The army of Belgium-based journalists covering EU affairs face having to pay €100 a year to attend the bloc’s summits, in a move that has sparked anger at the country’s government for hindering freedom of the press.
Under a Belgian law that came into force on June 1, journalists based in the country will be charged €50 for compulsory six-monthly security checks needed to attend summits of EU leaders. Journalists from outside the country attending summits will not be charged the fee.
EU leaders’ summits, which are formally held every three months in Brussels, are run and organised by the European Council, which represents the bloc’s 28 member states. Policing and security costs for the summits are picked up by the Belgian state.
The number of formal and informal summits has increased in recent years as the EU has tackled crises such as migration and Brexit.
Literature from the council boasts that the summits “set the agenda for future policymaking and are therefore central to the life of the EU”.
“That is why the meetings attract a large amount of media attention. It is not unusual for more than 2,000 journalists to flock to the Justus Lipsius building in Brussels to cover a European Council meeting,” the council says.
A statement from the council said the cost for six-monthly journalist security checks would be paid “by employers of any individual undergoing security screening”.
The International Press Association (API), which represents foreign correspondents in Brussels, said the law discriminated against Belgium-based journalists and would hurt freelance journalists and smaller media organisations.
“[The law] is an unnecessary obstacle to the work of journalists and will restrict media access to events of great public interest,” said the API, which called on Belgian prime minister Charles Michel to reverse the law.
The text of the law, which was passed as a royal decree and signed off by Belgium’s foreign, interior, justice and budget ministries, says the €50 fee “may be subject to a reassessment” and could be increased if authorities have to carry out additional investigations or security procedures.
Money generated from fees will be distributed to Belgium’s federal police, the country’s national security authority and state security services.
A spokeswomen for the European Commission said it did “not like the Belgian law” and that the commission would “not be introducing such a fee”.