Press and Information Division


6 March 2001

Judgment of the Court of Justice in Case C-274/99 P

Connolly v Commission


The individual's fundamental right to freedom of expression, which Community officials clearly enjoy, is circumscribed, subject to judicial review, by observance of the duties and responsibilities implicit in their work

Mr Connolly, a high-ranking Community official in charge of a unit in the Directorate for Monetary Affairs at the Commission, published a book entitled The Rotten Heart of Europe The Dirty War for Europe's Money while he was on leave "on personal grounds" granted to him in June 1995.

When Mr Connolly was reinstated in the Commission service in October 1995, disciplinary proceedings were brought against him for infringement of his obligations under the Staff Regulations applicable to officials and other servants of the European Communities. Mr Connolly had published his book without requesting the prior permission prescribed by the Staff Regulations and the Commission alleged that its contents prejudiced the achievement of economic and monetary union, which it was his responsibility to implement, and the image and reputation of the institution. Furthermore, his conduct as a whole was regarded as having adversely reflected on his position.

In accordance with the opinion of the Disciplinary Board, Mr Connolly was finally removed from his post (without loss of his entitlement to a retirement pension) on 16 January 1996.

Mr Connolly brought an action before the Court of First Instance on 18 October 1996 for the annulment of the opinion of the Disciplinary Board and the decision removing him from his post.

Mr Connolly's claims were rejected by two judgments of the Court of First Instance dated 19 May 1999.

On 20 July 1999 Mr Connolly appealed to the Court of Justice of the European Communities against the decisions of the Court of First Instance.

The Court of Justice has dismissed those appeals today, thereby upholding the judgments of the Court of First Instance.

The Court observed that fundamental rights, including freedom of expression, form an integral part of the general principles of law, whose observance the Court ensures. For that purpose, the Court draws inspiration from the constitutional traditions common to the Member States and also from international treaties. The European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms has special significance in that respect (see Article 6 of the Treaty on European Union).

Officials and other employees of the European Communities also enjoy that right, even in areas falling within the scope of the work of the Community institutions.

The limitations on freedom of expression in a democratic society, as stated by the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights, to which the Court of Justice directly refers, are to be restrictively interpreted.

The Court also stated that it is legitimate in a democratic society to subject public servants to obligations intended in essence to preserve the relationship of trust between the institution and its employees, without which it is difficult, if not impossible, for the work of the institution to be carried out in cooperation with its officials.

Accordingly, the need to request permission before publishing any material dealing with the work of the Communities falls within the scope of the protection of the rights of their institutions.

The Court considered that the protection of the rights of the institutions, which are responsible for carrying out tasks in the public interest, is such as to justify, in accordance with the European Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, restricting freedom of expression.

The Court emphasised, however, that permission may be refused only in exceptional cases where publication is liable to cause serious harm to the interests of the Communities and that remedies are available against any decision refusing permission.

The Court observed in that connection that the Community Courts must strike a fair balance between the individual's fundamental right to freedom of expression and the legitimate concern of the institutions to ensure that their officials and employees observe the duties and responsibilities implicit in their work.

In the Court's view, Mr Connolly destroyed the relationship of trust with his employer by publishing, without requesting the prior permission prescribed by the Staff Regulations, material criticising, and even insulting, members of the Commission and challenging fundamental aspects of Community policies, to whose implementation he was specifically assigned the responsibility of contributing in good faith.

The Court of First Instance was properly entitled to hold that the decision removing him from his post did not amount to a breach of his right to freedom of expression.

In those circumstances the Court rejected Mr Connolly's claims and upheld the judgment of the Court of First Instance.

On the same day the Court dismissed Mr Connolly's appeal against the judgment of the Court of First Instance dismissing his action for annulment of the decision suspending him from his duties.

This press release is an unofficial document for media use which does not bind the Court of Justice.

Languages available: English, French, German and Italian.

For the full text of the judgment, please consult our Internet page at approximately 15.00 hrs today.

For further information please contact Fionnuala Connolly, Tel: (00352) 4303 3355; Fax: (00352) 4303 2731