Slovenian leader Janez Janša has once again courted controversy with a tweet that claims a prominent member of the European Parliament is a “puppet” of billionaire philanthropist George Soros, promoting a conspiracy theory popular with the European far right.
Sophie In ‘t Veld, a Dutch MEP since 2004 and leader of the Democrats 66 political party in Brussels, was pictured alongside 13 others, some of which are no longer MEPs and one of which, Hans van Baalen, died earlier this year.
Janša’s tweet referred to the 13 as “Soros puppets in the EU parlement (sic).”
Soros and his Open Society Foundation have long been a target of the far-right for his philanthropic work and criticism of anti-democratic reforms in countries such as Viktor Orban’s Hungary. Soros, a Jewish Hungarian, is often subject to anti-Semitic slurs and singled out for abuse in Fidesz election material.
Janša’s Twitter rant comes as In ‘t Veld and a delegation of MEPs visit Slovenia to investigate the rule of law and media freedom, which critics allege have worsened since he was elected in 2020.
Last month, the head of Slovenia's STA news agency, Bojan Veselinovic, resigned and accused the Janša government of using public funding to control the news output of the station.
Slovenia currently has the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union. Janša has lashed out at the EU Commission for "exceeding its powers" in a crackdown on violations of the rule of law.
Reacting to the news, the European Commission said it did not "comment on comments" but that "social media should be a space for constructive and respectful debates, not for attacks on public and private individuals".
"Antisemitism has no place in the EU," a Commission spokesperson said.
Charles Michel, the President of the European Council, also weighed in on the controversy but avoided mentioning Janša by name.
"Members of the [European Parliament] should be able to do their work free from any form of pressure," Michel tweeted.
"Mutual respect between EU institutions and within the European Council is the only way forward."
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte responded to Janša on Twitter on Thursday night, calling his comments “tasteless”.
“I condemn it in the strongest possible terms. The government just conveyed this same sentiment to the Slovenian ambassador in The Hague,” Rutte wrote.
Replying two hours later, Janša said that Rutte should not “waste time with ambassadors and media freedom in Slovenia”, and pointed out that the last European journalist to be killed was Peter de Vries, in the Netherlands, not in Slovenia.
Rutte has become increasingly vocal against member states accused of democratic backsliding. In June, Rutte suggested Hungary leave the European Union after Budapest passed a controversial law banning the depiction of homosexuality and sex reassignment in school material and on TV.
This week, the Dutch parliament adopted a resolution opposing the approval of Poland's €36-billion recovery plan after the Polish Constitutional Court issued a verdict defying the primacy of EU law. Rutte said he will not oppose the resolution.