STA, 11 June 2020 - Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša has hit back at European Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni following his appeal for explanation over the dismissal of the Statistics Office's director by suggesting he was playing a political game for the Slovenian left.
"I didn't receive your letter, but press did," Janša tweeted after the STA reported yesterday that Gentiloni sent a letter to Janša asking him to explain the replacement of the head of the Slovenia's Statistics Office.
Mr. @PaoloGentiloni, I didn’t receive your letter, but press did. @govSlovenia replaced a political appointee as Statistics Office head with an expert with 30 y of experience in this Office. Hope this is the last time you play a political game for Slovenian left. @vonderleyen https://t.co/qFzkzVgXks— Janez Janša (@JJansaSDS) June 11, 2020
"@govSlovenia replaced a political appointee as Statistics Office head with an expert with 30 y of experience in this Office. Hope this is the last time you play a political game for Slovenian left," Janša added in his tweet, which he also tagged to Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president.
Asked by the STA for its response to Janša's tweet, the European Commission's press service said Gentiloni's letter was transmitted by email to Slovenia's Permanent Representation to the EU at 17:52 on Tuesday, 9 June, for onward transmission to the prime minister.
"Addressing the letter to Prime Minister Janša via the Permanent Representation is in line with standard practice," said a commission spokesperson.
The Commission said yesterday that Gentiloni addressed a letter to Janša on Tuesday to request "some clarifications concerning the recent replacement of the Director-General of the State Statistical Office of the Republic of Slovenia".
Asked about what prompted the letter, the Commission said it "is committed to ensuring that the principles of impartiality and professional independence of national statistical authorities as laid down in EU legislation are fully respected".
Janša's tweet invited response from several Slovenian MEPs, including Tanja Fajon, the acting leader of the opposition Social Democrats (SD), who tweeted: "Janša's response is indecent: when there's no arguments, attack and denigration. This government has damaged Slovenia's reputation."
Ni verodostojne informacije brez verodostojnih podatkov. Komisar Gentiloni zahteva pojasnila, ker je menjava na čelu SURS nov znak suspenza demokracije v Sloveniji. Janšev odgovor je nedostojen: ko ni argumentov, napad in blatenje. Ta vlada je uničila ugled Slovenije v EU. https://t.co/vcQHGxTx4k— Tanja Fajon (@tfajon) June 11, 2020
Tagging a retweet of her earlier tweet about Gentilioni's letter, Janša had also taken aim at SD staff: "Slobbering in Brussels, biting at home (...) bowing to those above, pressing those under".
Romana Tomc, a MEP for Janša's Democratic Party (EPP/SDS), joined the back and forth on Twitter by supporting the prime minister in a tweet saying that Gentiloni's move was obviously politically-motivated, and ignited by political players.
Poteza @PaoloGentiloni je zelo očitno politično motivirana, podžigajo jo slovenski akterji. Skrajno čudno je tudi to, da komisar dopusti, da javnost za dopis izve prej kot naslovnik. @vladaRS nikakor ne sme pristati na tak način delovanja @EU_Commission— RomanaTomc (@RomanaTomc) June 11, 2020
"It's utterly odd that the commissioner should have let the public learn about the letter sooner than the addressee. The government must in no way agree to such a mode of operation by the European Commission," Tomc tweeted.
MEP Irena Joveva (Renew/LMŠ) tweeted that Janša replaced the Statistics Office's director for the first time in Slovenia's history, adding that his accusing Gentiloni "sounds familiar".
Echoing the sentiment expressed by Fajon, Milan Brglez (S&D/SD) described Janša's tweet as indecent. "After a series of foreign policy 'mistakes' now indecent behaviour by Janez Janša. Following the principle 'what can they do about it anyway'. Quo vadis, Slovenia."
The government dismissed Bojan Nastav as director of the Statistics Office in late May, appointing Tomaž Smrekar as acting director for up to six months until a new director is named.
In response, the Statistics Council, an expert advisory body, has asked the Constitutional Court to review the dismissal after obtaining a legal opinion that found the government invoked a wrong piece of legislation for the dismissal.
Janša said in late May that Nastav's replacement was necessary "due to responsiveness". "This is about a body functioning in a professional fashion, being responsive, so that we can rely on getting data tomorrow if we need it."