Robert Golob finally put the ministers into his prime-ministership. The parliament voted on his cabinet yesterday and – to nobody’s surprise – approved the whole lot. Only it didn’t. Because this is not the cabinet Robert Golob wanted. Rather, it is the cabinet he can have at this moment.
This is a direct result of SDS moving to call a consultative referendum on the new Government Act. It stopped Golob’s redesign of the executive dead in its tracks and forced him to adhere to the existing layout. But the Big Bird will eventually get his way and a cabinet he really wants. So in a way, yesterday we saw the swearing-in of Robert Golob’s first government.
The media point out the record-breaking speed with which Golob formed his cabinet. And yes, thirty-eight day is lighting-fast as far as Slovenia is concerned. But perhaps even more important is the highest-ever number of female ministers. As is the fact that this government has amongst its ranks the first ever openly LGBT person. So, without further ado, here is a short primer on the fifteenth government of Muddy Hollows.
Tanja Fajon, foreign affairs. SD leader said she will tackle the (…checks notes…) problematic rep Muddy Hollows acquired within the EU over the last two years. She didn’t do herself any favours with some unnecessary equivocating over Ukraine. Though she is mostly expected to follow the EU line on this, such as it is. Her choice of former foreign minister Samuel Žbogar as her state secretary as well as her MEP background indicate she will focus on the Balkans. Good luck with that. Wear-and-tear level: low
Luka Mesec(*), labour, family, social affairs and equal opportunities. Levica coordinator will leave this post the first chance he gets. But not because he would think his detractors are right in saying that he is the wrong man for the job. Mesec carved himself a nice little progressive-sounding ministry of solidary future where he will basically pick and choose his purview and act as a sort of uberminister to the rest of Levica appointees. Mesec is to be replaced on this post by Simon Maljevac (see below). Wear-and-tear level: low
Tatjana Bobnar, interior. Vengeance is a dish best served cold. A former Chief of Police, she was dismissed by Janša regime and replaced with Anton Olaj. Bobnar will now have the distinct pleasure of telling the walking Google Chrome Private Mode to get the fuck out of his office, pronto. Her nomination irked many NGOs due the heavy-handed tactics the police used against migrants while she was Top Cop. Bobnar, however, went out of her way to put protection of human rights front and centre as minister. Perhaps put this one into the “check often” column? Wear-and-tear level: medium
Klemen Boštjančič, finance. Probably the second most thankless job in Golob’s government, right after the minister of health. Boštjančič was – among other things – at the head of Adria Airways and involved with management of Sava tourism conglomerate. So, he should know how intersection of government spending and private enterprise looks like. But then again, Adria has long since shuffled off its mortal coil while the resort business is a near-constant political football and in dire need of refinancing. So… yeah. Wear-and-tear level: extreme
Asta Vrečko, culture. Ah yes. Culture. Despite its harmless-sounding name, the purview of culture minister extends all the way from cultural heritage protection to media legislation, up to and including the law on RTVSLO. And that is before we consider the Slovenian Book Agency, museums and galleries, various NGOs and the creative sector in general. Vrečko may well have the academic chops to understand the scope of the assignment, but she will need a hell of a lot of political cover. Her first big test will be drafting a new law on RTVSLO and she needs to get it right the first time around. Wear-and-tear level: high
Danijel Bešič Loredan, health. Probably the most thankless job in Golob’s government. The entire health sector is still reeling from the pandemic and it wasn’t in a great place even before the plague. Bešič Loredan aims to tackle corruption, wasteful spending and inefficient management, while hoping not to rub doctors, nurses and patients the wrong way too much. This is one portfolio where feathers are sure to fly and PM Golob apparently plans to give his health minister all the cover he needs. Question is, will it be enough? Wear-and-tear level: extreme
Matej Arčon, Slovenian minorities and diaspora. A cushy and not overly demanding gig for secretary-general of Gibanje Svoboda party. But Arčon is also uniquely qualified for this job. Hailing from Golob’s home town, smack on the border with Italy, this former mayor of Nova Gorica has first hand experience of what cross-border cooperation looks like. This includes understanding nuances of minority politics as well as interaction with authorities of neighbouring regions and countries. Wear-and-tear level: low
Igor Papič(*), education, science and sport. A researcher and a scholar of some renown, Papič unsuccessfully ran for rector of the Ljubljana university. It will be interesting to see how the interaction between the University and the newly-minted minister will evolve. More importantly, Papič will be happy to relinquish the portfolios of primary and secondary education to Amarija Žakelj later on. Wear-and-tear level: low
Bojan Kumer(*), infrastructure. In a way, Kumer is a placeholder for Alenka Bratušek, who will return to the ministry in style. But before she does that, Kumer needs to move to the yet-to-be-formed ministry of energy. He is a member of Golob’s entourage from Gen-I and will undoubtedly have the Big Bird’s ear. Wear-and-tear level: low.
Dominika Švarc Pipan, justice. The hot-shot expert in international law irked old SD hands the wrong way when she made it clear she is interested in the post. Many within the party saw her as not sufficiently, well, party, to land the gig. But land it she did, and given that she already served as state secretary (a minister’s second-in-command) during the Šarec administration, she knows full well what she is up against. Wear-and-tear level: medium
Will probably face head-winds
Matjaž Han economy and technology. If Dominika Švarc Pipan represents the yuppie side of the SD, Han represent the slow, loyal and often self-serving slog through the party structures and into national politics. A politician’s politician, he is no stranger to cutting deals left and right, including with the SDS (where they keep him in relatively high regard, apparently). He is not, however, the type to propose bold new policy initiatives or to think outside the box too much. Wear-and-tear level: medium
Uroš Brežan(*), environment and spatial planning. The four-term mayor of municipality of Tolmin finally gets to make a breakthrough into prime-time national politics. He understands his area of work and is well poised to get things gone. But he will have to hold his own against other ministers (especially infrastructure and energy) which could well be a challenge. His ministry will be renamed into “natural resources and spatial planning” once the new Government Act is passed, so he gets an asterisk. Wear-and-tear level: medium.
Irena Šinko, agriculture, forestry and food. The low-key former head of Farmland and Forest Fund (a highly influential agency managing state-owned farmland and forest) probably knows her field well. At least, she should. But the rising energy costs and disruptions to food supplies will make her work way more complicated than simply fielding regular farmers’ demands about increasing the price of grain. Wear-and-tear level: elevated.
Emilija Stojmenova Duh(*)¸, digitalisation. An award-winning professor of information and communication technology, Stojmenova Duh is involved with many cross-border and multi-national research projects on digitalisation. Despite running on an SD ticket (and barely missing parliament entry), she took over as a GS hand. This gave the appearance of party-shopping on her part. Apparently she really wanted the job and Golob really wanted her to have it, but having her as an SD member would break coalition mathematics so apparently Fajon and Golob were cool with pulling the switcheroo. While she is now technically heading a ministry without portfolio, she is up for a promotion into a “full” minister in the upcoming Government Act, hence the asterisk. Wear-and-tear level: low.
Aleksander Jevšek, cohesion funds and regional development. Funnily enough, Golob’s government will not have one, but two ex-cops as ministers. Many moons ago Aleksander Jevšek headed the criminal investigation division. He was dismissed by the subsequent Janša administration and entered politics as mayor of Murska Sobota. The town is the regional capital of Prekmurje, one of the most remote and underdeveloped regions in Muddy Hollows. Presumably Jevšek by ways of this got some idea about how regional development and running for EU funds look like. Wear-and-tear level: non-existent.
Sanja Ajanović Hovnik, public administration. I’ve got nothing. Sorry.
The special case of Marjan Šarec
Marjan Šarec, defence. LMŠ leader and former PM landed this post as recognition that Golob’s massive electoral victory came at the expense of LMŠ and SAB (see Bratušek, Alenka). But he also got the gig in preparation for the LMŠ, SAB and GS merger (ibidem). Doubts about Šarec being a good fit for the ministry are misplaced. He knows a thing or two about the job, being an ex-PM and all, and is also a bit of a security hawk. The main challenge for politically un-dead Šarec will be to know when to ignore his controversial state secretary. Damir Črnčec has proven himself to be woefully inept in advising Šarec on political matters (see Šarec, resignation; circa 2020). Wear-and-tear level: elevated.
Amended Government Act
That said, there are three people waiting in the wings to take on ministerial roles. Two of them already joined the government as state secretaries. But this will all have to wait until the parliament passes amendments to the Government Act.
As both readers know, the ruling coalition filed a new draft law that rearranges portfolios and increases the number of ministries. This, according to the Big Bird is to “better respond to the challenges of the future”. Which… Fair. It also made it easier to calm frictions within SD and Levica by doling out more positions to junior coalition parties. Which is why you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone within the Golob coalition to complain about the new setup.
However, the SDS and the NSi did and will complain. Obviously. The Party even went so far to move for a consultative referendum on the new law. Now, the move will die in the committee as there will not be enough votes to call the referendum. But the SDS did manage to put the kibosh on the draft law for about a month. Which was the whole point of the exercise.
And then, when the parliament does pass the new Government Act, the SDS will likely move to call a legislative referendum, further halting the redesign of the executive. Pretty soon, we’re talking about the better part of the year before Robert Golob gets the government he really wants.
Nevertheless, here is the remaining trio.
Alenka Bratušek, infrastructure. SAB leader and former PM served under PM Šarec in this exact post. However, the new incarnation of infrastructure ministry will lack the energy portfolio (see Kumer, Boštjan). Until then, she has already joined the ministry as Kumer’s state secretary. She can brace for a lot of heat coming her way, as she irks the opposition even more than Marjan Šarec does. But she is used to that. Wear-and-tear level: low
Amalija Žakelj, education. The amended Government Act provides for re-separation of science and higher education from the rest of the education process. Žakelj, a reputed researcher and lecturer in the field, is slated to take over responsibilities for everything from kindergarten up to and including secondary schooling, with the rest being the Igor Papič’s turf. Until the separation Papič will head the entire education portfolio. Interestingly, however, Žakelj did not want to join the government as Papič’s state secretary. Maybe there’s a story there, maybe not. We’ll see. Wear-and-tear level: low
Simon Maljevac, family, labour, social affairs and equal opportunities. Secretary general of Levica will take over from Luka Mesec once the latter gets appointed minister for solidary future. Until then Maljevac will serve as Mesec’s state secretary. Which is probably for the best. While a short stint as state secretary does not a minister make, Maljevac will get a crash course in running the show. This should somewhat offset his lack of experience in top-level politics. However, Maljevac will likely (and sadly) see attacks for being the first openly LGBT minister. Because why discus policies when you can do some good old-fashioned homophobia? Wear-and-tear level: elevated
The Second Government of Robert Golob
So, there you have it. Ministers and ministers-to-be. The government met in its inaugural session last night and started making key appointments including the new chief of police and heads of civilian and military intelligence services. PM Golob also announced the government will take a long, hard look at all appointments and promotions over the last couple of years. This may yield less actual results than the public hopes, but it could very well at least dampen the propensity of party appointees at various government levels to run interference.
Come autumn, Robert Golob will likely have the cabinet he wants, in the way he wants it. And given that it will entail not only adding new ministers but also rearranging portfolios, there a not-insignificant chance that more than a few ministers will have to undergo the entire hearing-and-confirmation process again.
And while it will probably be billed merely as a reconstruction, pengovsky has half a mind to call that the second government of Robert Golob. Making this one the first.