The supervisory board of the Slovenian Sovereign Holding (SDH) is expected to finally end the sad saga of the sale of Telekom Slovenije today. The state owned telco was put up for sale as a part of the deal then-PM Alenka Bratušek and her FinMin Uroš Čufer made with Brussels in 2013 to avoid a bailout that would send Slovenia into the special Olympics category together with Greece and Cyprus (as well as Ireland and Spain, to a lesser extent).
Telekom Slovenije management might get new bosses soon (source: The Firm™)
To cut a long story short, the company was put up for sale soon after the SDH was formed and when it became clear that the new Slovenian government will go ahead with the attempted sale, despite PM Cerar’s vocal reservations during the election campaign, all hell broke loose. Cerar’s government nearly went tits-up with the SD threatening to quit the coalition (but didn’t and wouldn’t, because gravy train), there was a very public and very loud stooshie between the PM and his defence minister Janko Veber of SD, who was then relieved of his duties. And in general, as the days passed, the debate on Telekom was becoming ever more charged.
But in the end Deutsche Telekom, the supposed bogeyman in this story did not even place a bid, leaving Cinven, a British fund to go at it alone. Which was a bit of a #wtf moment, especially for opponents of the sale as it became clear that people are not exactly queuing to snap up the company. And after much wrangling the final offer was around 110 euros per share with additional 20 per share later on if certain conditions are met and benchmarks achieved. Yesterday, Telekom Slovenije (TLSG) traded at 98 euros per share. And in the end it was all about whether the SDH will accept Cinven’s offer. And this is where the fun really starts.
The issue is so charged both politically and emotionally that any politician with at least a half-developed survival instinct would rather walk away from it or find a way to maintain status quo. And every so often even PM Cerar gave the impression that he would rather see the Telekom problem simply go away. But it didn’t and in the end, the SDH management OKd the Cinven deal and kicked the issue upstairs, to the supervisory board. Which after much deliberation OKd the deal as well but kicked it upstairs to the government, acting as SDH’s shareholder assembly. And after even more deliberation (an eight-hour cabinet meeting on Sunday last), the government decided to kick the issue downstairs, to the SHD supervisory board, saying they’re paid to do it and that it’s their job.
Thus an interesting situation was created whereupon the SDH management, its supervisory board and government green-lighted the deal, and now everyone is looking around, waiting for someone to say “sold!”. The Board is apparently scheduled to meet later today as to catch a deadline set by Cinven. The fund is threatening to pack-up and leave should the deal be nixed or final decision somehow delayed yet again.
But on the fate of the deal hinges the internal dynamic of the coalition. Namely, should the deal go south at the very last moment (and that at the moment seems unlikely, despite the massive pressure from anti-privatisation camp), the SD, now barely hanging on would probably score massive points, overtake United left (ZL) at the top spot in the polls and probably start calling the shots within the coalition. Most of them, anyway. Because not only is the SD fighting a politically symbolic battle, the outcome will have massive repercussions for the party in terms of access to resources, influencers, decision makers, and the party’s own political prospects.
Watching very carefully will be Karl Erjavec of DeSUS, who is mostly sitting this one out, but is gearing up for a similar fight over Zavarovalnica Triglav, the largest insurer in Slovenia. If Miro Cerar and his SMC prevail, then Teflon Karl better start preparing a different strategy to keep Triglav in state hands and, by extension within his sphere of influence. If, however, the Telekom is not sold, then Erjavec can simply cash in the support he gave to the SD prior to election, divide the spoils and live happily ever after.
Not that the anti-privatisation camp is throwing in the towel, either. While the SD will probably not leave the coalition over the Telekom (not that it could, with its six votes, anyhow), they are trying everything else. Thus yesterday evening an 11th hour attempt was made at derailing the deal. Mladina weekly ran a story about a due-diligence, commisioned by a potential bidder which supposedly showed Telekom shares are worth as much as 190 euro.
Now, under normal conditions would have been a bombshell. But these are not normal conditions. The pressure brought to bear in this case is beyond anything we’ve seen in recent history. At the very least, this is the first time the wrangling, arm-twisting and threats are done out in the open, at the highest level of politics and public life in general. Therefore, the first question that begs asking is why is it then the British fund is the only bidder? This phantom bidder could have made an offer of say, EUR 150 per share and still make a deal of the decade. But it didn’t. And that’s all that matters.
At any rate, whatever the fuck the SDH supervisory board decides today, will probably mark the end of a period. Not just for Telekom Slovenije, but for Slovenian politics. The fallout will be massive. If the deal falls through, what little credibility Cerar’s administration gained at home and in Brussels, will have disappeared as the PM will be seen as being shoved around easily. If, however, the SDH board does finally OK the sale, Cerar’s problems are far from over. Not only on account of DeSUS holding a baseball bat to fend of privatisation of Zavarovalnica Triglav but also because the anti-privatisation camp nearly succeeded this time around and will be anything but disheartened in the next round.
And while early elections are not in the cards any time soon (not yet, at least), life in the ruling coalition will become increasingly difficult as the SD seem to have found their voice (their only problem being that it is the same voice the ZL is using, only much more effectively). With this in mind, the possibility of a coalition expansion or even reshuffle seems plausible.