The Slovenian Commission for the prevention of corruption (CPC) has started an investigation on possible conflicts of interest of outgoing Prime Minister Alenka Bratušek in the procedure for naming Slovenia’s candidates for European Commissioner.
The candidacy and confirmation of the new European Commissioner candidate (ECC) from Slovenia in the last two months has grown into a farce. The collapse of the Slovene government in May triggered Parliamentary elections and initiated a transitional period where the resignating government along with the outgoing Prime minister Alenka Bratušek had the authority to propose and confirm candidates for the EU Commission. Initially, Alenka Bratušek decided to wait with the proposal of the ECC for the election to pass in order to consult with the winner of the elections on the decision . However, just after the elections furious competition and political lobbying for the ECC began, she decided to bypass the proposal for a non-partisan candidate by the winner of the elections, Dr. Miro Cerar. As the political elite could not form a consensus on a single ECC candidate, the outgoing government thus proposed a list of 3 candidates.
The entire process attracted considerable attention among the public as a potential conflict of interest. Alenka Bratušek was recommended as a candidate for the ECC by her own political party, a party she also chairs. At the same time, she also failed to exclude herself from the voting in the final decision of the Government on the ECC candidates. The “self-nomination” of Bratušek was therefore investigated by the CPC on its own initiative, to determine possible violations of Article 37 in the Integrity and Prevention of Corruption Act, which states: an official person shall pay attention to any actual or possible conflict of interest and shall make every effort to avoid it. An official person may not use his office or post to advance his personal interests or the personal interests of another person. The cabinet has refused to acknowledge any conflicts of interest and has denied that Bratušek’s private interest prevailed as this is a political post. They have further stated that the procedure was carried out according to normal practice.
Transparency International Slovenia highlighted the lack of transparency in the entire nomination process, where the role and influence of Bratušek was not entirely known to the public. It remains unclear who proposed the outgoing PM and the other two candidates, or who decided upon and how big an influence the PM had on the final decision. At the same time, circumstances and the sequence of events emphasized not only how high public officials in Slovenia systemically underestimate the integrity standards, but they also create strong suspicions of potential conflicts of interest. The fact that the audio recordings of the Government session where the final decision on the first nominating procedure was made is not accessible to the public and the government still refuses to disclose it, raises substantial doubts about the legitimacy of the nomination procedure.
The saga of the “self-nomination” of Alenka Bratušek continues with a number of critical open letters by Slovenian politicians and civil society members to the president-elect of the EU Commission Jean-Claude Juncker. As Juncker decided on Bratusek despite the potential conflicts of interest, the outgoing government approved the list of ECC candidates with Bratusek in it. Six ministers voted against, while five ministers approved the list. There are no special rules on appointing candidates for ECC, therefore the Government used the Rules of procedure, which states that the proposal is rejected by a negative vote of at least 7 ministers and the discretion of the Prime minister is to decide if the decision will be passed in a regular Government meeting or the Government will decide through urgent procedure. Ms. Alenka Bratušek seized the opportunity and vehemently decided for her own benefit, demanding immediate decision and indirectly “appointed herself” to one of the most coveted EU positions.
On the 9th of September the CPC finalized the investigation and served Bratušek by post, though the CPC could have served the decision in person to prevent evasion. Since then she has avoided picking up the letter from the post office to which it was delivered, even though she explicitly made a public statement saying that she will not prolong the procedure. Because of this, the CPC can’t announce its findings in public. The findings have now, by the administrative procedure, been served to her address and she has a seven day period to appeal. The decision of the CPC will afterwards be reconsidered and the CPC will make a final decision. The public will therefore not get information on the findings by the CPC until after the 6th of October, when she will have her hearing before the European Parliament in Brussels. She has acted against her statements and with no integrity.
This highly controversial and multifaceted case reveals a number of problems not only in Slovenia but also at the EU level. The lack of transparent procedures, inadequate rules and weak pressure from Brussels in the selection of Commissioners are key issues to address in the future.
Members of the European Parliament are now on the fence and have to decide between Ms. Bratušek’s claims and a strong indication of corrupt behavior and a conflict of interest. On which side will they tilt?
This is a guest blog by Vid Doria, Secretary General at Transparency International Slovenia