European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova has warned of "worrying developments" for media freedoms in Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia, as lawmakers in Brussels debated the matter at a plenary session.
Addressing the European Parliament on March 10, Jourova cited last month's removal from the airwaves of Hungary's liberal-leaning radio station Klubradio, which had been critical of the right-wing government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
She also mentioned protests in Poland from independent outlets over plans by Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki's nationalist government to impose an advertising tax for nonstate outlets that they said would restrict pluralism.
On Slovenia, which will take over the EU's rotating presidency in July, Jourova pointed out attempts by Prime Minister Janez Jansa's government to "undermine the sustainable funding and the independence of the national press agency, and frequent verbal attacks against journalists."
"For each of these cases, the commission has been in contact with the national authorities and continues to monitor the situation," the EU official said. "And let me assure you that the commission will act when there are issues about the compliance of national laws or decisions with EU rules."
No resolution is expected to be passed during the plenary session.
The EU has long criticized Hungary and Poland's nationalist governments for undermining democratic freedoms, media, nongovernmental organizations, and the rule of law.
The lawmakers' debate comes a day after the Civil Liberties Union for Europe warned that "authoritarians" in Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia "abused the pandemic to continue eroding democratic standards."
"The worst changes happened in countries with longer-standing problems with democracy and the rule of law, such as Bulgaria and Romania, and countries ruled by governments with authoritarian tendencies like Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia," the advocacy group said in a report.
Governments in these countries "used the pandemic as an excuse to weaken democratic standards further," while freedom of association and independence of the courts were also curtailed, according to the document.
Former Polish dissident Adam Michnik, the editor-in-chief of the leading Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, warned in an editorial on March 8 that the attacks against media freedom in newer EU member countries such as Poland and Hungary amount to "an all-out assault" against the fundamental values of the European Union.
Michnik, one of the leaders of the Polish democratic opposition during the communist era, decried what he called "the aggressive rhetoric employed by the governments in Warsaw and Budapest" and called for a more vigorous defense of democratic values.
"History showed us what happens to states and nations who do not stand up to fight for their democracies. Without those willing to defend them, democracies are always lost," Michnik wrote.