Brussels urges Slovenia to ensure stable financing of STA

Brussels – Presenting the 2021 Rule of Law Report, European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova and Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders called on the Slovenian authorities on Tuesday to ensure a stable financing of the STA. Reynders pointed to potential measures in the wake of Slovenia’s non-appointment of European delegated prosecutors come autumn.

Commission Vice President for Values and Transparency Jourova noted that she had openly criticised the precarious funding of the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) on a number of occasions. The STA provides public service and in line with Slovenian law such service should receive a stable financing so that journalists could do their work, she said.

The Commission is closely monitoring the situation. “We expect the Slovenian authorities will resume a stable financing,” she told the press conference.

Jourova also commented on the recent campaign raising donations for the STA, saying that she liked the project, but as commissioner she also needed to stress that such a solution was not systemic and was as such unwelcome.

She said that the Commission’s swift response in April to approve EUR 2.5 million in state aid to the STA, based on Slovenia’s notification of these funds, showed Brussels believed it was key to provide sufficient funding for the agency.

Commissioner for Justice Reynders also highlighted the importance of a stable STA financing. According to him, the Commission insisted that the agency receive appropriate funding when it visited Slovenia at the start of the country’s EU presidency.

Reynders again urged Slovenia to appoint its two European delegated prosecutors as soon as possible. If this will not happen, he will decide on measures post summer, he said.

The second Rule of Law Report raises concerns over Slovenia’s failure to appoint prosecutors to the European Public Prosecutor’s Office as well as over “unjustified delay” in appointing state prosecutors.

The Commission also voiced concern in the report about the deteriorating situation of media freedom and pluralism in Slovenia, warning about “online harassment of and threats against journalists” and lawsuits aimed at intimidating journalists.

Responding to the release of the report, European Crisis Management Commissioner Janez Lenarčič, who comes from Slovenia, told the STA that the Commission’s main message in the report was to highlight serious concerns about the rule of law in Slovenia, particularly when it comes to the independence of prosecutors and media.

He highlighted the urgency of ensuring the STA’s independence. “This is about two things – financing and preserving independence,” he said, noting that the Commission was also clear in letting the Slovenian authorities know that the financing of the STA hence could not be subject to reducing its autonomy.

Asked why the report uses relatively mild warnings in the case of the STA funding given that the Commission has been known to voice concerns about the situation in a more direct manner, Lenarčič said that the report was straightforward in stating there is no funding for the agency even though it is required by law.

The report is mostly seen as a set of early-stage warnings, but if the situation in individual member states does not improve, the Commission has several mechanisms at its disposal to take action, he said.

Responding on Twitter, Prime Minister Janez Janša described Lenarčič’s comments as political, adding that he had joined some individuals within the Commission who were trying to set conditions for EU recovery funds for Slovenia. “Luckily he remained a minority. It’s the first known example of a commissioner trying to harm his own country directly,” Janša tweeted.