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Zver And Jančič Agree: The Constitutional Court’s Decision Is Shameful

The Constitutional Court’s decision to end the suspension of the new Radio-Television Slovenia Act is, in the opinion of MEP Dr Milan Zver, disgraceful, especially if it turns out that one of the judges was, in fact, under severe pressure to adopt it. This would be a case of enormous political pressure. Peter Jančič, the editor of the media outlet Spletni časopis (Online Newspaper), used the same term to describe the move and warned that the Constitutional Court’s decision would have consequences, as the judges had failed to protect the national media outlet from political pressure.

On Friday, a highly controversial decision of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Slovenia – to end the suspension of Golob’s amendment to the Radio-Television Slovenia Act – was announced. Shortly after that, our media outlet obtained some information about what was happening behind the walls of the Constitutional Court at the time of adopting the decision in question. As we learned, Constitutional Court judge Špelca Mežnar brutally pressured Constitutional Court judge Rok Svetlič. Mežnar allegedly even shouted during the substantive debate on the act in question and called on the President of the Constitutional Court, Matej Accetto, to sanction Svetlič. She allegedly even made threats of prosecution by the prosecutor’s office, where Judge Mežnar’s mother and the wife of Judge Rok Čeferin are still very influential.

However, all indicators point to the case not reaching its epilogue in Slovenia. The initiator of the assessment of the constitutionality of the act in question, Peter Gregorčič, President of the current Programme Council of the national media outlet Radio-Television Slovenia (RTVS), and Matej Avbelj, the author of the initiative, have announced that they have prepared a complaint and sent it to the European Court of Human Rights. They believe that all available legal remedies have been exhausted in Slovenia.

The President of the Republic, Nataša Pirc Musar, also reacted to the Court’s decision, saying that “polarisation within the Constitutional Court has brought us nothing good, and I will do my best to ensure that with new appointments and new proposals, this kind of thing does not happen again.” She then added: “It is important that a Constitutional Court judge is someone who is an expert in the field of constitutional law, human rights and fundamental freedoms, and who has demonstrated the highest possible degree of ethics and integrity in his or her work to date. A person should not be able to become a Constitutional Court judge just because he or she has a worldview that suits one or the other political option. That will be my primary and only objective.” Which is, again, an unusual statement for the President of the Republic and an odd perception of the independence of the Constitutional Court.

The usurpation of representatives

MEP Milan Zver commented that “Pirc Musar would apparently like to nominate ‘non-political candidates’ in the future, if she is given this power, because all those appointed by the National Assembly are, in her view, political.” The same logic is at work in the case of the amendment to the RTVS Act. The story goes back to 1993, when the first law on Radio-Television Slovenia was being drafted. Zver was then an assistant to Jože Pučnik. The latter was the Deputy Prime Minister and covered this specific area. Even then, there were calls for representatives of so-called civil society to be on the board of RTV Slovenia. The question about the representativeness of such representatives then arose – who they would represent and who would nominate them. “It cannot just be some street association that nominates someone as a legitimate representative. The only legitimate body that can do that is the parliament.” And what we are seeing now is an attempt to push parliament out of the processes, including in the area of appointing constitutional and other judges. The President would like to (or will) usurp the latter, which means that we are already getting certain elements of a presidential system. Pirc Musar apparently assumes that she is not political and that, as such, she will be able to propose apolitical candidates in order to prevent certain political divisions within individual bodies, such as the Constitutional Court. In reality, according to Zver, the opposite is true, as there will be increased politicisation, and the matter is thus also undemocratic.

Challenging Jourová in court

As for the Court’s decision as such, MEP Zver believes that it is “disgraceful, especially if it actually turns out that one of the judges was under severe pressure. This would be an unprecedented case of political pressure.” Zver also intends to further investigate the story of Commissioner Věra Jourová‘s alleged pressure on the Constitutional Court, which has been widely reported. “In the future, we need to prevent European institutions and bodies from arbitrarily influencing the decision-making processes in the Member States. This is interventionism, which is not allowed (according to the Lisbon Treaty). It is a violation,” said Zver, who intends to seek justice in court, where there is already a similar (Polish) case where a request was made for access to the full documentation in a case, which was then granted.

We have already reported that Jourová censored almost the entire report of her visit to Slovenia. However, Zver has additional arguments for gaining access to the said documents. The key question is: where is the limit to which the European authorities can afford interventions such as the one launched by Jourová? We know that she expressed her support for the amendment to the RTVS Act, and the law was then held up by the Constitutional Court, after she intervened. “The left has taken every possible means to ensure that what happened last week actually happened.”

“The claim that the government will depoliticise RTVS is a Putin-level statement about him allegedly demilitarising Ukraine”

According to journalist and political commentator Peter Jančič, “the statement by the President of the Republic was quite embarrassing for the President, so she clarified afterwards that people obviously understood the matter differently.” If she makes the composition of the court one-sided, then the judges will not be in conflict, because they will all be subservient to the left, which will always win, and there will be no problems. For the time being (thankfully), it is still ultimately up to the National Assembly to decide whether a judge is confirmed for the position or not. However, with the help of the opposition New Slovenia party (Nova Slovenija – NSi), the governing coalition also intends to move the appointment of other judges out from under the aegis of the National Assembly, where the matter is conducted in a transparent manner, where all parties can present their concerns. In recent years, this has proved necessary, as the Judicial Council has already nominated people in the past who are completely unsuitable for the post. Among others, this included a person from Celje, connected with the Thermal Power Plant Šoštanj 6 (TEŠ6) project, who should have also judged on this very same matter. On the other hand, Pirc Musar’s awkward expression may also be useful (when she says that she will act only for the good of one pole), because it may sober up the NSi party to think a little more about the consequences of the agreements in the area in question.

“The control of the judiciary by one political party affects how they judge …” warns Jančič. We already have a problem in Slovenia with the judiciary and the prosecutor’s office prosecuting mainly right-wing, opposition politicians, while on the left, “this never happens; they never get to the bottom of the matter.” A typical example of this is Zoran Janković. In his case, no proceedings are ever initiated, or the evidence is destroyed, suggesting a corrupt background.

This decision, when a media outlet of national interest was not protected from political purges, is bad for both the state and the Constitutional Court. “In a way, it is even shameful because it will have consequences.” The Court ruled in favour of the government. But just as the left has done now, perhaps one day the right will do the same, when a majority of Constitutional Court judges will argue that such behaviour should be stopped. Jančič believes that this would effectively mean the end of the Constitutional Court and the people’s trust in it. Also, the current decision of the Constitutional Court is bad for the media and press freedom. Politicians have gained too much direct influence over staffing. “The claim that the government will depoliticise RTVS is a Putin-level statement about him allegedly demilitarising Ukraine,” said Jančič.

Domen Mezeg

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