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Evropski poslanci
The background of official candidates and those whose names are floating around Brussels and Ljubljana is astonishing – they really are as diverse as these colours. But unfortunately, only a few actually wear the ‘true European colours’. Foto: EPA
Dragan Barbutovski
In his new blog Dragan Barbutovski talks about the Slovenian candidates for the EP elections. Foto: MMC RTV SLO

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Pandemonium… or is it all well planned?

Dragan Barbutovski, EU and strategic communications consultant
8. April 2014 ob 12:27
Brussels - MMC RTV SLO

I was sitting in the Mickey Mouse bar, a colourfully decorated café of the European Parliament last week, discussing the EP elections which have now crossed the psychologically important mark of 50 days. With the elections taking place on 25 May, we are just over a month away from officially knowing who will run for eight Slovenian seats in the EP for the coming five years.

The appetites are high – if I were to judge them by the public statements made by various party leaders (the United Left says they will win three seats), I would have thought Slovenia has 20+ MEPs. While the majority of the names have not been officially revealed, this strong appetite is not stopping the political parties from throwing just about any name who says yes, on their lists.

The Mickey Mouse bar got its name from the colourful chairs that decorate it and which have been (except for a short ‘remodelling period’) an EP-constant over the last 10 years or so. Within my mind I thought these bright yellow, green, blue and red colours represent various political groups represented in the EP. Or maybe the colours represent the variety of countries in the EU.

But as I discuss the selections procedures and the most asked question in Brussels and at home being: ‘Who will be placed on the political party lists and on what position?’, it hits me – these colours represent the MEPs. Their characters, who they are, their background and the variety?

The background of official candidates and those whose names are floating around Brussels and Ljubljana is astonishing – they really are as diverse as these colours. But unfortunately, only a few actually wear the ‘true European colours’.

Ex politicians, ministers and MPs who are either unemployed, unemployable or simply ‘to be gotten rid of’ (see my last blog on how Janez Potočnik secured his second term as Slovenia’s’ Commissioner), academics who are bored at inventing the ‘next big thing’, party leaders who pretend to be interested in the EU policy but are driven by the internal party politics and - simply - vanity, inexperienced students who are either failed or will fail their studies if elected, and even Miss Wine Slovenia… this is the colourful variety of people who could represent Slovenia in the EU. As you will see, very few candidates will be experienced Europhiles, making the race for the EP more like a ‘party political beauty pageant’ than as a substantive clash of visions.

There are a few MEPs that will run again – but those are few and far apart and potentially weak within the internal party political machine.

The Slovene Democratic Party (SDS) has kicked out two of their own MEPs from their list – a rookie Zofija Mazej Kukovič, a surprise drop last week, (she was parachuted into the EP due to the redistribution of votes because of the Lisbon Treaty) and Romana Jordan who has left a lasting mark by her professionalism and dedication. She ruled herself out of the race a few weeks ago as she intimated to Večer daily in an interview that she was not loyal enough to the party leadership. As a replacement of experienced women, their list, the only official so far, is as colourful as the Mickey Mouse bar.

The same bickering occurs on the other side of the political spectrum – Social Democrats (SD) are locked in an internal fight between two incumbent MEPs, both wanting to be on top of the list. But now party leader Igor Lukšič has stepped in, allegedly wishing to head the list himself. The party will therefore loose an opportunity to be the first political party in Slovenia to put a woman on the top of the list. While he might be versed in domestic politics, he is a rookie on the EU sphere, defeating the object of sending the most experienced people to Brussels.

But this internal struggle provides little entertainment in comparison to what is going on on the liberal front. Four political parties – Liberal Democracy (LDS), Zares, Državljanska lista (DL) and the rulling Pozitvna Slovenija (PS) – all members of liberal ALDE group, are at loggerheads, wounded by the decision of the Slovenian Commissioner Janez Potočnik not to run. Even the recent ‘arm twisting’ visit of ALDE chief and Liberals’ candidate for the European Commission chief, Guy Verhofstadt was not enough to convince them to form a joint list. If they fail, they will most certainly face oblivion, as each of them separately will not reach the necessary 4% threshold. With three of them apparently willing to go together on May 25, it’s the PS’s vanity (even arrogance one of my contacts put it) that appears to be the stumbling block. With Janez Potočnik ruling himself out of the race, PS is stuck and has no credible candidates. It is apparently pressuring Potočnik to reconsider, something that could damage his image of Slovenia’s most popular ‘politician’.

But this has not stopped Nova Slovenija (NSI) and Slovenska ljudska stranka (SLS) from forming a joint list. This smart move might bring them a further third MEP and could be a decisive strike against SDS after a rather acrimonious fall out between SDS and NSI. But as I wrote in my previous blog, party dictats are not always welcomed. The rebellion within NSI from their Novo mesto constituency against the party leadership to place a party outsider and locally unpopular ‘political technocrat’ Vida Čadonič Špelič on the list may cost them votes.

While all this appears to be ‘cuisine interne’, it will have repercussions on the EU level. The latest PollWatch2014 puts the conservative EPP and the Social Democratic grouping in the EP neck-and -neck so every MEP counts. The failure of the liberals in Slovenia to form a joint list and put aside their narrow interests might give SD a further push but with the party discipline of SDS and the smart move of forming a joint NSI-SLS list, it does appears at this point in time that EPP members might be the biggest winners of the Slovenian vote. The PollWatch foresees that 5 MEPs might belong to the EPP with 2 going to the S&D group. One, surprisingly, could go to the Non-Attached group, according to the predictions. Could this be an opportunity for the United Left?

You can follow Dragan Barbutovski on Twitter.

Dragan Barbutovski

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