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Referendum, popular initiative and the European Citizens’ Initiative

A referendum is a form of direct decision-making by voters on such matters as the Constitution, an act, a legal instrument or other matter of importance to the social community. Referendum and popular initiative are forms of direct democracy.

Referendum on constitutional amendments

A referendum on constitutional amendments is a form of direct decision-making by voters about constitutional amendments, irrespective of the scope and significance of those amendments.

In a referendum on constitutional amendments, the voters decide on the approval of the amendment adopted by the National Assembly before its announcement.

The National Assembly must submit the proposed constitutional amendment to be passed by the voters at a referendum if this is requested by at least thirty Deputies. A request for a referendum may be filed within seven days after the adoption of a constitutional act amending the Constitution.

The amendment is passed if it receives a majority vote from the voters under the condition that the majority of all voters attend the referendum.

Legislative referendum

As a form of direct democracy, a legislative referendum is governed by Article 90 of the Constitution. The new constitutional arrangement of legislative referendum from 2013 intervened in three components of the referendum system, i.e. referendum initiative (reduction in the number of referendum proposers), subject of referendum decision-making (definition of restrictions and referendum prohibition) and rise in legitimacy threshold of a decision adopted at a referendum.

A legislative referendum can now only be requested by voters (minimum 40,000 voters). It is no longer permissible to hold a referendum for certain acts and the legitimacy of a referendum decision enhances the rejection quorum (at least one fifth of votes by all voters is necessary for rejecting an act). Furthermore, a rejection model of the legislative referendum was introduced instead of the confirmatory model.

Paragraph two of Article 90 of the Constitution now determines four legislative fields or acts regarding which a referendum is not admissible:

  1. acts on urgent measures to ensure the defence of the state, security, or the elimination of the consequences of natural disasters;
  2. acts on taxes, customs duties, and other compulsory charges, and on the act adopted for the implementation of the state budget;
  3. acts on the ratification of treaties;
  4. acts eliminating an unconstitutionality in the field of human rights and fundamental freedoms or any other unconstitutionality.

An act is rejected at a referendum if a majority of voters vote validly against it, on condition that at least one fifth of all voters vote against the act. A referendum majority thus determined (the so-called rejection quorum) assumes a two-stage determination of the referendum result. First, it is necessary to determine whether the majority of voters who voted validly in the referendum voted against the act or not. If this majority is not attained, the act is not rejected and may be declared. On the other hand, if the majority voted against the act, it must be established whether this majority represents at least one fifth of all eligible voters in the Republic of Slovenia. To reject an act at a referendum, both conditions have to be met, i.e. a relative majority and the rejection quorum.

Until the harmonisation of the Referendum and Popular Initiative Act (ZRLI) with the constitutional arrangement of a referendum, Article 21 of the ZRLI is in compliance with paragraph two of section two of the Constitutional Act Amending Articles 90, 97 and 99 of the Constitution of the Republic of Slovenia used mutatis mutandis in such a manner that the Constitutional Court decides on the dispute between the referendum proposer and the National Assembly, which rejects the call to hold a referendum on an act.

Referendum on international integration

For a referendum under Article 3a of the Constitution, the voters make an advance declaration about the transfer of the exercise of part of sovereign rights to international organisations or the entry into a defensive alliance governed by an international treaty.

The National Assembly may call a referendum at its own discretion at the proposal of the Government, at least ten Deputies or a group of Deputies.

A proposal is accepted at a referendum if a majority of voters who have cast valid votes voted for it. The National Assembly must comply with the decision of the voters in the referendum.

Consultative referendum

The National Assembly may hold a consultative referendum about matters in its jurisdiction which are of broader importance for the public. It can be held in the entire territory of the country or a specific region if the matter only concerns the citizens in a certain region.

The referendum is called by the National Assembly and the initiative can be submitted by each Deputy of the National Assembly.

The National Assembly is not obliged to observe the result of the consultative referendum.

Local referendums

This referendum is a form of direct decision-making by the citizens about a municipal general act or other matter of importance to a self-governing local community. It denotes the right of all citizens with a voting right in a municipality to participate by way of universal suffrage in decision-making concerning the most important legal and political decisions in the jurisdiction of the municipal council. In Articles 46, 47, 47a and 47b, the Local Self-Government Act defines in detail a subsequent referendum. Article 47b stipulates that a general act or its specific provisions are rejected at a referendum if a majority of voters who voted validly voted against it, on condition that at least one fifth of all voters voted against the general act or its specific provisions. The voters’ decision at the subsequent referendum is binding for the municipal council until the end of its term.

Unlike the result of the subsequent referendum, the result of an advisory referendum is not binding on the municipal council. Only the municipal council can adopt a decision on holding an advisory referendum as per the applicable legal provisions, while the voters themselves cannot request it. The result of an advisory referendum is thus an indicator of public opinion and not a tool for establishing whether a specific decision is to be adopted. As the advisory referendum is practically a method of measuring the public opinion of voters concerning a specific topic, municipal bodies can nowadays implement it by means of equivalent, simpler and cost-efficient tools. To this end, advisory referendums are seldom held by municipalities.

It is stipulated in Article 46a of the Local Self-Government Act that citizens may also decide on other matters at referendums if this is determined by the Act. Such a referendum may be held on the basis of the Local Self-Government Act and the Referendum and Popular Initiative Act if the act defining and governing referendums does not stipulate otherwise. This provision refers to the referendum on the establishment of municipalities and the referendum on self-imposed contributions. Article 14b of the Local Self-Government Act determines that, as per paragraph three of Article 139 of the Constitution of the Republic of Slovenia, a referendum is held on the establishment of a new municipality or regarding a change of the territory of the municipality and that such a referendum is carried out in accordance with the Referendum and Popular Initiative Act. The National Assembly issues a decree on holding a referendum on the establishment of a new municipality or a change of the territory of the municipality.

A referendum on levying self-imposed contributions is governed by the Self-imposed Contributions Act, which stipulates in Article 2 that a self-imposed contribution for the construction or reconstruction of local public infrastructure is introduced after a prior referendum in which the majority of eligible voters in a certain territory supported the self-imposed contribution, on condition that the majority of voters took part in the vote. 

Popular initiative

Popular initiative is a form of direct democracy. It takes the form of a legislative and a constitutional revision initiative, which means that 30,000 voters may propose an amendment to the Constitution and 5,000 voters an amendment to an act.

An initiative to file a proposal for instigating a procedure to amend the Constitution or a proposed act can be submitted by a voter, a political party or other association of citizens. The proposal for instigating a procedure to amend the Constitution or a proposed act is submitted to the National Assembly by a representative of voters.

European Citizens’ Initiative

The European Citizens’ Initiative is a right forming a direct link between the EU citizens and the European Commission, the proposer of legislative acts in the EU. Regulation (EU) 2019/788 on the European Citizens’ Initiative defines the procedures and conditions for implementing a citizens’ initiative. The initiative may be filed by seven EU citizens from at least seven different Member States. Once the initiative has received the support of at least one million citizens, the European Commission decides on possible further measures. The EU citizens may join a group that started the initiative or support the already existing initiative. A citizens’ initiative may be filed in all fields in which the European Commission is competent to propose legislation, e.g. consumer protection, energy, agriculture and transport.

More information about the European Citizens’ Initiative can be found on the website of the European Commission. This website consists of information on all citizens’ initiatives, categorised according to their status (recent, ongoing, successful and all registered initiatives), information about the rules on the European Citizens’ Initiative, a list of competent national authorities, the latest news and other information. The website also provides a detailed overview of the step-by-step procedure for the launch of the European Citizens’ Initiative. 

The European Commission published the Guide to the European Citizens’ Initiative. The guide is intended for citizens in general in order to provide a clear explanation about their new right, as well as to ensure a detailed step-by-step overview of the procedure for possible organisers.