Ljubljana – Slovenia’s potential new prime minister, Robert Golob has made a successful career for himself as an energy executive before returning to politics as a new name just in time for the general election in a manner the country has become well used to since his one-time party boss, Zoran Janković, first made such an attempt.
Golob, a 55-year-old electricity system expert from the western region of Primorska, decided to challenge incumbent PM Janez Janša at the polls after he failed to win support late last year for another term as CEO of GEN-I after 15 years at the helm of the indirectly state-owned energy trader.
However, Golob is not new to politics, it is just the role he is in that is new. Under the Janez Drnovšek liberal government he 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.
In 2011, Golob became a vice-president of Positive Slovenia, a party founded by Ljubljana Mayor Janković (another former business exec) 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.
It was in reference to that episode that Janša, asked about Golob’s venturing into politics earlier this year, called it an exam resit by Zoran Janković: “After they failed to make it with the queen [Bratušek], they are trying to make it with a knight and they are obviously running out of their chess figures,” he said, alluding to old structures.
Golob first suggested his foray into politics at a press conference of GEN-I in November 2021 in which he appeared side by side with Janša’s former ally, Brigadier General Anton Krkovič, who said the plan to get rid of Golob as GEN-I boss had been orchestrated by people close to Janša.
After much speculation, Golob 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, along with several professionals who lost or quit their careers under the current government, with a promise to focus on green agenda, open society, normalisation, and modern welfare state.
Golob’s party shot to the top of opinion polls almost even before it was formally inaugurated following a pattern seen ahead of each parliamentary election since 2011, first in Positive Slovenia, then the SMC party formed by Miro Cerar and most recently Marjan Šarec’s LMŠ, both of whom would then serve as PMs.
Politically, Golob is a liberal who advocates personal and social responsibility and a technocrat approach to government, which he intends to form with other centre-left parties. He bets on green and digital transformation to take the country on the path to success.
As a model to manage the state he has offered GEN-I, whose success he says has relied on good business culture and expertise and the right balance between owners, clients, customers, employees and financial institutions.
“We have the highest return on capital, the lowest prices, the highest wages and zero debt, we have a lot of money in the bank,” he says. “Can you imagine what kind of country we would live in if this applied to Slovenia?”
Golob has often said in recent weeks that his first priority after the election, even before the government is formed, would be to support the civil society in pushing its bill aimed at repealing what they see as harmful legislation adopted by the Janša government through parliament, along with a bill to make the public broadcaster independent of politics.
Once the government is formed, he says their first task at hand will be to get ready for the autumn wave of Covid-19 to protect the vulnerable whilst allowing society, economy and in particular schools to function normally. Another priority will be to secure energy supply for the winter and protect the vulnerable from price shocks.
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.
Right-wing media in particular have reported extensively on alleged financial wrongdoing linked to his previous job at GEN-I, as well as a bank account opened in Romania in his name in 2017, which Golob said was a case of stolen identity that he said he only learnt about recently but only reported to the bank in question but not the police.
In a major setback, Golob tested positive for coronavirus a week ago and spent the last week of the election campaign in isolation. Talking to the news web site Žurnal24.si about that he said: “We’ve been joking that I’ll be the first prime minister to win [an election] remotely.”
A father of three, 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, 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, according to his CV posted on the website of GEN-I.
Golob is also active in local politics. He has served as a city councillor in Nova Gorica for his own list. “If you live in a community, you can’t behave as if you don’t care what happens outside your home. You must contribute to the common good, if not for your own sake, then for the sake of your children,” he has told Primorske Novice in an interview.