Report on Local and Regional Democracy in Slovenia - CG (8) 6 Part II
Rapporteurs: Gerhard ENGEL (Germany) and Owen MASTERS (United Kingdom)
The rapporteurs wish to express their particular gratitude to Dr Heinrich Hoffschulte, consultant, for his major contribution to the drafting of this report.
1. The constitutional and legal basis
Concerning the constitutional and legal basis of local and regional democracy and self-government, there is no big change compared with the data described in the Council of Europe publication “Structure and operation of local and regional democracy - Slovenia -Situation in 1997”1. Reference can be made to this relatively new text to avoid unnecessary repetitions.
1.1 The Slovenian Constitution
Local self-government is recognised and guaranteed by Article 9 of the Constitution of the Republic of Slovenia. Part V of this Constitution is entirely consecrated to autonomy in municipalities, including special regulation for urban municipalities, and in “wider self-governing local government bodies”, which opens the same guarantees for the entities to be created as “regions”, being a second sphere of local self-government (see below 2.2 and 4). In addition people are free to join together and form (other) “self-governing bodies to further their common interests.”(Art 145)
1.2 The European Charter of Local Self-Government
The Republic of Slovenia, when joining the Council of Europe, has signed the European Charter for Local Self-Government 11th October 1994 and ratified it more than two years later only on 15th November 1996. Thus the Charter is current law in Slovenia since the 1st March 1997. And having been guests already before that date, representtives of Slovenian municipalities participate in the work of the Chamber of Local Athorities in Strasbourg. Wording of the Constitution as well as of the 1993 Law on local self-government shows, that many guidelines of the Charter have been used before its formal signature and ratification when both texts of new legislation were drafted in the early nineties.
1.3 The Slovenian Law on Local Self-Government
The current Law on Local Self-Government dates from 1993 and has been amended several times. It is a framework law including a chapter on regions, although these were not brought to life all over the country, as the Constitution and the law itself asks for voluntary form of creation or dissociation of regions. Those voluntary regions have not been established except in some few cases which are hardly efficient, especially as the state has not delegated any tasks to them.
However, local self-government has been restricted by an ongoing lack of decentralisation and the survival of fifty-eight deconcentrated state administrative units. These administrative units are headed by a naçelnik (“Hauptmann”) nominated by the government and with their sections being line-representations of all ministries. These units are deconcentrated territorial state bodies with their own field of operation, competence, functions and authority, having jurisdiction over one or (normally) several municipalities. Most of their functions and competencies are to be discussed under the aspect of decentralisation to self-governed regions, once these are created and covering the entire country.
1.4 Main other legislative texts on local government
Besides the 1993 Law on Local Self-Government, there is a set of other legislation concerning local municipalities on local elections, on procedures and establishment of municipalities and the determination of their territory, on financing of municipalities, their administration, on the organisation and competencies of ministries concerning municipalities, etc.2
2. The structure of local self-government in Slovenia
While this report can largely refer on the analysis made by the study of the Council of Europe published in 19973, there are some changes to point out for the development since this period. There is of course a new situation, as elections held at national level on 15 October 2000 brought results that have led to the establishment of a “great coalition” between LDS (36,2 % and 34 seats), ZLSD (12,1 % and 11 mandates), DeSUS (5,2 % and 4 mandates) and SLS+SKD (9,5 % and 9 seats), which makes 58 seats out of a total of 90 members of the Slovenian Parliament. Adding some other groups of members as well as the two statuarial members representing the Hungarian and the Italian minorities, this coalition relies on a comfortable majority of two thirds of the Parliament, as it can be sustained by up to 68 of the Parliamentarians. This majority is a chance for constitutional reform, that seem necessary for the development of regionalisation and/or the creation of a second level of local self-government (see 2.2 and 3.3) and the clarification of criteria for creation of new local entities by dismemberment or by fusion (see 5.2).
Internal structure of local self-government and its bodies is still discussed. This part of the Law (Chapter IV on “Municipal bodies”, Articles 28 to 48) has been variously amended. The main questions seem to be those of responsibilities to be shared between the local councils, the mayors and the secretaries (“directors of administration”, for their association see below under 2.3). Again reference can be made to the broad description in the mentioned report from 1998.4 There is a net tendency to more professionalisation by the nomination of “municipal secretaries” to assist the mayor in his function as the head of the administration. Article 49 (in Chapter V on Municipal Administration, amended and added Articles 49 to 50a).
Conflicts may arise with this necessary higher level of qualifications and the growing professionalisation of the staff on one side and the elected bodies trying to save their “power”, as well as from the rival role of both directly elected bodies, the municipal councils and the mayors as heads of the administration. But this is a general discussion in many countries, although in new democracies and with growing decentralisation from central state structures to more local self-government like in Slovenia the problem might bring some “new” experience.
Many problems again have their sources in the fragmentation of local authorities to a large number of very small municipalities with less than 5.000 inhabitants, where professional qualifications rarely meet the local possibilities and financial resources, as especially when and as long as local taxes are not enabling local financial autonomy. Already the existing situation asks for general rules of better salaries to attract qualified staff to a growing responsibility for more local and (delegated or transferred) state tasks. Legal previsions for adequate salaries were repeatedly subject to critical comments during the CLRAE delegation’s visit in March, especially on the background that only 25 % of the municipalities seem to be financially self-redundant or “independent” from state subventions.
2.1 The (still) growing number of municipalities
The structure of local authorities is still dominated by a big number of small municipalities. This is a certain tradition already, since in 1952 there were 380 units. One of the explications might be that there were periods with a centralist tendency to control the country by smaller entities (“divide ut impera”). After national independence and introduction of democratic structures, there were 60 local authorities in Slovenia and the state decided to enforce a new organisation of local authorities. The 1997 report to the Council of Europe already mentioned 147 local authorities.5 The minimum criteria initially fixed by the Law on Local Self-Government was 5.000 inhabitants6, but now more than 95 municipalities out of a total of 192 actually have a population below that criteria. The responsibility for this development lies with the old Parliament (National Assembly), as it made series of “exceptions” shortly after the adoption of the law, thus discrediting the minimum criteria. This had a consequence in the jurisdiction of the Constitutional Court, when more than 60 cases7 of new local splitting were brought to its decision: The Court stated, that the Parliament had not respected its own criteria, not even those for the exceptions already mentioned in the law itself; and this statement of the High Court was used as basis for “equal treatment” for the cases, where the Parliament had refused to accept separation and independence, that is the creation of new local entities.
An additional reason for such local fragmentation was the current system of local finances (see below) that enables small separated local entities to get more state money than they would ever get as a part of bigger local authorities. That is why both the Government and the old Parliament - with more than 40 of 90 MPs being at the same time mayors - lost control in the implementation of their own decisions, when many of these local entities were created with no respect to the decided minimum population. (In the current Parliament there are still 15 (active) mayors.)
And, as some interviews have shown, there are still many demands for creation of new municipalities to be satisfied. Those actual demands are estimated to about 25. In 1994, the country had a population of 1 989 500 inhabitants. Taking this number with 147 municipalities in 1997, the average was at 13 530 inhabitants (as average population). Since then the average population per municipality in Slovenia has fallen under 10 000 inhabitants at the moment. This still seems a relatively high number compared with 1 578 in France (1990 census) or 3 421 in Austria (1991 census), but this inevitably leads to the question of a second level of local self-government, taking responsibility for those tasks, that cannot be adequately performed by small municipalities (principle of subsidiarity).
2.2 The open question of districts or regions
Concerning the creation - or historically spoken : re-creation - of a second tier of local self-government, may they be called “regions” (as it happens in the actual discussion) or districts (counties, Kreise), reference can be made to the report on “Regionalisation in Slovenia”, delivered by Hans Ulrich Stöckling to the CLRAE in 19988. This text is based on the analysis of the draft Law on Regions, taking into account the criteria from the draft European Charter of Regional Self-Government, that had been presented to the Slovenian partners in a special conference in Maribor on 27 October 1997.
Concerning the (then discussed) draft Law on Regions, the 1998 report describes the main content and structure and then points out “Problems posed by the Slovenian draft Law on Regions, in relation to the (draft) European Charter of Regional Self-Government”9, “Problems posed... in relation to the European Charter of Local Self-Government”10 and finally “Problems raised... in relation to the rules of the European Union”.11
Presently, the Constitution of Slovenia seems the basic obstacle to a successful regionalisation as it refers to a principle of voluntary association of municipalities to create a region. Article 143 speaks of wider self-governing local government bodies and stipulates, that “municipalities shall be free to join with other municipalities” in establishing wider self-governing local bodies “for matter of common interest”. And the State may, by agreement with wider self-governing local government bodies and regional local government bodies, vest them specific duties and functions otherwise falling within its jurisdiction.
The Law on Local Self-Government in its Chapter IX (Art. 72 ff.) could not go very far beyond these previsions of the Constitution, when it statutes, that “a region shall be established, changed or terminated by law on the basis of decisions passed by a two-thirds majority of the members of municipal councils”. And if a referendum on this decision of a municipal council is carried out, it needs the majority of the participants. A municipality may also withdraw from a region with the same criteria... (Art.73).
For many years now, there have been discussions over these conditions that cannot help to create a coherent system of districts, regions or “provinces” all over the country. That is why, any consistent decentralisation and devolution of responsibilities and functions by the State is hindered either by the lack of correspondent local capabilities in the large majority of local authorities or by the lack of a complementaryand country-wide system able to take over those tasks that the basic level institutions cannot effectively fulfill.
2.3 The two national Associations of Local Authorities
Currently, there are two national associations of municipalities working in Slovenia:
The “Assembly of Municipalities and Towns of Slovenia” (AMTS - SOS) is the successor of the “Standing Conference of Local authorities of Slovenia” and has its headquarters in Maribor. It is divided into three branches: the urban cities (50.000 to 300 000 inhabitants), the medium size (urban) municipalities with 12 000 to 30 or 50 000) and the other small and rural local authorities with less than 12 000 inhabitants. When the State decided, that an association of municipalities will only be recognised as an official association (“national status”), when it has more than 50 % of the municipalities and representing more than 50 % of the population, few people expected, that any association would ever reach this goal. The condition seems to have been created to prevent any success. Although the AMTS now meets these necessary criteria, notably the fact that 107 out of 192 municipalities in Slovenia are members, its status as “national association” was rejected. State authorities got an easy excuse for the rejection, as the second association, the AMS (see below) asked the Constitutional Court to stop the procedure of recognition, as it complained that the interests of small municipalities were not adequately protected by AMTS.
AMTS nevertheless feels organised in a way so that it covers all species of municpalities and protects the interests of all municipalities including the smallest and poorest ones with its sections for three different sizes of local authorities as mentioned above.
AMTS has regular meetings with AMS, the other association of local authorities of Slovenia and declares to be ready to merge once it gets the status of “national association” with recognition of both associations according to their respective weight.
Members of the delegation from Council of Europe / CLRAE expressed their opinion, that Slovenia having signed and ratified the European Charter of Local Self-Government, Article 10 of this Charter gives the right to associate “for the protection and promotion of their common interests” and that this right is recognised by the State, and that additional conditions for official “recognition” or qualification as “national association” might be against this freedom of associating and by this in contradiction to the Charter.
The second “Association of Municipalities of Slovenia” (AMS - ZOS) was created in 1997 by a group of smaller municipalities, that felt not satisfied by the work of the AMTS. It has for objectives to provide greater support to small rural municipalities, notably in terms of training staff. It claims to have 41 members. 10 to 20 municipalties seem to belong to both associations and 1/3 of Slovenian municipalities do not belong to any of the two associations. AMS has its headquarters in Vodice (near Ljubljana).
Among the members three municipalities have a mayor being MP at the same time. 2/3 of the mayors in this association belong to parties of the actual parliamentarian majority or coalition. All political parties currently in parliament are represented in the presidency of the association. The association is not represented by one of its members in the National Council. The association wishes to be able to co-operate directly with the new government.
The AMS was also created due to the changes that were brought to the system of financing of projects and investments of municipalities. Currently, municipalities get financial support according to their population’s size and no longer to their projects as it used to be the case in the past.
Born from the interests of the smaller local authorities, AMTS seems to be particularly engaged for the newly created municipalities. One of the examples for these interests is the situation around the Slovenian capital, Ljubljana. The former city of Ljubljana was divided into 15 entities in 1994. The central town continuing the role of the Capital, the smaller municipalities, that have separated from the centre, protest, that an “equal, adequate share of finances and property did not accompany such division with the newly emerged municipalities.” The law confirming the separation had foreseen in general clauses such equal share however.
Both associations do not have any proper means for activities and realisations. As a consequence, they currently cannot perform adequately their role and have to rely on the support of the “Office for Local Self-Government of Slovenia” (see below) to properly assist their member-municipalities.
The relations between the two associations have not yet improved. Representatives of the AMTS claimed that when Slovenia started to co-operate with the Council of Europe and more especially with the CLRAE, there was no second association of Municipalities. The current AMTS succeeded to the former Standing Conference of Municipalities and Towns of Slovenia. When the law on the national status was passed, the requirements set criteria at very high level and today the AMTS meets most of these criteria. Then, the second association was formed.
The composition of the Slovenian delegation to the CLRAE is still made up of representatives of one association, the Assembly of Municipalities and Towns of Slovenia (AMTS) although neither this nor the other association have got the “national status”. This is why the current composition of the delegation of Slovenian municipalities to the CLRAE does not reflect the fact, that currently two associations regroup the local authorities.
On the opposite, Slovenia did reach an agreement with the Committee of Regions of the European Union: It was agreed that the Slovenian delegation will be composed of representatives of both associations of local authorities and of members belonging to both associations. The delegation from CLRAE therefore pointed out, that if such an agreement had been reached with the EU, it has to be reached as well with the CLRAE too and as soon as possible, notably as Slovenia is bound to respect the European Charter on Local Self-Government and ensure that the composition of its delegation reflects the reality of the whole country. The fact that several municipalities are member of both associations should make a quick result even easier.
As the actual preparations for creating regions might have sooner or later success, the partners should bear in mind, that these are seen as a second tier or second sphere of local self-government. The Constitution in its Art. 143 has an abstract wording avoiding to mention regions (nor districts) but also speaks of “Wider self-governing local government bodies”. And this is already the concept in Chapter IX of the actual Law on Local Self-Government dealing with regions (Articles 72 to 87 of the Law), and drafts for a “Law on Regions” equally deal with them as local self-government.12 That means, that the European Charter is certainly ruling these regions too, enabling them to create their association under Art. 10 of the Charter and to be represented in the CLRAE as well, once they will have been created.
There is a already another association working for the special interests of municipalities, their chief executives and their professional staff: It is the association of municipal secretaries. According to Art. 49 of the Law on LSG those secretaries are appointed and dismissed by the mayor, who is “head of the municipal administration” (Art.49 para 1). They work with the title of “Director of Administration”13 The association now regroups 133 members (of 133 municipalities of a total of 192, 23 of which have not invested directors of administration), which means a very high grade of co-operation. The current President of this group is Ivan Pristovnik, (director of administration of the municipality of Kamnik), a former MP.
The aim of the union is technical assistance to all members of the Association, including initiatives for legislation (in accordance with the acquis communautaire of the EU), information service. They work on single formats for documents and information (a catalogue of more than 100 forms up to February 2001), a single information system (tender, electronic exchange), correction of weaknesses in legislation on local self-government and confirm, that the transformation of the European Charter from 1985 is one of their main goals in working together. When a legislative initiative came up to “nationalise” all municipal property (buildings) used by the (58) state district administrations, they immediately intervened and stopped this attempt to municipal property.
Bringing in their local experience, the Association wants to be involved in discussions about amending the Law on Local Self-Government as well as new laws (or drafts) on regions, local finances, urban planning etc. They are registered as a Union under the specific legislation on their creation. They are not (yet) recognised as “national” representation and do not receive state money for their work or co-operation; but they are recognised as experienced partners by the independent “Office for Local-Self-Government” (see below under 2.4), which already financed or co-financed special tasks of the association including seminars or training
2.4 The Office for Local Self-Government of Slovenia
The Office was established in 1993 to carry out the reform on local self-government introduced in 1994. It was initially called “Office for Local Self-Government Reform” and therefore, in the beginning, it was thought to be a provisional institution.
When the previous government of Mr Banjuk abolished the function of a Minister without portfolio responsible for local-government issues, the Office became an independent body. When the delegation of CLRAE visited Slovenia in December 2000, there was an ongoing discussion about the future of the OLSG. Meanwhile the Ministry of the Interior took over and is now officially responsible for the Office being integrated to the section of the State Secretary for Local Self-Government. In future the state will have greater direct control over its activities. On the opposite, most municipalities wanted the office to remain independent so to ensure it can provide an effective technical help and can take an active part in the future process of regionalisation.
The OLSG is so far an integrated part and service that gets its finances from a budget-line directly from the state budget, but its funds seem not enough to assist properly the growing needs of the 192 municipalities. The Office has 11 members of staff.
Roles, tasks and functions of the Office are similar to those of national associations in other countries. As long as the standing of both associations of municipalities is not clear and the question of their recognition as of “national status” is pending, the OLSG favours closer links between them and encourage mutual co-operation. The Office is also promoting inter-municipal co-operation and favours economic development so to overcome difficulties of self-financing of small municipalities. The office provides assistance and information to those municipalities wishing to develop transborder co-operation and twinning programmes with foreign municipalities. Some of the functions in helping and consulting municipalities are identical with the goals of the new organisation of the directors of administration or “secretaries of municipalities”.
All this shows, that the Office is a very valuable and precious service institution, but that its role and structure should in future be thought over in the light of institutional links with the associations and organisations of municipalities in the spirit of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, especially Art. 4 para 3, that gives local authorities the right to “have full discretion to exercise their initiative with regard to any matter” of their competence. This includes their right to co-operate and to form consortia14 and instruments with other local authorities in order to carry out tasks of common interest (so far guaranteed by Art. 10 para 1 of the Charter). And these rights should be interpreted as including instruments to organise, rationalise and decide themselves and to develop the exchange of best-practise, experience, structures and methods of working.
Now part of the Ministry the Office for Local Self-Government continues its consulting and services for the municipalities. Thus the OLSG :
- Supports the implementation of European charter for local self-government and provides technical help to the new municipalities.
- Contributes to the realisation of different manuals in co-operation with the institute for local self-government. It has notably set up a catalogue where the respective responsibilities of the state and municipalities are defined.
- Organises various activities and seminars.
- Invites and visits all municipalities to create a network. It has regular meetings with all the mayors of Slovenia. These meetings are held per regions with the presence of experts from other ministries.
- Has also created a website with key information such as all regulations passed by municipalities.
- Has a role of assistance and orientation. It assists the municipalities in their contacts with the various ministries.
- Helps to define the state competencies, make an analysis of the situation, and set up technical solution when necessary. It is in charge of the follow-up of further development of local-self government.
The Office does also participate to the discussion and drafting of any laws concerning the development of local-self government. It also decides whether municipalities’ interests are at stake and whether they should consequently participate to the set-up of draft laws. The Office’s participation in the drafting of laws is both formal and informal. First, there are informal discussions between the Office and the government and then the government invites officially the Office to be involved in the preparation.
The future work of the Office will focus on the analysis and co-operation with other services in view of the preparation of technical and political basis for the forthcoming process of regionalisation. As the Ministry of the Interior is very busy with many other reforms and tasks in the newly democratic country, the OLSG has a growing responsibility for local government issues not to be neglected and an effective decentralisation strengthening local self-government on both levels, in municipalities as well as in the regions. The staff now integrated to the Ministry seems to be firmly decided to continue the work in good partnership with local authorities.
3. Main discussions or problems of local self-government and its reforms
3.1 The financial status invites for continuous dismembering of new municipalities
Many small local entities seem to have been created only in the perspective, that - once an independent local authority - there will be a minimum state subvention for each of them, which might be higher than the local share in the budget and financial structures of the municipality they separated from. “Many only dis-integrated to be poor and by this get more state subvention...”, was a feeling expressed by several interlocutors during the mission to Slovenia. Political parties seem to have plaid a certain role in this fragmentation of stronger municipalities into smaller entities, as political majorities might change from one part of a municipality to another. And sociological differences between rural and urban parts of many municipalities seem to have had a manifest influence too.
As a consequence, large municipalities stagnate in their development compared to other small municipalities that largely benefit from state support. There seems to be a definite need to change law to avoid further dissolutions. The current system of financing municipalities provides for positive discrimination in favour of smaller “poor” entities, even if they are not in charge of the same cultural or social infrastructure. There is a certain “invitation” to separate, when parts of a town or local authority try to get rid of their share in maintaining infrastructure and even get an additional bonus, as the state contributes up to 70 % for financing of schools in small municipalities, but only 10 % in richer local entities.
3.2 Regulations governing creation or fusion of municipalities
Reference can be made to the report from 1997. And the special reasons for the growing number of separating new municipalities have been mentioned above
3.3 Absence of a second tier/sphere/level of local self-government
The ongoing absence of a second sphere of local self-government, complementing the municipalities often too small and structurally as well as economically and financially unable to take a wider branch of competence, tasks and duties from state (including its 58 administrative units) is one of the most important obstacles to real and effective decentralisation in the relatively small country. Where a large majority of municipalities is too small to be charged with more state tasks and almost 50 % of them not even matching the legal minimum number of 5.000 inhabitants and where the financial structures are as insufficient as described below15, decentralisation is difficult to be realised effectively. Thus the creation of “regions” as the real recipients for decentralisation. The need for this stronger level or sphere of local self-government is being discussed16 at the same time in view of the “regional structure policy” of the European Union, whose programs often address administrative and political sphere under that of the central State Government, although the European Union respects the national structures as they are and is not pushing the member states or candidates to create special administrative structures, they would not decide themselves.
3.4 Consequences of the fragmentation of local capacity of self-government
The increasing number of municipalities has weakened the existing local government institutions and their personal, financial as well as functional capacities. And the future number of municipalities will certainly depend on the creation of a second tier of local self-government by districts or regions and definitely by the future financial system to be set up. As long as the large majority of local authorities, more than 75 % depend on the state budget instead of own financial resources, the “invitation” to more self-determined local government will stay weak.
Representatives of the Assembly of Municipalities and Towns of Slovenia expressed their opinion that far too many local authorities are financially not viable and unable to perform the broad variety of tasks that the Constitution would enable them to take over from state structures.
3.5 Co-operation of local authorities
Again reference can be made to some general remarks in the report on “Structure and operation of local and regional democracy – Slovenia” from 1998, mentioned above17. Still now forms of individual and voluntary co-operation seem to be more exceptional up to now, a new legislation enabling more intensive co-operation being still on the agenda of the next years.
In some parts of Slovenia, single voluntary regions are trying to work. In others like Koper and the neighbouring Izola and Piran are co-operating in health issues and others like water supply an environmental issues. And even transborder co-operation is prepared and realised with the Italian neighbour, the city of Trieste. Common tasks in attracting tourism, the assistance of the Italian side to create a University in Koper and the sharing of resources by co-operation of the harbours in this coastal area are items cited by the mayors of the region, the bigger Italian neighbour not seen as a concurrent but in a complementary co-operation with the smaller municipalities on the Slovenian side.
3.6 State control (supervision) over local organs, their dismissal (Mayors) or dissolution (Councils)
Art. 140 of the Constitution restricts state supervision over local authorities to the “proper and efficient performance... of all duties and functions vested in them by the State.” This is a wider formulation and contrasts with Art. 144, which has the title of “Supervision by State Authorities” and says, that “duly constituted State authorities shall supervise the lawful performance by local government bodies of their duties and functions.” The comparison shows, that the Constitution respects the guidelines of Art. of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, which enables only legality control (“compliance with the law and with constitutional principles”) in all matters of local self-government competencies, whereas larger control is accepted concerning the execution of delegated state tasks, as Art. 140 of the Constitution is stipulating.
The current Law on Local Self-Government comprises an entire Chapter X on “Supervision by State Bodies”, amended after the first edition of the law (now the Articles 88 to 90 b). Art. 88 repeats the difference between the general restriction to “supervise the lawfulness of the work of municipal bodies” and opens for supervision of “appropriateness and expertise of their work”, when dealing with “matters vested in municipalities by the state”.
Several interlocutors from the Court of Audit as well as the Ombudsman’s office gave the impression, that State supervision of local authorities acts is not strong as there is no special body responsible for such tasks. Controls seem to be performed separately by different entities and notably by the various Ministries. The current situation seems to be ruled by the fact, that the Court of Audit as well as other entities from Ministries do not have the personal capacity needed for intensive supervision and the helpful consulting, that supervision could give to local authorities.
The Court of Audit has part of its responsibilities in controlling and supervising the budgetarian and financial activities of the municipalities The institution being relatively small, only seven persons are working in its section for local affairs. The President of the Court is nominated by a decision of the National Assembly, for a period of nine years with one re-election being possible. The staff sees a large part of its activities in consulting local municipalities and their staff. Apart from supervising local bodies and due to the small facilities, the Court sees a good deal of its duties in helping Government and National Assembly to amend and better up laws and regulations. The representatives explained this function by some examples of financial regulations that cannot be respected by the municipal bodies when exercising their duties, so that the Court reported to the Ministries in order to initiate amendment and suitable regulation. In this task, the Court is co-operating with the Office for Local Self-Government.
A certain confusion is created by Article 88 para 3 and Art. 88a (added by amendment) of the law, when on one side it says, that the supervision is exercised “by the government and ministries” (Art. 88) and then opens for the whole range of different “ministries, each in the area of their competence” (Art. 88a, para 1). Whereas other parts of this Chapter of the Law seem quite in line with the principles of the Charter, this variety of supervising bodies seems less comprehensive and even dangerous, especially as the Ministries might have quite different views on some subjects falling under the competence of more than one of them. Indeed the President of the Court of Audit reported that all ministries are exercising legality control over the activities of municipalities falling under their sectors of government responsibilities, and that a certain confusion is the result. This structure of the supervision resulting from the Articles 88 and 88a seems to be a late heritage of centralist structures from the past with thinking structures of line-ministries “top-down”.
In fact, the practice is, that all these ministries are “locally” represented by line-sections of the 58 administrative state agencies spread over the country. It was stressed to the delegation of CLRAE, that the competence for supervision has not been “deconcentrated” to the chiefs of theses agencies, the Naçelniks (“Hauptmann”), but their local contact to the municipalities and the “line”-structure of its services involves the different ministries. Although these agencies (and the naçelniks) might lose most of their functions and competencies to the regions, once these will be created, it should be very clear, that the government is exercising supervision only “with one voice”, which normally would be the Ministry of the Interior (State Secretary for Local Self-Government), or the “Office for Local Self-Government”, recently integrated to it. And the specialities and various knowledge of the different ministries should be bundled to and by the Ministry of the Interior, which is able to co-ordinate these necessities with the need for strong and effective local self-government.
3.7 The KOPER - case
A special conflict concerning local self-government has been brought to the attendance of CLRAE. It is the so-called “Koper – case”. Political (parties’) interests and the actual legislative situation about the possibilities of creating new local entities have led to a confusing picture. When the Constitutional Court of Slovenia decided that the territory of the municipality of Koper was too large and therefore not in compliance with the Constitution, 91 % of local residents expressed their opposition to any changes through two referenda, which the Court declared not binding. It then ordered the National Assembly to legislate (in precising the Art. 13 of the Law on LSG). The reluctance of the residents of Koper to divide their municipality is due to the fact, that its residential parts in the rural areas are depending on the working places and the financial prosperity of the city and harbour.
One of the problems seem to reside in the fact, that the referenda executed in Koper were not following the previsions of the law, when the decision was taken by referenda involving the whole population of Koper, whereas the law asks a majority vote of the whole population only for the case of merger of municipalities (Art. 15 para 1), not for the question of creating new municipalities by separation from another (Art. 15 para 2 and 3) or when a part from a municipality wants to join a neighbour municipality (Art. 15 para 4).
Nevertheless, so far, the decision of the Constitutional Court remains unexecuted. The municipality continues in the size, and every four years the question arises newly, whether elections can be held on the basis of the undivided town. All depends upon the political will of the (new) Parliament, which now seems in favour of larger and stronger units, which means the status quo for Koper. Clarification is thus expected from the amendments to Art. 143 of the Constitution and from a hope, that future decisions of the Parliament will stick to the legal criteria and to the own guidelines, once they have become law. Some MP have presented a legislative initiative, which would change the electoral basis for Koper, as a local organisation is disputing the legitimacy of the actual City Council of Koper. The current Council has been elected by the population of the former local entity before its division.
Regionalisation might resolve some of the problems, is one of the hopes expressed by the mayors of Koper, Izola and Piran18, which feel, that a minimum of 100 000 inhabitants would be a suitable and practicable solution for their situation and surrounding municipalities19.
The parties in Koper and the neighbouring municipalities see themselves as “prisoners of a situation created by (the former) Parliament and the Constitutional Court” and wait for a soon drafting of the legislation, as a special commission for these questions has been created in the Ministry of the Interior, which should soon make proposals to the Parliament.
4. The new encouragement for a second level of local self-government (“regionalisation”)
4.1 New situation in the Parliament after the elections held in 2000
Chances for a new start to create a second tier of local self-government by law have risen, as the new coalition integrated this goal into their coalition agreement as one of its “main objectives”20. The former proposals for the establishment of “regions” had been rejected due to around 40 Mayors-MP’s fearing that it would lead to a loss of power for municipalities. Now there is not only a firm decision of the coalition to create this regional level, and only a smaller number of Mayors in the Parliament, including those of the coalition, who accepted the commitment, but there is also a majority of more than 2/3, the necessary quorum to amend the Constitution in Art. 143, so that the voluntary principle of consent by the municipalities is possibly drawn off.
The discussion is normally following the wording of “regionalisation”, although the definition of “regions” seems to be addressed more to the membership in European Union and its regional funds21 than to similar structures in other countries like France or Spain, and certainly not looking to find a solution corresponding to German “Länder” as they understand themselves as regional Member-) states of the Republic. Slovenia with less than 2 million inhabitants is far too small to create regions of such scope. Thus the discussed models are focused more on what in Germany is called “Kreis” or the Italian type of “province”. As the discussion in Slovenia follows nevertheless the notion of “regions”, it is used here as well, keeping in mind, that these regions, as the Constitution stipulates, are to become a second level of local self-government rather than “regions” except if 6 regions were to be created on the basis of historical regions.
There is a large variety of proposals for the possible number of “regions”. Between 3 and 26 regions22 are the numbers proposed for respecting specificities of the existing territories. There are actually 22 electoral units in Slovenia, with 22 members of the National Council elected as representatives of local communities; this is why the figure of 22 is one of the possible numbers proposed for regions. Others think that Slovenia should have a maximum of 10 regions or only “7 would be the most appropriate if they reflect existing characteristics”23. There seems to be a strong grassroots feeling of regionalisation in Slovenia with the country having been divided into different territories with different status.24 “Those areas currently feel themselves as regions”. If these specificities are to be respected, there should be 15 regions plus the capital town of Ljubljana.25
The two associations of Slovenian municipalities seem to have no clear proposals for the adequate number of regions. AMTS does oppose regions, if they are going to be financed by the municipalities, as was initially proposed by the government. But it shares the view, that tasks that small municipalities cannot perform themselves, should be transferred to the future regional level. AMTS opposes a high number of regions and favours on the contrary a number of regions similar to the existing statistical regions, which are 12 actually. And this association also believes that regionalisation cannot be achieved by the actual provision of the Constitution, which means a bottom-up approach of voluntary solutions, and that the state has to define the regions and ensure their financial structures. This means also, that the AMTS joins the coalition’s commitment to amend Art 143 of the Constitution
So far five draft laws for different models of regionalisation have been submitted to Parliament, and none of them were in line with the minimum criteria of 100 000 inhabitants previously set up. This is the most discussed number as a criteria and the most favoured during the interviews that the CLRAE delegation had in March. And it is this minimum population the coalition agreement is stipulating26. Only the LDS-party’s group in the Parliament has asked for that criteria to be put aside for being too high. Nevertheless, the Office for Local Self-Government of Slovenia (see 2.4) does favour a minimum number of regions to avoid ineffective fragmentation as it has happened at the municipality’s level.
One of the main points in discussion is the question, whether the parliamentary assembly of a region, the Regional Council should be nominated by local councils, include the mayors of the municipalities or if direct elections are to give an independent democratic legitimacy. The coalition agreement notes that “the coalition will only adopt an act that proposes a condition of at least 100 000 inhabitants for the formation of a region and which will not propose direct elections to regional bodies.”27 But it was very difficult to find anybody who is accepting this point of the coalition paper, and the comments were identical for direct elections to be necessary on regional level. Almost nobody seems to fight for this indirect election or nomination of the regional council’s members. Some even remarked, that the “no” to elections came to the text more occasionally; others pointed out, that the agreement is not binding any of the elected MPs. And the experience with a bigger number of mayors in the last parliamentary period was cited as a good argument to resist to the idea to make them the decisive power in Regional Councils. So direct elections seem to be the general consensus. One mayor stressed a very clear argument for direct elections: “Citizens of a whole region are more than only the addition of local populations”28. The delegation of CLRAE pointed out, that the European Charter being obligation now in Slovenia too, Article 3 paragraph 2 of this Charter has to rule the question, which makes clear, that “rights of local authorities shall be exercised by councils or assemblies composed of members freely elected by secret ballot on the basis of direct, equal (and) universal suffrage...”.
The role of the new “regions” will definitely depend on their competencies, tasks and duties. Again the broad line of functions mentioned in the coalition agreement29 seems to be a solid step of decentralisation, including important issues actually administered by the state administrative units like regional spatial planning. Problems of water supply, waste deposits, environmental problems as well as joint maintenance of regional and local streets seem points additionally discussed to the items already included to the coalition paper, at least as long as these tasks are not (yet) subject to privatisation. The coalition follows the recommendations of the CLRAE, when it postulates, that the staff “performing tasks at the time of the act’s entry into force” has to be taken over by the regions and that the regions will “be given funds from the national budget as are necessary in the year before the entry into force of the act to ensure the functioning of those services and institutions that will be transferred to the regions...”.
Asked about the possible time-table for the introduction of regions, the President of the National Council indicates the difficulties seen in the actual Art. 143 of the Constitution, which only sees voluntary creations (and dissolutions) of regions by municipalities. And in the same context Articles 140 and 121 will have to be changed also. The State Secretary for state administration sees a chance to have the constitutional reform during 2001 or - at the latest - in 2002. The next regular elections for local authorities are in November 2002. The Ministry is preparing the amendment for the first half of 2001, to be brought into parliamentarian debate. As the coalition is united in this part of reform, it might pass quickly, if not too many details are joint to the fundamental change of Art. 143. The coalition as well as the Ministry underlines, that the creation of regions should not mean weakening local authorities. “Priority is set on decentralisation and devolving state tasks to the new regions”30 And this is why the Government plans to join this decentralisation by the appropriate (state) money to be transferred to instead of taking money from the (financially weak) municipalities. But this main stream does not mean that only state tasks are concerned; the fact, that so many very small local entities are not able to exercise some of the already “local” tasks, that their bigger counterparts or neighbours are administering, may attract the attention to the “complementary functions” of regions especially for smaller municipalities
4.2 New “realism” for the role of districts or “regions”
a) chances for more devolution and more decentralisation
The creation of a regional level favours the process of devolution and decentralisation of state powers, that up to now has been largely endangered and stopped by weak local structures and the continuous fragmentation on municipalities with 95 of them not even joining the minimum of 5.000 inhabitants set before.
b) chances for the “sustainability” of small local entities in a district
The creation of regions or districts resolves some of the problems that have been rising up with the growing number of local municipalities by disintegration and dividing of local authorities. The fact, that policy tolerated this erosion of local capacities seems to make it quite difficult to restore a minimum size of local municipalities in near future. Even if the unfortunate “systematic invitation” to disintegrate for the sake of more state subventions is stopped by amending this financial structure and legislation, it will hardly be possible, to reduce the number of municipalities to the existing more or less 60 entities in the early independence time.
On the other hand, citizens are nearer to the decisions and able to control their local planning and development in small units, if they are assisted by a complementary level of self-government like districts in some countries or “Kreise” in Germany. So local identification with the municipality might profit from small size if a second level avoid traditional state centralism in “far away” ministerial administration.
c) dangers for “new centralism” of the regions themselves
One of the problems with the implementation of regionalisation is that large towns do not want to give up some of their powers to regions. Equally, small municipalities do not want their competencies to be transformed by another entity, a region or a larger municipality aside them. The AMS remains sceptical regarding the process of regionalisation as most small municipalities do not know what will be their position. Most of them fear, it will lead to an increasing bureaucracy and means going through more and more steps before getting in touch with government. Although this opinion reflects in some way the traditional expectancy, that “finally” everything has to be regulated by central power and this certainly has been encouraged - in the view of newly spread small entities because of the financial advantages they got when separating from larger municipalities, it is more than that an appeal to define clearly the responsibilities of an incoming level of regions, without “double” competencies or those shared with state administrations, because this indeed would not foster regional self-government as the activity nearer to the people.
This must be an emphasis on the notion of complementarity. Intermunicipal co-operation has also its chances and competencies in fields identified by municipalities themselves as priority subjects or tasks, but the problem always is the question who is paying. It seems very problematic to ask municipalities to pay for the transfer of competencies, especially as they got used to the actual system, that gives them more state subventions if they are weak and financially unsustainable.
On the other hand regionalisation does not mean necessarily increasing bureaucracy, if clear functions and responsibilities are defined by Constitution and legislation.31
d) complementarity of the two levels of local self-government
The solution might be found in the notion of complementarity of the two levels of local self-government: And there exist models of differentiated competencies following the size and capacities of local municipalities. Larger urban municipalities might have the same competencies as “regions” in the (more) rural areas, so that they get the same competencies as their neighbour regions and getting the character and function of a region. And even among the member-municipalities there might be smaller and bigger members, thus making the region work in fields, that medium-size municipalities fulfil themselves, but the small ones cannot exercise. On the other hand, the region will be able to take over a lot of state functions, that currently could not be devolved or decentralised generally and to all local entities seeing the fact, that a large majority of them was not able to take over.
The complementary function of “regions” / Kreise as second level of Local-Self-Government :
District / Region
Medium size Municipality
Small/ Rural Municipality
This model means, that catalogues of responsibilities, functions and tasks will have to decide on the minimum size of regions and their final number to be decided by the legislator. In other words: Decentralisation is a “functional reform”, that needs strong and adequate partners for the tasks to be transferred.
5. Possible solutions to the mentioned problems and discussions
5.1 Districts (“regions”), including bigger towns or “urban municipalities”
Reference can be made to chapter 4.2 (d). The Parliament’s Committee for Internal Policy sees a whole series of new laws and amendments to existing laws on the way of introducing regions. The necessary steps are listed as:
- the amendment to Art. 143 of the Constitution;
- a new law on regions as second level of local self-government (amending the respective Chapter IX of the Law on Local Self-Government;
- a new law on finances of municipalities and regions;
- a revision of the law on local self-government;
- a law on local elections including regions;
- a law on co-operation of local authorities;
- (possibly) a law on the role of the Capital city of Ljubljana and
- a law introducing (local) real estate taxation.
5.2 Clear criteria (in Constitution and/or Legislation) on boundaries and delimitations of local entities
The new coalition having for objective to achieve regionalisation and to introduce regions as a general second level of local self-government before the end of its term of office, the definition of powers, competencies, functions and responsibilities between the state and the municipalities seems not clear enough, especially if a second tier of “local” tasks and functions will be introduced. To avoid the repetition of misunderstanding by local authorities, that regions might mean a loss of powers for them, clear criteria should be introduced either by an amendment to the Constitution or by clear legal definitions.
In this way, decentralisation will bring more functions to the “local authorities family”. “Regionalisation will bring a higher level of democratic life in the country.”32 These clear distinctions should include separate types of financial resources for the different (new) competencies also, as the devolution of state functions to the regional level should not be financed by the local municipalities, as this would shorten their classic self-government functions and abilities.
On the other hand, regions that fulfil functions for smaller entities, which they are not able to exercise because of their size, small specialisation of staff etc. can be financed by “collecting” financial shares from these member-municipalities of the region, not withstanding financial assistance by the state and by methods of (horizontal or vertical) financial equalisation.
5.3 Revision of the legislation on dismissal or dissolution of local organs
A special problem in the current legislation are the clauses about the dismissal of mayors and/or the dissolution of municipal councils.
According to 37 of the Law on Local Self-Government, the municipal councils are “elected on the basis of universal and equal franchise by direct and secret ballot” and by “all citizens who have permanent residence in the municipality”33. Nevertheless the National Assembly may, on proposal of the Government, dissolve the council in the cases enumerated in Art. 90b paragraph 1, one of the younger amendments to the Law.
Although the cases are restricted to serious infractions of Laws and/or the Constitution, this seems to be a regulation not acceptable in the light of the Constitutional guarantee for local self-government and the European Charter. The solution is certainly trying to make this cases the rarest possible and to resolve the conflict of electoral legitimation with illegal behaviour by giving the last word to the Supreme representative organ of the people as the national sovereign, itself being elected by the national people. Another argument was given, that involving the Parliament would it make almost impossible and a more virtual solution.
But already the comparison with the other possible measures to be taken by the supervision bodies (“the competent ministries”) in Articles 88a, 90 and 90a show, that more instruments are legally available, that will ensure the restoration of legality by lower levels of “warning” (Art. 88a), of “orders” (Art. 90) and by “directly carrying out the tasks that fall under the jurisdiction of the municipality” (Art. 90 a). These instruments being comensurate, the dissolution of a directly elected municipal council is not kept in proportion to the importance of the interests which it (= the intervention of the controlling authority) is intended to protect. This principle of “proportionality” included to Article 8 para. 3 of the European Charter should be respected by amending the Article 90 b of the Law.
The same rules existing for the dismissal (“removal”) of mayors, see Article 90 b para. 2, in this case even without concentrating on “serious” infractions but only setting the condition of the “mayor failing to implement legal decisions issued by the municipal council or any other legal tasks, or if the mayor adopts decisions which violate laws...”. The implementation of a “temporary manager” might be discussed for exact tasks or items, for which the mayor failed to implement law, but again the dismissal with these relatively wide possibilities of simple illegality of single acts or activities cannot be accepted in the above cited light of Article 8 para 3 of the European Charter. This again does not respect the democratic legitimation given to the mayor by direct elections by all citizens (having permanent residence in the municipality), Art. 42 of the Law on Local Self-Government.
6. Other items from the interviews
6.1 Financial structures of municipalities
There is national legislation on “Financing of Municipalities”.34 Art. 146 of the Constitution guarantees, that “State and local government bodies shall fund the performance of their respective duties and functions from taxes and other mandatory charges levied by them and from such other income as they may derive from their assets”, and Art. 147 statues, that “local government bodies shall levy taxes and other charges in such circumstances as are determined by this Constitution and by statute (law).”
However, this legislation seems to be insufficient for the adequate financing of local duties and functions, as only 25 % of he municipalities are self-financing and supposed to rely on their financial resources and 75 % depend upon state subventions. That means, that a major condition for the autonomy of local self-government, as guaranteed in Art. 9 of the Constitution actually is not realised in a proper way.
The municipalities dispose of 35 % of the national income taxes, which means broad financing for cities like the Capital (Ljubljana), but in other cases this type of taxe - financing brings less than 50 % of the needed. There is still no local taxation based on real property or real estate (ground and buildings), one of the reasons still used for this deficit being the absence of a complete cadastrial system or complete cadastration of all territories. The need for this solid basic financial instrument for local budgets was generally accepted in discussions with members of the Parliament and especially the President of the newly created Committee of Internal Policy, dealing with affairs of local self-government.
One of the reasons is not the lack of financial facilities in general, but - as mentioned above - the unlucky fragmentation of municipalities to units, that are not able to sustain themselves or even were created with the clear goal of getting more state financing as “minimum equipment”. That is why the actual law on financing of municipalities needs to be changed to avoid discrimination for those municipalities that try to integrate different social groups and structures. The (re-)merger of municipalities can hardly be the direct aim of this financial reform, but it should invite local authorities to co-operation, to maintain their size and to foster efficiency by stronger units being able to really take over more functions, that have been state tasks under the centralist era.
And this financial reform will have to integrate adequate financial structures for the second level of local self-government, that are the incoming regions or districts. This means that the adequate financial resources have to be passed over with the duties and responsibilities, in other words, that devolution and decentralisation from state to regional level cannot be financed by taking money from local municipalities, as these tasks up to now have been financed by the state himself. On the other hand, the financial structure will be derived from local finances, whenever the duties and responsibilities are derived from their level and bundled for higher efficiency or just for sharing the burden, that would be disproportional, if all the small municipalities were obliged to fulfil the task themselves.
6.2 Legal protection of the rights of local authorities and their organs
The major role of the Constitutional Court (see Art. 91 of the Law on Local Self-Government) in affairs concerning municipalities has been pointed out above. In sixty cases since 1991 the Court was addressed by local entities, 75 % of them asking for separation from a larger municipality and 25 % wanting to join a neighbour municipality. Currently, 36 appeals of municipalities are pending in the Constitutional Court, most of them concerning local self-government (inclusive financial problems). There is direct access without the necessity to go first to an administrative court.
One case is pending concerning the “natural status” of the two existing associations of municipalities. The Court seems to wait for a clarification by Government or National Assembly amending the regulations and legislation about this special status, which would make the association the preferential partner of the Government and the normal receiver of state subventions to the associations work.
The Constitutional Court works with nine members, deciding by majority and publishing the dissenting votes if those dissenting want it. The nomination is for periods of nine years, no re-election being possible. In cases of individual plaints, the Court might decide by a group of three judges to be able to work on more cases in shorter time.
Besides the Constitutional Court, the Administrative Court might be seized by local authorities, although 95 % of the cases brought to its decision are plaints of individuals against administration of both state and municipal bodies. Municipalities and regions “may impugn concrete administrative acts and measures by which state bodies perform authoritative supervision in an administrative dispute” (Art. 92 of the Law) before Administrative Court.
The first Human Rights Ombudsman was appointed in 1994 although the institution started to work in 1995. He succeeded to the previous Councillor for Human Rights. The office has currently 23 members of staff including two Deputy Ombudsmen. Mr Hanzek, new Ombudsman, was appointed at the end of February 2001.
The competencies of the Ombudsman are defined in Article 159 of the Slovenian constitution. His role is to supervise public authorities whether state or local as well as some private companies involved in public administration. The Ombudsman is also dealing with the complaints of individuals. In principle, he also allowed to deal with the complaints of local authorities but these seem to be very rare.
Type of complaints: lack of social housing, administrative units etc.
The overall numbers of complaints addressed to the Ombudsman is increasing (there were around 3000 of them in 2000). 20 to 25 % of complaints are well-founded, some of them being due to delay in procedure. Overall, there are very few complaints from individuals against local authorities and much more against administrative units. A great deal of complaints are also due to the lack of social housing or to the procedure for its attribution. Municipalities are the owners of social houses and they must in principle ensure that there are enough flats available to lodge the poorest people, but this is not always the case. Other complaints are to do with buildings of road or the noise induced by traffic etc.
There are complaints by members of staff of municipal administration. Usually, these complaints are to do with the salaries which are not as high as in the private sector. As a consequence, small municipalities have increasing difficulties in recruiting new and competent employees. This is less so in large municipalities such Ljubljana and Maribor which have much more financial means. There is therefore a need for a new Labour Act to be passed in this field. There are also few complaints from members of staff against the Mayors.
Once the Ombudsman has dealt with a complaint on local affairs, he will address the Mayor or the municipal council. In case his decision is not respected, he will recommend to the citizens to go to the administrative court, but usually Mayors do co-operate with the Ombudsman. Relations between the Ombudsman and the Head of administrative units are also rather good.
During the visit to Slovenia members of the delegation were confronted with a discussion about the need for special Ombudsmen responsible for local authorities. Mr Butala, actual Deputy Ombudsman, is opposed to the idea of having a special ombudsman responsible for local authorities, although there is strong pressure in Parliament to appoint special ombudsmen not only for local authorities but also for social services, education, ethnic minorities etc. Slovenia being a small country, it would not be reasonable to multiply such institutions.
6.4 Ethnic minorities
Ethnic minorities do not seem to be a problem of major size in Slovenia. Hungarians, Italians (and Roms) are indigenous minorities whose rights are protected under the Constitution of Slovenia, whose Art. 64 defines a broad range of “special rights” for these “autochtonous Italian and Hungarian Ethnic Communities”, including direct representation at the local level and in the National Assembly even though their number would not be high enough to correspond to the normal minimum of inhabitants per seat, (the average being about 22 100 citizens per seat in the NA). Other minorities such as Serbs or Croats do not benefit directly from such treatment, as they are not considered as indigenous minorities. Most of them migrated to Slovenia for economic reasons before independence or during the Yugoslav wars and then settled. German speaking minorities from a recent cultural treaty between Slovenia and Austria, which not only recognises (for the first time) the existence of a “German-speaking group of people”35, but also brings them under the protection of Art. 61 of the Slovenian Constitution (see below).
Those ethnic minorities are relatively important (around 80.000 Serbs and 50.000 Croats) but they are spread all over Slovenia and are allowed to have their schools in primary level in some places, where their number is important enough. Italians and Hungarians are relatively concentrated in particular areas: on the coast for the Italians and in the east, near the border with Hungary, for the Hungarians. The Italian ethnic community in Slovenia counts around 3.000 members who mainly live on the coast in the cities of Koper (Capodístria), Piran (Pirano) and Izola (Isola). This minority comprises teachers, journalists, merchants and managers.
The minorities and their members are free to complain and report any interests and cases of (alleged) discrimination as well as address the Ombudsman in their respective language. There seem to be no major language barriers and up to now very few justified complaints about discrimination. On the whole it is esteemed, that they do not seem to feel under-privileged in their status and everyday life conditions. This might be a consequence of the existence of two guaranteed seats in Parliament too, where both the Italian and the Hungarian minorities have one “statutory” member. And the existence of Ombudsmen is another guaranty against local discrimination by police, state bureaucracy and local authorities.
There seem to be some minor problems with the respect of minority languages and access to bilingual documents although there have been clear improvements in this field, as representatives of the Italian minority acknowledge. Another type of problem seems to subsist in the education field due to lack of harmonisation, as a proposal for law has been rejected by the previous Parliament. The Italian population of Slovenia is decreasing rapidly, as the young generation tends to migrate particularly to the near Italy. On the other hand around 18 000 Slovenians are currently living in Italy, some of them members of the “Italian” minority and with Slovenian nationality.
There was a special interest of the Italian minority in the Koper case, the Italians strongly opposed to the fragmentation of Koper, as they believe36, their position will be weakened especially regarding the provisions of schools with their language, if the school system is going to be spread and split off.
The Rom ethnic minority benefits from the support of the “Novo Mesto” - NGO (see 6.6), originally created for the support for Bosnian refugees. This NGO has of course no decision-making power in the name of this minority. But the law provides the Rom minority too with the possibility to have one representative within the city council of their residential municipalities.
The main goals of the “European Charter on regional and minority languages” find their reflection in Art. 61 of the Slovenian Constitution, which entitles “each person to identify with his national grouping or ethnic community, to foster and give expression to his culture and to use his own language and script.” And para 2 adds, that “in order to give effect to his rights and obligations, and in all dealings with State bodies and other bodies having official functions, each person shall have the right to use his own language and script in such a manner as shall be determined by statute.” This definitely goes far beyond the Constitutions of most member states of the Council of Europe.
There is also a certain problem concerning the increasing number of illegal immigrants getting new minorities with persisting problems of housing. Some local authorities, due to popular pressure, remained firmly opposed to the building of special centres. 34 000 illegal immigrants and 9 400 asylum seekers were registered in 1999. An increasing number of illegal immigrants mostly coming from the Middle-East as well as China wish to stay in Slovenia although the great majority wants to go to Germany, Austria, France or Italy. There is therefore a need to reinforce the patrols on the borders with Croatia, Hungary and Bosnia-Herzegovina and develop transborder co-operation with those countries.
6.5 Transborder cooperation
Slovenia has signed the European Council’s “Framework convention on transborder co-operation” already in 199837, but still not ratified. This seems due to divergencies in the former parliament, and representatives of the Parliament as well as from the Government indicated the readiness to ratify before the end of 2001 as the ratification is in the current government program.
The Office for Local Self-Government of Slovenia (see 2.4) provides assistance and information to those municipalities wishing to develop transborder co-operation and twinning programmes with foreign municipalities.
The relations between Slovenia and Croatia still felt difficult at state level, transborder co-operation at local level seams to be felt uneasy. Besides, the border not always seems to be felt final and there are still some problems in terms of water planning and energy supply. Nevertheless, people on both side of the border have no difficulties to maintain contacts without asking for respective state support or action. A major problem with Croatia is also, that sea border within the Adriatic sea prevents Slovenia of having access to the open sea.
The creation of regions in near future is seen as an encouragment and instrument for the intensification of transborder co-operation, as Italy, Austria and Hungary have regions too, which can be helpful partners in the economic and structural development of border regions on both sides.38 A new Koper region (with Koper, Izola and Piran) would find a partner on Croatian side with the new Zupania Istriaca, and transborder co-operation already is prepared concerning Interreg, Lode and Phare programs of the European Union.
6.6 The future role of local authorities in the National Council
The National Council as the second chamber of the Parliament of Slovenia is actually ruled by Articles 96 to 101 of the national Constitution. This body of forty members includes 22 Councillors “representing local interests” (Art. 96), the others representing employers, employees, farmers, small business representatives and “independent professional persons” as well as those from “non-profit making organisations”. Its statute is regulated by the National Assembly with a two thirds majority of its legal members, the councillors being elected for a five-year term.
The future of this “second house” seems to be largely discussed and although the role is more consultative. Some members of the National Assembly feel the Council as an obstacle to their “free” decision-making. The Council itself is pushing for a soon introduction of regions and sees himself promoting a more equal development of the country.
One of the rising questions with the introduction of regions will be the role of this second sphere of local self-government in the National Council. The broader interest of civil society to be represented by the current composition of the National Council seems to speak against any idea of making the NC a representation of regions only. The current system of elections for the NC as far as the 22 statistical regions are the circonscriptions for these elections makes this body independent from both spheres of local self-government and invests them with own electoral = democratic legitimacy, although the other groups of interests in the NC will not have the same “legitimacy”. But this mix seems to be compatible with the specific role and powers of the National Council as defined in Art. 97 of the Constitution.
6.7 The special situation of the Capital, the City of Ljubljana
Dissociation of new municipalities has been the fate of the national Capital of the Republic of Slovenia also. Ljubljana currently has a population of 270 000 inhabitants. An urban municipality was formed with the merging of 5 smaller municipalities, whereas a new municipality has been established on the outskirts of the City.
The City of Ljubljana currently has no special rules, but a law on the management of the Capital City (Capital City Act) is probably to be passed in Parliament together with the Law on Regions. Special legislation for the national capitals are a frequent discussion item in several Central and Eastern Europe countries. The Council of Europe and CLRAE have always stressed, that special needs and functions in a capital may need special rules, but that those exceptions from the normal legislation on municipalities and their local autonomy have to be strictly limited to the necessary minimum and that the right of the local population to local self-government has to be respected beyond these restrictions. The Capital is a municipality as all others, with special tasks and limitations deducted from state and diplomatic interests, the costs of which are to be financed by the state and not by local budget.
Besides, the capital city should be given a special treatment regarding the future law on regions and possibly have the same rights as other municipalities and additionally those of the regions. The Capital might have even the same ranking as regions. There is certainly a need to define clearly the role of Ljubljana. In other words, the State should transfer some of its competencies directly to the capital municipality (and possibly to some other large municipalities, competencies that are handled by the new regions for its member municipalities, when these are not able to exercise them at municipal level).
6.8 Growing role of participation by Civil society and NGOs
Civil society is gaining a growing participation in public life in Slovenia. After the long period of state-centralism, participation and private initiative on state or regional or local level need new encouragment, as people are used to have no influence on political decisions and the administration of public life-conditions. During the last years, a growing number of international and national NGOs have broadened their activities.
One of the most spectacular examples was presented to the CLARE’s delegation, when it met representatives of the NGO “Novo Mesto” (“New Town”). This Association was created during the war in Bosnia with the aim to assist Bosnian refugees in Slovenia. It has for objective to promote voluntary work and is active in 6 municipalities which have altogether 60 000 inhabitants, the city of Novo Mesto alone has a population of around 40 000 inhabitants. The association focuses on social work, especially for groups with difficulties as children suffering from trauma resulting from the war. This society has 100 members, 50 regular volunteers and 150 volunteers from schools.
The association unofficially co-ordinates the activities of the 26 registered societies in the City of Novo Mesto. The Municipalities support the NGO both financially and morally. The City of Novo Mesto has been divided into 6 municipalities following local government reform, and the NGO has suffered in its efficiency by this fragmentation of local partners.
Generally spoken, the coming up of NGOs and civil society engagement is a sign of growing participation by active citizens inside the structures of the regions or local municipalities. Representatives of NGOs expressed their conviction, that there is a process of learning, that will overcome the inherited “dependency” from the almighty centralist heritage and state structures.