El Confidencial, a Spanish newspaper and website specializing in economic, financial, and political news, has published an interview with MEP Irena Joveva. Below you can find summary of the discussion:

Irena Joveva was a journalist for eight years, so she knows and understands very well the campaign against the freedom of the press that the Janez Janša government is waging in her country. “We cannot afford to have three illiberal countries in the European Union,” she says in an interview with El Confidencial as part of the “Decoding the European Parliament” project. In the interview, the young, Renew Europe MEP talks about the rule of law in the European Union and Slovenia, a country following the illiberal trend of Hungary and Poland. However, Joveva is confident that the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the EU, starting on July 1st this year, will be well managed.

Slovenia has been under scrutiny in recent months due to its situation of the rule of law. How would you sum up the situation of fundamental rights and freedoms in the country?

I wouldn’t say that Slovenia is like Hungary or Poland at the moment. Not everything is as black as it seems, but it is darker than it should be. This is why it is important to talk about Slovenia. The situation of fundamental rights is deteriorating and, if we don’t stop it, Slovenia could be the next Hungary or Poland within a year. This is not purely a national policy, confronting the coalition and the opposition. The general situation in the country is horrible – since Janez Janša came to power many civil society organizations have been facing serious problems. Brussels is paying a little more attention to what is happening now, as Slovenia will take over the EU Council Presidency in July. In summary, the Slovenian government is following the example of Hungary and Poland. They are using all means at their disposal to eliminate free and critical thinking. Not just against journalists, but also against NGOs, universities, and anyone else who disagrees with them. The government insults them, discredits them and uses mechanisms such as withdrawal of funding or legislative measures against them.

You mentioned the coming Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the EU, starting July 1st. Do you see this as an opportunity to improve the situation in the country or is this a bad moment for the EU?

I think everything will be fine in the end. But I hope that in these months leading up to the Presidency, European institutions will not be passive, saying that there is nothing they can do. This is not true. I think they have learnt from the mistakes they made in the past with Hungary and Poland. But I believe that the Presidency itself will not be badly run.

The European Parliament held a debate on the attempts by the governments of Poland, Hungary and Slovenia to silence free media. Do you think that the freedom of the press is at risk in these countries?

Yes. Slovenia is not yet Hungary or Poland, but if we do nothing, it will head that way. Before entering politics, I was a journalist for eight years. So, I know how things work on the other side. There is no doubt that the situation is worsening. While I cannot claim that pressures or attacks have never happened in the past, the fact is that with the new government, the situation is gradually deteriorating. Janša tried to suspend the Slovenian Press Agency and national public television RTV SLO because he had built his own media system. He also has issues with the culture because they are trying to create a kind of parallel social trend. He manipulates people through historical traumas and the current pandemic. The goal is obvious: they want to subjugate the whole of society, and they want to have power eternally. Janez Janša wants to be eternally in power, that’s the whole issue here. He deliberately tried to divide and polarize society to achieve his political goals. And his political goal is autocracy.

In fact, in the last few weeks, we have seen the Prime Minister directly attack journalists here in Brussels, where he is known as the “Trump of Europe”. Do you think this label is fair?

I am not in a position to judge whether that is fair or not. But the reality is  Janša idealizes Trump and Orban. He uses social networks a lot, he attacks everyone on Twitter, so he uses the same methods as Trump. Things are going to extremes because we are no longer just talking about rhetoric.

You personally have been the target of attacks due to your Macedonian origin. What was happening?

This is normal for Janez Janša, his voters, and his supporters. Unfortunately, I am not the only one and, of course, I will not be the last to be the target of such attacks. It’s sad because none of them have told me exactly what I did wrong or what they think I should have done better. They are only talking about where my parents are from, even though I was born in Slovenia, by the way. They don’t even care what I say, and that is what saddens me the most. Politics has led to a very offensive trend. Hate speech in particular is becoming normal, most notably on Twitter.

Do you think the European Commission is doing enough to curb these trends and defend the rule of law?

I think the Commission should do more because it has enough tools at its disposal to do so. I hope they will take steps in the right direction because we cannot afford to have three illiberal countries in the EU that do not believe in freedom of the press. Furthermore, I hope and trust the European Commission to do more.

What measures or tools do you think Brussels could use?

First, we need to stop talking about how bad we are all the time and take action. The Commission has annual country reports on the rule of law, as well as a mechanism to condition European funding on respect for these fundamental values. It is a crucial instrument, and we must start using it to punish those who undermine our values.

Do you have confidence in the rule of law? We have already seen that some, such as Article 7, have proved ineffective …

You never know, but I remain optimistic because the rule of law mechanism is necessary precisely because of the apparent ineffectiveness of other mechanisms. The European Union was founded based on fundamental values, and this is clearly reflected in the Treaties. This is not about ideologies, but about non-negotiable values. The governments of Poland and Hungary are constantly losing court battles before the EU Court of Justice. I believe that we can use these tools to ensure that European taxpayers’ money does not go to waste.

You mentioned Janša’s admiration for Viktor Orbán. Do you think he will follow in Orban’s footsteps and his party, SDS, will end up leaving the European People’s Party?

I don’t think he will dare to do that because then his party would have less power than it has now as a member of the EPP. My colleague from Janša’s party has already said on camera that she will continue to work with Fidesz, regardless of which political group she belongs to. Orban and Janša no longer have so much political power, not in Parliament, or more importantly in the Council. They will not be part of “mainstream” politics. Janša’s party is simply too small (at the European level) to do anything, especially now that Fidesz is no longer in the EPP. So, I don’t think they will leave the group, but they will continue to work with Orban’s party.

And one last question. Are these illiberal democracies a threat to the future of the EU?

Yes. We do not need three illiberal democracies, even if they are still a minority. What is most important now is to stop the spread of such democracies.


Journalist: Maria Zornoza

Published: El Confidencial, 23rd March 2021

Full article accessible here.

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