Slovenia priorities for EU presidency

Slovenia priorities for EU presidency

Media in Slovenia reported that the Slovenian EU presidency will lead dialogue based on the European Commission’s second annual rule of the law report, which will be released at the start of Slovenia’s six-month term. The polemics over tying EU funds to respect for the rule of law will continue and it is not yet clear what will happen with proceedings against Poland and Hungary.

The rule of law, one of the priorities of the Slovenian EU presidency, is discussed across three parallel processes.

The first is the country-specific rule of the law report, the second is the Article 7 proceedings against Poland and Hungary, which have been deadlocked for a while, and the third is an option to make EU funding conditional on respect for the rule of law.

The second report, expected to be released in July when Slovenia takes over the presidency, will play a key role in future discussions. The report aims to ease tensions in the EU.

What followed the first one, published in September 2020, were polite exchanges of opinions and practices. The European Parliament has criticised it for not being effective or ambitious enough.

The Slovenian presidency will follow the same framework for discussing the report as set by Germany’s presidency, meaning it will start with a general discussion and conclude with a special discussion held by EU justice ministers.

Slovenia will chair the general horizontal discussion on the rule of law situation around the EU, which is expected to be held at the October session of the General Affairs Council, as well as a discussion dedicated to individual member states, which is expected at the November session, the official spokesman of the Slovenian Permanent Representation to the EU has told the STA.

In line with the alphabetical order, a country-specific discussion during the Slovenian presidency will focus on Italy, Croatia, Cyprus, Latvia and Lithuania.

Slovenia will promote the rule of law culture, strive to achieve a better comprehension of different national systems through dialogue, and strengthen ties between member states based on common European values.

“The Slovenian presidency believes that a good understanding of constitutional, socio-economic, political, historical and all other similarities and differences between member states could facilitate the strengthening of the rule of law in the EU,” said the spokesman.

The realisation of Slovenia’s proposal to set up the European Institute of Constitutional Democracy could also facilitate the discussion on the rule of law.

It is not yet clear, however, how the proceedings against Poland and Hungary will evolve during the Slovenian mandate. Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union, a mechanism to deal with governments putting the EU’s values at risk, envisages suspension of all voting rights as the most radical sanction.

For the situation to reach this point, a consensus would have to be achieved, but so far that has not been the case. There is not enough support among EU countries to launch any kind of measures against Poland and Hungary, so the proceedings have been at a standstill.

The June summit, where EU ministers are expected to discuss this, could shed some light on what will happen in this respect during the Slovenian presidency.

When it comes to the third parallel process, a mechanism that would make EU funding subject to respect for the rule of law, this will not be used until the European Court of Justice delivers its opinion on the matter.

Meanwhile, Slovenia has been under scrutiny in regard to freedom of media and other rule of law aspects both by the European Commission and European Parliament.

The Parliament’s democracy monitoring group has so far held two hearings dedicated to the situation in Slovenia. Freedom of media in Slovenia was also a subject of the Parliament’s plenary in March.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has called on Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša and his government to be in close contact with Vice President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency Vera Jourova, who has turned on the alarm about the situation on several occasions in recent months. The Commission has also condemned Janša’s verbal attacks against journalists.

The first rule of law report raised concern about online harassment of journalists in Slovenia and threats against them, warning about a lacklustre response by the judiciary.