EU chief prosecutor accuses Slovenia of justice interference

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union’s chief prosecutor accused member nation Slovenia on Friday of interfering in the EU’s justice system and raised concerns about whether the trade bloc’s budget is fully protected from fraud or corruption.

The European Public Prosecutor’s Office began work in June. Its aim is to independently investigate crimes against the EU budget, such as corruption and serious cross-border value added tax fraud. Slovenia is alone among those countries taking part that refuse to name two prosecutors to the agency.

“The fact that a member state is interfering with the proper functioning of an EU judicial institution sets a very dangerous precedent,” Chief Prosecutor Laura Kovesi told EU lawmakers. She said that Slovenia’s failure to nominate prosecutors to the agency she leads has left “a prosecution gap in the EPPO zone.”

The process of selecting the delegates was carried out by a council of Slovenian prosecutors. But Prime Minister Janez Jansa said in July that the procedure “was not carried out correctly.” He said that only two candidates were proposed for the posts, “even though several candidates came forward.”

Jansa accused his country’s own justice system of moving too slowly on fraud and corruption.

The delay is acutely embarrassing for the EU given that the tiny Alpine nation holds the 27-country bloc’s rotating presidency until the end of the year. The EPPO is made up of 22 EU members. Hungary, Poland and Sweden decided not to join, and Denmark and Ireland have an opt-out in EU justice matters.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said at the start of Slovenia’s current term at the EU’s helm that the public prosecutor’s office “is a crucial component to protect EU taxpayers’ money.”

“It is very good that Slovenia has signed up to it, and now Slovenia must deliver and cooperate with the EPPO,” she said. “I count on the prime minister to submit names of candidates to the EPPO with utmost urgency.”

Kosevi said her office has to work as if it “did not exist in Slovenia. In this situation, how can Slovenia ensure proper and complete supervision of bodies responsible for the management and control of Union funds? How can Slovenia guarantee effective judicial follow-up of all the detected fraudulent irregularities? Is the EU budget properly protected?”

A spokesman for the commission, which proposes EU laws and supervises the way they are enacted, said that Brussels has had several exchanges of letters and discussions with the Slovenian authorities. “This is not a sustainable situation,” said the spokesman, Christian Wigand.

Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders has threatened to take Slovenia before Europe’s top court if it does not respect its obligations. But the commission is unlikely to move before a Slovenian administrative court rules on complaints by the two prosecutors whose candidacies were refused.