By LORNE COOK, Associated Press
KRANJ, Slovenia (AP) – Little Slovenia took over the world’s largest trading bloc this week and immediately shone the spotlight on one of the European Union’s most thorny issues: how to accommodate member countries of the louder and louder with very different visions of the future of Europe.
Already, the nationalist governments of Hungary and Poland are worrying their more politically dominant partners in the 27-country EU. Some fear that the new legislation introduced by the two countries could undermine democratic standards and the independence of the judiciary.
Then on Thursday, Slovenia’s return to the European stage – she held the rotating EU presidency for six months – was marked by concerns over the right-wing government’s record on media freedom and its inability to appoint legal experts within the European Anti-Fraud Commission. The prosecutor’s office.
For Prime Minister Janez Jansa – who heads the Alpine nation of just 2 million inhabitants nestled between Austria, Croatia, Hungary and Italy – Slovenia is a misunderstood victim of “double standards”, sometimes from the increasingly powerful EU executive, the European Commission.
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âWe are not a colony. We are not a second class member of the European Union, âJansa told foreign journalists on Friday. His remarks highlighted the growing tensions between the new EU members in Central and Eastern Europe and the founding states in the west of the continent.
âThe EU brings together countries with different traditions, different cultures. There are differences that must be taken into account and respected, âhe said, during an exchange that lasted well over an hour.
Pressure has recently increased on Jansa’s government as it prepares for its EU presidency, which largely consists of acting as an “honest broker” to find consensus among the 27 nations and ensure the smooth adoption of policies ranging from environment to migration.
Protests in the capital, Ljubljana, have become routine. At the end of May, around 20,000 people gathered in a central square to demand the resignation of the government.
Jansa is accused of becoming more and more authoritarian in the manner of his ally, the hard-core Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Critics say Jansa’s government pressured the Slovenian media, encouraged hate speech and mismanaged the coronavirus pandemic.
Asked about his attitude towards âilliberal democraciesâ like those in Hungary and Poland, the 62-year-old former journalist replied: âFor me, all these dominant political orientations are equal and just as legitimate.
âI cannot accept the division between liberal democracy and illiberal democracy. Democracy is democracy, âJansa said, before giving a favorable account of Orban and what he has done for Hungary. “If I stand up for the affection of my constituents, in a free world everyone is equal.”
The Slovenian Prime Minister has come under special scrutiny for maintaining control over the funds of the only Slovenian press agency, the STA. He says he expects the issue to be resolved this fall, but it’s unclear exactly how.
On Friday, he showed reporters a video he said depicted media pressure from politicians further to the left. It listed a number of journalists, including well-known television news personalities, who have changed positions in government or parliament.
âYou accuse this government of suppressing media freedom,â Jansa said in English. âWhen we defend ourselves and we are constantly attacked, it does not take away media freedom. “
âIt’s not good if you get criticized in everything you do. If you make restrictions on COVID, you are criticized. If you don’t make the restrictions, you get criticized. In the end, people are dying from the pandemic. It’s not that simple, âhe said.
Jansa’s use of images to make a point was not well received by the committee at Thursday’s meeting to mark the start of the Slovenian Presidency. In a complaint against “left” politicians, he displayed a photograph of two Slovenian judges alongside members of the opposition.
This caused a walkout from the executive vice-president of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans. He refused to participate in the “family photo” between the Slovenian cabinet and the commissioners.
“I just couldn’t be on the same podium with Prime Minister Jansa after his unacceptable attack,” Timmermans said later.
The next day Home Secretary Ales Hojs, speaking about the anti-government protesters, said: âPersonally, I don’t want to call anyone a pig. But maybe once in the future, after everything I’ve heard yesterday, I can call a certain individual a pig.
“They weren’t there (among the protesters), but they sit high in the European bureaucracy,” Hojs told reporters. He then denied via Twitter that he was referring to Timmermans.
Ultimately, the tensions work for both parties. Little Slovenia seems to exceed its political weight, while the executive branch of the EU appears to be a just defender of European values.
More problematic, however, is that the dispute was over the independence of judges, and arose as Slovenia delayed the appointment of legal experts to the European Prosecutor’s Office, which is investigating the misuse of EU funds.
It came the day the commission approved Slovenia’s post-pandemic plan to jumpstart its economy with 2.5 billion euros ($ 3 billion) in grants and loans of European money. Hungary’s national plan has still not been approved due to concerns over the decline in democracy in that country.
In March, Hungary’s ruling party with acrimony withdrew from the largest dominant political group in the European Parliament. Membership of the Fidesz party had already been suspended by the group, the European People’s Party.
Jansa suggested that her group too might be ready to go.
“I think there will be changes in the future, we hope, towards the original idea of ââthe European People’s Party,” he said. “If not, there are other options.”
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