Belgium criticized for charging journalists to attend EU summits
A Belgian decision to charge journalists â¬100 per year to attend summits of EU leaders was criticized by unions and the European Commission.
Journalists were informed this week by the European Council that they will need to pay â¬50 every six months to gain accreditation to EU summits. The decision came into force through a Belgian Royal Decree on May 8. Journalists were not consulted by the Belgian government on the fees.
On Wednesday, the European Commission said it objected to the policy and that, as the guardian of the treaty that governs the EU, it would examine any compla int filed on the subject.
âWe believe journalists should be doing their jobs in the best conditions possible,â said Mina Andreeva, a Commission spokesperson, adding that the Commission would not introduce fees for covering any of its events.
The International Press Association (API-IPA), a union representing foreign correspondents in Brussels, called the fees âan unnecessary obstacleâ to reporting, raising the question of whether a free press can function without free access to events of public interest. It said in a statement that the fee is especially problematic for freelancers, who âwill have to pay the fee themselves, while employees from media organisations will be able to have the expense covered by their employers.â
Two Belgian journalist associations, the VVJ and AJP, said they were also against the decision.
The system discriminates between journalists living in Belgium (most of whom pay Belgian taxes) who must pay the fee, and those who visit Belgium to cover the summits, who will escape the charge.
Jean Quatremer, Brussels correspondent for French daily LibÃ©ration, described the fee as a tax on journalists.
Romain Sadet, a European Council spokesperson, said âthe fee applies for all individuals screened, not only to journalists,â and that security screening for EU summits was more âcomprehensiveâ than for the EU institutions.
Sadet said service contractors at the European Council would be charged the fee, but not national diplomats, who would receive their accreditation based on security screening conducted by their own government.
The Belgian Royal Decree said the fee was âfor issuing safety certificates and safety a dvice from the National Security Authority,â and that revenue collected from journalists âwill be distributed on a flat-rate basis among the four authorities involved in the verification process.â
Belgian authorities provide a secure perimeter for EU summits in Brussels, and other services such as motorcades for visiting leaders and officials.
Kait Bolongaro contributed to this article.
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