Minister of State Hoyer in an interview for the Frankfurter Rundschau on the Hungarian media law and the start of Hungary’s Presidency of the EU Council

30.12.2010 - Interview

Mr Hoyer, this Saturday will see Hungary take over the rotating Presidency of the EU Council for the next six months.The Hungarian Government is currently preparing to place nationwide controls on the media and limit the freedom of opinion.Can its fellow members of the EU allow that to pass?

We have a duty to ensure very carefully that people’s fundamental rights are absolutely guaranteed within the European Union. Freedom of the press is one of those basic rights. Anything which puts it into doubt needs to be dealt with. Although I do not yet know the exact wording of the new media law, I see questions surrounding it. I assume that we have not yet heard the Hungarian Government’s last word on the matter. It would be very good if this issue could be cleared up soon.

The European Commission is “examining” whether or not Budapest is contravening EU law.Is there actually anything that needs examination?

I am relying on the Commission’s Legal Service to analyse the situation. We will call on it do so. You have to bear in mind, however, that the Commission’s capacity to act is traditionally not great between Christmas and the New Year, besides which Brussels presumably still has to clear up the question of responsibility...

...which means?

At first, it was said that Neelie Kroes would take charge, being the Commissioner for the Digital Agenda. It is true that this issue partly falls into her remit, but a central role will certainly have to be played by the Commissioner for Justice, Viviane Reding. Ms Reding is not usually averse to speaking up and should do so now.

Surely it would be enough to take a look at the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights – which pretty unmistakeably prohibits “interference by public authority” in the work of the media.

The goal is unmistakeably defined there. What nonetheless remains unclear is how the Community should deal with possible contraventions. In more technical matters, such as a delay in implementing EU directives, infringement proceedings are the standard response. Something similar should be possible for situations where such a fundamental right as freedom of the press has been injured. It is that possibility which the Commission now needs to examine.

Your fellow FDP member MEP Alexander Alvaro is already sure that the Charter of Fundamental Rights has been infringed.What is more, he is calling into question whether Hungary even belongs in the European Union at all, let alone ought to be permitted to take over the Council Presidency in a few days’ time...

My colleague is overstepping the mark there by quite a way. He is partly right, though, in that it is problematic for the EU to be lecturing potential accession candidates and partners about respecting the rule of law and freedom of the press when these are not absolutely guaranteed in its own ranks. The country which holds the Presidency is particularly called upon to keep to all the rules.

What do you think of the most recent and pretty tough response from Hungary’s conservative Prime Minister Viktor Orbán?He said words to the effect of “I’m not going to let you Western Europeans tell me what to do, and our media law is not going to be changed any more.”

We should in this situation avoid fanning the flames and giving greater credence to overdefensive attitudes in Budapest. The German Government has close ties with Budapest. I therefore assume – as I have said – that we have not yet heard the last word on the matter from there. However, one thing must be clearly understood: under the rule of law, what matters is what the law says. To say that we’ll wait and see how the law works in practice – that is unacceptable!

Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council, was in Budapest on the very day the controversial media law was passed.Before flying home, he declared that he was taking an “excellent impression” of Hungary’s Government back to Brussels with him.Where these words well chosen?

I presume Mr Van Rompuy’s positive impression had to do with the undisputedly excellent preparations which the Hungarians have been making for their first ever Presidency of the EU Council since joining the European Union.

Interview: Michael Bergius

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