As pengovsky writes this, Jean-Claude Juncker (yes, he of selfie-with-a-convict fame) concluded his meeting with Violeta Bulc, Slovenia’s second entry for the post of the European Commissioner later today. Thus a sordid saga of backstabbing, ruthless power-play, misoginy and blatant incompetence continues, reportedly with Bulc being nominated for the transport portfolio.
JCJ with Frau Komisaar vol. 1 and vol. 2 (photo credit: @NatashaBertraud)
Pengovsky sadly didn’t have the time to cover the first instalment of this particular tour-de-clustefuck as he was too busy covering Ljubljana local elections for The Firm™ and has yet to write it up for this blog as well (Janković won, in case you didn’t know). But you all know the final outcome: Alenka Bratušek, Slovenian former MP in the end withdrew her nomination after a humiliating 113-12 vote rejecting her appointment as Commission VP for Energy Union.
Now, what happened to Bratušek was about as brutal as can get and in all honesty her being singled out as the lone reject of the Juncker Commission is unfair at very least. From the moment the former prime minister was appointed as one of three possible nominees from Slovenia a chain of events was set in motion that – combined with her (admittedly) very much lacking performance during the committee hearing – could only end in a disaster.
You see, the main sticking point of Bratušek nomination in Slovenia (as presented by her political rivals and happily carried by numerous newsmedia) was not her lack of expertise, but rather the fashion in which she was nominated, her supposed singing of communist songs at an event last year and her potential paycheck (the latter two being typically Slovenian issues). The fact that she knew about as much about the emerging Energy Union as the next guy came a distant fourth.
While some criticism was well deserved, Bratušek was subject to daily, no, hourly abuse that was blatantly misoginous in nature and was not unlike all the shit thrown at her during her year-long reign as this country’s PM, from the length and pattern of her skirt, colour of her shoes, the dress she wore when she met the pope to rampant speculation whom was she sleeping with to get where she was. And yes, at one point Jucker was mentioned as her bed-trophy. Despicable doesn’t even being to cover what Bratušek was subjected to. Thus the character assassination that commenced immediately after Juncker picked her from the list containing Tanja Fajon (Slovenian MEP for S&D) and Karl Erjavec (foreign minister and leader of the pensioners’ party DeSUS).
Adding to that was the anti-graft commission (KPK) which took issue with her (self-)nomination process and the fact that Bratušek handled that part of the equation pretty badly, giving the appearance that he was avoiding a quick closure of the case by first waiting until the last possible day to pick up the registered mail, then letting her attorney deal with it and in the end even picking a new attorney. Pengovsky is still dumbfounded as to why she didn’t tackle the issue head-on, especially as the KPK found her actions amounted only to a conflict of interest and not a full-blown corruption (while we’re on the issue: in formulating the case against Bratušek, KPK created an infinite loop and more or less emasculated itself. More on that soon)
And then there was the horse-trading in the European Parliament where no-one even bothered to hide that it was going on over Bratušek’s back. The EPP and the S&D struck a deal to rub each others’ backs regardless of their respective nominees inappropriateness for selected portfolios, perhaps with a few cosmetic adjustments. This left Bratušek (an ALDE nominee) as the odd one out and boy did they let her have it.
But, at the end of the day, it was her under-prepairedness that made every other piece of her downfall-puzzle to fall into place. A blunder here, a blunder there, her signature lackluster and repetitive performance, sub-par use of euro-speak (where the fuck were phrases like “fully acknowledging the sovereignty of member states we will strive to create a fair, transparent and effective single market, blah, blah, subsidiarity, blah, blah, competition, blah, blah, and so on) and – finally – the fact that the Energy Union still but a figment of European imagination, this horse was not only out of the race, but was lying by the race track, panting, being kicked, screamed at and reduced to sun-dust.
The only one who on the surface at least played a fair game was Jean-Claude Juncker, who stood by his nominee and had his PR people maintain there were no changes to the Commissioners’ roster until Bratušek withdrew herself. Whether Jucnker really stood by her, helped Bratušek reach that decision or was only happy to see EPP and S&D do his bidding, we’ll never know. But at the very least, the next EU top dog kept his composure and class, which can not be said for anyone else involved in this story.
This goes for Slovenian PM Miro Cerar as well. The ruckus he raised when outgoing Bratušek government (acting well within its authority) put forward its list of nominees, was epic. He later came about but only after he was told by Juncker personally that it was he (Juncker) who is putting together the Commission, not Cerar or any other PM. And when Bratušek came tumbling down, it was up to Cerar to come up with a nominee.
The newly minted PM all of a sudden found his spine and flat-out rejected demands by EPP and S&D to appoint Tanja Fajon as the new Slovenian nominee, going with Violeta Bulc, his government’s VP for development instead. And almost immediately the whole wheel of disqualifications-ad-nauseam started turning yet again. To be sure, Bulc nomination carries a few gems, as well. Mostly, these have to do with more-than-eyebrow-raising entry of her being an alumnus of Shamanic Academy in Scotland and her statements about “syntropy”. But on the other hand, Bulc has had a successful career as a businesswoman, both in IT as well as a consultant. Her main drawback, however, are not crackpot theories about space and time. After all, how many MEP believe in the existence of a super-natural being which will ultimately judge our lives on this Earth? Or, how many of them are anti-vaxxers? (I’m shooting at random here).
Her main drawback is her lack of experience in a senior governmental position. Which – unless Bulc gave a stellar performance tonight during here tete-a-tete with Jucnker – means that a Commissioner from Slovenia will not be appointed Commission VP. Serves us right, I guess. At any rate, this wasn’t a “Slovenian” job Bulc is now aiming at, it is a Bulc job, formerly a Bratušek job, both of them got to have a shot at because they’re Slovenian. But I guess this still is a lesson we need to learn as a nation. There seems to be an unhealthy notion prevailing that we should do everything possible to prevent any of our compatriots from making it outside Slovenian borders. And if he/she makes it despite everything, we collectively expect this individual to disperse the goodies of his/her position among the rest of us. Just because.
But as far as lessons go, the biggest one was served not to Bratušek nor to Bulc but to Miro Cerar. For if there never was more poetic a justice served when the new Cerar government had to rush their decision on the new nominee and did so in a correspondence session, the very same way Bratušek rushed her outgoing government’s approval for Juncker’s original roster and drew some serious flak over it. Indeed, questions were raised as to legality of the issue. Bogus questions, but still. At the time they added to the fog-of-war surrounding Bratušek nomination.
And you can expect the same pattern to repeat again in the next few days. Even though the whole thing is not about Violeta Bulc, Alenka Bratušek or even Slovenia as a whole. What we have here is a power-play between the Juncker Commission and the European Parliament where the latter is looking to draw first blood (which it did) and keep the upcoming Commission in check for the duration of the five-year term. On the other hand, new new Commission boss has more than enough experience to know that in the curious menage-a-trios of EU top institutions he must subjugate the parliament early on lest he be spending more time fighting off rabid parliamentarians than actually making policy.
Which means that the Bulc hearing in the EP will quite possibly be just as bruising as Bratušek hearing was. Juncker did not go along with his own conservative EPP and socialist S&D suggestions-cum-blackmail about Tanja Fajon, nor did Slovenian PM Cerar. And with the credibility of any Commissioner candidate from Slovenia being question to begin with (and highly likely to go south from there), Juncker and now Bulc are fighting an unexpectedly steep uphill battle. Of course, say the EPP and S&D, if Commission President-elect were to nominate Tanja Fajon, or perhaps, former EPP MEP Romana Jordan, then all of his remaining problems could simply just.. go away. Get it?
In this respect (the inevitable portfolio reshuffle notwitstanding) Slovenian nominees were nothing more than collateral damage in a high-level, high-stakes game of political poker. And yet, a good portion of this country was weighing in as though Juncker was waiting for their opinion before he made his next move. In reality, however, it was just a freak-show at the outer edge of the circus, where they keep the ugly people.