Yet Another Letter to the Prime Minister

Yo, MC Miro, huddle up! Congrats on yesterday’s PM confirmation and all that jazz, but pay attention now. 57 votes in favour is a sweet thing but keep in mind the storm is just brewing. Admittedly, pengovsky is on vacays these days and follows events at home sporadically but there seems to be a consensus that you didn’t do a particularly good job with your acceptance speech. You gotta work on that, dude.

20140826 cerar Yet Another Letter to the Prime Minister
Prime Minister Miro Cerar addressing the National Assembly (source)

Now, I think we are both in agreement that you more or less fucked up putting your coalition together. I mean, just DeSUS and SD? What’s wrong with you, man? No, seriously, you’ve willingly put yourself in a position where Karl »I-want-a-prestigious-post-with-little-actual-work« Erjavec can grab you by the balls and swing you around every time he feels threatened.

The SocDems don’t even count. Not to mention that DeSUS and SD were once part of the same flock and have even tried to form some half-baked form of a coalition before the elections. Point being they are much more likely to conspire together against you than letting you play them one against the other. Also, let us not forget that both SD and DeSUS are teeming with veterans of the national political cess-pool and will take you to the cleaners the first chance they get.

Because that’s what’ll happen. If you think the two junior coalition partners will not seek to empower themselves and/or make up for the losses they’ve suffered on 13 July, you’ve got another thing coming.

Special interest counting to 46

Three years ago Ljudmila Novak of the NSi dropped an epic put-down to Zoran Janković in his PM bid telling him that he needs to learn to count to 46. But you seem to have taken that particular lesson way too literally. Sure, 46 is the magic number, but there are ways to get to that number and there are ways to get to that number, if you catch my drift. You really shouldn’t have given your predecessor such a cold shoulder. Alenka Bratušek and her four votes would have come in mighty handy pretty soon. To put it bluntly, you are now in a position where Karl Erjavec always (and I mean, always) holds the key to your 46 votes. The man really deserves his middle name. Victor.

And if you’re congratulating yourself on kicking out certain political forces (the word on the street is that »you weren’t going to give in to the people ran by Gregor Golobič«), stop it, while you still can. Slovenian politics is full of bogeymen. Some people hoist the banner the moment someone mentions Janša. Some people see Golobič in every shadow. Others think Milan Kučan at his advanced age still runs the show. Fuck, there are probably people who’ll swear that Edvard Kardelj is still alive and pulling the strings! But in reality, what we have here is just a succession of progressively bad moves by progressively challenged people who were elected to positions they were not fit to hold in the first place.

Really. There is no conspiracy. You need to remember this as you’ve just invited the person who invented the phrase »uncles in the shadows« into your government. You’ve also made a deal with a politician who claims to represent the largest special interest in Slovenia: the pensioners. You’ve even agreed to 40+ million EUR additional financial obligation per annum even before you’ve even picked (let alone have had confirmed) a new finance minister. And you still believe you’ve freed yourself from undue influence?

Pushing Potočnik and other shop-worn faces

While we’re on the issue: Dušan Mramor is a relatively good pick for a finance minister. You could have done a lot worse. But you could have done much better, too. In fact, I fail to see why you couldn’t break the arm of the outgoing finance minister Uroš Čufer and persuade him to stay on. We know you can play hardball, we’ve seen it with the issue of EU commissioner post.

Further to that: Janez Potočnik? Seriously? I know the man is likeable and your promoting him probably falls within the pattern of you picking colleagues from Faculty of Law and Faculty of Social Sciences. But Potočnik held his EU post for two terms now. Ten years. And he wasn’t even elected to it. I’m sorry to be the one to bring it up, but as far as I remember, ALDE (the EU political group Potočnik belongs to) said prior to EU elections it will only nominate people who were on the ballot. Potočnik famously chickened out of leading an all-ALDE ballot in Slovenia. The dude is damaged goods. And he’s only further damaging himself by acting like a fucking prima-donna (»I’m in! I’m out! No, I’m in!«). And have you ever considered that maybe Juncker wouldn’t want Potočnik on his team?

To be honest, for a leader of a new political force you sure seem to be ending up with plenty of shop-worn names in your cabinet. It is as if you’ve spent all of your ammo on insignificant issues and are going to have to settle for a sub-optimal team of ministers.

The Youth Office and other pensioner related issues

But enough about that. You’ve got a job to do. And despite the fact that mine is not the only »open letter« you’ll be receiving these days, I dare say others are of more, well, stock variety. So, the labour unions wrote you a letter. Welfare state, labour rights, yaddayaddayadda. They do that every time. But let’s cut to the chase here. Ever since they torpedoed the law on menial work (and arguably from well before that) the labour unions are nothing but a pressure group of people looking for the most favourable retirement conditions possible.

I mean, sure, the labour force is taking the brunt of this crisis. But within the labour force, the young-and-educated by far worse of than anyone else. They are the people who will, by the nature of things, have to keep the economy afloat, make the money go round and raise that GDP. There simply is no other way. Most of these people have no union representation (although the unions claim otherwise) and – more importantly – they’ve zero »official« experience to make them eligible applicants for what little jobs fitting their profile there are available. I know that the latest draft of the coalition agreement uses all the correct buzzwords about youth employment, but at the same time you dismantled the Youth Office, the only institutional representation in the (broadly speaking) government young people had and drowned that particular office in the new »Trans-generational Cooperation Office« to be headed by a person from – the pensioners’ party? Dude, c’mon!

Controlled privatisation? WTF?

On the other hand, the industry is going on and on about their usual mantra: Workforce too expensive, taxes too high, leaving the country, bada bing, bada boom. Sure, the tax-mix is less than optimal and there’s a compeling case for tax-cap, but no matter how much you cut the wages or cut taxes it ain’t gonna solve the basic problem of Slovenian industry: it just ain’t competitive, mostly because on the whole it doesn’t produce enough added value. And that’s mostly because there isn’t enough innovation (to be more exact, not enough innovation gets from the laboratories to the production floor).

While we’re on the issue: What the fuck does »controlled privatisation« mean? It sounds something like »half-pregnancy«. I mean, you make it sound as if previous privatisations were uncontrolled. Sure, those that amounted to botched-bordering-on-illegal MBOs were uncontrolled. Those few state-owned companies, however, that were actually sold to the highest bidder, we were at pains to let go as if we were selling our only daughter into slavery. You said it yourself in your acceptance speech: we have mostly ourselves blame for this crisis. And no amount of rule of law or values or pride is going to help when the industry and the mind-set that runs it is still in 1980′s.

Start taking positions, pronto

Ah, yes, values and the rule of law. You were pretty big on that in the past couple of months. But soon you’re going to have to take real positions on real issues. Because »equality and respect for all ethnical and social minorities« is not the correct answer to question of same-sex marriage. Just to give an example at random.

Do you see what I’m getting at? It’s been slightly more than a month since your sweeping election victory and already your ego is writing checks your body can’t cash.

You wrote in your draft coalition agreement conditions must be met to hold an exhaustive debate on all forms of families. But we already had that debate. More than once. And the views between supporters and detractors of same sex marriage and non-traditional forms of family are irreconcilable. This is what running a country is about. You form a policy, you form legislation, you pass it and then you enact it. Your British PM colleague was able to do it, you should be, too.

Slippery slope

And what’s that about instituting a trial term for judges? That, my dear prime minister is a marked step backwards, since judges today are sworn into a permanent term immediately. You know very well that a) a permanent term is meant to insulate judges from political meddling and that b) the only party that really makes an issue of the trial/permanent term is Janez Janša’s SDS. We both know why.

But you don’t seem to be familiar with the concept of »slippery slope issue«. You see, instituting a trial term at the beginning of a judge’s career is akin to getting a foot in the door. Sure, it looks like a small concession to the party and its leader who made a career out of conspiracy theories. But in fact this is the biggest hurdle for them to clear. Once trial term in enacted, it is only a matter of political opportunism when the trial period gets its first extension. Say, from one to three years. And once you’re there, it’s no sweat of anyone’s back if gets extended from three to five years. And pretty soon, say within ten years, you’re left with a judiciary that is more incompetent, more corrupt and more politically influenced than we ever thought possible.

Which, of course brings us to the Curious Case of the Convict MP. The fact that under existing legislation Janez Janša gets to keep his MP seat despite serving a two-year prison sentence for corruption in the Patria Affair is a major embarrassment. But, you see, legislation is not only to be observed, it can also get passed. I believe your predecessor already started legislative procedure that would solve the conundrum. Don’t be afraid to follow this through. After all, this is not a legal but rather a political question. And a political solution to this must – as usual in a democracy – become law. For this is not really about Janša. He will only take whatever advantage he can in a given situation. And you already saw that he can be stopped dead in his track by political means.

I’m referring to his bid to become a member of of the committee for intelligence services oversight, with his party chum Branko »Gizmo« Grims serving as president. Which of course means Ivan would be de facto chair of the committee. But your parliamentary group chief Simona Kustec Lipicer put the entire committee on ice pending final decision on Janša’s MP status.

(Re)Focus

But as you are about to move into your new office in two weeks, Janša’s parliamentary issues will increasingly become Kustec Lipicer’s problem. You need to focus. Or, if we are to judge by the draft coalition agreement, refocus.

After all, it is the economy, stupid.

    August 26th, 2014, posted by pengovsky

    The Tomb Of National Heroes

    Following snap elections on 13 July Slovenian parliament held an inaugural session on Friday which – if one attempted to describe it in full – would be somewhere between a Monty Python act, a wake and select scenes from They Live. In fact, what we had today was people an exercise in different planes of reality converging into the same point of the time-space continuum. The results were predictably ugly.

    20140802 9gag The Tomb Of National Heroes
    Pahor and Janša make it to 9gag. That’s one off the bucket-list (source)

    On one hand we had Janez Janša, the jailed leader of the SDS who was granted a short leave of his prison sentence to attend the session, providing for an extraordinary situation where a convicted criminal serving a prison sentence is elected and starts serving as an MP. On the other side there were a couple of hundred protestors in front of the parliament who demanded the release of Janez Janša from prison, called him a political prisoner and a martyr. Next, there was Janša’s SDS which refused to make nominations in a key parliamentary committee, vowing to do the same for every other parliamentary body until they are given assurances new elections will be held as soon as Janša is acquitted (as the faithful believe will and protest in front of the court daily to happen). Still further, however, are the trials and tribulations of PM-presumptive Miro Cerar who is paying a heavy price for his hardball tactics in the Slovenian EU Commissioner issue. Cerar has all but spent whatever progress he had had with Karl Erjavec of DeSUS and is, for all intents and purposes back to square one in coalition negotiations. If he ever left square one at all, that is. Oh, and then there’s the reality of President Pahor quoting Churchill again and (again) admitting he didn’t know his ass-hole from his ear-hole when he handled the outbreak of crisis in 2008.

    You can’t always get what you want

    The ugly part is that no-one got what they wanted and yet everyone got more than what they bargained for. Case in point being Milan Brglez, the man thought to be the brains behind Miro Cerar Party (SMC) and widely tipped to be the next foreign minister (on account of his international studies tenure at the Faculty of Social Sciences), was forced to accept the nomination for the Speaker of the parliament. This brings about an unusual situation where the Speaker of the Parliament, a post usually manned by the second largest coalition party, is a member of the largest coalition party which is now poised to occupy the upper-most levels of both executive and legislative branches. That it was Miro Cerar, the legalist and a man of high democratic standard, who had to break what little democratic tradition this country has, is especially ironic.

    Having said that, it is possible that – regardless of his and Cerar’s statements – Brglez as Speaker is only a temporary solution. You know, just to get the parliament up-and-running. But for Brglez to make the switch to Foreign Ministry (a.k.a. Mladika, as the building is called), a lot of things must happen, chief among them being DeSUS actually joining Cerar’s coalition and Erjavec wanting to quite as foreign minister and take over as parliament chief. Either that or becoming EU commissioner (yeah, right icon smile The Tomb Of National Heroes ). Brglez’s chances of clinching the top foreign-affairs job would increase greatly if his party boss were to cobble a coalition sans DeSUS. And if days ago Cerar and his people were wondering why they would make their lives difficult by not inviting Erjavec to the ruling gang, they’re probably starting to see that political life with Erjavec in tow is much more difficult than without him. But, as things stand, Cerar went from setting the pace to putting out fires in a matter of days. He needs to get his act together, fast.

    The person who, amazingly, did hold her act together on Friday was Marjana Kotnik Poropat, an MP for DeSUS who, by virtue of being the oldest MP, chaired the inaugural session. Poropat, obviously coached and prepared, rejected every attempt Jože Tanko, head of SDS parliamentary group, made to derail the parliament from day one. Tanko made numerous procedural demands most of which had to do with MPs confirming the election results, thus finding they do indeed hold the mandate of the people and can start their work. The SDS, however, refused to appoint their members to the relevant committee and called for the parliament legal service to form an opinion on whether these committees can be established if not all parties appoint members. Further to that Tanko demanded time to stuy the legal service’s opinion, obviously trying to extend and possibly derail the parliament even before it would even formally establish itself. Poropat would have none of that and rebuffed Tanko repeatedly, much to annoyance of SDS masters of procedure and to amazement of the interested public (i.e. the Slovenian tweetosphere which had a field day yesterday).

    Prison break

    Whether Tanko was following a real plan or was just buying time for his boss remains a mystery. Namely, Janez Janša got a daily pass to leave prison and attend the session of the parliament to which he was elected. This predictably precipitated all sorts of false dilemmas on whether his mandate should be confirmed or not, whether he is fit to stand as MP or not et cetera. But the issue is indeed a fairly simple one. While an MP, sentenced to a prison term of six monts or more can be stripped of office (by a majority vote of his colleagues), there is currently no law that would prohibit a convict to stand for elections. Which is precisely the case with Janša. And since he was legally elected, MPs had no choice but to confirm his mandate, leaving it for later (and probably quite soon) to navigate the legal minefield of stripping Janša of his MP status.

    Because as things stand now, the leader of the opposition gets to leave the prison every time he has stuff scheduled in the parliament and gets to complain that “even the old Yugoslav regime treated him better than Slovenian authorities do”. Which is bullshit, of course, but Janša and the SDS are forced tp resort to increasingly preposterous lies in order to maintain the enthusiasm of the faithful. But still, it must have been quite a downer to see only three-hundred people, mostly well beyond retirement age, chanting his name, cursing the communist conspiracy that runs the country and demanding Janša be released from prison. Which proved for a lot bizarre scenes where Janša went to meet his supporters during a break in session and the flock shouted that he should be let out of prison while he was there. In all honesty, factually, they are correct. But in terms of space and time, well… They funny icon smile The Tomb Of National Heroes

    But the scenery was even more bizzare than the content. The Janša crowd gathered in a small park on the West side of the parliament and spent hours chanting to their hero, praising him as the saviour of the nation and insisting the country will not be free until he is. But long gone are the days when tens of thousands chanted Janša’s name in front of the parliament, like in 1994 when Janša was being removed from the post of defence minister in the wake of Depala vas Affair. From 30.000 to 300 people in twenty years is a sure-fire sign that Janša’s political star is fading. In a true Freudian twist, Friday’s pro-Janša rally was held only ten metres away from the tomb of national heroes. In the end, we’re all dead. Politically or for real.

    Please, stop quoting Churchill

    But stupidity, she is immortal. Case in point being President Pahor’s speech which was, as per usual, high on big words but low on actual content (but, admittedly, still much better than his Lorem Ipsum speech aboard Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior days ago). In his parliament speech Pahor invoked Churchill and said that “after years of trying to solve the crisis the wrong way we now finally know what it is all about and can do it the right way”. Now, quoting Churchill is one of Pahor’s favourite political activities. And to be honest, Churchill is a quotable man with much to be quoted about. But what President Pahor was alluding to, however, was supposed Churchill statement that one can count on America to do the right thing after it had done everything else.

    Now, for starters, President Pahor freely admitted that all of his 2008-2011 bravado, long-as-fuck press conferences and moving small red and green dots on a magnetic board that represented reform attempts, he didn’t know shit about tackling the crisis. You know, not even an “oops, sorry”. Just more bravado to the tune of “we finally nailed it this time.” Unfortunately, he didn’t. You see, the quote is taken out of context. What Churchill was supposedly referring to was an intervention of an outside power in what was then still a European armed conflict. Which of course is somewhat different from “we finally know what to do now”. And just to add insult to injury: Churchill never actually said that. So much for knowing how to tackle the crisis, when you can’t even pick a correct Churchill quote.But hey, as president, you can do whatever you like, I guess. Even shake hands with a convicted felon. Figure the tomb of national heroes won’t be needing an expansion any time soon after all.

      August 3rd, 2014, posted by pengovsky

      Alles Klar, Frau Kommissar?

      Six years ago, most of the free world this poor excuse for a country (pengovsky included) was aghast at foreign minister Dimitrij Rupel putting his own name forward to fill a vacant ambassador post in Vienna. While not illegal, it reeked of self-aggrandizing, cronyism and (ab)use of public office for personal gain. Back then, president Danilo Türk stopped Rupel dead in his unhealthy ambitions, forever insulting the man and his ego. Which is why speculation that outgoing PM Alenka Bratušek might put herself forward as a one of nominees for the post of European Commissioner isn’t exactly top form, if you catch my meaning.

      20140731 komisar Alles Klar, Frau Kommissar?

      Now, the issue of the Slovenian nominee for the new European Commission led by Jean-Claude Juncker exploded in the past few weeks as the timetable set by Juncker made it obvious Slovenia will have to come up with a name while government of Alenka Bratušek will still be taking, well, care of business. And while this prime human resource dilemma was in the spotlight on-and-off, it really went ballistic after the winner of July 13 snap elections and PM-presumptive Miro Cerar said the outgoing government should consult him before giving Juncker what he wants.

      Going south

      In all honesty, it would be sporty of Bratušek to keep Cerar in the loop and even allow him to have a say in what ultimately still is a business well within the purview of the outgoing government. But that didn’t happen and things went south almost immediately. Cerar decided to play hard-ball and told junior partners in AB coalition that he expects them to toe his line and that their failure to do so will result in their weakened negotiations positions when he forms the government. SD and DeSUS fell in line almost immediately and – voila! – ideas of Alenka Bratušek jumping up quite a dew notches in the political food chain were, well, flushed down the toilet. Temporarily, it turns out.

      But first, let take a moment and dissect Cerar’s harball tactics. Miro Cerar, supposedly ever the legalist, didn’t bat an eyelid when he shot way outside hi legal status in order to gain a political advantage. Namely, until tomorrow, when the new parliament is expected to convene for an inaugural session and confirm new MPs, Miro Cerar is merely a private individual. A private individual who won elections, sure, but a private individual nevertheless. And as such he has no mandate whatsoever to decide on public matters. Even more: while Cerar is indeed PM-presumptive, he does not begin to execute PM powers until his cabinet is approved, which will not happen until September at the earliest. Therefore, the veto power on the Brussels appointment which Cerar claimed for himself has no legal backing whatsoever. Period.

      In fact, it seems quite probable Cerar overestimated his political clout stemming from election victory and – crucially – underestimated the political and legal clout his potential coalition partners have stemming from their current positions in Bratušek caretaker government. But Cerar realized too late that by meddling in the outgoing administration business he is way out of his comfort zone, where margin of error is close to zero. Mistake numero uno. Trying to solve this self-imposed conundrum quickly, the PM-presumptive said he wants to see current EU Commissioner for environment Janez Potočnik re-nominated for a third term. Mistake numero dos. Will he make it to number three?

      Erjavec rocking the boat

      Namely, what was looking like a smooth ride towards a majority coalition is turning into a leaking boat that is being rocked violently by none other than Karl Erjavec of DeSUS. The man who could bring Cerar enough votes to form a single-vote majority was tipped to be the next Speaker of the Parliament (a post traditionally manned by the second largest coalition party) but has had a change of heart yesterday saying, he will run for this particular office.

      Media reports suggest Cerar and Erjavec had a deal early on that DeSUS would provide the necessary votes to get the parliament up-and-running even if the coalition deal would yet be done, whereupon Erjavec would take the Speaker job temporarily and be then nominated for the EU Commissioner post. Now, whether or not that is true is a matter of some speculation. But if true, then the SMC bailed on the deal by putting forward Potočnik, probably in light of Commission president Juncker expecting a nominee by today. This of course infuriated Erjavec, who in retaliation threw a large wrench in the delicate wheel of coalition-building.

      Omnishambles

      And suddenly, everyone wanted a piece of the pie and every option was back on the table, but with a twist. PM Bratušek was back as a possible nominee, with Slovenian Press Agency (STA) even quoting an “unnamed but reliable” source in Brussels that Juncker specifically asked for her and was even considering her for the position of Commission Vice-president. This, of course, is unverifiable, but people who are more intimate with the inner-workings of the EU say it is not entirely inconceivable.

      On the other hand, since the issue turned shambolic, various members of the outgoing coalition wanted to make the most of it. Thus the Social Democrats wanted nominate their sole MEP Tanja Fajon. This, of course, would be a major upgrade for the former TV SLO reporter from Brussels who made her name as EP rapporteur on visa liberalisation for Western Balkans countries.

      But SD putting forward Fajon has other implications as well. Should she become the new Commissioner, the interim-SD leader Dejan Židan kills two birds with one stone. Not only does he get rid of a possible leadership rival in the upcoming party congress, where he can expect to be taken apart following the rout in the 13 July parliamentary elections. Turns out Fajon’s empty seat would be filled by none other than Igor Lukšič, the man whom Židan replaced at the helm of the party following the rout the party suffered in the European elections in May. Thus Židan also gets to placate his bitter predecessor who never really came to terms with his own defeat in the EU elections (where Fajon beat him on preferential votes, mind you) let alone his responsibility for SD’s poor showing both in EU and parliamentary elections.

      Going once, twice…

      The plot, of course, thickens. With two possible nominees there is no reason not to add a third one. Or fourth one. And this is precisely what is going to happen. The outgoing government is apparently going to short-list three or four candidates, leaving to Jean-Claude Juncker to pick one. With Delo reporter from Brussels just tweeting that Janez Potočnik will not agree to his name being put on such a list (presumably as opposed to him being the only nominee), this probably means Juncker will be looking at a three-item list consisting of Alenka Bratušek, Tanja Fajon and Karl Erjavec.

      Juncker will have to take into account both gender- and party-representation when cobbling the new Commission. While Bratušek and Fajon solve his lack-of-women problem, it is Bratušek alone who solves the apparent lack of ALDE-affiliated people on Jucker’s team. True, Erjavec could possibly meet this criterion by virtue of Ivo Vajgl MEP who ran on a DeSUS ticker in EU elections joining ALDE group, but officially DeSUS is not affiliated with any EU party, which basically rules Erjavec out.

      But since the game Junkcer is playing is in an entirely different league, one can not entirely rule out Fajon either. There are other EU members which have not yet put forward their nominees and in the end the Commission president might end up chosing not what he or Slovenian government would like most, but what conveniently fills the gap.

      Jean-Claude Cerar

      In this respect, his problems are not unlike Miro Cerar’s. The difference being that Jean-Claude is the smooth operator, while Miro is making every mistake in the book, burning assets at a surprisingly high rate. Pengovsky was quoted by the Monitor Global Outlook saying that if “Cerar drops the ball in any of the fields of policy making, coalition handling and internal party dynamics, we are looking at another elections within 18 months.“. And Cerar seems to have been caught off-guard by internal party dynamics. He needs to learn that particular lesson fast.

      As for the unseemliness of the PM signing her own nomination… To be honest, it’s sad to see the escapades of Dimitrij Rupel becoming the new normal. But here we are, apparently.

      July 31st, 2014, posted by pengovsky

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