AGRICULTURAL EXPENDITURE : ECJ: TRANSPARENCY DOES NOT OUTWEIGH PROTECTION OF PERSONAL DATA.
The judgement came in the case brought before the administrative court of Wiesbaden (Germany) by an agricultural firm, Volker und Markus Schecke GbR, and a full-time farmer, Hartmut Eifert, who received support under the European Agricultural Guarantee Fund (EAGF) and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EARDF). They objected to the publication of their names, place of residence and postcode prescribed by Commission Regulation 259/2008 of 18 March 2008 laying down detailed rules for the application of Regulation 1290/2005 on the publication of such information. The plaintiffs argued that this requirement is an unjustified interference with the fundamental right to protection of personal data. Pursuant to these texts, for reasons of transparency, these personal data must be published on the site of the German Federal Office for Agriculture and Food. The German court, suspecting a possible incompatibility of this regulation with the right to protection of personal data, asked the Court of Justice to review the validity of this EU text.
CHARTER AND ECHR
The court referred first to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, which recognises that the right of respect for privacy with regard to the processing of personal data (Articles 7 and 8) concerns any information relating to an identified or identifiable individual. It also referred to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which defines limitations that may lawfully be imposed on this right (Article 8). The court noted that even though the publication concerns professional data, it constitutes an interference with the right of the beneficiaries to respect for their private life and the protection of their personal data. To be justified, such interference must be provided for by law, must respect the essence of those rights and, subject to compliance with the principle of proportionality, must be necessary and genuinely meet objectives of general interest.
The court went on to note that while European citizens have a right to be kept informed of the use of public funds, before adopting proposals that interfere with the right to privacy, the institutions must strike a "proper balance" between these two interests. The Commission and Council failed to do so, held the court, and also failed to respect the principle of proportionality by requiring the publication of personal data on all beneficiaries of farm support, without making a distinction based on criteria such as the periods during which aid was received, the frequency of aid or the nature and amount.
The court also held that "no automatic priority can be conferred on the objective of transparency over the right to protection of personal data even if important economic interests are at stake". It therefore declared invalid certain provisions of Regulation 1290/2005 and all of Regulation 259/2008. Given the large number of lists of beneficiaries already published, it limited implementation of this invalidity to the publication of lists following the date of the judgement.
(1) Cases C 92/09 and C 93/09