Croatian Parliamentary Parties Discuss How to Avert the Constitutional Court Crisis

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If the Parliament does not elect new justices by May, the Constitutional Court will have only six remaining justices, which is not enough to make any decisions.

Representatives of the four largest parliamentary parties gathered on February 18, 2016, for their first informal meeting to discuss the election of new justices to the Constitutional Court, which could be left without a quorum by the middle of this year. As Večernji list reports, the meeting was called by the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee for Constitutional Issues and Political System Robert Podolnjak (MOST), and was attended by six MPs from HDZ, SDP, MOST and HNS, who are all convinced that this time, there will be enough political will for the new justices to be elected, which would prevent a paralysis of the Constitutional Court and possible constitutional crisis.

Since 2010, when it was determined that it takes a two-thirds parliamentary majority to elect justices to the Constitutional Court, Croatian Parliament has failed to elect a single new justice. At that time, the term of Justice Nevenka Šernhorst expired. The next justice to leave the Constitutional Court was Davor Krapac, whose term expired last July, but he remained as a member for additional six months, until January 2016.

Late last year, eight-year terms expired for Chief Justice Jasna Omejec, and Justices Snježana Bagić, Marko Babić, Aldo Radolović and Ivan Matija. Since the Croatian Parliament has not chosen their successors, the justices can stay in office for another six months, but Matija decided to retire late last year anyway.

Therefore, since January the Constitutional Court has had 10 instead of 13 justices. If the Parliament does not elect new justices by May, the Constitutional Court will have only six remaining justices, which will not be enough to make any decisions.

Some of the leading constitutional experts have warned about the possibility of paralysis of the Constitutional Court. Professor at the Zagreb Faculty of Law Branko Smerdel warned that the decision which requires two-thirds majority for the election of justices was impossible to implement. He proposed as solution certain changes to the Constitutional Law which would allow the election of justices with just a majority of votes in Parliament. Ruling parties believe that such a solution could be interesting, but unofficially they claim that it is unlikely that all this can be done in time and believe that it is more likely that the necessary two-thirds majority will be found this time.

On the other hand, the opposition supports a proposal made by Robert Podolnjak (MOST), who advocates the German model which would allow the ruling and opposition parties to choose five justices each, with the possibility of veto on individual candidates. Podolnjak still believes that such a solution would be a good one, but said that it was not discussed during the inter-party talks. HDZ confirmed that the German solution had not been discussed, but added that they did not believe that the five-to-five ratio was realistic.


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