Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday alongside European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Parliament counterpart David Sassoli, Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša laid out the country’s priorities at the helm of the EU’s rotating Council presidency for the next six months.
“Our priorities are resilience and recovery after the pandemic and the discussion on the future of the European Union in the framework of the Conference on the Future of Europe, which started in May. We all hope that in the next six months we will move from dealing with the crisis and its consequences to strategic issues ahead of us.”
While emphasising that vaccinating the European population against COVID-19 is a crucial short-term priority, Janša said that EU enlargement is also on the Slovenian presidency’s radar.
“We are happy that there will be two important summits on enlargement – the first on October 6 in Slovenia. The European Council will be meeting with the presidents of state and governments of 6 countries of the Western Balkans. We hope that certain breakthroughs will be achieved and that we will accelerate the accession process of Western Balkans countries to the European Union.”
Taking the floor, Ursula von der Leyen said that the Slovenian presidency comes at “a pivotal point in time.”
“Of course, the next six months are mainly about consolidating the recent successes in our fight against COVID-19 and speeding up the recovery in our economies. We have made remarkable progress as far as vaccination is concerned, and I’m confident that we will reach our objective of having enough doses delivered to vaccinate 70 percent of the adult population of the European Union in the course of the month of July.”
“This is good, but by no means can we relax; first of all, the Delta variant is spreading, this is worrisome, and if we look at the data, we see that more and more vaccine doses are left unused.”
“Because of procedural complications, we have a delay. We have a new Minister of Justice, and if everybody, also the government, does their homework, we will have the [EPPO] candidates by autumn” Janez Janša, Slovenian Prime Minister
Von der Leyen attributed this to a combination of increased deliveries, organisational issues and vaccine hesitancy, adding, “the struggle is on to keep up a high pace of vaccination as we reach the more sceptical part of the population.”
“The next topic of importance is, of course, Next Generation EU and our economic recovery. The Commission will work hand in hand with the Slovenian presidency to ensure that as many national recovery and resilience plans as possible are being adopted before the end of July, and the rest as quickly as possible thereafter.”
Moving on to the Q&A session with journalists, Janša was asked whether he would be appointing “judges” for the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO).
To which Janša answered, “It is not about judges; it is about delegated prosecutors, which the EPP(O) is still waiting for and Slovenia will appoint them after the procedure is completed. We are sorry that there was such a delay, but this doesn’t mean that Slovenia is withdrawing from this mechanism.”
In a sideswipe to the Member States who are not taking part in the EPPO - Denmark, Ireland, Hungary, Poland and Sweden are not participating - Janša added, “actually, we would like all the Member States to be participating in the EPPO; we believe this is a necessary mechanism - good supervision of European funds is in our common interest.”
The EPPO is an independent and decentralised prosecution office of the EU, with the competence to investigate, prosecute and bring to judgment crimes against the EU budget, such as fraud, corruption or serious cross-border VAT fraud.
In the past month, Slovenia has come under the spotlight after its two nominations for delegated prosecutors were cancelled by the Slovenian government on what MEPs called “unclear grounds”. The decision led to suggestions of possible political interference in the process by the Slovenian government.
“Without rule of law there is no European Union; this is perfectly clear. I myself signed the Lisbon Treaty. I know what it says and I fully support the rule of law today as I did then” Janez Janša, Slovenian Prime Minister
Janša went on, “because of procedural complications, we have a delay. We have a new Minister of Justice, if everybody, also the government, does their homework, we will have the [EPPO] candidates by autumn.”
“Let me underline: we will conclude this procedure. It is an important element of the rule of law. Without rule of law there is no European Union; this is perfectly clear.”
“I myself signed the Lisbon Treaty. I know what it says and I fully support the rule of law today as I did then. But there are other problems, for example, in Belarus there are 400 political prisoners who are dying; they also deserve our support.”
Shutting down the EPPO issue, Janša added, “There are many other problems which are immeasurably more relevant than the one we are now wasting time on.”
Turning to media freedom, for which the Slovenian government has received criticism from NGOs and civil society for allegedly launching smear campaigns and defamation against journalists and withdrawing funding for public media, Janša said, “I am now, for the third time, at the helm of the Slovene government. Every time, the Index of Press Freedom in Slovenia has gone up, and you can check that.”
“But there are different way of exporting the political situation in Slovenia. You just can’t understand the Slovene language and the situation by not being involved. So you are kindly asked to come to Slovenia, bring an interpreter with you, live for one week there and you will see for yourself what is the attitude of the government towards the press.”
“Don’t judge on the basis of what other people tell you,” he added.