Slovenia started its six-month stint at the helm of the EU Council on Thursday (1 June) with a program centred on pandemic recovery, the Conference on the Future of Europe, rule of law and enlargement.
However, Ljubljana’s second stab at the presidency since the country joined the bloc in 2004 has movers and shakers in Brussels holding their breath, as the conservative Prime Minister Janez Janša has recently raised eyebrows on numerous occasions.
Close ally and friend to his Hungarian counterpart, Viktor Orbán, Janša has been quick to take to Twitter to make often unfounded claims about his political opponents, journalists and civil society.
Pressed by journalists about his support for Orbán during last week’s meeting of EU leaders where Budapest was questioned over its commitment to EU values after the adoption of a law banning “portrayal or promotion” of LGBTQI+ identity to minors, Janša said reports were “lacking in details”, and the discussion depended on where on the “spectrum … we find the right of parents to educate their children”.
Janša stressed that courts should be the ones who decide on rule of law issues but said that Slovenia “can be an honest broker” on values.
“If you think if an EU consisting of 27 member states will in a couple of years become a melting pot where we all think alike… you would better think again”, he added.
In seeming contradiction with the Slovenian prime minister, Commission President von der Leyen said the right of parents to educate their children was not disputed, rather the centre of disagreement was whether the Hungarian law discriminated against minorities.
Answering the Commission letter detailing concerns with the Hungarian law, Hungarian justice ministry wrote “no one should be allowed to force Hungarian parents to accept that their children can receive sexual education without their explicit consent.”
The Commission confirmed receiving the reply, “which we will now study carefully,” a spokesperson told EURACTIV, adding that it “will not hesitate to take legal action”.
Squabbles over presecutors
While in Slovenia, Von der Leyen presented the country’s approved recovery plan, which will see Brussels wire 1.8 billion in grants and €705 million in loans from money borrowed from the markets under the EU’s €750 billion recovery package.
However, Slovenia is yet to appoint a European delegated prosecutors to the prosecutor to European Public Prosecutor’s Office, a voluntary scheme Ljubljana decided to join under the previous government.
In light of this, EPPO Chief prosecutor Laura Kövesi said she sees Slovenia as a “huge risk” as EU funds will flow to Slovenia without proper management control systems.
Janša shot back saying that Kövesi’s statements “in my opinion are too political and do not help solve the situation”.
He said Slovenia was repeating the selection procedure and “we can finish by autumn, if everyone does their job”.
Commending the voluntary choice of Slovenia to joint EPPO, Von der Leyen said the institution “is a crucial component to protect European taxpayer’s money”.
However, Von der Leyen added that there are other mechanisms to monitor EU funds’ implementation, such as national audit institution, European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) and the new conditionality mechanism tying bloc money to rule of law.
The Commission president also omitted answering the question of journalists if the EU executive would be willing to take action against Slovenia if the process progress.
Media freedom concerns
Despite a pledge to resume payments in January 2021, after pressure from Brussels, no funding has been received by STA since February.
Commenting on the issue, Janša said “our problem with your press agency we need a document so we can pay it”.
Slovenia resumes funding news agency after EU warning
The Slovenian government said on Thursday (14 January) it had restored the financing of national news agency STA after Brussels warned against any attempt to pressure public media outlets.
Von der Leyen, for her part, expressed hope that the issue will resolved urgently.