EU executive warns Slovakia that criminal law changes may have consequences

(Reuters) – The European Commission, which has frozen other countries’ funding in similar cases, will take action against Slovakia if it enacts changes to criminal laws that violate European Union laws, EU justice commissioner Didier Reynders said on Wednesday.

Ignoring a call by the commission to move slowly, the government of Prime Minister Robert Fico has fast-tracked in parliament proposals that include scrapping a special prosecutor’s office for high-profile graft cases.

Poland and Hungary have seen billions of euros in EU funds frozen in rule-of-law disputes with Brussels, something Slovakia will want to avoid as its seeks to bring down a budget deficit that is forecast to be the highest in the euro zone this year.

“Despite the Commission’s request not to advance on intended amendments via fast-track procedure, the (Slovak) government carried on with the procedure,” Reynders said on social media platform X, formerly Twitter.

“The Commission will analyse the final texts once adopted and assess their compliance with EU law. We will not hesitate to act if needed.”

Reynders said the dismissal of Judicial Council members and plans to dissolve the Special Prosecutor Office as well as decrease penalties for corruption-related criminal offences raised concerns, including over judicial independence.

Slovak President Zuzana Caputova has threatened to veto the legislation, while opposition parties have promised to do all they can to block it in parliament. On Tuesday, thousands protested in Bratislava and other cities over the proposals.

Fico’s government aims to enact by Christmas legislation that would disband the special prosecutor’s office.

Fico, a four-time prime minister who resigned in 2018 amid mass protests against corruption after the murder of an investigative journalist, leads a coalition with a sufficient majority in parliament to overturn a presidential veto.

He has accused the special prosecutor’s office of being politically motivated and has said it violated human rights.

Since 2020, the special prosecutor has investigated over 100 people including police, judicial officials and influential businessmen. Another 40 people have been found guilty, according to Slovak media.

(Reporting by Jason Hovet in Prague; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)