PM Bratušek Meets The Pope, Gets Pulled Over By The Fashion Police

Alenka Bratušek met @pontifex today (or maybe it was the other way around) and the fashion police were out in full force. As if that were the main problem this country has. Admittedly, she does seem to have a penchant for tiger/leopard patterns, but surely a politician’s ability to carry out his/her office outweighs whatever fashion no-nos he or she might have committed. At the very least, it way better than having a PM who looks like he walked out of a Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue but is prone to committing diplomatic gaffes.

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Alenka and Francis, earlier today. (source: Delo/AFP)

Anyway, the thing is that while AB sported a leopard-pattern skirt while meeting her Italian counterpart, she put on a nice black outfit for her date with Francis (veil included) and was apparently toeing the line of the diplomatic protocol. So, everyone should be happy.

What is more important, however, and what we probably will never know, is what exactly they talked about. After all, the Maribor Diocese still has the 800 million debt hanging over its head and basically went tits up. Just for comparison, only days ago, the state OK’d recapitalisation of two largest banks, NLB and NKBM for a combined amount of 900 million. So you can see that the Roman Catholic Church has a bit of a problem in Slovenia. Which is probably one of the reasons the local clergy did not go ape-shit over the proposed real-estate tax which – according to a government leak – would encompass Church-owned real estate as well. That, and the fact that the local clergy is more Ratzingerian than Bergoglian and are probably still getting their bearings vis-a-vis the pop-Pope.

Also, it was reported the entire real-estate assets of the Slovenian Roman Catholic Church amount to – you guessed it – 800 million euro. Repossession, anyone? No? Too heavy?

Point is that there are serious issues at play here. Bratušek government is about to start selling a batch of state-owned companies as well as start transferring toxic assets to a bad band bank. In short: the landscape of Slovenian economy is about to change dramatically very soon. But here we are, as a nation, talking about the size and colour of the PM’s skirt.

Really, maybe we deserve the shit we’re in.

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President Pahor As Commandant Lassard

It seems that the only gauge of the state of the, errr, state these days is the yield on Slovenian bonds on international markets. Whenever it starts nearing seven percent, media and the political right-wing go apeshit and start blaring big fat headlines about impending doom. And whenever it starts dropping, the left-wing goes talk-to-the-hand-cause-the-face-ain’t-listening-biatch. But fact of the matter is that the yield on various Slovenian bonds is going up and down like a cork in the water. And that ain’t good.

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Borut Pahor, Eric Lassard and their, well, fishes (source and source respectively)

Which is part of the reason government of Alenka Bratušek is on a charm offensive these past few days. With limited success, might I add. AB went on CNN the other day and apparently she didn’t do a particularly good job. That seems to be the prevalent opinion of the commentariat, anyways. Truth be told, PM’s performance was somewhat lacking, both in substance and in style. While she was mostly ridiculed on account of her thick accent, the problem was that she repeated the same old mantras of Slovenia not needing outside help in dealing with our problems. While that may be true (indeed, the OECD report released this week suggest so, as does an otherwise gloom report by the European Commission), Bratušek failed to shock & awe.

You talkin’ to me?

But it is important to remember Bratušek wasn’t taking to the home crowd. In fact, she wasn’t really talking to Richard Quest either. For what it was worth, she was talking to foreign investors. At the very least, to moneymen buying Slovenian debt. And from what pengovsky hears from abroad, she did an OK job. And just to put things in perspective, while the local economic honchos were reportedly impressed with the way the new finance minister handled the OECD, the non-natives (a.k.a. the real world) were apparently left unfazed, to put it mildly. (full disclosure: pengovsky is quoted in the linked article). On the other hand, The government did manage to sell some 900 million of debt today (after failing to sell 100 million days earlier) and won a little breathing room to put together what everyone is waiting for: an actual plan.

In that respect it is somewhat ironic that Bratušek is continuing with the basic outline set up by Janša’s administration, meaning bad bank and state sovereign holding company, augmented by further cuts in the public sector. Moreover, parliament is apparently close on enshrining the fiscal rule in the constitution, the very thing which sent both left and right to the barricades a year ago. And that’s now, when the reasoning behind austerity was completely and utterly debunked. On account of an Excel error, mind you!

Where is Janša hiding?

Speaking of Janez Janša, he went below radar, more or less. (Self)demoted to being a mere party president, forfeiting his MP seat as well as ex-PM benefits, he is running around courtesy of the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy, giving lectures on human rights. Last week it was Iceland, next month it will be Berlin. Strange animal, this institute, mind you. Apparently, they take on interns to send spam. Also, their website bears strangely close resemblance to English pages of both SDS and Janez Janša. Or is that the other way around?

At any rate, Janša is apparently up for re-election as Party leader and with less than a month to go, he has yet to officially announce his bid. While former minister of infrastructure Zvonko Černač already said Janša is running, the man himself remains mum. And for a reason, pengovsky imagines. Sentences were passed in the Austrian branch of the Patria Affair and the court in Vienna concluded bribes were paid in that particular arms deal. Initially it was reported the Austrian judge said in her ruling that without a doubt Slovenian politicians were bribed. SDS went full throttle against this line of reporting, issuing a steady stream of denials, either directly or via friendly press. Be that as it may, Janša has a lot to worry about in that department.

The downfall of Žiga Turk

Speaking of SDS-friendly press, former minister of education, science, sports and culture Žiga Turk quit all party functions (but, it seems, not the party itself) citing an increasing gulf between his own convictions and party directives. Which was quite a bombshell, since Turk was widely perceived as the austerity hawk who went about dismantling as much of public sector within his purview as possible. He was also seen as the second most prominent man in the SDS, right after Janša. Maybe he became too strong and that was part of the reason that Party-friendly press tore him apart and practically labelled him a traitor to the cause.

This is not the first time Janša brought down a would-be political heir when the latter became too strong. Something similar happened to Milan Zver who was removed to Brussels as MEP soon after he started showing signs of independence. That’s the way Janša operates. He picks men (politically) lesser than himself, builds them up and then brings them down at the very moment they could have made a difference in the Party. This is also an indication that Janša is by no means leaving politics. At best, he went underground hoping to be missed. His only gamble is that he will stay underground for so long that the political landscape will have changed to the point of making him obsolete.

Commandant Lassard

Speaking of being obsolete, President Borut Pahor is increasingly starting to look like Commandant Eric Lassard of the Police Academy series. Namely, last week his office tweeted about Pahor keeping a goldfish in his office. Yes. In the midst of the crisis, when the country is just a panic-attack away from a bankruptcy and the troika descending, the president is busy fooling around with a goldfish. And drawing criticism from animal welfare organisations to boot, since at first he was keeping the poor thing in a bowl of unfiltered water. His office has installed a proper aquarium since then.

OK, so Pahor did partake in the charm offensive, visiting France today and going to Germany next week. Which is yet another proof of the fact that the prez and the reality are further and further apart. The “Franco-German train” he so vigorously promoted while he was the prime minister and was clamouring for Slovenia to get on-board, apparently still exists in his mind. But only in his mind. Which is bad enough. What’s worse is that Pahor is visiting France first, giving precedence to “mon amiFrancois Hollande, brother socialist who didn’t support Pahor in last year’s presidential campaign, despite Borut claiming otherwise (Slovene only).

Thus President Pahor snubbed Angela Merkel who (despite not being a particular favourite of pengovsky) still runs the country which just happens to be Slovenia’s largest export partner. Instead he went to see this guy who snubbed him. Looking for some tough love, are we? Anyhow, that’s just diplomatic gaffes. For all his experience in foreign relations, Pahor apparently is no stranger to them.

More worrying is the fact that the president – if his website and Twitter account are anything to go by – to date failed to make any kind of statement on the bombing of Boston Marathon, let alone offer condolences to victim’s families. It was up to Foreign minister Erjavec to save the face of this country.

 

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Habemus Congregatio

With Gregor Virant‘s Citizens’ List (DL) ting in favour of joining the coalition of Alenka Bratušek earlier tonight, the PM-designate is expected to present to the parliament a full list of ministerial nominees tomorrow. This brings Slovenia a step closer to having a fully operative government which is to replace the administration of Janez Janša. Thus the coalition agreement between PS, SD, DL and DeSUS was signed shortly before midnight tonight. It gives Bratušek a majority of votes which can, if need be, excpanded to 55 out of 90 votes, including the three independent MPs and two MPs for Italian and Hungarian minority.

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(source: RTVSLO)

In a curious twist of fate, the Vatican curia needed less time to elect the new Pontifex Maximus (that be Francis I., in case you were just unfrozen cryogenically) than the new Sovenian coalition needed to hammer out a deal. In fact, “habemus papam” beat the “habemus congregatio” by a few hours. But I guess it is easier to pick the supreme minister than a minister in a Slovenian government.

We’ll leave the list of nominees for some other day (maybe tomorrow) but even now it is perfectly obvious that the real winners is Karl Erjavec, who is poised to continue as foreign miniser. A few other people are expected to continue in their current positions, notably minister of health Tomaž Gantar (DeSUS) and minister for justice Senko Pličanič (DL).

Speaking of DL, there seems to have been hell to pay tonight at DL HQ, since Janez Šušteršič quit vice-chairmanship of the party. He said he will continue as party member, but the rift between his faction and that of Gergor Virant seems insurmountable. Although it must be said that the move to enter the coalition got a pretty solid backing tonight at DL. However, it appears that a party schism is forming within the DL and that could present PM Bratušek with more of a problem than she may anticipate this early in the game.

At any rate, the coalition agreement is signed and if there are no last-minute surprises Slovenia could have a new government within a week’s time. It will move away from purely austerity and across-the-board-cuts policies into a combination of spending cuts and growth stimulation with special emphasis on infrastructure projects. That and the banking sector. Plus a few other points of interest. And a possible increase of value added tax.

But we’ll deal with these issues in the coming days. Until the new cabinet is sworn in, the old one is still fully in charge, making last-minute appointments left and right.

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Awaiting Virant’s Call, Bratušek Mulls Minority Government

While caretaker PM Janez Janša was busy signing a memorandum on Ljubljanska banka (LB) bank with his Croatian counterpart Zoran Milanović, his likely successor Alenka Bratušek was busy hammering out a deal that would see her cabinet sworn in on Thursday. And while the deal between two Balkan states is to delegate the problem, indeed the very decision what in fact constitutes the problem, to the Basel-based Bank for International Settlements (and got a perfunctory pat on the back for it), Bratušek is seeing her problems shape-shift, forcing her to come up with plan B, that is to say, the possibility of forming a minority government.

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(source)

Plenty of people fretted about the Slovenian Sovereign Holding (SDH) and the bad bank which were seen as the main sticking points between Igor Lukšič‘s Social Democrats (SD) and Gregor Virant‘s Citizens’ List (DL). The brain-child of outgoing finance minister and DL’s no. 2 man Janez Šušteršič these issues were seen as possible deal breakers, especially since Šušteršič was adamant about how bad bank collecting bad debt and then covering it by selling assets concentrated in SDH is the only way to go about solving the crisis.

But some days ago, while he was in a head-to-head with his predecessor of social-democratic persuasion Franc Križanič, he made a seemingly off-hand remark about how there will still have to be some form of bank recapitalisation directly by the state (i.e. taxpayers). Which goes along the lines of his being adamant how not an euro of taxpayers’ money will be spent on recapitalising the NLB but did precisely that only months later. Križanič, on the other hand, was in his merry-go-happy mood and went on how state recapitalisation is cheaper and more transparent and is basically just an accounting operation as the state already parked vast amounts of cash in the banks. If it’s so easy and effective, why hasn’t it been done yet, then? Preferably while Križanič was the head-beancounter in the country?

However, that seems to be water under the bridge. For all its importance, the SD/DL spat was apparently solved fairly easily. But the bill is being presented to Bratušek personally. The deal with SD brought DL on the verge of a schism. The Šušteršič-led faction in the party fell out with Virant-led part over leaving Janša’s coalition and those wounds haven’t even begun to heal when the bad bank/state holding compromise was reached, further alienating the Šušteršič wing. Which means Virant has to give them something fast, lest he sees his party break into two for good. That “something” is, predictably, the energy department.

Under existing government organisation, the said department is within the portfolio of ministry of infrastructure. It is to be a part of DL quota, but Bratušek was looking to move the energy department into a PS-ran portfolio (possibly economy). Latest reports indicate that Virant won that particular round and got Bratušek to back down. While no details have emerged yet, pengovsky is speculating Bratušek agreed to Virant’s demands on condition that she gets to veto a nominee for that particular ministerial post.

But while the horse-trading session is still on, PM-designate Bratušek is being dragged through the mud by the more rabid part of the right-wing (i.e.: the Party and its media entourage). Riding on the coat-tails of several high-profile plagiarising cases recently discovered in Slovenia, an anonymous (!) letter circulated the interwebz, supposedly revealing that Bratušek did not write her master’s thesis according to academic standard. The university had initiated proceedings in establishing authenticity of her work, but the story stuck and the damage was done.

This allowed Virant to be righteous yet again (after walking out on Janša over the anti-graft report) and demanded Bratušek resign all positions should her thesis be shown plagiarised. Apparently, Bratušek agreed. But the thing is that for the more fervent part of the right-wing, she is already guilty beyond any reasonable doubt and will be dogged by this for the entire duration of her term. That the Party faithful are serious banging this particular drum for the foreseeable future is obvious by the fact that they’ve even set up a Wikia page, citing alleged academic transgressions of the would-be prime minister.

In case you’re wondering about SDS connection into these plagiarism accusations: Party-friendly media reported that, university inquiry aside, the “lead investigators” in this matter are Bernard Brščič, a never-realised economic wunderkind of Hayekian persuasion and Janez Janša’s recent edition to his ever-increasing number of staff-appointees and Matej Makarovič, former head of SDS youth organisation, dean of FUDŠ, a right-wing-friendly university and a regular talking head when the cause of the Party needs to be advanced. Not only does the academic Duo Fantasticus not instil confidence in their work, they’re doing it at the behest of the Party which – as we know – doesn’t really have a clean bill of health when it comes to handling of archive material.

EDIT (12/03/12@1000hrs): SDS youth organisation just announced on Twitter it will deliver an annotated copy of Bratušek’s M.A. to every parliamentary group, supposedly proving plagiarism accusations. Of course, potentially different findings of the university committee will be dismissed as a conspiracy.

This is the setting in which Bratušek is waiting for DL to make the call. If Šušteršič wing prevails, she will have to put forward a minority government, which could be confirmed with an absolute majority with the understanding that DL or any other party or parliamentary group will consider its support on a case-by-case basis. Alternatively, the whole deal can still go down the drain, with the PM-designate being blocked to name even two thirds of her ministers in three consecutive votes, thus triggering early elections.

At any rate, until a new government is sworn in Janez Janša is still very much holding the reins of power since there is no legislation on dos and donts of a caretaker government. More will be known tomorrow, so watch this space.

P.S.: Apologies for being mum for a week. Things to see, people to do and all that jazz…

 

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