“Never,” said Napoleon*, “interfere with the enemy when he is making a mistake.” Judging by the last couple of weeks, PM Marjan Šarec is well on his way to becoming a case study in the subject matter.
It all started with that infamous poll where Šarec’s government clocked in a staggering 70% approval rating, with LMŠ itself leaving the every other coalition and opposition party in the dust. Things continued with LMŠ giving the cold shoulder to the rest of the ALDE parties and came to a head this week when it transpired that Šarec will not be addressing the European Parliament in its Debates on the Future of Europe.
Šarec’s decision to skip the previously agreed appointment caused a bit of a stir in Muddy Hollows. So much so in fact that the PM saw it fit to respond via Twitter although there’s little love lost between him and this particular social network.
Moj govor v Evropskem parlamentu v tem času bi bil lahko razumljen kot predvolilni. Tisti, ki mi danes očitate, ker ne bom imel govora, bi mi v nasprotnem primeru očitali prav to. Za nagovore bo še priložnost, saj nas čaka predsedovanje 2021. Srečno vsem na volitvah!— Marjan Šarec (@sarecmarjan) March 19, 2019
Bottom line, Šarec tweeted there will be other opportunities, like the upcoming Slovenian EU presidency and that he will skip the invite because it could be interpreted as an election campaign address.
No shit, Sherlock?
Of course it would have been a campaign address. It was meant to be a campaign address. In fact, the very existence of the Debates on the Future of Europe is a part of a wider campaign to reframe and reinvigorate Europe.
It is what the whole motherfucking EU vote is suppose to be about in two months’ time.
But no, “there will be other opportunities”.
Ain’t nobody got time for that
When Slovenia takes over the rotating presidency in early 2021, the presidency will have its hand full with whatever topic will be keeping the EU busy at that particular moment. Perhaps Šarec will have selected a pet project or two.
But nobody will be asking Šarec about his opinion on whether the Qualified Majority Vote should be extended to all matters before the EU Council.
Nobody will care what he thinks on EU enlargement in Western Balkans.
Nobody will give a fuck about what Slovenia thinks on the rule of law with regard to arbitration awards, a common European army or the speed and scope of Frontex taking over the security of the Schengen border
And that is before we even start considering the fact that Šarec could have scored some serious political points by using the address to say a little something about the European anti-fascist heritage and the rejection of land grabs, the two subjects EP president Antionio Tajani seems to care about from the wrong perspective.
It was all there for Šarec’s taking, but, you know, there will be other opportunities. Or something.
Obviously, there is a method to this amateur shit-show. It has to do with EU elections. Obviously.
As things stand right now, Marjan Šarec and his LMŠ are many things to many people. He has surrounded himself with security hawks one one hand and was generous with social benefits and refunds on the other.
His administration runs a budget surplus and is in the early stages of a serious infrastructure investment cycle. The government drafted a tax and pension reform but agreed to much of Levica’s social policies in order to secure votes to pass the budget.
And, finally, he managed to keep his political partners in check and is hair-trigger when it comes to kicking ministers out of his government, even against his better judgement, while keeping the folksy dadgum attitude towards the very political class he now belongs to.
In short, for the time being, he is managing to keep his various and varied constituencies fairly happy.
Tactics vs. Strategy
This all changes if he starts taking positions based on principle and symbolism which, ultimately, EU elections are mostly about.
Make no mistake: Marjan Šarec most definitely has views on many if not all current European issues and would likely be able to argue them quite well. He is well read and has reportedly great capacity to ingest a lot of subject matter in a very short time.
But the moment he starts setting out opinions, he inevitably loses a part of the electorate that believes exactly the opposite. Be that on migration, social issues, tax harmonisation or human rights.
Thus, it’s not that Šarec doesn’t have opinions as some of his detractors have suggested. It is that he cannot afford to have them publicly, lest he starts bleeding support too soon. Because bleed support he will.
In short, Šarec traded a strategic opportunity for a tactical gain.
Better yet, he traded a strategic opportunity for tactical gain again.
Because just as he decided that he didn’t need addressing the European Parliament, he as well decided that he didn’t need any partners in forming a EU elections ticket.
After Šarec and LMŠ gave the cold shoulder to Cerar’s SMC and Bratušek’s SAB, the expectation was that LMŠ would come up with a ticket overflowing with political mojo and EU expertise.
Instead, they came up with a list of people who have near-zero name recognition and still managed to fuck up the roll-out.
Namely, after Šarec presented the lead candidates Irena Joveva and Klemen Grošelj (incidently, two MEP seats is what LMŠ is aiming for), the party spokesperson wrapped it up, without as much a perfunctory presentation of the other six candidates, who by then must have finally realised their only role is to serve as cannon fodder.
The lack of enthusiasm from everyone involved was obvious. The ALDE party group, too, is oozing nothing but lukewarmness and as a result LMŠ are now practically begging for other Slovenian ALDE parties chipping away the votes.
Replacing strategy for tactics is, of course, nothing new in this day and age (see May, Theresa) but it does provide a crystal clear picture of how Slovenian political class incorporates Europe into its strategising and policy making.
Aside from a few exceptions (and these are extremely few and far between), the politicos in Muddy Hollows will take absolutely zero interest in the inner workings of the EU and the formal and informal mechanisms the union uses to come to a decision.
By far and large the Slovenian political class is content with keeping the country a net receiver of the EU budget funds and seeing to having enough projects funded by the EU cohesion funds so that there is always a ribbon-cutting ceremony when one is needed.
Occasionally, some of them will add a bit Euroscepticism to the mix, just to keep things interesting and to prevent the common folk from thinking they’ve gone all globalist. Which they haven’t because most of these people still take their holiday in next-door Croatia and think New York is the eighth wonder of the world.
The problem is that his creates a negative feedback loop where a lack of pro-activity by its politicians on EU level decreases the clout Muddy Hollows has which in turn means that only due attention is being paid to Slovenian positions.
Because even when EU is willing to listen, Slovenian political class will keep quiet.
(*) May not have been Napoleon