Nationalist Premier’s Turn at EU Presidency Worries Lawmakers

As Brussels gears up to dole out billions of euros of stimulus money, its lawmakers warned that an antagonistic stance from the country that just assumed the European Union’s rotating presidency could hamper the bloc’s work.

Slovenia’s nationalist prime minister, Janez Jansa, sat through a string of reprimands Tuesday in the European Parliament in Strasbourg after presenting his program for the EU’s six-month presidency, which manages legislative priorities and sets the agenda. Members from various parties took him to task on issues including the rule of law, judicial independence and media freedom.

Jansa has survived two impeachment votes this year over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and attacks on the media. He’s also clashed with Brussels over everything from migration to the rule of law and LGBTQ rights. Slovenia and Poland were the only EU nations to defend Hungary over plans to pass anti-LGBTQ legislation.

The Slovenian presidency “needs to ensure that it will act as an honest broker and be able to steer” EU leaders, “free from personal interference,” Philippe Lamberts, president of the Greens in the parliament, said in an emailed statement. Slovenia’s turn comes “just as the recovery plans are moving forward and EU leaders will need to make tough and bold decisions on the climate and rule of law.”

Prison Term

Jansa pushed back against the criticism, pointing out that “the last journalist that was imprisoned because of his writing is standing before you.” Jansa went to prison for revealing military secrets in communist-era Yugoslavia. He was sent to prison briefly in 2014, but the ruling was overturned by the Constitutional Court.

But there were more barbs directed at him.

“Your track record at home means we can’t take your words for granted,” said Malik Azmani, first vice-chair of the Renew Europe group. “Why don’t you start reflecting on the future of Europe by abiding by the rule of law and upholding our values yourself? You seem to want to be part of a very sinister club that doesn’t appreciate free media.”

Tensions flared last week during a European Commission trip in Ljubljana, when Jansa argued that the Slovenian judiciary was politically biased against him. Frans Timmermans, the executive vice-president of the commission in charge of the Green Deal, refused to be in a group photograph with the premier.

“I simply couldn’t be on the same podium with Prime Minister Jansa after his unacceptable attack on and defamation of two judges,” Timmermans said in a statement following the incident.

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