Slovenia formally assumed the six-month rotating presidency of the European Council on Thursday (1 July) – amid criticism against its conservative prime minister Janez Janša, who is seen as following Hungary and Poland in undermining the rule of law and democratic values in the EU.
“The Slovenian presidency will be decisive. The tasks will be challenging,” said European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, just a few days after a row broke out at an EU leaders’ summit over the new anti-LGBTIQ law approved by Hungary.
“Trust that diversity and equality are always respected, and that the rule of law and European values are always upheld… is the very essence of our European Union,” she added.
Speaking to the press, Janša said that the Slovenian presidency will be an “honest broker” in human-rights disputes among member states.
He added that there were no major differences among EU leaders during the last summit in Brussels, but “a sincere discussion” on human rights and “what rights have priority”.
Meanwhile, Slovenia is currently the only country that has yet to send its candidates to the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) – a body responsible for uncovering and prosecuting fraud involving EU funds.
During her visit to Ljubljana, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said Slovenia must cooperate with the EPPO and appoint its candidates without delay, warning that this is “crucial to protect EU taxpayers money”.
“As we collectively prepare and finance our recovery, trust is our most valuable asset,” von der Leyen also said, acknowledging that there are other instruments to control and supervise EU funds.
Following months of standstill and attempts to block the selection of EPPO nominees from moving forward, Slovenia’s prime minister Janez Janša annulled the selection proposed by the country’s prosecution council last May.
EU lawmakers have called on the EU commission for the suspension of EU funds to Slovenia, arguing that the government’s decision to cancel the appointment of the two prosecutors represented “an unacceptable violation of the rule of law”.
Prime minister Janša told reporters on Thursday that the new selection procedure is expected to be finished by Autumn, pointing out that national institutions in member states have to protect EU funds.
The new European public prosecutor’s office launched on 1 June without the participation of Hungary, Poland, Sweden, Denmark, and Ireland.
The populist Janša has also been accused of putting media freedom at risk, especially after cutting funding for the Slovenian national news agency STA.
Reporters Without Borders have raised concerns about the recent attacks of the prime minister on Slovenian and international journalists, warning that there was a risk that Slovenia will use the EU presidency “to obstruct efforts to strengthen media freedom in Europe”.
Von der Leyen called on the Slovenian government to stop blocking funds for STA, stressing that “free, independent, and properly funded media” is crucial for the democratic debate.
Notably, the chief of the Green Deal and former EU commissioner for rule of law, Frans Timmermans, did not join the traditional family photo.
“I simply could not be on the same podium with prime minister Janša after his unacceptable attack on and defamation of two judges and two MEPs,” Timmermans said in a statement.
He was referring to a picture that Janša showed the collegue of commissioners with two judges and two MEPs identified as political enemies, according to Slovenian media.
“Judicial independence and respect for the role of elected MEPs are cornerstones of the rule of law, without which the EU cannot function. We can never stop calling out those who attack it,” Timmermans added.
Fresh violence at anti-vax protests in Brussels
Belgian police fired water cannon at violent anti-vaccination protesters outside EU buildings in Brussels for the second weekend in a row on Sunday. More than 40,000 people also protested against lockdowns in Vienna Saturday. Several thousand people also protested in Utrecht, in The Netherlands, as well as in Berlin and Frankfurt, where German police used batons and pepper spray after being attacked by a radical minority in the demonstration.
‘They see it in corridors, in bathrooms, on the bus’: UK schools’ porn crisis | Pornography
Barnardo’s works directly with children who are victims of abuse or display signs of harmful or risky sexual behaviour. In 2020-21, they worked with 382,872 children, young people, parents and carers.
In a recent survey of their frontline workers across England and Wales, staff reported a rise in the number of children participating in acts they have seen in pornographic videos, despite feeling uncomfortable or scared. They describe porn as having a “corrosive” effect on child wellbeing.
Child sexual abuse expert Sarah works with children who are displaying signs of inappropriate sexual behaviour. She also trains other professionals who work with children
“I started out as a primary school teacher eight years ago, and I’ve been worried about children seeing porn ever since. Children don’t have to be able to type to see porn – it can be sent to them or shown to them on someone else’s phone. They see it at school, in the corridors, in the bathrooms, on the bus. There is just no censor on any of it – one video leads to another. If you can imagine it, it exists as porn, and children are seeing it.
“I am working with a teenager who was sexually abused by a family member. This young person had been exposed to porn and it was perpetuating what the abuser told them – that this is normal, that it’s not abuse.”
She is particularly concerned, as are her colleagues, about the increasingly extreme nature of the porn freely available on mainstream sites.
“A common role play theme on porn sites is intra-familial abuse – on mainstream sites you will see fetishisation of grandad and granddaughter sex, or stepfathers and stepdaughters. This may lead to a young person not disclosing or getting the support they need. From both angles it is dangerous; it puts the child at risk and encourages the perpetrator.
“The impact of porn shows in children harming others or themselves because they either don’t understand or are so ashamed of sexual urges. Shame is very prevalent and is often hidden.
“We are working with a seven-year-old who has been exposed to porn and is now displaying sexualised behaviour. They had free rein on a device, and someone hadn’t deleted a browser history. Once a young person sees porn, they may feel a need to come back again and again – porn is designed to meet a need. That is a form of sexual abuse against that child.”
Brian* is a senior social worker who has worked with children for over 30 years
“Unfortunately, porn is a feature for the majority of the children who come into our service. The children we support are very damaged. They would be likely to have experienced multiple forms of abuse – sexual, physical and domestic. Porn in and of itself is not the cause of their behaviour but it becomes a compounding factor when it hits that history of vulnerability.
Adult sex offenders can give children a distorted rationalisation for their behaviour, and the messages that are given through porn then fit with that distortion.
Lucy* has worked within the field of child sexual abuse for 16 years.
“We know children find porn distressing – they are telling us that themselves. We have done research with children in schools so that we have a cohort to compare our vulnerable children to, and they are saying the same thing.
“This is not what could be described as erotic or soft porn. They may start on porn sites and quickly begin to see very hardcore material. Or [extreme material] lands in their social media feeds, and they can then feel compelled to go back and look again.
“Children are less able to manage sexual arousal, and this material is designed to be arousing. Lots of children can feel guilty and distressed by what they see. We have 14-year-olds telling us they have to watch it as soon as they wake up. They describe being preoccupied with accessing porn to an extent that impacts upon their day-to-day life.
“We also regularly work with children with learning disabilities, another group vulnerable to the harm of porn. They may be shielded from sexual information and then reach 13 or 14 and take away the wrong learning from porn. They may learn that no means yes, that if you persist, women will enjoy forced sex. These messages are harmful for any child but for children with learning needs or who have developed unhealthy beliefs around sex as a result of abuse, it’s particularly bad.
“After lockdown, we began to get more calls from parents where there is no other obvious trauma, just the exposure to porn. I’ve been doing this 16 years, and children have far more access to porn now.”
* Names and some details have been changed to protect identities
French centre-right tilts toward Pécresse
Valérie Pécresse, a moderate conservative who has likened herself to former British and German leaders Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel, has emerged as a front-runner in primaries in France’s centre-right Les Républicains party, Reuters reports. “I won’t flinch. I have a project for a clean break, a project for the unashamed right,” she said Thursday, ahead of elections against liberal incumbent Emmanuel Macron and far-right contenders in spring.
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