T-194/04, Bavarian Lager v Commission

CFI annuls decision of Commission not to grant access to the minutes of a meeting between representatives of the Commission, the UK government and breweries.

Following an legislative amendment in the United Kingdom, breweries were required to allow public houses bound to them by exclusive purchasing agreements to offer a "guest" beer from a different brewery.

The requirements imposed on those beers implied that the beer sold by Bavarian Lager as well as most beers produced outside the United Kingdom could not be covered by this provision.

However, an Art. 226 procedure against the United Kingdom in this regard was suspended and brought to a close after a meeting on this matter, which took place on October 11, 1996, between representatives of the Commission, the UK government and breweries.

Bavarian Lager inter alia claimed that the Court should annul a Decision of the Commission to refuse the minutes of this meeting as well order the Commission to produce the full set of names of persons attending the meeting.

The Court held that access to documents containing personal data fell under Regulation 1049/2001, according to which, in principle, all documents of the institutions should be accessible to the public.

In assessing the need for an exception, the institutions should take account of the principles in Community legislation concerning the protection of personal data in all areas of activity of the Union, thus including principles laid down in Regulation 45/2001.

The right of access to documents of the institutions recognised to citizens of the European Union and to any natural or legal person residing in or having its registered office in a Member State, laid down by Art. 2 of Regulation 1049/2001, constituted a legal obligation for the purposes of Art. 5(b) of Regulation 45/2001.

Therefore, if Regulation 1049/2001 required the communication of data, which constituted “processing” within the meaning of Art. 2(b) of Regulation 45/2001, Art. 5 of that same regulation made such communication lawful in that respect.

The Court therefore inter alia examined whether disclosure of the documents requested would infringe Art. 8 ECHR. Referring to case law of the ECHR – such as
Peck v United Kingdom - the Court held that there was no reason in principle to exclude professional or business activities from the concept of “private life”.

The Court held that, in order to determine whether there had been a breach of Art. 8 of the ECHR, it needed to be determined, first, whether there had been an interference in the private life of the person concerned and, secondly, if so, whether that interference was justified.

In order to be justified, it must be in accordance with the law, pursue a legitimate aim and be necessary in a democratic society.

In order to determine whether a disclosure was “necessary in a democratic society”, it needed to be examined whether the grounds relied on in justification were “relevant and sufficient”, and whether the measures adopted were proportionate to the legitimate aims pursued.

The competent authorities had to be granted a certain discretion in order to establish a fair balance between competing public and private interests.

That margin of discretion was, however, accompanied by judicial review, and its breadth was to be determined by reference to factors such as the nature and importance of the interests at stake and the seriousness of the interference.

The Court held that any decision taken pursuant to Regulation 1049/2001 must comply with Art. 8 of the ECHR, in accordance with Art. 6(2) EU. Exceptions to the principle of access to documents must be interpreted restrictively.

The Court held that the disclosure of the names in question did not lead to an interference with the private life of the persons who participated in the meeting and would not undermine the protection of their private life and the integrity of their person.

The Commission was therefore wrong in its view that the exception under Art. 4(1)(b) of Regulation 1049/2001 had to be applied in this case.

The Court concluded that the Commission erred in law by holding, in the contested decision, that the applicant had not established either an express and legitimate purpose or any needed to obtain the names of the five persons who participated in the meeting and who, after that meeting, objected to communication of their identity to the applicant.