MEPs convey stark message about rule of law in debate on EU presidency priorities

Strasbourg – MEPs from the majority of political groups in the European Parliament sent PM Janez Janša some stark messages about the rule of law after he presented Slovenia’s EU presidency priorities in the Parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday. His European People’s Party (EPP) too urged him to promptly appoint European delegated prosecutors.

Apart from the European delegated prosecutors, most of the criticism centred on media freedom and independent judiciary, while a lack of ambition in fighting climate change was also singled out.

Janša welcomed all the views heard in the debate following his presentation of the Slovenian presidency priorities as legitimate.

While the EPP was rather reserved before Janša’s appearance in Parliament, EPP head Manfred Weber urged Janša today to immediately appoint the two prosecutors.

Weber said the rule of law was a self-evident political principle, stressing problems with it in one member state were problems of the entire EU.

He also highlighted the controversy about media freedom and the judiciary in Slovenia.

Calls to appoint the delegated prosecutors and respect media freedom also came from the Social Democrats, Liberals, the Greens and the Left, who also highlighted an incident at the start of the Slovenian presidency when European commissioners visited Slovenia.

On 1 July, European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans (S&D) refused to take part in a photo-op due to Janša’s comments about links between Slovenian judges and the Slovenian Social Democrats (SD).

Stressing the rule of law was a pillar of democracy, S&D head Iratxe Garcia said this attack on the opposition MPs was unacceptable.

Malik Azmani from the liberal Renew called on Janša to appoint the delegated prosecutors and to stop harassing journalists and judges or appointing his friends to various offices.

The head of the Parliament’s democracy monitoring group, Sophie in ‘t Veld, meanwhile announced a fact-finding mission to Slovenia for October.

The Dutch MEP from Renew argued that leaders of EU member states allowed the deep crisis of the rule of law to undermine EU values.

She expressed concern about attacks on journalists and highlighted the unacceptable interference with the appointment of the delegated prosecutors.

Janša, addressing the press after the debate, said he had never seen any obstacle to anyone coming to Slovenia to see the situation for themselves.

Stressing he was happy the group would visit in the autumn, he said “I hope they talk to different people, not just those who are presenting a one-sided picture.”

As for media freedom, he said he had led the Slovenian government three times, and every time Slovenia had gained in the media freedom index.

He advised foreign journalists who do not speak Slovenian to come to Slovenia for a week with an interpreter so that they do not depend on what they are told.

“Don’t judge by what somebody has told you,” he added, but did not say whether he will attend another session of the democracy monitoring group scheduled for 15 July.

Ska Keller, the co-chair of the European Greens, said intimidating free media and the civil society was not what the Slovenian EU presidency was expected to do.

She also warned against a lack of ambition in fighting climate change.

In collaboration with Slovenian activists Jaša Jenull and Tea Jarc, the Greens staged a minor protest in front of the Parliament this morning, urging the EU to use all means available for the situation in Slovenia not to deteriorate.

The Left stressed Slovenians had the right to free media and efficient judiciary. In the media centre, reporters could see their parody of a Ljubljana postcard with Janša’s message that the Slovenian presidency will actively contribute to a more xenophobic and regressive Europe.

The Eurosceptic grouping of European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) meanwhile welcomed Janša’s address.

Its Raffaelle Fitto said the group was at ease with his approach to European values while he rejected criticism about the European delegated prosecutors.

Similarly, the far-right Identity and Democracy (ID) wished the Slovenian presidency good luck, while pointing to the role of respecting different nations.

In responding to the MEPs’ views, Janša was conciliatory. He said Slovenia was not pulling out of the project of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, arguing the non-appointment of prosecutors was a result of problems related to the Slovenian law. He is confident the appointment could go through by the autumn.

Janša said today’s debate was important even if they did not share all the views. “Europe is all this what you have presented,” he said. He said that for him, all the views expressed were legitimate as he wanted all voices to be heard.