LJUBLJANA, Slovenia — Slovenia Prime Minister Janez Janša on Friday accused a European Union official of being a liar in the wake of the publication this week of an annual report on adherence to the rule of law in the bloc that highlighted democratic challenges in the Balkan nation.
The European Commission’s report said media freedom and pluralism have been deteriorating and pointed out online harassment and threats against journalists. The EU’s executive arm was also concerned by the government’s refusal to finance the state-run Slovenian Press Agency, or STA, for 2021.
European Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarčič, who is from Slovenia, has been accused by Janša of acting against Slovenia’s interests after he said there were concerns with the respect of the rule of law in the country of just 2 million people nestled between Austria, Croatia, Hungary and Italy.
As he arrived Friday at an EU meeting in Slovenia, Lenarčič rejected the accusation.
“Slovenia is being harmed by those who undermine the rule of law and media freedom, rather than those of us who warn of such conduct being problematic,” he said, as quoted by STA.
Lenarčič also denied accusations by his detractors inside the right-wing government that he advocated for European funds to be made conditional, limited or even withdrawn from Slovenia.
In a response posted on Twitter, Janša said Lenarčič “is lying. We expect him to launch court proceedings, we will present internal documents there.”
Janša is accused of becoming increasingly authoritarian in ways similar to those of his ally, hardline Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Critics say Janša’s government has pressured the Slovenian media, spurred hate speech and mismanaged the coronavirus pandemic.
Janša said the EU is applying double standards on the rule of law by adopting a softer stance toward Western countries.
Samuel Petrequin reported from Brussels.