EU prosecutors appoint delayed Slovenia nominees for 5 years

BRUSSELS (AP) — A European Union body announced Wednesday that it has finally appointed two prosecutors from Slovenia, ending a months-long standoff with the small Alpine country’s right-wing government, but doubts remain over how long they will stay in the job.

The European Public Prosecutor’s Office, or EPPO, began work in June. Its aim is to independently investigate crimes against the EU budget, like corruption and cross-border tax fraud. Slovenia, which holds the high-profile EU presidency, was alone among the 22 countries taking part that refused to name prosecutors to the agency.

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, “even though several candidates came forward.”

Last month, EU chief prosecutor Laura Kovesi accused the Slovenian government of “interfering with the proper functioning of an EU judicial institution.” She said its failure to nominate prosecutors “sets a very dangerous precedent,” and has left “a prosecution gap in the EPPO zone.”

Jansa faces an election in April and is keen to ensure a successful EU presidency term, which ends on Dec. 31. On Nov. 18, he agreed to temporarily nominate the two prosecutors — Tanja Frank Eler and Matej Ostir — until the appointment procedure can be repeated.

But on Wednesday, the EPPO said that its college of national representatives had endorsed the two. “They have been appointed for a period of five years, like all other European Delegated Prosecutors,” a statement said.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the government would accept appointing them for five years. Under EU rules, governments should seek Kosevi’s approval, or at least consult her, before changing their nominees.

EPPO is made up of 22 of the EU’s 27 member countries. Hungary, Poland and Sweden decided not to join, and Denmark and Ireland have an opt-out in EU justice matters.

Critics accuse Jansa of assuming increasingly authoritarian ways similar to those of his ally, hard-line Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. They claim that Jansa’s government has pressured Slovenian media and spurred hate speech, while mishandling the coronavirus crisis.

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