Slovenia will on Thursday take up the EU’s rotating six-month presidency, overshadowed by concerns for media freedom and the rule of law under its conservative Prime Minister Janez Jansa. It will be the second time the Alpine state of two million people heads the 27-member bloc under Jansa. But while in 2008, it was celebrated as a milestone since the ex-Yugoslav nation’s independence, the mandate now could be bumpier. Slovenia’s presidency comes at a sensitive time when the EU dispenses money from its unprecedented 7 5 0 – billion – e u r o ($900-billion) rescue fund aimed at helping member economies recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

Under the slogan “Together. Resilient. Europe”, the Jansa government, says its priorities include steering the bloc’s economic recovery and strengthening its resilience to pandemics. ‘European values’ Slovenia also wants to “strengthen the rule of law and European values”, according to the government’s websites on the presidency. But that could be tricky: EU leaders have recently argued over a Hungarian law banning the “promotion” of homosexuality to minors that are expected to come into force soon. At a summit last week, EU leaders attacked Viktor Orban — a close Jansa ally — over the legislation, which they view as homophobic and contrary to EU values, while the Hungarian nationalist premier argues it protects children. Jansa’s comments in Brussels on the matter were guarded, saying he thought it could be resolved without any “new unnecessary divisions”. “We have to strengthen the EU, within which our values and national identities are protected and can continue to thrive,” Jansa wrote on the presidency website. Hoping to integrate its Western Balkan neighbors, Slovenia has planned a summit in October — the only high-profile event during the six months. But whether Jansa can be a uniting mediator remains to be seen, with critics raising concerns about his alliances.

Last week, the three-time premier met far-right Brothers of Italy party leader Giorgia Meloni, just before he met Orban, as well as Poland’s Mateusz Morawiecki. In his tweets, Jansa has attacked EU officials, including European Parliament members, who had expressed their concern over the situation of democracy and rule of law in Slovenia. “We owe the EU nothing. We fought for our freedom and democracy 30 years ago,” the 62-year-old, whose most recent mandate began in March 2020, tweeted in May. ‘Cool’ relations Jansa’s numerous spats have led to the “cooling of relations” between Ljubljana and the European Commission at a time when the country is under increased scrutiny because of the presidency, daily Delo’s columnist Uros Esih wrote recently.

“I believe there will be constant tensions between the Slovenian presidency, its proposals, and the EU institutions,” the political commentator told AFP. The government so far has failed to appoint two prosecutors to the EU’s new anti-corruption body, leading its head to criticize Slovenia for its “manifest lack of sincere cooperation”. “These are the things that worry us,” French Green MEP Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield, a European Parliament rapporteur on Hungary, told AFP, underlining “the closeness of the Slovenian prime minister and Viktor Orban”. The European Commission has also reminded Slovenia of the role independent news agencies play after the government suspended the funding of the country’s sole news agency STA, which Jansa has called a “national disgrace”.

“We are concerned by the risk that the six-month Presidency will be abused by the government to obstruct efforts to strengthen media freedom in Europe,” the group Reporters Without Borders said. At home, the opposition accuses Jansa’s three-party coalition of using the coronavirus pandemic to dent the country’s democratic institutions, violate press freedom and question the rule of law and the independence of justice. While several motions against Jansa have failed in parliament, thousands have staged regular protests backed by civil groups and unions demanding the veteran politician’s resignation.


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