Keeping The Eye On The Ball

Pengovsky was about to write up the fifth (and possibly last) installment of the Clearly, No-one Was Thinking series, when Angelika Mlinar was somewhat unexpectedly not green-lighted as minister for EU cohesion funds by the relevant parliamentary committees.

Angelika Mlinar during her committee hearing (source: Matija Sušnik/Nat’l Assembly)

The one thing that stood out as a sore thumb was the fact that it was not her credentials that were debated but rather her national loyalties. In fact, what we witnessed in the committee hearing on Tuesday was a mix of latent nationalism and sexism, with some internal party strife to boot.

To be sure, this is not the end of the road for Angelika Mlinar. As it were, the committee hearings for would-be ministers are little more than a dog & pony show. This particular instance, however, does show that while the Šarec minority government may be stable in the no-viable-alternative sort of way, it is by no means an overly cohesive organism working in unison.

As both readers know, there was a bit of an argument whether or not Angelika Mlinar can be nominated for the position seeing as she was not a Slovenian citizen.

Moot point

And while there was a legal argument to be made that she needn’t hold it, she did in fact apply for Slovenian citizenship, rendering the point moot. Seeing as she is the member of the Slovenian minority in Austria, her application was fast-tracked and approved before her name was formally put forward.

This, predictably, was not enough for the predominantly male members of the parliamentary committees on EU affairs and economy.

In yet another display of the backwater nationalism of the ugliest variety, so common in Muddy Hollows, more than a few MPs questioned Mlinar’s loyalties and her allegiance to the Slovenian state due to the fact that she was granted citizenship only the day before.

If only she were a man…

It suddenly didn’t matter that the would-be minister maintained her Slovenian identity in Austrian Carniola (where the powers that be did not always kindly take to that). Her detractors suddenly didn’t care that she speaks fluent Slovenian (something we cannot say for several MPs who’d probably fail a literacy test). And people conveniently forgot that she has more than proven her worth to the Slovenian public by winning an impressive number of direct votes as a Slovenian MEP candidate (falling short of the threshold by a whisker).

One wonders whether or not a male Austrian Slovenian candidate would face the same obstacles.

Double standards

No, wait… One needn’t really wonder. In fact, these same things MPs who opposed Mlinar saw as her failings were by far and large seen as an asset when Argentinian-Slovenian Andrej Bajuk was nominated for and appointed PM back in 2000.

And while there were a couple of uncomfortably nationalistic outbursts from the political left back then, one would think that at least the more conservative MPs would see preserving the Slovenian identity as something laudable.

Well, seems the above only applies of the candidate is a man.

So, yeah, latent sexism and nationalism. Lovely, innit?

Shots fired

That said, there was a lot of kabuki theatre going on Tuesday.

The fact that DeSUS, a coalition party, didn’t support Mlinar in the committee has as much to do with their MPs’s egos writing checks their bodies can’t cash as it has to with internal party strife.

You see, the big DeSUS kahuna and defense minister Karl Erjavec is in a bit of a tight spot, trying to see off a challenge to his party leadership by another DeSUS minister Aleksandra Pivec.

She and Erjavec are locked in a pretty open and increasingly ugly battle for the position and PM Šarec is, willingly or not, being drawn into this particular pissing contest. He commented a while back that Pivec is doing a good job as minister of agriculture and she is rumoured to be thinking about switching to LMŠ if the DeSUS leadership thing doesn’t pan out.

Thus, DeSUS withholding votes in the committee can credibly be interpreted as Erjavec’s shot across Šarec’s bow, reminding him to keep his nose out of it.

The minority government being as fragile as it is, this immediately set off a chain reaction where SAB leader Alenka Bratušek, who put Mlinar forward in the first place and has effectively tied her own political fortunes to the success of would-be minister, shot her own salvo in Šarec’s general direction.

Bratušek said that if she were in PM’s place and Mlinar was rejected by the parliament as a whole, she’d resign and head for election.

The message is clear. Not only did she remind Šarec that she once was where he is now, she also signaled that SAB hold exactly the same weight in this coalition as DeSUS does (both parties have five votes in the parliament). And finally, she reminded Karl Erjavec that if shit hits the fan, he will likely lose the plush defense minister job.

Virtue signaling

And since we’re already analysing all this signaling, virtuous or otherwise, we’d be amiss if we didn’t mention Levica.

In this whole conundrum of nationalism, sexism and whatnot, leftmost party took issue with Mlinar’s economic liberalism, accusing her of being a neoliberal who favoured privatising utilities and similar.

Mlinar sternly denied those assertions and even labeled them fake news, but you gotta give it to Levica, they sure know how to break left (pun very much intended). Digging up the sceptre of neoliberalism is not something one expects in a debate on EU cohesion funds.

That said, however, Levica are equivocating a bit with regard to their objections towards Mlinar. While they came down hard on her, Levica’s leader coordinator Luka Mesec stated “they will not be supporting the candidate in the vote” which doesn’t exactly translate to “we will vote against her”.

The same goes for DeSUS. While precious few agreements stick in this five-member coalition, the provision about coalition parties supporting each other’s candidates is a sine qua non. So count on all DeSUS MPs voting for Mlinar in the end. Well, all bar one.

At any rate, it would be a surprise if Angelika Mlinar somehow were not to become the next minister for EU cohesion funds later today. Namely, despite everything, no one in the coalition has an incentive to rock the boat too much as a fallen government or a prospect of early election are both fraught with uncertainties and variables beyond anyone’s control.

Procedural fuckery

That it not to say that the result is a foregone conclusion and the vote a mere formality. Apparently, there is so much debate scheduled for today that the vote is scheduled to take place at 3 A.M. tomorrow morning.

This seems like something only people who loathe themselves would do, but perhaps there’s more to it than meets the eye.

You see, the law stipulates that if a minister resigns, the PM can appoint another minister to take over for no longer than three months, lest the government be in an illegal position and possibly dissolved.

Seeing as the previous minister Igor Purič tendered his resignation on September 20th 2019, today is the last day of the three months.

Technically, Purič’s resignation came into effect only on 1 October 2019, meaning that a new minister can be appointed as late as 31 December. But any self respecting opposition would gloss over such details and bang the drum of the missed deadline at one minute past midnight tonight.

Point here being that while Mlinar should in the end get the appointment, it is by no means a slam-dunk. Marjan Šarec and especially Alenka Bratušek better keep their eye on the ball.

UPDATE @ 2330hrs : Mlinar was confirmed as minister with a single-vote majority

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Agent provocateur and an occasional scribe.