Slovenia’s prime minister, a nationalist dubbed "mini-Trump", takes charge of the European Union’s rotating presidency on Thursday amid fears he will pour petrol on the flames of the EU’s culture war over LGBT rights.
Janez Jansa, a communist turned Right-wing populist after the collapse of Yugoslavia, could further exacerbate divides between EU member states in the east and more liberal countries in the west.
Slovenia takes on the six-month presidency on July 1, which means its officials will organise and chair inter-governmental negotiations and have responsibility for brokering agreement on EU policies.
Mr Jansa, who earned the sobriquet "Marshall Tweeto" for his trademark virulent social media attacks, will have heightened influence in Brussels at a time when the EU is trying to stop certain countries from sliding further into authoritarianism and homophobia.
'We are bracing ourselves for tweets'
"We are hoping he won’t interfere too much, but at the same time we are bracing ourselves for some tweets," an EU diplomat told The Telegraph after using the nickname, which refers to Josip Broz Tito, who ruled Yugoslavia for 35 years.
The diplomat said that representatives of EU capitals hoped that Slovenia’s term could be ridden out by ensuring that most of the power-broking and negotiations on policy is ring-fenced in Brussels.
France is the next country to take on the rotating presidency and sources said French officials were working closely with Slovenian officials on major policies as part of the strategy of containment.
Mr Jansa, 62, who attracted derision for prematurely calling the last US elections in favour of Donald Trump, is a close ally of Viktor Orban, Hungary’s strongman leader.
Like Mr Orban, Mr Jansa is accused of waging a crackdown against press freedom and has declared a "war on media". He also has a similar record of "Brussels-bashing" and anti-migrant rhetoric as the Hungarian leader.
Mr Orban was upbraided by EU leaders for a law banning LGBT content in schools in an unprecedented dressing down at last week’s European Council summit in Brussels.
Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, told Mr Orban to leave the EU if he was so intent on disrespecting its values with the bill, which associates homosexuality with paedophilia.
Clash with Brussels over LGBT rights
Only Mr Jansa and Poland, which is also at loggerheads with Brussels over gay rights and the creation of LGBT-free zones in the country, offered the defiant Mr Orban support at the summit.
The row has led to renewed calls for countries such as Hungary and Poland to be punished for breaches of the rule of law.
Clement Beaune, the French European affairs minister, said on Wednesday he expected Hungary to face some form of punishment over the anti-LGBT law. Any action will take place under Slovenia’s presidency, but will be triggered by the European Commission.
The punitive action is likely to fall short of stripping Budapest of EU funding or its voting rights in Brussels.
@JJansaSDS onslaught on free media continues 👇🏻
Can the @EU_Commission @EUCouncil act before Slovenia takes the EU presidency and becomes the 3rd anti-democratic spoiler after Poland and Hungary ? 🙏🏻 pic.twitter.com/nSCjQO7lZB
— Guy Verhofstadt (@guyverhofstadt) March 1, 2021
Removing voting rights requires the unanimous support of the other 26 EU member states, and Poland and Hungary have made clear they will veto any effort from the other countries targeting them.
Heads of state and government have had a reduced role during their presidency terms since the creation of the post of European Council President, but sources admitted Mr Jansa could still cause trouble.
EU diplomats said the plan was to sideline Mr Jansa and they hope that the prime minister may be muzzled by his coalition partners.
His Slovenian Democratic Party was blocked from power after elections in 2018 by those opposed to his eurosceptism, but he was able to take over two years later by enticing parties to join his coalition.
Jansa survived protests and motions of no-confidence
Mr Jansa has since survived protests, the impeachment of five ministers on corruption charges, criticism of his handling of the pandemic and two motions of no-confidence.
One minister in his precarious coalition resigned in protest after the government blocked the appointment of Slovenia’s two prosecutors to the European Public Prosecutor’s Office.
The decision seriously undermined trust in Slovenia’s oversight of the use of EU funds, the European Chief Prosecutor said last month.
The Czech Republic, which is led by Andrej Babis, another "mini-Trump" billionaire populist, is also under scrutiny for alleged conflict of interest in EU budget negotiations.
Slovenian officials in Brussels were asked for comment.