During a high-level meeting this week at the Brdo Congress center located in the idyllic Slovenian Alpine city of Kranj, Prime Minister Janez Janša brandished a photo for all his EU Commission counterparts to see.
The image depicted a quaint affair, a country picnic in the hills of Maribor, attended by a small contingent of happy-go-lucky mid-lifers. Clad in the Socialist red so despised by Janša, the Prime Minister then proceeded to criticize two Slovenian judges in the picture, who attended the gathering alongside two MEPs from the Socialist and Democrats Group.
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Janša claimed that the photo demonstrates that Slovenia’s judiciary has been infiltrated by Communist and far-left representatives. The suggestion was received badly by those in the room and prompted Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans to refuse to take part in the famed ‘family photo’ – a tradition between the incoming EU Council Presidency and the College of Commissioners.
“I simply could not be on the same podium with PM Janša after his unacceptable attack on and defamation of two judges and two S&D MEPs. He challenged their integrity because they were in the same picture,” a statement from Timmerman read after the event.
“Judicial independence and respect for the role of elected MEPs are cornerstones of the Rule of Law, without which the EU cannot function. We can never stop calling out those who attack it.”
And while Timmermans’ resentment was unambiguous, Commission President von der Leyen, who is a member of the same EPP family as the Slovenian Prime Minister, was forced to adopt more of a diplomatic bearing. That was, until a press conference marking the launch of the Presidency, in which the steely and merciless countenance of von der Leyen spoke volumes, as she stood aside the Slovenian Prime Minister, speaking about the importance of ‘trust’ as the European Union’s “most valuable asset.”
Between Ljubljana and Brussels, it is likely to be a fractious six months as part of the Slovenian Presidency of the EU. Janša has always been imbued with a sense of distrust of those on the left ever since rallying against Yugoslav Socialists in the 1980s, and he is more than likely to use the platform of the Presidency to further an ideological, rather than a policy-based narrative.
And indeed, the second day of the Slovenian Presidency of the EU proceeded in such as fashion. To add to the awkward undertones between the Slovenian government and Brussels, the Slovenian Press Agency reported that as part of a press event in Ljubljana for Brussels journalists on Friday, Interior Minister Aleš Hojs concocted a ‘swine’ based metaphor to refer to the actions of Frans Timmermans the day before, in an interview with one journalist. Hojs denied the reports.
More broadly, Brussels reporters were also subjected to a video taking aim at an alleged media conspiracy, accusing the journalism industry to have been taken over by those with liberal and leftist agendas. This was the very same video that the Slovenian Prime Minister had attempted to show earlier this year, during a European Parliament hearing in the Democracy monitoring group. Liberal MEP Chair Sophie in ‘t Veld had blocked the video from being shown on the grounds that the European Parliament audio-visual services team had received the files at “a very late stage.” Janša eventually disconnected from the hearing, and the Slovenian Government accused the European Parliament Democracy monitoring group of censorship.
Over the next six months, there will no longer be the luxury of Janša merely disconnecting from wider scrutiny in Brussels, nor indeed will it be so easy for those who disagree with the Slovenian Prime Minister to turn the other cheek. The fact of the matter is that Janša will have a more substantive platform to transmit his political ideology. Whether or not this fosters healthy debate or vitriolic reproach, only time will tell.
BRUSSELS BEHIND THE SCENES is a weekly newsletter which brings the untold stories about the characters driving the policies affecting our lives. Analysis not found anywhere else, The Brussels Times’ Samuel Stolton helps you make sense of what is happening in Brussels.If you want to receive Brussels behind the scenes straight to your inbox every week, subscribe to the newsletter here.