Saturday, December 01, 2007

Next act in the Tillack drama

Abraham Lincoln, who was an extremely cunning politician, had different methods of speaking. Sometimes, as at Gettysburg, he spoke tersely and to the point. At other times he told folksy stories to divert his listeners and convince them that he was really a very ordinary guy. Political spin was not invented ten years ago.

One of his folksy performances involved a story about a man who was chopping wood while his wife was gathering kindling when a bear attacked her. According to Lincoln, the man sat down on a log, put the axe next to him and shouted, according to who was winning: “Go it woman. Go it bear.”

That is more or less the way I feel about the clash, long predicted, between the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice. With the ECJ wanting to take over from the ECHR as the ultimate arbiter of all matters, including human rights, and the ECHR wanting to rule the world (well, those bits of it that are part of the Council of Europe) a clash at some point was inevitable.

Mind you, this is not yet their Cuba. The two superpowers do not stand face to face yet. They are still fighting through proxies, in this case the Belgian police.

These thoughts were occasioned by the ECHR ruling that
the right to protect the identity of sources was an essential pillar of freedom of the press.
Yes, dear readers, we are back with the Tillack case. The ECHR has awarded him €10,000 in damages and €30,000 for costs and expenses. One assumes that it will be the Belgian authorities who will be liable for the sums, not OLAF or Eurostat, the body he had been investigating when this whole appalling saga began.

Let us have a quick review of our coverage. Here are two summaries, when the journalist and his employers, Stern magazine took the case to the European Court of Justice and when the Court of First Instances decided against him. In the latter story we quoted the judgement, which cleared OLAF, whose job it is to sort out the blatant corruption in the institutions of the European Union, of handing material over to the Belgian police (something that they have now admitted) and of smearing Mr Tillack’s good name.

Needless to say, the ECJ agreed with the Court of First Instances and decided that OLAF was not guilty of anything it was being accused of. This is now being used as an excuse by the spokesman for the Commission. Commenting on the ECHR decision, Johannes Laitenberger commented rather smugly that it is “Belgium that had been found at fault rather than EU institutions”.
"Neither OLAF nor the commission has the possibility to order member states' authorities to take any particular action," Laitenberger said, adding that a separate but related case against the Commission and OLAF in the European Court of Justice had been lost by Tillack in October 2006.

OLAF said it had no alternative but to hand over the information to the Belgians who were responsible for subsequent actions. "Our legal base required us to transfer the information to the judicial authorities," said Jörg Wojahn, its spokesman.
As I recall, OLAF insisted that it had nothing to do with the Belgian case and had not handed over any documentation to the Belgian police not that it had no option but to do so.

Oh and in case anyone is wondering:
None of the allegations of fraud at Eurostat has yet come to trial according to OLAF. But it says that two dossiers have been sent by an examining magistrate to the prosecutor in Luxembourg and that a separate judicial investigation is still under way in Paris.
No change there, in other words. Still, once started on this path of finding in opposition to the ECJ, the ECHR may well decide to continue to do so.

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