PM Janša writes to EU leaders on rule of law, triggers strong reactions

Ljubljana – PM Janez Janša addressed a letter to EU leaders on Tuesday in which he argued the recent agreement inserting rule of law provisions in the EU budget and recovery facility undermined the July EU summit agreement on the funding package. The letter triggered strong reactions in Slovenia, in the opposition as well as partly in the coalition.

In the letter, addressed to Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel, among others, Janša wrote the rule of law should be respected across the EU, but also that “discretionary mechanisms that are not based on independent judgement but on politically motivated criteria cannot be called ‘the rule of law'”.

Janša added in the almost-four-page-long letter that “Slovenia supports respecting the rule of law in all cases […] unconditionally, and without double standards.”

But he argued that “numerous media and some political groups in the European Parliament are openly threatening to use the instrument wrongly called ‘the rule of law’ in order to discipline individual EU Member States through a majority vote.”

The letter came ahead of a virtual meeting of EU leaders dedicated to the EU’s response to the epidemic and after Poland and Hungary blocked the bloc’s multi-year budget and recovery facility over the inclusion of rule of law provisions. The letter is seen by foreign media as an endorsement of Poland’s and Hungary’s position.

Janša also claimed that in 2014 Slovenia “witnessed stolen elections effected through a drastic abuse of state institutions – including part of the judiciary”, adding that “none of the EU institutions reacted with a single warning at the time”.

Janša took to Facebook today to add that “my letter is an attempt at a call to reason. We share the responsibility for the future of the EU. We have an obligation to think with our own heads too”.

Citing the EU treaty, he noted that every member state can lawfully and legitimately submit a veto everywhere where joint decisions are taken by consensus.

“Is it so hard to understand that in this case it means at least a delay in post-pandemic recovery? And that on major matters you will never be able to force any sovereign EU country into doing something that goes against its interests? And that it is in Slovenia’s interest it should not come to the delay or something more serious even?”

The European Commission would not comment on Janša’s letter beyond confirming von der Leyen had received it and would respond to it. But Valdis Dombrovskis, the European Commission’s official in charge of economic affairs, while not commenting on the letter said Slovenia had was not among the countries that blocked the agreement on the recovery package on Monday, but rather supported it.

The letter has triggered strong reactions in Slovenia, with a response also coming from President Borut Pahor, who stressed the need to respect the recent agreement between the European Parliament and the EU Council that makes EU funding conditional on adherence to the rule law. As for Janša’s assertion the 2014 election had been stolen, Pahor wrote the election had been lawful and legitimate.

Junior partners in the government coalition distanced themselves from the letter, with New Slovenia (NSi) president Matej Tonin saying the letter was the opinion of the prime minister since the government “did not decide on its content”.

The letter “definitely doesn’t’s benefit Slovenia’s interests, it places us among problematic countries, where we’ve never belonged. This demands a serious debate,” Tomaž Gantar, the interim leader of the Pensioners’ Party (DeSUS) moreover said, while the Modern Centre Party (SMC) wrote it “rejected” the content of the letter.

Justice Minister Lilijana Kozlovič, a SMC member, distanced herself from the letter as well, stressing the ministry was not involved nor was the letter discussed by the government. “There is but one rule of law and it needs to be respected. Thus I support every effort and mechanism that contributes to it,” the minister said.

The four left-leaning opposition parties issued strong condemnations separately as well as together as part of their new Constitutional Arch Coalition, which called on Slovenian politics and the public to fully reject Janša’s policies and urged a no-confidence vote to prevent what they called a continuation of irreparable damage to Slovenia and its people.

In a separate reaction, SocDem leader Tanja Fajon said Janša was putting his party’s ideology above the rule of law and was putting the safety, health and future of Slovenians on the line while “turning into a vassal of certain politicians in Hungary and Poland”.

The Left’s leader Luka Mesec said that Janša had “demonstrated for the second time within two weeks that he has absolutely no regard for the interests and reputation of Slovenia and its people”.

“In order to return favours to [Hungarian PM] Viktor Orban, who is financing his media network in Slovenia among other things, Janša is obviously ready to also put on the line Slovenia’s access to EUR 10 billion in EU funding,” Mesec added.

LMŠ leader Marjan Šarec also feels Janša is returning favours and is completely servile to Orban, while also trying to direct attention away from the government losing control over the epidemic.

“This man has destroyed even the last ounce of credibility when it comes to Slovenia’s EU Council presidency and himself in this role. Isolated like Enver Hoxha in the 60s and 70s. The only thing missing is the bunkers and then we’re all the way there,” Šarec wrote.

The opposition urged coalition partners to reconsider their cooperation with Janša, including opposition SAB head Alenka Bratušek who wrote: “The time is slowly arriving for this madness to end. [NSi leader] Matej Tonin, don’t you think enough damage has been done to this country?”

Meanwhile, analyst Stefani Weiss from the German foundation Bertelsmann told the STA that “copying Hungary’s and Poland’s practices, ignoring the rules adopted in line with the EU treaty and blocking important decisions with a veto would be a dangerous development in the EU”.