Twitter today that referendums on defence acts were not admissible under the Constitution. Defence Minister Matej Tonin added that the resolution on the army development by 2025 originated in 2010, when the SD-led government was on power. The list of the planned purchases is from the time when Andreja Katič was defence minister, he said.

If the National Assembly endorses this view, the Left said it would turn to the Constitutional Court. A decision on the this will be made at an emergency session.

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