The Slovenia Times

EP mission concerned about tone of public debate in Slovenia

Daily news

Ljubljana - A delegation of the European Parliament's committee on civil liberties, justice and home affairs (LIBE) visiting Slovenia on a fact-finding mission has expressed concern mainly at the tone of public debate, while also calling for the issues of STA funding and European delegated prosecutor appointments to be addressed urgently.

After three days of meetings in Slovenia, the delegation is returning to Brussels to compile a report, but in their first observations they find that "public institutions in Slovenia work well", something the delegation's head Dutch MEP Sophie in 't Veld (Renew) described as reassuring as she presented their observations to reporters in Ljubljana on Friday.

However, she said the delegation was "struck by the tone of public debate" in the country and "members of the government engaging in kind of debate which I think is unfitting for civilised and democratic society", a debate that leads to a "climate of distrust, hostility and intimidation" and "sows doubt and distrust in the public institutions but also between them".

She pointed to the funding of the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) as one matter that needs to be addressed urgently, saying that it should not happen that the STA should have "gone under" even before a favourable court ruling came.

As the delegation's head told the STA in an interview after the news conference, the MEPs will shortly urge the government not to wait for the court decision but to start financing the STA immediately.

The delegation is also concerned over the delayed nomination of the delegated prosecutors to the European Public Prosecutor's Office and delays in the appointment of prosecutors in Slovenia itself.

This was as in a number of cases decisions to make appointments or to grant funds or budgets are being "delayed, held up, stalled, and they have to be fought in court".

In 't Veld also observed a deep polarisation in Slovenia, "as if the population is divided into two camps. I think there's only one Slovenia and one Slovenian people," she said, adding that the degree of division, whereby it becomes "a dialogue of the deaf" was worrying.

"I do believe that tone of debate is not harmless and it's not innocent. We have seen in other countries how it can lead to an erosion of trust in the democratic institutions and even an attack on democratic institutions," she said, but added: "We're not there".

In the interview with the STA she regretted the EU had limited powers to act when it comes to the rule of law. "Personally, I believe the EU should have more powers, while the European Commission and especially the European Council should be more resolute."

Asked whether the EU will allow developments from Hungary and Poland to happen in Slovenia, the MEP said: "I strongly hope it won't." She noted the European Parliament had urged sanctions against Hungary and Poland very early on, whereas the Council, which features leaders of EU countries, has a major influence on the Commission, which is thus reluctant to be bolder and more resolute, while it would also have to find adequate instruments to act.

Over the past three days, the eight-member delegation has met representatives of the national government, civil society and the media to discuss the rule of law and media freedom. They have met a "wide range of actors" to get "as broad a picture as possible", as the MEP put it.

She said the mission was an ongoing exercise, which started with online sessions and some brief meetings, underscoring that they were a monitoring mission, rather than a tribunal or a court of justice.

The delegation also wanted to meet Prime Minister Janez Janša and some ministers, but they were unfortunately not available and the head of the mission hopes there will be some other opportunity to meet them because it would be important to hear their views.

Asked by two reporters why mainly left-leaning media were invited to talks, in 't Veld said she did not accept the notion that there were two Slovenias. She said they had a balanced programme and met all sorts of journalists who all expressed different views. If a journalist is targeted, it does not matter for her personally what their persuasions because it is an attack on free media.

The Culture Ministry cancelled the meeting with the delegation because the delegation declined to let them record it. Asked about that, the MEP said the ministry asked for a copy of recording of the meeting, which they did not have because the formula of such fact-finding missions was in-camera sessions.

In 't Veld would not comment on the Twitter exchange provoked by PM Janša beyond saying that she believed "those who are in power have a special responsibility for the tone of debate, making sure that you strengthen trust in the democratic institutions, rather than weaken that trust".

In response to a journalist question she confirmed the issue of push-backs on the southern border had been discussed as well, expressing concern, but said that this was not the principal part of their mission.

The delegation has also taken note with concern of the letter signed by four public bodies, the Court of Audit, the Human Rights Ombudsman, the Information Commissioner, and the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption, who are pointing at the risk of pressure and possible threats to their independence.

Reporting on his meeting with the delegation, Ombudsman Peter Svetina said he had offered his assessment about the state of the rule of law and media freedom and expressed his concern over laws not being implemented in the case of the STA.

They also discussed issues related to protests and responded to questions related to migration and legislation dealing with foreigners, as well as the letter mentioned by in 't Veld.

Meanwhile, Alojz Kovšca, the speaker of the upper chamber of parliament, said some of the things they talked about with the delegation were the role of the upper chamber of parliament and how they saw governing by decrees instead of laws.


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