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.
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.
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.
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.
Komisar Potočnik noče biti kandidat za komisarja, če se bo vlada odločila za listo kandidatov in jo poslala v Bruselj
— Peter Žerjavič, Delo (@ZerjavicDelo) July 31, 2014
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.
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.