Slovenian PM Janša faces EU pressure for hindering EPPO

Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša attends an EU summit in Brussels, 10 December 2020. [EPA-EFE/JOHN THYS]

As Slovenia prepares to take over the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU, the country’s prime minister, Janez Janša, is under pressure from the European Parliament to stop obstructing the work of the Office of the European Public Prosecutor (EPPO).

On Wednesday (26 May) Janša dodged questions and avoided giving answers during a press conference with European Parliament President David Sassoli dedicated to Slovenia’s upcoming presidency, the country’s second since joining the European Union in 2004.

The EPPO is the EU’s flagship independent office tasked with tackling corruption. Slovenia selected its two delegate prosecutors to the decentralised investigative body, Matej Oštir and Tanja Frank Eler, back in December.

However, Janša’s government is reportedly seeking to prevent the nominations from proceeding due to the prosecutors’ involvement in past investigations into the prime minister’s assets. In the European Parliament, some MEPs told EURACTIV they consider this sabotage.

Slovenia’s Association of State Prosecutors complained in a letter sent to the Council of Europe in March about “inadmissible pressure” they said Janša and the media he controls are exerting on prosecutors, EURACTIV’s media partner, STA news agency reported.

The EPPO will officially start work on 1 June. While the absence of delegated prosecutors from Slovenia would not derail the launch, it would present a setback for the EPPO and would make its work on Slovenian dossiers much more difficult.

In a recent letter, EU Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders urged Slovenian Justice Minister Lilijana Kozlovič to send the Slovenian candidates to the EPPO as soon as possible or by 18 May at the latest so the new office could start operating on 1 June.

Asked by EURACTIV about the delay, Janša replied that “we have some domestic problems with the procedure, but the issue will be on the government’s agenda tomorrow and we shall decide whether to repeat the procedure or continue”.

Asked a follow-up question by the Financial Times, Janša refused to answer. He dodged other questions, including regarding the situation of Slovenia’s state news agency STA.

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Sassoli hinted that the issue of the EPPO had been discussed during talks before the press conference.

MEP Ramona Strugariu (Renew, Romania), a member of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, told EURACTIV that the European Parliament intends to put pressure on Slovenia to follow the rules and unblock the appointment of the delegated prosecutors already selected.

“It’s truly embarrassing that before the Slovenian presidency we are faced with such a situation,” she said.

Strugariu said that Slovenia’s prosecutor general had indicated that if the procedure was started all over again, it could be interpreted as an arbitrary encroachment of the independence and the autonomy of the State Prosecutor’s office.

“If the prosecutor general comes with such a statement, this means the situation is quite severe,” she said.

Janša is also coming under increasing domestic pressure, with Slovenian lawmakers debating on Wednesday whether to impeach him. For the impeachment vote to succeed it has to be backed by at least 46 MPs in the 90-seat parliament, a scenario analysts say is unlikely.

The situation will be watched closely in Brussels, where sources told EURACTIV that “everyone in Brussels”, possibly even in the EPP ranks to which Janša belongs, would prefer a Slovenian presidency without the controversial politician, who had chaired Slovenia’s first EU presidency in 2008.

[Edited by Josie Le Blond]

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