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Slovene House of Democracy to Play by New Rules after Summer Recess

Ljubljana, 13 July - This year's summer recess of the Slovene parliament - starting on 15 July - coincides with the implementation of the parliament's new standing orders. Replacing the 1993 document, lawmakers will thus try out the new rules in September, when it will become clear how successful the new rules will be in making the parliament's work more efficient. Several experts have already noted that the new standing orders are too "verbose", indicating a lack of democratic tradition, while Franci Grad of the Ljubljana Faculty of law went as far as saying that "conditions in the country are not right yet for normal standing orders".

One of the foremost novelties of the new standing orders is undoubtedly the changed legislative procedure which will be shorter, as the first reading will be completed merely by submitting the material to the lawmakers. Nevertheless, the bill will have to include an assessment of financial consequences and a comparison with appropriate systems in at least three EU members.

This provision eliminates the general debate on bills, both in competent working bodies and the plenary meeting, unless at least ten MPs demand a debate within 15 days from when the bill was first presented. In this case, the parliament will have to decide whether the proposed wording of the bill is appropriate for further proceedings.

The second reading is bound to be the most demanding part of the procedure, as the debate on the content of the bills will be carried out in the working bodies, which will also have the power to vote in amendments. At the plenary session, MPs will only be able to file amendments to those articles that have already been amended by the working bodies.

The third reading, carried out at a plenary session, will only focus on articles that had been amended beforehand. The upper chamber of parliament, the National Council, will keep the right to veto an act, however it has lost the power to file amendments to bills.

There are also some novelties in the short procedure and fast-track procedure, which will now be referred to as "urgent procedure". These two procedures should not be used too often, however, as is is believed that the regular procedure has been sufficiently rationalised. While the collegiate body of the parliament speaker will have the jurisdiction to launch the shorter procedure, it will be up to the government to decide when to use the urgent procedure, which has been reserved for cases of national interest and disaster relief.

Also new in the revamped standing orders is that the credentials and privileges commission and the commission for the rules of procedure will be joined into one working body.

The document took shape with considerable disapproval of the opposition parties, whose biggest resentment is that the time for debates and replications has been limited. Opposition parties thus provided the 24 votes against the standing orders.

The government Office for Legislation has not hidden its displeasure with the standing orders either, as it feels that the document reduces the role of the government by preventing the cabinet to correct its own proposals during the legislative procedure, and shortening the deadline for possible replies.

This should force the government to change its practice of churning out bills one after the other, on account of having to comply as quickly as possible with EU standards, and making things right by amending acts afterwards. However, the government claims to be unable to radically change its practice, which leads to believe that the quality of new acts could deteriorate in the period immediately following the enactment of the standing orders.

It was even suggested that because it will be prohibited to file amendments to its own bills, the government will have to amend the already implemented legislation even more often. Some went even as far as saying that the cabinet will seek new, especially political ways of furnishing the acts with the solutions it desires.

This lobbying with MPs might shatter the very idea behind the new standing orders - the rationalisation and greater efficiency of the parliament's work. Only practice will provide the answers to these questions; in the meantime, as professor Grad has put it "no rules can help where there is no sense".

© STA, 2002