The EU should support much needed internal reforms by taking immediate actions on these urgent problems. Ensure that the Slovenian Press Agency is funded again, that the delegated prosecutors are appointed and that the Slovenian government stops pushbacks and guarantees migrants access to an asylum procedure.
Last week, I visited Slovenia in the context of a rule of law monitoring mission off the European Parliament. We met with civil society, journalists, judges and prosecutors, institutions like the Court of Auditors and Ombudsman, and finally with members of the national assembly. Prime minister Janša didn’t want to meet us, neither the Slovenian ministers of Justice and Culture.
But we nevertheless got a very good picture of the current situation, which is deeply concerning. The good news is that the institutions like the judiciary (courts and public prosecutors) are still functioning independently, as well as the Court of Auditors, the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption, the Data Protection Commissioner and the Ombudsman. These actors are all crucial for the necessary checks and balances, and for citizens to have an effective access to justice. However, at the same time, all of them are subjected to high pressure from the government. In public, the prime minister undertakes personal and distasteful attacks to the leading persons in those institutions, and they are even faced with criminal charges which in the end always appear to be unfounded. These attacks are far from harmless: they affect the reputation of the institutions, and may ultimately undermine their authority and thus, their effectiveness. Until now, the institutions have kept on doing their work, but some of them suffer from lacking resources and important judgements are not implemented by the government, for instance the prohibition of pushbacks to Croatia, confirmed by the Supreme Court in 2019, but which are still ongoing.
Another problem is the refusal of Janša to appoint delegated public prosecutors for the European Public Prosecutor Office, which exclusively deals with crimes against the financial interests of the EU, like fraud and money laundering. Although the Slovenian government decided to join the EPPO, the lack of appointed prosecutors obstructs the work of EPPO in cases related to Slovenia. They cannot identify suspected cases, let alone investigate or prosecute them, which creates a real risk for the prevention of fraud. Janša however refuses to appoint the two candidates who were selected by the judiciary, and sticks to this refusal even now that the court has decided that he is obliged to do so. This fuels the impression that his reluctance is related to the involvement of both candidates in fraud-investigations against Janša himself.
The severe attacks to media freedom are must stop as well. In the beginning of this year, the government stopped funding the internationally praised Slovenian Press Agency. After 300 days without funding, apart from crowd funding actions, the number of journalists has been halved and the Agency is on the verge of collapsing. Journalists are the target of Janša’s harassments and assaults as well, and small independent outlets are faced with numerous charges. This pressure and intimidation not only affects the reputation of the media, but of course has a chilling effect as well. At the same time, Hungarian companies closely related to Orbán have bought media outlets in Slovenia, supporting Janša in spreading his filthy language. Media freedom, vital for media pluralism and for society to be rightly informed, is under heavy pressure. This is especially problematic in a period where elections are about to be organized (in the first half of next year).
NGOs, especially human rights defenders and organisations supporting asylum seekers, are obstructed through restrictions, cuts in fundings, negative framing and personal attacks.
The Parliament doesn’t offer any counterweight to these threats: due to the composition of half opposition and half coalition, the parliament is paralysed. Janša de facto rules by decree, using Covid-19 as an excuse.
The infrastructure for a rule of law still exists, and has proven to be resilient until now. But the ongoing authoritarian and irresponsible behaviour is a real threat. The outcome of the next elections will provide the opportunity to turn this negative trend of Orban-like attacks on the rule of law and democratic system. The electorate can put an end to this descrutive kind of politics and demand a government that is respectful of democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights.
It is up to the electorate to put an end to these destructive policies, and to clearly demand a modern country with respect for democracy, rule of law and fundamental rights. That also requires from political parties to stop personal attacks to each other and basing their positions on the past. Time to look ahead and offer voters sustainable solutions for the current problems, and a constructive cooperation with other political groups. This ongoing and distasteful war makes people turn away from politics, and without their engagement, politics will only become more repulsive.
The EU should support these much needed internal reforms by taking immediate actions on these urgent problems. Ensure that the Slovenian Press Agency is funded again, that the delegated prosecutors are appointed and that the Slovenian government stops pushbacks and guarantees migrants access to an asylum procedure.
Our current attention is focusing on the complete destruction of the rule of law in Poland and Hungary, and rightly so. But to stop this from spreading further, we need to address the deficiencies in other countries and do everything we can to protect the citizens from this dangerous regression.
Meanwhile, it is up to the EU to safeguard the freedom of media in EU member states and protect the fundamental rights of EU citizens. It is therefore a good development that the European Commission will come forward with a “European Media Freedom Act” in 2022, which could give the EU the opportunity to better protect media freedom and pluralism in EU member states.