Our Swedish correspondent HL has translated the following article, which was published yesterday in Svenska Dagbladet, Sweden’s biggest daily newspaper:
The enemies of the open society — The journalist Hans-Martin Tillack, working for the magazine Stern, exposed corruption within the EU. That caused the police to turn his house upside down in the hunt for his informants inside the EU body. EU’s democracy-supervisor Margot Wallström dodged and did not defend Tillack and the right to protect sources, writes Nils Lundgren of the Juni List.
Wallström Kept Quiet About the Tillack Affair
About a month ago the German journalist Hans-Martin Tillack was acquitted in the European Court of Justice. The case was principally important for freedom of speech and democracy, and the political process which preceded it cast a grim revealing light on how things are done in Brussels.
The background is dramatic. At dawn on March 19, 2004 a Belgian police squad moved in on Hans-Martin Tillack, who at that point was tracking the EU in Brussels for the magazine Stern. He was arrested in his home wearing only his underwear.
The police searched his home and office and confiscated two computers, four cell phones, one metal locker, sixteen boxes of paper, and two documentary files. He was not allowed to call his wife, who was on a business trip to Ukraine, and he was released only after ten hours of interrogation.
What had Tillack done? Well, he had written an exposé about, among other things, the EU’s Bureau of Statistics, Eurostat, known for its corrupt insider culture, and about the EU’s Anti-Fraud Office, Olaf.
On February 11, 2004 Olaf therefore reported Tillack to the prosecuting authorities in both Brussels and Hamburg and demanded a house warrant. The charge was that Tillack had been given access to in-house documents from Olaf by help of bribery.
The leadership of the administration even went as far as to hint that there was a leak in the committee which had been put in place to supervise Olaf. And it was more important to find leaks within the own organization than to expose fraudulent activities inside the EU’s administrative offices. The German prosecutor found no juridical basis for a house warrant, whereas the Belgians approved it.
Tillack as well as Stern’s Chief Editor have consistently denied all the accusations of bribery and have of course refused to reveal their sources. The European Journalist Federation determined early on that the charges of bribery were unfounded.
The reactions of the various branches of the EU are revealing. What did the commission, parliament and EG-court do? Did the commissioner in charge of supervising democracy, Margot Wallström, defend the right to protect information sources, and Nordic openness?
The answer is no. Was the issue ever raised for debate in the EU parliament with a fiery speech to defend freedom of speech? The answer is no. On the contrary, the EU parliament recently voted with a crushing majority to terminate its study of the Tillack case.
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And what about the EG-court in Luxembourg, the last bastion whose purpose is to make sure European values such as justice and democratic openness are upheld? Tillack turned to it to have his research material returned and to protect his sources. The EG-court said no.
The EU is treating its citizens as subjects. Criticism is stopped with an iron fist, the media is held on a short leash, and any employee who blows the whistle is fired.
The European Journalists’ Federation considered the sentence a direct threat against the freedom of the press in Europe, and Tillack took it to the European Court of Justice in Strasbourg. This one has nothing to do with the EU, and is tied to the European Council where almost all European states are represented. And, lo and behold, the European Court of Justice’s ruling was in favor of Tillack.
It concluded that the purpose of the police raid was to expose Tillack’s sources, that journalists have the right to protect their informants, and that this protection of the source must be given utmost care. The police confiscation was therefore a crime against the freedom of speech. The Belgian state was sentenced to pay damages to Tillack and to reimburse him for his trial expenses.
What does the Tillack affair teach us? First and foremost that the EU’s institutions are more interested in protecting themselves against any criticism than in freedom of speech and the right to protect sources.
Secondly, that it is not in the best interest of democracy and to the citizens to strengthen the power of the EG-court. But that is what is currently happening, now that the EU’s new constitution is being pushed forward despite the “no” vote in referendums held in France and Holland. The result will be that politically-appointed judges of the EG-court are given even greater opportunities to interpret the EU laws so that they will better fit the Eurocrats.
Thirdly, that we must stop the EU’s plans to push through a law covering all the media. If Sweden’s Freedom of the Press Act is conformed to the EU, it will be much easier for the political establishment to control the media.
It is time to move the spotlights of the media from politicians’ unregistered nannies to the EU’s handling of democracy and the open society. The enemies of the open society are found even here in Brussels.
Chairman of the Juni List
First Vice Chairman in the EU-parliament’s budget control committee