MEPs from the European Parliament's liberal ALDE group have called for the venue of a meeting to be changed from Budapest to Brussels, as a sign of protest against a controversial media law recently adopted in Hungary, the country holding the rotating EU presidency.
Liberal MEPs will convene next Thursday (20 January) to decide whether the EU-African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Joint Parliamentary Assembly should be held in Hungary, which has raised eyebrows across Europe with a media law that is widely seen as undemocratic.
Belgian MEP Louis Michel, co-chair of the EU-ACP assembly, called a special meeting after receiving a letter from Luxembourg colleague Charles Goerens, who wrote that the law ''violates democratic principles recognised by EU member states''.
Michel is remembered for leading calls for the EU to take harsh measures against Austria in 2000, when Jörg Haider's far-right Freedom Party entered into a coalition government with the Austrian People's Party.
The ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly brings together MEPs and elected representatives from the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries that have signed the Cotonou Agreement.
MPs from the ACP states meet their European counterparts for two plenary sessions a year, focusing on democracy and human rights. The 2011 meetings are scheduled for 16-18 May in Budapest and 21-23 November in Sierra Leone.
The new Hungarian press rules impose a strict supervisory regime on all print, broadcast and online media in Hungary, including "online media abroad that have been located in another country in order to circumvent stricter regulation in Hungary".
TV and radio stations can be fined as much as 200 million forints (about €700,000) for allegedly unbalanced coverage, while penalties for national newspapers and websites can reach 25 million forints (€90,000) and 10 million forints (€36,000) for weeklies.
The European Commission is now examining whether the law is compatible with relevant EU legislation. On Monday (11 January), Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes insisted that the EU executive will not make any compromises.
In his letter to Michel, MEP Charles Goerens slammed the ''timidity'' of reactions from both the Commission and the vast majority of EU member states.
''Faced with so much reservation, shouldn't this assembly stand out by demonstrating its firm opposition to any member state that isn't conforming to the fundamental values that are part of the acquis communautaire?'' he asked.
Hungarian Presidency spokesperson Gergely Polner told EURACTIV that the debate on the media law with the government should be separated from the presidency.
"The presidency speaks for 27 Member States, it does not represent the government,” he insisted.
Some political groups of the European Parliament have agreed on this separation, he added.
Asked by EURACTIV to comment on the possible cancellation of the ACP meeting, the European Commission had no comment to make at this stage.