Who is Robert Golob, Slovenia’s New PM?

By , 26 May 2022, 11:39 AM Politics
PM Robert Golob PM Robert Golob Photo: FiatMahindra CC-by-SA-4.0

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STA, 25 May 2022 - Prime minister-elect Robert Golob is a former energy executive who will helm the government at a time of energy and climate crisis. The first businessman in Slovenia to win a mandate to form a government, he spent 15 years running a company that made big profits buying and selling energy, being one of the first to bet on renewables.

Golob, a 55-year-old electricity system expert from the western region of Primorska, decided to challenge outgoing Prime Minister Janez Janša at the polls after he failed to win support late last year for his sixth term as CEO of GEN-I even as the indirectly state-owned energy trader posted record sales and profit.

Linking up with several other professionals who like him lost or quit their careers under the Janša centre-right government, he took over a small green party formed by Jure Leben, the environment minister in 2018-19, and renamed it Freedom Movement at a congress in late January.

Campaigning on the promise to work hand-in-glove with the civil society to restore freedom, democracy and the rule of law, repeal controversial measures and appointments made by the Janša government, tackle the ailing healthcare, and reform the country through a green and digital transformation that will work for everyone, Golob's party won 41 seats in the 90-strong parliament, more than any other to date.

It has become a tradition in Slovenia that a party is formed by a prominent figure shortly before the election and then goes on to emerge as the winner or runner-up by picking up the protest vote and capitalising on the left-leaning electorate's aversion to Janša, who has led three governments so far.

All those parties have since fragmented, disintegrated or been pushed to the political margin. Golob says he is aware of the risk and has indicated he will apply methods that have been tested well in the corporate sector to manage it.

Indeed, the manner in which he has set to form a government with the Social Democrats (SD) and the Left indicates he will try to run the government with business efficiency. He has signalled a departure from politics of finger-pointing and ideological bickering and a willingness to attract talent beyond his party or coalition.

He has shown his ability to efficiently respond to an obstacle as Janša's party filed a motion for a referendum to foil his attempt to restructure the government. Sticking to his plan to form the government by 3 June, he adapted his cabinet line-up fast and announced he would reshuffle it to his original design once the referendum motion can be voted down.

Golob is not hiding the ambition that he would like to step in the shoes of Janez Drnovšek (1950-2008), his erstwhile boss who served as Slovenia's prime minister for a decade between 1992 and 2002 as the leader of the Liberal Democracy (LDS), the kind of party Golob is seeking to form himself.

Under the Drnovšek government Golob served as state secretary for energy at the Environment Ministry from 1999 to 2002. Before that he headed Slovenia's negotiating team on energy policy in accession talks with the EU.

Golob than moved back home and in 2002 founded a startup called Strela-G, which at a time when this was not popular yet did business investing into renewable sources of energy. The eventually evolved into GEN-I through a series of transactions involving major state-owned companies. Golob remained at the helm of the multi-billion company for 15 years.

He ventured into politics in 2011 when he became a vice-president of Positive Slovenia, a party founded by Ljubljana Mayor Zoran Janković that won the 2011 general election but failed to form a government. Instead, a government was formed by Janša, who was ousted after a year in office over Janša's failure to account for his assets.

Janković, who at the time faced similar accusations from the anti-graft watchdog as Janša, says Golob was his "first choice" to succeed Janša as PM then. However, Golob allegedly changed his mind and Alenka Bratušek took over as prime minister. After Positive Slovenia split, Golob sided with Bratušek and became vice-president of her party for a while, before leaving politics again.

Golob has now invited Bratušek to join his government, as he has Marjan Šarec, who served as prime minister from 2018 to 2020, although neither of their parties made it into parliament. It is part of his plan to consolidate the liberal bloc with a view to the upcoming local and presidential elections and in line with his bid to try to stay in government for two terms.

Little is known about Golob personally and he has been careful to keep his family away from the public eye. This he gave as the reason why he would not disclose his income tax return in response to questions and allegations about his excessive salary, which was the main accusation against him during the election campaign.

The allegations did little to upset his bid and even what at first seemed as a setback appeared to have turned in his favour as he tested positive for coronavirus a week ahead of the election and had to resume his his campaigning remotely.

Golob was born on 23 January, 1967, in Šempeter pri Gorici in the west. He graduated from the Ljubljana Faculty of Electrical Engineering in 1989, and then went on to earn a master's and doctor's degree, after which he won a Fulbright scholarship for a visiting position at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, US.

In 1997 he got a job as an assistant professor at his old faculty. His areas of expertise include the functioning and deregulation of the electricity system, and the restructuring of the electricity industry and electricity markets.

A father of three, Golob has also been active in local politics, stepping down in early May as a city councillor in Nova Gorica for his own list. Proud of his region, he speaks with a strong accent, and many of the people he has attracted into his party and government come from Primorska.

In a video posted before the election, he admitted that he is a fan of the 1980s rock music and loves the sea and basketball, even though he used to be kayaker himself. He says he has kept his hairstyle of longish curls almost unchanged since the age of 14. Unlike Janša, he does not have a Twitter account and has said he does not plan on tweeting.

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