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Response to the European Commission’s Fourth Rule of Law Report on the Rule of Law Situation in Slovenia in 2023

“The European Commission’s Fourth Annual Rule of Law Report on the Rule of Law Situation in EU Member States in 2023 shows that Slovenia has made progress in almost all areas. Nevertheless, we will continue to work actively to improve the rule of law and to take into account new recommendations,” said Minister Tanja Fajon, State Secretary, Dr Igor Šoltes, Minister Asta Vrečko, and Minister Boštjan Pokuklar at the publication of the report.

As in previous years, the Rule of Law Report on the Rule of Law Situation in EU Member States provides an overview in four areas: 1.) the independence of the justice system, 2.) the national framework for fighting corruption, 3.) media pluralism and freedom, and 4.) institutional issues and checks and balances. In addition, the 2023 report includes the European Commission’s assessment of the implementation of last year’s recommendations, which is intended to help prepare reform measures in areas where improvements are recommended.

The Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, in its coordinating role, will invite the relevant ministries to prepare a response to the European Commission’s findings and propose measures for implementing the recommendations and meeting the deadlines for their implementation. Upon the publication of the report, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Tanja Fajon stressed that respect for the rule of law remains one of the key priorities of this Government. “The positive tone of this year’s report and the fact that Slovenia has made the most progress of all Member States since last year clearly show that the Government has made the right moves to bring Slovenia back among the countries that firmly uphold the rule of law, a core value of the EU. I am pleased that, for this reason, we are recognised as a more credible partner and as a country that has returned to the very heart of the EU. Slovenia greatly appreciates the evaluation process, which – for us as a country that sees great significance in the rule of law – is an important stimulus for growth and progress, because, after all, this is an area in which no one is perfect and there is always room for improvement,” the Minister added.

Overall assessment for Slovenia

In its report for Slovenia, the European Commission has found that progress has been made in several areas in 2023 and that recommendations on removing obstacles to the investigation and prosecution of corruption cases, parliamentary investigations, and the independent governance and editorial independence of public service media have been fully or largely implemented. The approval of the amendments to the Public Finance Act at the end of June by the National Assembly also addresses the recommendation on the necessary guarantees for the budgetary autonomy of independent bodies. The quality of the Slovenian justice system has improved, and the preparation of a new anti-corruption strategy is ongoing.

In addition to positive results, the European Commission has identified some shortcomings in the fight against corruption, where the low level of successful prosecution of high-level corruption, including the length of judicial investigations and trials, poses a serious challenge. The European Commission has also found that progress is needed in the area of protecting journalists. The reform of the appointment of judges should provide guarantees for the independence of the judicial system. Moreover, the European Commission has also called for the issue of remuneration increases for judges and prosecutors to be regulated.

Independence of the justice system

“I am pleased to see that there has been progress in the area of the justice system compared to 2022, that some important issues have been resolved, such as the increase in funding for the Public Prosecutor’s Office, and that public confidence in the independence of courts and judges in Slovenia continues to grow,” said State Secretary Dr Igor Šoltes. The European Commission welcomes the envisaged reform on the transfer of the power to appoint judges from the National Assembly to the President of the Republic. The Rule of Law Report also highlights the issue of the increase of the remuneration of judges or its regulation, which was addressed last week by the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Slovenia. In an effort to eliminate unconstitutionality, the Government of the Republic of Slovenia is working to ensure that new solutions are put in place as soon as possible. The independence of judges is an essential prerequisite for ensuring the protection of the rights of persons involved in judicial proceedings.

Freedom and pluralism of the media

Slovenia still faces challenges in the area of media freedom and pluralism, but efforts are being made to create a more media-friendly environment. Progress has also been made in enabling the civil society to operate.

“The European Commission has highlighted a number of positive developments in the area of media. Last year’s recommendations to strengthen the independent governance and functioning of public service media have been fully taken into consideration. With the new act governing the national broadcaster, RTV Slovenija, we have reduced the direct influence of politics on our largest public service broadcaster, and we have restored the funding and smooth functioning of the Slovenian Press Agency. We have adopted measures to protect journalists, curb hate speech, and promote pluralism, which will be included in the reviewed media legislation,” said Dr Asta Vrečko, Minister of Culture.

National framework for fighting corruption

The Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of the Interior, together with other stakeholders, are actively cooperating with the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption, which is drafting a reviewed Resolution on the Prevention of Corruption. The resources allocated to the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Police have been increased, as have the resources for the activities of the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption. The new act governing the protection of whistleblowers establishes additional mechanisms to detect and address violations of regulations in the working environment, including corruption.

The fight against corruption is one of the priorities of the mandate of the Minister of the Interior, Boštjan Poklukar: “As soon as I arrived at the Ministry in February this year, I signed guidelines and mandatory instructions for the Police to prioritise the handling of corruption offences. We are working to ensure that the investigation of these crimes is professional, swift, and efficient.” The Minister stressed that we need to be aware that we cannot make progress in this area through repressive measures alone. “It is important to raise the awareness of every individual and of society as a whole in order to eradicate corruption, which hinders the progress of modern society and undermines confidence in the functioning of the state,” the Minister added.

Follow-up to the report

The Government of the Republic of Slovenia is scheduled to familiarise itself with the European Commission’s report on Slovenia at the 57th Ordinary Session of the Government, which will take place tomorrow, 6 July 2023. The European Commission will present the report at the July meeting of the EU General Affairs Council.