The former President of the Programme Council of the national media outlet Radio-Television Slovenia (RTVS), Peter Gregorčič, strongly criticised the government in a recent meeting of the Committee on Culture, which debated the State of the Rule of Law Report 2023 – particularly the field of media, journalism and democracy. Gregorčič accused the government of abusing its power in the media sector by politically purging the entire management of RTVS and was also critical of the European Commission, which, in his opinion, has “not done its job well,” asking why the report omits the essential reason why the petition to the Constitutional Court was filed in the first place.
At the recent session of the Committee on Culture, Dr Peter Gregorčič presented his view on why the European Commission has not done a good enough job with this report, at least in the part relating to pluralism and media freedom, adding that “I would even dare to say, with a certain degree of harshness, that with this report the Commission has clearly followed exclusively one political view – and in doing so, it has not fulfilled its supranational role, which it is meant to do, but has allowed itself to be seduced by the particular interest groups that currently hold power in Slovenia, including, above all, those groups that are the holders of civil society power in Slovenia.”
In Friday’s Committee on Culture session, Dr Peter Gregorčič discussed the Rule of Law Report, published by the European Commission for the fourth year in a row this year, which he argues is extremely important for ensuring a healthy democracy. He stressed the importance of an objective opinion that is not personally involved in national developments and does not simply pursue one story and one view, as he also accused the European Commission of being arbitrary in its assessment. He also criticised the civil society powerholders in Slovenia: “It was these civil society groups that drafted the amendment to the Radio-Television Slovenia Act, by which the legislator terminated the mandates of management and control of the public broadcaster ex lege, without any legal protection. This is unacceptable and contrary to the law of the European Union, the Council of Europe, comparative constitutional law, and also contrary to the established case law of the Slovenian Constitutional Court,” he wrote, explaining why he sees this as a political purging of staff, following the example of Hungary and Poland.
Why did the European Commission omit the essential reason for the petition being brought to the European Court of Justice?
As Gregorčič explained, in March this year, he met with the European Commission’s Policy Officer, Jože Štrus, to whom he presented his views and documents relating to the “depoliticisation of public television,” but has now found that none of the information presented had been adequately included in the report considered by this Committee. “What is more, in the European Commission’s report, I was able to read that, as President of the Programme Council of RTV Slovenia, I lodged a petition with the Constitutional Court ‘in January 2023’, because I consider that the new regulations are unconstitutional, since, among other things, they no longer allow the National Assembly to appoint the members of RTV Slovenia’s management bodies.” Štrus and his working group received the petition that Gregorčič and others submitted to the Constitutional Court in full from Gregorčič himself, so he cannot help but wonder – “why did they omit from the report the essential reason why we submitted this petition to the Constitutional Court in the first place?”
A political personnel purge along the lines of Hungary and Poland
As Gregorčič further explained, it was not just that “this amendment to the law deprived the National Assembly – as the institution with the greatest democratic legitimacy – of the right to appoint members of the RTV Council, which, by the way, is a supervisory body and not a management body, as the European Commission’s report wrongly states. The main reason why I am one of the initiators of this constitutional review is that, with this amendment, the current authorities have carried out a political personnel purge along the lines of Hungary and Poland, where the illiberal authorities – just like the current authorities in Slovenia in the case of the ‘depoliticisation of RTV Slovenia’ – have abused their strong position of power to get rid of judges, civil servants and other officials whom they did not like by means of legislative amendments. This led to convictions of Hungary and Poland before the European Court of Human Rights in the cases of Baka v Hungary and Grzeda v Poland.”
He also said he does not know why the key reason for the petition was not mentioned in the report but concluded that it was “because it did not fit into the ideological and world-view context.” Gregorčič stressed that all the documents he presented to Štrus are available and can be forwarded at any time, and he then shared another discovery he made when he lodged a complaint about the breach of European Union law. He believes that by annulling the Decision on the temporary suspension of the amendment to the RTVS Act, the Constitutional Court has ex lege and irrevocably suspended all the mandates of the management, administration and supervisory bodies of RTVS, without their holders having an effective legal remedy against such an interference, which is contrary to the established case-law in the European constitutional area.
“Both the European Court of Human Rights in Baka v Hungary and Grzeda v Poland and the Court of Justice of the European Union in Case C-288/125 held that the early termination of the mandates of independent institutions interferes with the autonomy and independence of the mandate holders, thereby violating the rule of law and, in the case of public service media, also their independence and thus media freedom. All courts have stressed that any interference by the legislator in the duration of mandates must respect existing legislation and guarantees, including the right to invoke the conditions for early dismissal,” he wrote.
The European Commission has yet to respond
Although the European Commission should have informed him within 15 working days that it had received a complaint alleging an infringement of European Union law, according to its procedures, this has still not happened to date, three and a half months after the petition was lodged, although others who initiated proceedings within the same period have already received replies. “Why the European Commission has not responded in accordance with its procedures in the case of the ‘depoliticisation of public service broadcasting’, I do not know,” he said, concluding that “all of the above confirms my initial hypothesis that in this case, unfortunately, the European Commission is not fulfilling the supranational role that it is supposed to play. Instead – probably because of the highly ideologically motivated officials who are operational in its working groups – it is subservient to the particular interests of those civil society and political groups that currently hold power in Slovenia. That this is extremely bad for the rule of law and for the realisation of the values of the European Union, as enshrined in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union, probably goes without saying.”