The European Parliament on Thursday expressed concerns about pressure on the media and judiciary in Slovenia — overcoming opposition from Prime Minister Janez Janša’s allies in the legislature’s main center-right group.
In a resolution, MEPs said they were worried about “attacks, smear campaigns, slander, criminal investigations” and the number of lawsuits filed by “prominent public figures and politicians, including members of the government” in Slovenia.
Janša’s government has come under criticism in recent months over its approach toward the press and judiciary, in particular a fight over financing the Slovenian Press Agency (STA) and a months-long delay in appointing delegated prosecutors to the European Public Prosecutor’s Office.
And while there have been recent signals the government is seeking to de-escalate tensions — a deal was reached for STA to receive funding for this year and delegated prosecutors were appointed — critics say they’re still worried.
Thursday’s resolution acknowledged progress in some areas but nevertheless called on the Slovenian government to “cease all political interference and pressure” on public broadcaster RTV Slovenia. It also called on the authorities to make regular payments to the STA and guarantee its editorial independence.
Moreover, the Parliament expressed worries about “the continuing practice of rule by decree,” as well as proposed legislation that could create retroactive changes to the appointment criteria for prosecutors.
In total, 356 MEPs — primarily from left-leaning, liberal and Green groups – voted in favor of the resolution, while 284 lawmakers voted against and 40 abstained.
The European People’s Party (EPP) group, Parliament’s largest, opted to defend its Slovenian member, Janša’s Slovenian Democratic Party. A majority of EPP MEPs, including group leader Manfred Weber, voted against the resolution.
Janša’s allies say the resolution is politically motivated.
“From the very beginning, it is clear that this is an attempt by the Slovenian opposition to attack the current center-right government,” said MEP Romana Tomc, a member of the Slovenian Democratic Party.
“The resolution has nothing to do with the actual state of the rule of law in Slovenia,” she added in an emailed statement, noting “the main allegations concerning the non-appointment of delegated prosecutors and the financing of the STA are irrelevant, as the issues have been resolved.”
Nevertheless, 33 EPP members — primarily from delegations that have long advocated for the group to take a stronger stance on rule-of-law issues — opted to abstain. Those abstaining included EPP group vice-chairs Esther de Lange, Frances Fitzgerald and Paulo Rangel.
The group’s candidate to become the next Parliament president, Maltese MEP Roberta Metsola, did not vote.
The EPP’s rivals were quick to condemn the group’s lack of support for the resolution.
“Disappointing that EPP Group didn’t want to defend basic values like press freedom & the fight against corruption in the country,” the centrist Renew Europe group tweeted following the vote.
Other critics sought to draw a parallel between the EPP’s approach to Janša and its past relationship with Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party, which quit the group earlier this year.
German MEP Birgit Sippel, a member of the Socialists and Democrats group, said in a statement that “the conservatives in the European Parliament are reverting back to bad habits.”
“Just as was the case with Orbán’s Fidesz party, the EPP Group is unable to criticize its Slovenian delegation for backsliding on the rule of law purely because they are political bedmates,” she said, referencing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
“We urge the EPP to side with the people of Slovenia to stop yet another illiberal democracy in our Union doing irreparable damage.”