A Hans Martin Tillack
B European Court of Justice outlaws criticism of EU
For E.U. Critics, a Cautionary Tale
A Police Raid on Reporter’s Home Seen as Retaliation for Story
BRUSSELS — The bell rang three times early on a cold Friday morning before a sleepy Hans-Martin Tillack, an investigative reporter for the German newsweekly Stern, answered the door in his T-shirt and boxers. Six Belgian policemen politely filed in, he recalled, handed him a search warrant and went to work.
For the next 10 hours, they combed through his apartment and his separate office, seizing his computer hard drives, his bank records, his Filofax organizer, four cell phones, 18 boxes of files and a copy of “Spaceship Brussels,” his exposé of fraud and waste inside the European Union. When Tillack complained, he recalled, one of the officers shrugged. In Burma, the policeman told him, “journalists get treated much worse.”
The police were looking for evidence that Tillack had bribed an E.U. official to obtain a confidential memo from the union’s anti-fraud unit, known by its French acronym OLAF. But what they were really doing that March morning, he and other critics allege, was retaliating against a reporter whose stories had embarrassed the E.U. by focusing public attention on corruption and secrecy.
“They think it’s more important to find out the leakers than to protect freedom of the press,” said Tillack, who says the bribery allegation is false and absurd.
The anti-fraud unit contends that it was pursuing only a bribery allegation made by a former official. Once the unit determined that the allegation was credible, officials said, it had no choice but to turn the matter over to police. “There was some evidence that money had been paid, and this meant the matter had a different importance and gravity from a criminal law point of view,” said Joerg Wojahn, a spokesman for the unit.
Critics contend that Tillack’s case is an indictment of the anonymous, unelected bureaucracy that rules Europe from Brussels. It’s a cozy network, they claim, presided over by directors general who frequently operate like feudal lords.
In their view, these mandarins issue an endless stream of rules and regulations that are often opaque and unintelligible to all but the savviest insiders, while the elected parliament that is supposed to oversee them is weak and ineffective by comparison. Loyalty is prized, critics argue, and accountability is minimal.
People such as Tillack, who make too many waves, can find themselves on the receiving end of the commission’s wrath. In 1999, Paul van Buitenen, a commission accountant from the Netherlands, was suspended on half-pay for going outside official channels after he took allegations of fraud to members of the European Parliament. Marta Andreasen was demoted from her post as the commission’s chief auditor after publicly challenging its accounts two years ago. And Dorte Schmidt-Brown, a Danish official, stepped down from her post with Eurostat, the commission’s powerful statistics agency, alleging that she had been harassed by an outside consulting company after she questioned its contracts with the commission.
In each case, commission officials have said the people involved failed to follow procedures for whistle-blowers and therefore were subject to internal discipline.
The European Parliament itself has come under fire for a reimbursement system that provides deputies with chauffeured cars, free health care, staff jobs for family members and travel allowances that can pay up to 10 times the actual airfare.
“Europe as a whole is not a democracy, but a bureaucracy,” said van Buitenen, who no longer works for the commission and was recently elected to the European Parliament on a reform platform. “The instruments of democratic control are simply not developed enough to be effective.”
No wonder, say the critics, that many Europeans feel alienated from the institutions that oversee their lives and work. Voter turnout fell below 30 percent in some areas during parliamentary elections in June, and a large contingent of E.U. skeptics — including a handful of lawmakers who have pledged to abolish the union altogether — won seats.
Hans-Martin Tillack, 42, came to Brussels in 1998, at a time of crisis for the European Commission — the group of 20 commissioners, appointed by their home countries, that oversees the E.U.’s 24,000 civil servants and $100 billion annual budget. The commission is the executive arm of the E.U., carrying out policies and laws decided on by the European Parliament and representatives of E.U. member governments.
Van Buitenen’s allegations of wrongdoing had recently become public, disclosing a pattern of cronyism epitomized by commissioner Edith Cresson of France, who had appointed her dentist to a high-paying E.U. post.
B Euro-court outlaws criticism of EU
The Spanish Advocate General of the EU Court of Justice has claimed that “Criticism of the EU is akin to blasphemy and could be restricted without affecting Freedom of Speech”
By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in Brussels
12:00AM GMT 07 Mar 2001
THE European Court of Justice ruled yesterday that the European Union can lawfully suppress political criticism of its institutions and of leading figures, sweeping aside English Common Law and 50 years of European precedents on civil liberties.
The EU’s top court found that the European Commission was entitled to sack Bernard Connolly, a British economist dismissed in 1995 for writing a critique of European monetary integration entitled The Rotten Heart of Europe.
The ruling stated that the commission could restrict dissent in order to “protect the rights of others” and punish individuals who “damaged the institution’s image and reputation”. The case has wider implications for free speech that could extend to EU citizens who do not work for the Brussels bureaucracy.
The court called the Connolly book “aggressive, derogatory and insulting”, taking particular umbrage at the author’s suggestion that Economic and Monetary Union was a threat to democracy, freedom and “ultimately peace”.
However, it dropped an argument put forward three months ago by the advocate-general, Damaso Ruiz-Jarabo Colomer, which implied that Mr Connolly’s criticism of the EU was akin to extreme blasphemy, and therefore not protected speech.
Mr Connolly, who has been told to pay the European Commission’s legal costs, said the proceedings did not amount to a fair hearing. He said: “We’re back to the Star Chamber and Acts of Attainder: the rights of defendants are not respected or guaranteed in any way; the offence of seditious libel has been resurrected.”
Mr Colomer wrote in his opinion last November that a landmark British case on free speech had “no foundation or relevance” in European law, suggesting that the European Court was unwilling to give much consideration to British legal tradition.
Mr Connolly now intends to take his case to Europe’s other court, the non-EU European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.