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'Words are not innocent,' says Dutch MEP, after Janez Janša slur

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By Orlando Crowcroft
European delegation member Sophie in 't Veld of the Renew Europe Group arrives before a meeting at the Europe House on December 3, 2019 in Valletta
European delegation member Sophie in 't Veld of the Renew Europe Group arrives before a meeting at the Europe House on December 3, 2019 in Valletta   -   Copyright  ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP

A Dutch MEP who was attacked on social media by Slovenia’s prime minister while she was on a parliamentary trip to the country said the incident should be a reminder that “words are not innocent”.

Sophie in't Veld, who has been a member of the European Parliament since 2004, was branded a “puppet” of billionaire philanthropist George Soros by Janez Janša, Slovenia’s leader, in a tweet to his 90,000 followers, which also named 12 other MEPs and former MEPs along with their pictures.

In't Veld said that while she felt that Janša’s comments were an effort to distract from the real issues facing Slovenia -- including press freedom, which she and her colleagues were in the country to investigate -- it should be noted that it came on the same day as a British MP was stabbed to death.

Sir David Amess, a Conservative Party MP since 1983, was killed in Leigh-on-Sea in Essex. He is the second British MP to be murdered in recent years after Labour MP Jo Cox was killed in June 2016.

British police said the man accused of the killing, Ali Harbi Ali, may have been motivated by Islamist extremism. Cox was killed by a far-right activist prior to Britain's divisive Brexit referendum.

“Words are not harmless. They’re not innocent,” In't Veld told Euronews.

She said that comments such as Janša's are responsible for sowing hostility towards politics and politicians and lead to incidents such as the Capitol riots that followed former U.S. President Donald Trump's accusations about voter fraud following his defeat in last year's election.

“If people are being fed mistrust then you get scenes [like] that we saw in Washington,"

She said she had not felt personally threatened on the streets in Slovenia despite having been the target of Janša in the past.

Janša’s tweet channelled a common far-right conspiracy theory about the Hungarian-born Soros, whose Open Society Foundation champions pro-democratic causes.

Attacks on Soros typically focus on the fact that he is Jewish in political campaigns by Viktor Orban and his Fidesz movement.

In't Veld said that while she welcomed the intervention on social media by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte -- who said Janša’s comments were “tasteless” -- it had to be noted that Rutte and other European leaders continued to sit alongside the Slovenian president at the European Council.

Janša currently has the rotating presidency of the council

“The Dutch prime minister was right in responding [but] I also thought: You sit in the European Council with these autocrats and cranks and nobody speaks up,” she said.

In't Veld said that the council is unaccountable and undemocratic.

“It is the single largest problem of the European Union,” she said. “It has no place in a democracy.”

Established in 1974, the European Council consists of the heads of state of all 27 EU member states and is tasked with "defining the EU's overall political direction and priorities".