Commissioner of Last Resort (part deux)

There is little doubt that Janez Lenarčič will be a very good European Commissioner for Crisis Management. There is even less doubt that Slovenian prime minister Marjan Šarec does not – to use a popular phrase – give a flying flamingo about which portfolio Commission president Ursula von der Leyen in the end assigned to Lenarčič.

VLD launching her Commission (source)

In fact, it seems that rather than seeing them as missteps, PM Šarec decided his recent EU-related faux pas were in fact great successes and were to be repeated rather than avoided. Talk about learning the wrong lesson…

Marjan Šarec made it no secret that his government would have liked to see Slovenia getting the Enlargement, Science or Environment portfolios. Which was ambitious enough. But in a true display of the Dunning-Kruger effect, Ljubljana went even higher and apparently at some point angled for energy, trade or digital portfolios.

Hey, if you’re going to fail, might as well fail big, right?

And fail big they did.

In his last blogpost before the summer break pengovsky wrote that the accomplished diplomat Lenarčič is, if anything, being wasted on a five-year political temp-job

His breadth of experience and depth of knowledge on EU matters made him a huge Slovenian asset in Brussels. But it was precisely those qualities that worked against Slovenian aspirations and expectations with regard to the division of labour in VDL’s commission.

Namely, with his CV Lenarčič could easily lead many of the portfolios Slovenian government set it sights on.

But since Slovenian government also did precisely jack shit in terms of actually attempting to land those portfolios, Lenarčič’s breadth of experience and depth of knowledge was used by VDL to, well, plug a hole when putting together the new Commission.

Now, why would a member state fare so poorly when spoils are being divvied up, you might ask?

On one hand it is true that laws of physics apply and that it is impossible to please everyone. And since Slovenia punched way above its weight in the previous three Commissions, there is no shame or disrespect in getting a portfolio that is a notch or two lower on the totem pole.

On the other hand, this sliding down the ladder was made much easier by the laissez-faire approach Marjan Šarec takes in EU matters in general and the way he handled the choice of this country’s commissioner nominee in particular.

Not only did he (and continues to) ignore EU institutions as much as possible, he made a total amount of zero effort to follow the broad outlines for commissioner nominees that Ursula von der Leyen set out after she was confirmed as Commission president.

Granted, it’s not as if Šarec’s input was indispensable (the fact, that VDL cleared her first benchmark of gender parity easily seems to confirm her ability to get things done quietly), but it would have been nice if he had played along and paid at least lip service to aspirations of the new Commission boss.

Instead, he shot down every possible political candidate (of which a number had earned their EU spurs and could fill the role easily) and – when the push finally came to a shove – pulled Lenarčič out of a hat, so to speak, thus instantly limiting VDL’s options in other departments as a non-negotiable male commissioner, by her standards meant a non-negotiable female commissioner on the other side of the equation.

Finally, when the time came for lobbying and back-room deals between member states, the institutions and everyone else who call the shots in these sorts of HR shenanigans, the one Slovenian in Brussels with both breath of knowledge and depth of experience on how to go about ensuring his country continued to punch above its weight, couldn’t do his job – because he was the one nominated.

That said, however, one should remember that this is only a draft composition of the College of Commissioners. Twitter is awash with rumors that László Trócsányi, the Hungarian nominee who was assigned the enlargement portfolio, will not make it past the hearing stage in the European Parliament.

When something similar happened five years ago, it was former PM Alenka Bratušek, the initial Slovenian nominee, who got axed and replaced with Violeta Bulc. Crucially, this necessitated a last-minute portfolio reshuffle. So, watch this space.

As things stand now, however, Janez Lenarčič will most likely spend the next five years overseeing crisis preparedness, early response scenarios and distribution of aid to third world countries.

It’s not that his will be an unimportant work. Quite the opposite. In pengovsky’s view, one of the most fascinating achievements of this Union, apart for the way it handled the Brexit clustefuck, is the stupendous amount and quality of infrastructure in place to monitor, project and respond to natural and other disasters.

Things like the Copernicus Programme with its near-real time data on a wide range of natural and man-made disasters are positively kick-ass and actually save lives across the globe, not just in the EU. No doubt Lenarčič’s portfolio will be dealing with that, as well.

Janez Lenarčič will have his hands full. That is a given. He would have, no matter which portfolio would be assigned to him. That he was given a relatively low-key assignment is purely a function of the disinterest Slovenian PM Šarec has shown in the entire process of establishing VDL’s commission.

Also playing a part is the fact that despite his diplomatic and technocratic chops, on paper Lenarčič is a bit of a political lightweight compared to most of his fellow commissioners-to-be.

And in a commission which promises to be even more political than Jean-Claude Juncker’s was, this matters.

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Agent provocateur and an occasional scribe.