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30th Jul 2021

Slovenia takes over EU presidency amid wave of criticism

  • After tense discussions, the chief of the Green Deal and former EU commissioner for rule of law, Frans Timmermans, did not join the transitional family photo (Photo: European Union)

Slovenia formally assumed the six-month rotating presidency of the European Council on Thursday (1 July) - amid criticism against its conservative prime minister Janez Janša, who is seen as following Hungary and Poland in undermining the rule of law and democratic values in the EU.

"The Slovenian presidency will be decisive. The tasks will be challenging," said European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, just a few days after a row broke out at an EU leaders' summit over the new anti-LGBTIQ law approved by Hungary.

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"Trust that diversity and equality are always respected, and that the rule of law and European values are always upheld… is the very essence of our European Union," she added.

Speaking to the press, Janša said that the Slovenian presidency will be an "honest broker" in human-rights disputes among member states.

He added that there were no major differences among EU leaders during the last summit in Brussels, but "a sincere discussion" on human rights and "what rights have priority".

Meanwhile, Slovenia is currently the only country that has yet to send its candidates to the European Public Prosecutor's Office (EPPO) - a body responsible for uncovering and prosecuting fraud involving EU funds.

During her visit to Ljubljana, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said Slovenia must cooperate with the EPPO and appoint its candidates without delay, warning that this is "crucial to protect EU taxpayers money".

"As we collectively prepare and finance our recovery, trust is our most valuable asset," von der Leyen also said, acknowledging that there are other instruments to control and supervise EU funds.

Following months of standstill and attempts to block the selection of EPPO nominees from moving forward, Slovenia's prime minister Janez Janša annulled the selection proposed by the country's prosecution council last May.

EU lawmakers have called on the EU commission for the suspension of EU funds to Slovenia, arguing that the government's decision to cancel the appointment of the two prosecutors represented "an unacceptable violation of the rule of law".

Prime minister Janša told reporters on Thursday that the new selection procedure is expected to be finished by Autumn, pointing out that national institutions in member states have to protect EU funds.

The new European public prosecutor's office launched on 1 June without the participation of Hungary, Poland, Sweden, Denmark, and Ireland.

The populist Janša has also been accused of putting media freedom at risk, especially after cutting funding for the Slovenian national news agency STA.

Reporters Without Borders have raised concerns about the recent attacks of the prime minister on Slovenian and international journalists, warning that there was a risk that Slovenia will use the EU presidency "to obstruct efforts to strengthen media freedom in Europe".

Von der Leyen called on the Slovenian government to stop blocking funds for STA, stressing that "free, independent, and properly funded media" is crucial for the democratic debate.

Notably, the chief of the Green Deal and former EU commissioner for rule of law, Frans Timmermans, did not join the traditional family photo.

"I simply could not be on the same podium with prime minister Janša after his unacceptable attack on and defamation of two judges and two MEPs," Timmermans said in a statement.

He was referring to a picture that Janša showed the collegue of commissioners with two judges and two MEPs identified as political enemies, according to Slovenian media.

"Judicial independence and respect for the role of elected MEPs are cornerstones of the rule of law, without which the EU cannot function. We can never stop calling out those who attack it," Timmermans added.

Slovenia causing headaches for new EU anti-graft office

Slovenia was supposed to nominate a delegated prosecutor for the new European Public Prosecutor Office, in charge of cracking down on corruption of EU funds. Ljubljana finalised procedures in December but has yet to send nominations, causing headaches.

EU institutions brace for impact of Slovenia's Janša

The Slovenian prime minister recently lashed out against both journalists and MEPs. His country will soon take over the presidency. In Brussels, there is concern - but also faith that Janez Janša cannot have much impact on the EU machinery.

Public spat with Brussels mars start of Slovenian presidency

A rift between Brussels and Ljubljana marred the start of the Slovenian presidency of the EU Council - with host prime minister Janez Janša publicly rebuking Brussels that "smaller countries in the EU are treated as second-class".

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