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Conference Cringe In Brussels

Every now and then, EU institutions organize a big conference in Brussels in which commissioners and parliamentarians are invited to express their opinions and sometimes even answer a question or two from the audience (mainly consisting of lobbyists and other EU officials.)

The topics usually vary but you can always expect that the invited politicians will sometimes blurt out a few cringeworthy phrases and allude to the EU’s "glorious past."

On 6 May, a big conference on freedom of expression in Turkey and the western Balkans, titled “Speak Up,” was a case in point. Take the opening remarks by the president of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, and the EU commissioners for enlargement and information society, Stefan Fuele and Neelie Kroes, respectively.

All three speakers did of course underline the need to “speak up” against infringements on media freedoms. They were quick to point out that the EU must bring people closer together to achieve proper freedom of expression both within the EU and in the candidate and potential EU candidate countries in the southeastern corner of Europe.

Other arguments aired: we all should learn from each other; there is a need for a change of culture; and that there still is a lot to do when it comes to media freedom both in the EU, the western Balkans, and in Turkey.

Kroes also suggested that one should make copies and distribute the Schuman declaration in the room. This declaration led to the creation of the EU’s predecessor, the European Coal and Steel Community, in 1950 and has an almost bible-like status among certain eurocrats. Although it is an interesting document, it’s a bit hard to grasp what exactly it has to with media freedom in Albania.

Kroes did of course triumphantly point out that the European Commission had forced Hungary to amend its controversial media law earlier this year but she forgot to add that Hungarian media still can face fines of up to 96,000 euros ($138,470) for “unbalanced coverage.”

The speakers also kept mum when it came to the media concentration in the hands of the Italian prime minister or a recent law in France giving the right to the president of the Fifth Republic to appoint the general manger of the national broadcaster.

Luckily enough, many journalists came late to the event due to problems registering journalists at the entrance. “It seems like our data system doesn't recognize press badges” explained the organizer cryptically.

-- Rikard Jozwiak

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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