Nine months into its term the government of Borut Pahor is – somewhat unexpectedly, but not all that much – about to experience its first reshuffle. Yesterday minister for local self-governance Zlata Ploštajner resigned from her position, creating a rather awkward situation for Pahor, who seemed to just about get a hold of running the government after a three-way power struggle ensued between himself, the leader of Social Democrats, Gregor Golobič of Zares and Katarina Kresal of LDS, where everyone was playing against everyone else, with the added bonus of Pahor playing against himself as well. As a result we have seen (in this chronological order) the Rupel Debacle, the Veselinovič Standoff and the Ultra Affair, each bringing one of the party leaders down a peg or two.
From right to left: Zlata Ploštajner, Borut Pahor, Meta Vesel Valentinčič (source)
However, once the intra-coalition circumcision-merry-go-round was finished, the government finally started going about its business. And none too soon, as economy is starting to fall apart, the dole-queues are slowly but surely building up and the only positive side of emergency legislation passed thus far is that the situation would probably be even worse if it hadn’t been passed.
But as things stood as little as a week ago, from the administrative point of view things were looking a bit better. The budgets for 2010 and 2011 had been drafted, so had the pension- and health-system reforms and to top it all off, the relations between the state and its capital city were finally improving with the government drafting a new Law on Capital City, allocating a fixed amout of money every year and allowing for additional direct funding. Readers of this blog will remember that withholding state funds from the city was one of major grudges Ljubljana mayor Zoran Janković held against the previous government of Janez Janša and – failing to reach an agreement – campaigned hard against it in 2008 elections, adding to high turnout in Ljubljana and effectively winning the elections for the left bloc. And it was amid this flurry of good news that Zlata Ploštajner, who was the principal negotiator on the government side in negotiations between the city of Ljubljana and the Republic of Slovenia, resigned from her position, citing health and personal reasons.
Both reasons seem believable if slightly understated. Zlata Ploštajner always seemed ill at ease in her ministerial function. Appointed to the position by the Pensioner’s party – DeSUS (the fourth coalition member), she was head of the Kozjansko Regional Development Agency before ascending the ministry and before that she was a lecturer at the Faculty of Social Sciences where she held odd-sounding courses which pengovsky had to take in order to fill his quota and defend his diploma.
Her nomination came as a surprise to many. She was virtually unknown to the public (pengovsky and his class being the obvious exceptions) as well as to members of DeSUS, the party which nominated her. Apparently she was the personal pick of party leader Karl Erjavec, who held only per functionary consultations with the party council, which obviously did not earn him brownie points with party officials.
As well as government as whole, Ploštajner too had a shaky start of her term. She was thrown head-first into the treacherous waters of dealing with Ljubljana mayor Zoran Janković who had a clear idea of what he wanted to achieve, but was getting increasingly annoyed as it was becoming apparent that he will not come even close at getting it. She also had to deal with was as best a sluggish tempo of drawing on EU funds, with as much as a billion euros being at risk of being lost forever, because not enough project on the local level were being submitted for financing, while those which were took ages to get a stamp of approval from the ministry. Her task, therefore, was clear-cut. Deal with Janković and deal with the red tape. And do it while holding an office without portfolio
In all honesty, stronger men would have failed at either of the two, whereas Ploštajner had the added “bonus” of having to deal with Mitja Gaspari, minister w/o porftoilo in charge of development and EU affairs who also serves as the unofficial vice-PM. Gaspari was a finance minister in one of Janez Drnovšek’s administrations and was appointed governor of the Central Bank, where he was the victim of character assassination by Janša’s government at the end of his term.. Subsequently he ran for president on an LDS ticket in 2007 but came in third after Lojze Peterle and Danilo Türk with the latter winning in the second round. When Borut Pahor started picking would-be members of his government, Gaspari was one of the first people who got onboard, much to the shock of his party, because he made it clear that his allegiances henceforth lay with Pahor’s Social Democrats. After the new government was established, Gaspari apparently made it no secret that he viewed Zlata Ploštajner and her work a nuisance at best, reportedly lobbying hard to snatch managing EU funds from her non-portfolio. It has to be said that having an EU minister who doesn’t handle EU funds is slightly odd. But on the other hand, EU funds Ploštajner handled went to local communities, much like those that go to farmers are handled by ministry of agriculture.
Ploštajner herself hinted as much saying in her resignation media statement that she thought that people in the same government worked to achieve the same goal and that they could openly debate the means to achieve it. But sensing that not to be the case, she concluded that the job should be performed by someone healthier and with more political prowess. And indeed pengovsky remembers that while he was at the university Ploštajner skipped a lot of lessons due to bad health.
Curiously enough, bad health is the reason why health minister Borut Miklavčič will probably step down early in 2011. In his case the health reasons he’s citing are beyond doubt. During his summer holidays, which he (like most Slovenians) spent in Croatia, the 65-year-old minister Miklavčič suffered a stroke while snorkelling and was rushed to a hospital in Split where he remained under observation for some
ten two days for fears of brain damage. Luckily there was none, but the doctors forbade him to work more than four hours daily. Since his ministry just drafted the most sweeping reform of the health sector in decades, the halved workload will simply not do. Which is why Miklavčič apparently told the PM to find someone else to do the job which requires a 12-hour workday, while he can only work four hours daily.
So, Borut Pahor has to deal with his first ever cabinet reshuffle. All in all it shouldn’t be too difficult, as health portfolio is a part of Social Democrats’ quota, while local self-governance will probably be taken over by Meta Vesel Valentinčič, who (truth be said) joined DeSUS only a year ago, but was Ploštajner’s right-hand woman as her state secretary (sort of vice-minister). The fact that Vesel Valentinčič is also Ljubljana city councillor should make the decision all the more easy.
Upon hearing the news of near-double resignation opposition leader Janez Janša was quick to seize the moment, saying that the only true ant crisis measure would be calling early elections. While Janša never looses a moment when there is an opportunity to spread some instability and feeling of emergency, this is about the second time he did that in about as many weeks, which makes him look more like a spoiled brat lost at football and wants a rematch than a serious politician.