One week into the Dombrovskis era may be a little early to rush to judgment, but the early signs are very hopeful, and if snap judgments are good enough for Barack Obama, they’re good enough for our Great White Hope.
Dombrovskis himself was written off in some quarters as a grey technocrat, but as the days pass it becomes clearer that someone with technocratic tendencies was actually needed to restore a semblance of order to the chaos of the administration.
Equally importantly, while Dombrovskis may not be the most demonstrative individual (and compared to Godmanis, even Silvio Berlusconi would seem like a reticent wallflower) nor is he the unimaginative robot some assumed. There is a definite method to his almost monotone delivery style which suggests that it is strategy as much as his natural manner of conversing.
“He seems almost Estonian!” I joked this morning as I watched Dombrovskis answer questions in a straightforward manner on TV. Then I realised that I might be closer to the truth than I had imagined. After all, what does Latvia need right now if not some of the Estonian virtues of calmness, predictability and clarity.
Those are precisely what Dombrovskis appears to be aiming for. From the moment he assumed office with the statement that the country was on the verge of bankruptcy to today’s observation that Riga’s southern bridge is both extremely expensive and extremely average, Dombrovskis has been saying things that ordinary Latvians have known for months but which the previous government never acknowledged.
While Godmanis was characterised by a show of intense activity that never really produced much in the way of results, Dombrovskis seems to be typified by an unhurried mien that seems to be getting things done. If Godmanis tried to be a one-man government, Dombrovskis appears to be aiming at a role as the fixed point around which government can revolve with clockwork efficiency.
And so far, the public seems to be with him. They appreciate the fact that he is candid with them. Things will get worse before they get better, and though we will try our hardest to win better terms from the IMF, we cannot guarantee anything, Dombrovskis says. People may not like it, but they respect that he’s being straight.
In this context, the decision to exclude Godmanis’/Slesers’ LPP/LC party from government is looking like a matster stroke. Not only does it mean that the other coalition partners can imply that it was LPP/LC that held the last government back, but it also means Dombrovskis isn’t having his authority undermined by self-justifications or ‘corrections’ from Godmanis, who frankly looks like he can’t wait to get out of the country and into Brussels.
Of course the big question now is how long it will all last. Will the public be as understanding later this year when things get really grim, when the rubbish starts piling up in the streets and the snow isn’t cleared from the roads?
The other big threat to Dombrovskis comes from within his government, in the shape of the ‘big orange fist’ of the People’s Party. Despite being about as welcome in most of the country now as Hepatitis A, the People’s Party remains the biggest party in parliament and seems determined to intrigue its way to a future lifeline.
A bizarre mixture of heavyweight politicians, lightweight hard workers and people you would cross the road to avoid, it has been the party for people who “want to get on”.
There have already been some murmurings about not having enough seats in cabinet and Dombrovskis’ defeated People’s Party rival, Edgars Zalans, threw a minor hissy fit when it was decided all EU geld will go through the Finance Ministry rather than his Ministry of Places Outside Riga.
What’s surely not in doubt is that the moment the People’s Party weigh that they have more to gain from toppling the government than from supporting it, they will get a-topplin’.
But back with Dombrovskis, there is one more thing we should be grateful for. He may be Europe’s youngest prime minister and facing a huge challenge, but at least no-one has yet started talking about him as ‘Latvia’s Barack Obama’.
I for one would rather listen to Dombrovskis drone for hours without resort to similie, metaphor or even adjective than to have to sit through sixty seconds of Obama’s cloying, faux-epic, call-and-response neo-rhetoric.
“Can we do it?”
– Er, quite possibly, but only if we act sensibly.