28th Oct 2016

Barroso ignores outcry on China press gag

  • Li (l) and Barroso. EU media policy on China - photos OK, but no questions (Photo:

The European Commission has defended its decision not to hold a press conference after Chinese vice premier Li Keqiang's meeting with commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso in Brussels this week.

"The EU institutions allow Russian and Chinese authorities to dictate who may and who may not be allowed to attend press conferences or whether a press conference will be held at all," Ann Cahill, the vice-president of the International Press Association (API) in Brussels, said at the commission's regular press briefing on Thursday (3 May).

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"I would like to protest at this behavior and formally request President Barroso to hold a press briefing after his meeting with his Chinese visitors," she added, prompting a round of applause from international correspondents in the EU headquarters.

For her part, Barroso spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde said the commission is one of the world's most media-friendly administrations. "We are not going to ... conduct diplomacy in the press room. That's not going to be the case for today and it's not going to be the case tomorrow," she noted.

Ahrenkilde had earlier celebrated the fact that Thursday is international World Press Freedom day.

In a separate statement by commission vice president and foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton, the EU said: "On the occasion of World Press Freedom day, the European Union recalls these principles and pays tribute to all those who fight for the respect of freedom of expression and for free, pluralistic press and other media."

Journalists remained unconvinced, however.

One reporter at Ahrenkilde's briefing noted: "I've been here two decades and I've never once seen a public debate among the commissioners. Considering the fact these debates are public in the Council, why is it the commissioners don't hold open debates?"

Ahrenkilde replied that the commissioners need peace and quiet for political negotiations and that - in any case - their talks are later communicated through written statements and press briefings.

Meanwhile, the Danish EU presidency is doing its part for transparency by webstreaming some debates in the EU Council - such as parts of a 16-hour-long ding-dong on bank regulation by finance ministers on Wednesday.

But the majority of the meeting took place behind the usual closed doors.

An internal note drafted by the EU Council secretariat in April - and leaked by London-based NGO ClientEarth - showed that EU officials and diplomats are keen to curtail public access to internal EU documents.

The note said the EU should award "special protection" for papers on competition cases, EU court proceedings, infringement proceedings and legal advice given by EU institutions to their own policymakers.

Anais Berthier, a ClientEarth lawyer, at the time told EUobserver the trend goes against the Lisbon Treaty, which says in its opening words it seeks "an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe, in which decisions are taken as openly as possible."

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