Summary judgement

PRESS RELEASE - Judge does not intervene in VRT exclusion of Volt in TV debate: Volt calls on VRT to enter inclusive dialogue

May 29, 2024

The Dutch-speaking Court of First Instance in Brussels ruled that there are insufficient grounds to intervene in the VRT's decision to exclude Volt from the European Parliament (EP) lead candidate debate on 31 May.

At the same time, the court did not give VRT a free pass, emphasising its public obligation to be non-partisan and inclusive. It noted that any exclusion of smaller parties must be justified with objective and fact-based reasons. The judge however ruled that, given the rapid summary proceedings, it could not be proven that the VRT’s selection criteria were unreasonable or that they had been drawn up after the selection of participating parties. The judge also noted that VRT’s promotion of the debate of "THE seven party leaders" is misleading, as there are in fact nine lead candidates. 

Carlo Giudice, co-chairman of Volt, reacted: "Volt is of course disappointed that we will not participate in the debate, but we respect the judge's ruling. We also welcome the court’s support of the principle that public broadcasters DO have an obligation towards smaller parties." 

A number of the VRT selection criteria were ruled as legal by the court. Volt respects their legality, but doubts about their democratic legitimacy remain. 

The argument that more debate participants reduce the speaking time per candidate is correct. VRT's claim, however, that a nine-person debate is not feasible can be refuted by past practice: in 2009, the public TV had organised the European debate with eight lead candidates.

Volt also points out that some VRT criteria are not applied consistently. For example, VRT has set requirements for the invited parties to have an elected representative and a full list of candidates - beyond the required number. Yet, the invited PVDA and its Dutch-language (NL) candidate does not have an elected NL representative, but rather a FR-language one, in the parliament. Past VRT European electoral debates also included the lead candidate of the Dedecker list, which did not have an elected EP representative.

Volt has two elected representatives/Members of the European Parliament (MEP): the lead candidate for Volt Belgian and current Dutch MEP, Sophie in ‘t Veld, as well as a Volt MEP elected in Germany. The exclusion of the former on the basis that she was elected in another country may in fact be a violation of the EU Treaty.

In ‘t Veld stated: "The judge's ruling reinforces that the VRT should better accommodate smaller parties, as VRT's own Ombudsman concluded after the 2019 elections (VRT news "What did you think of VRT's election offer?"). It is a missed opportunity to improve the electoral news offer. Smaller political parties are not a threat, but rather contribute to much-needed political renewal. Volt therefore proposes to take the initiative, together with the VRT and its Ombudsman, other small political parties and political experts, to include new parties in the public debate. Volt wants to contribute to a stronger democracy - in this and many other ways."