Justice minister resigns as govt annuls delegated prosecutor procedure

Ljubljana – Justice Minister Lilijana Kozlovič has handed her resignation, the Justice Ministry confirmed for the STA. The reason is the government’s decision to annul the procedure to appoint Slovenia’s two European delegated prosecutors and to publish a new call for applications, which Kozlovič sees no justified grounds for.

“As I have stressed many times before, the Justice Ministry has conducted the procedure in line with the law and the EU Council’s decree,” said Kozlovič, the third minister in the Janez Janša government to resign after Aleksandra Pivec left the Agriculture Ministry last October and Tomaž Gantar stepped down as health minister last December.

“It is true that only 22 member states are included in the system of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, but I think this institute of enhanced cooperation represents more Europe than that, and is an important opportunity to fight corruption and acts damaging the EU budget,” she wrote in her resignation letter.

Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek, the head of the Modern Centre Party (SMC), regretted Kozlovič’s decision. He said on Twitter the SMC would put forward her successor as soon as possible. Prime Minister Janez Janša also said he had asked him to do so as soon as possible.

Janša said that now that the last plot by prosecutors against Franc Kangler has fallen in court was a good time for the justice minister to step down. “Unfortunately, not enough has been done in the last year to prevent such abuses of the prosecution and drastic violations of human rights from repeating,” he tweeted after Kangler wrote on Twitter a few days ago that The Ljubljana Higher Court had rejected an appeal in what was the last case brought against him.

Počivalšek tweeted that the government had decided to repeat the selection procedure of the candidates for delegated prosecutors to overcome the current deadlock.

In a post on Facebook, he said that the appointment of the EU delegated prosecutors was too important, “so there must not be even a shred of doubt” about the procedure or the candidates.

Počivalšek said that the compromise proposal which was recently tabled by European Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders and under which Slovenia would first appoint only one candidate for delegated prosecutor had been found to be controversial by many experts, as thus the government would overstep its powers.

The minister was critical of the media pressure and pressure from the EU regarding Slovenia’s appointment of the delegated prosecutors. “Here it must be stressed that all countries take part in this system voluntarily and that five member states have not even joined the system and will not take part in it.”

The procedure to appoint delegated prosecutors has been at a standstill for months and Slovenia has been urged by the EU on several occasions to propose its delegated prosecutors as soon as possible, as the European Public Prosecutor’s Office is to start operating on 1 June.

Kozlovič put forward for European delegated prosecutors Matej Oštir and Tanja Frank Eler, who had been proposed by the Prosecution Council, but the government had not discussed the proposal, as Prime Minister Janez Janša allegedly opposed the pick.

The government decided not to get acquainted with the proposal and tasked the Justice Ministry to immediately publish a new call for applications, the government said after today’s session.

“The government has determined that the public call for application for the appointment of two European delegated prosecutors […] counts unsuccessful by law, so the proposal for the appointment of two delegated European prosecutors by the Prosecution Council prepared on its basis has no valid legal effects,” the press release reads.

The government later added that the Prosecution Council had only put forward two candidates for the two posts although a list of six candidates should have been formed in line with the state prosecution act. Under the act, the call for applications is considered unsuccessful if a list of three candidates is not formed.

The government said the use of this rule made sense both from the perspective of the criteria for the European delegated prosecutor and procedure efficiency, as now a new call for applications could be drawn up quickly.

State Prosecutor General Drago Šketa and the Prosecution Council told the STA they would not respond, as they had nothing to add to what had been said yesterday.

Šketa said on Wednesday the government’s decision could violate the independence of state prosecution, would be unlawful and in contradiction with the Constitution because it changed the criteria in the call for application retroactively.

The Prosecution Council said that the proposal had been drawn up in line with the law valid at the time, which transposed the EU Council directive, and that both candidates met all required conditions.

Parliamentary Speaker Igor Zorčič said the government’s decision was an attack on the rule of law, an obvious political and party interfering in staffing matters of the state prosecution. He said he had information that at least a dozen prosecutors could not get a promotion because the “government obviously assessed they are not politically compatible”.

Zorčič, who left the SMC to join unaffiliated MPs a few months ago, believes the State Prosecutor’s Office not just politicians should respond, and that all prosecutors should express their solidarity by objecting to such staffing decisions.

The head of the SMC deputy group, Gregor Perič, regretted Kozlovič’s resignation on Twitter, labelling her decision as fully legitimate. The party expects the procedure to appoint delegated prosecutors to be conducted in a transparent way.

The coalition New Slovenia (NSi) expressed hope that the current situation would not cause any disruptions in the work of the Justice Ministry and that a minister with full powers will be appointed as soon as possible.

Slovenia faces major challenges in judiciary, including strengthening people’s trust in judiciary and other legal institutions, the party said.

Kozlović, who holds a master’s degree in law, is leaving the ministry after about 14 months on the job. Her short term was marked by the passage of the law setting up the country’s first Barnahus for child victims of sexual abuse.

Kozlovič entered politics in 2014 when she was elected MP for the Miro Cerar Party, now the SMC. In 2016 she became secretary general of the Cerar government and in May 2019, she was appointed the director of the Environment Agency.

Before entering politics, Kozlovič, who was born in 1962, headed the Koper Administrative Unit for nine years, and before that she had served as an undersecretary at the Public Administration Ministry’s directorate for e-administration. Her first job in the 1980s was with the Koper Police Department.