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Judgment of the Court (Sixth Chamber) of 22 March 1990.

Jean-Marie Le Pen and the Front national v Detlef Puhl and others.

C-201/89 • ECLI:EU:C:1990:133 • 61989CJ0201

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Jean-Marie Le Pen and the Front national v Detlef Puhl and others.

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Keywords

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1 . Privileges and immunities of the European Communities - Action for damages following an act committed on the premises of the European Parliament - Action not necessarily falling within the Court' s jurisdiction

( EEC Treaty, Arts 178 and 183; Protocol on the Privileges and Immunities of the European Communities, Art . 1 )

2 . Non-contractual liability - Conditions - Act imputable to the Community - Act committed by a political group of the European Parliament

( EEC Treaty, Art . 178 )

Summary

1 . Neither Article 1 of the Protocol on the Privileges and Immunities of the European Communities nor any other provision of Community law may be interpreted as meaning that simply because an action to establish non-contractual liability arises out of an act committed on the premises of the European Parliament it falls within the jurisdiction of the Court .

2 . The distribution by a political group, within the meaning of Rule 26 of the Rules of Procedure of the European Parliament, of a publication alleged to be defamatory does not give rise to the non-contractual liability of the Communities . No provision in those Rules empowers a political group to act on behalf of the Parliament with regard to other institutions or third parties and there is no rule of Community law from which it may be inferred that the acts of a political group could be imputed to the Parliament as an institution of the Communities .

Parties

In Case C-201/89

REFERENCE to the Court under Article 177 of the EEC Treaty by the cour d' appel, Colmar, for a preliminary ruling in the action pending before that court between

Jean-Marie Le Pen

and the Front national

and

Detlef Puhl,

Andrew Bell,

Rudi Arndt,

Thoma Druck,

Printéclair,

Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands,

Labour Party,

Parti socialiste belge,

Socialdemokratiet,

Partido Socialista Obrero Español,

Parti socialiste,

Panellínio Socialistikó Kínima,

Partij van de Arbeid,

Social Democratic and Labour Party,

Partito socialista democratico italiano,

Partito socialista italiano,

Parti ouvrier socialiste luxembourgeois,

Partido Socialista,

on the interpretation of the Protocol on the Privileges and Immunities of the European Communities annexed to the Treaty establishing a Single Council and a Single Commission of the European Communities,

THE COURT ( Sixth Chamber )

composed of : C . N . Kakouris, President of Chamber, T . Koopmans, G . F . Mancini, T . F . O' Higgins and M . Diez de Velasco, Judges,

Advocate General : F . G . Jacobs

Registrar : D . Louterman, Principal Administrator

after considering the written observations submitted, and the replies made to the questions put by the Court, on behalf of

the plaintiffs in the main proceedings, by J.-P . Claudon and W . de Saint-Just, both of the Paris Bar,

the defendants in the main proceedings, by Y . Baudelot, of the Paris Bar,

the Commission, by H . van Lier, a Member of its Legal Department, acting as Agent,

the European Parliament, by Francesco Pasetti Bombardella, acting as Agent,

having regard to the Report for the Hearing and after hearing the oral observations of the European Parliament, represented by J . Campinos, acting as Agent, and those of the plaintiffs, the defendants and the Commission, at the hearing on 11 January 1990,

after hearing the Opinion of the Advocate General delivered at the sitting on 8 February 1990,

gives the following

Judgment

Grounds

1 By judgment of 2 June 1989, which was received at the Court on 26 June 1989, the cour d' appel, Colmar, referred to the Court for a preliminary ruling under Article 177 of the EEC Treaty a question on the interpretation of Community law with regard to the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice and national courts .

2 The question was raised in an action brought by Jean-Marie Le Pen and a French political party, the "Front national", against the individuals, companies and political parties they considered to be responsible for the preparation, translation, printing, publishing and distribution of a pamphlet dealing with the rise of racism and fascism in Europe . The pamphlet, which had been drawn up at the instigation of the Socialist Group of the European Parliament after the Parliament had adopted a declaration condemning racism and xenophobia, was distributed in several language versions on the premises of the European Parliament in Strasbourg .

3 The plaintiffs in the main proceedings believed that the pamphlet in question contained defamatory allegations against them . Accordingly they brought an action before the tribunal de grande instance ( Regional Court ), Strasbourg, against Detlef Puhl and Andrew Bell, as authors of the text of the pamphlets, Rudi Arndt, as Chairman of the Socialist Group of the European Parliament, Thoma Druck ( established in Germany ) and Printéclair ( established in Belgium ), as printers of the pamphlet, and the various parties making up the Socialist Group .

4 The tribunal de grande instance, Strasbourg, held that it lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate upon the claim made against Mr Arndt, on the ground that he had acted in the performance of his duties as a member of the European Parliament and therefore enjoyed immunity under Article 10 of the Protocol on the Privileges and Immunities of the European Communities ( hereinafter referred to as "the Protocol "). The court dismissed the actions against the other defendants since it considered that under French law the liability of those defendants was subsidiary to that of the publisher responsible, whose identity was perfectly well known, namely the Socialist Group of the European Parliament . However, the group did not have legal personality under French law .

5 On appeal, the cour d' appel, Colmar, examined the respondents' contention that only the Court of Justice had jurisdiction to adjudicate on the action, being an action to establish non-contractual liability under the second paragraph of Article 215 of the EEC Treaty . The respondents put forward two arguments in that connection . First they contended that since the pamphlets were distributed solely on the premises of the European Parliament, the alleged defamation was not committed on French territory . Secondly, they contended that the Court of Justice had sole jurisdiction to hear actions to establish the liability of Community institutions and their servants .

6 In view of those arguments, the cour d' appel decided to suspend proceedings and refer the following question to the Court for a preliminary ruling :

"Does the Court of Justice of the European Communities have jurisdiction over the acts described above in so far as they were committed on the premises of the European Parliament in Strasbourg?"

It is clear from the judgment referring the question to the Court that by "the acts described above" is meant the distribution of a publication alleged to be of a defamatory character .

7 Reference is made to the Report for the Hearing for a fuller account of the facts of the case and the course of the procedure, together with a summary of the written observations submitted to the Court and the replies of the European Parliament to the questions put to it by the Court . These are mentioned or discussed hereinafter only in so far as is necessary for the reasoning of the Court .

8 From an examination of the documents before the Court it is apparent that, as the parties to the main proceedings and the Commission rightly pointed out, the national court has in fact raised two separate questions . It seeks, first, to ascertain whether, pursuant to Articles 178 and 183 of the Treaty, the Court of Justice has sole jurisdiction to hear an action to establish non-contractual liability for the distribution of a defamatory publication on the premises of the European Parliament . It then inquires whether the European Parliament can incur non-contractual liability for the distribution of a publication by one of its political groups .

9 As far as the first issue is concerned, Puhl and the other respondents to the appeal refer to Article 1 of the Protocol, concerning the inviolability of the premises and buildings of the Communities, and contend that national courts may not, under any head of jurisdiction, adjudicate upon acts committed within those premises and buildings, since the Court of Justice has sole jurisdiction in that connection .

10 That argument cannot be accepted . As is clear from its wording, Article 1 of the Protocol relates to the immunity of the premises, buildings and other property of the Communities against measures of constraint . The provision does not concern the allocation of jurisdiction as between the Court of Justice and national courts in matters concerning non-contractual liability .

11 There is, moreover, no provision of Community law that confers jurisdiction on the Court to hear an action concerning non-contractual liability not directed against the Community or its institutions, even if such an action arose from the distribution of a defamatory publication on the premises of one of the Community institutions .

12 With regard to the second issue, namely whether the European Parliament may be liable for the actions of a political group, it should be recalled first that, according to Rule 26 of the Rules of Procedure of the European Parliament, members may form themselves into groups according to their political affinities . A political group is to be considered to have been set up after the President has been handed a statement to that effect containing the name of the group, the signatures of its members ( of which the Rule requires a minimum number ) and the composition of its Bureau .

13 The Rules of Procedure of the European Parliament grant certain powers to the political groups for the purpose of preparing decisions and positions to be adopted by the Parliament, for example that of handing in a motion of censure ( Rule 30 ), or requesting a debate ( Rules 32 to 35 ). The same powers are also accorded to a minimum number of members, that number varying in different situations .

14 However, no provision of the Rules of Procedure of the European Parliament empowers a political group to act on behalf of the Parliament with regard to other institutions or third parties . Moreover, there is no rule of Community law from which it may be inferred that the acts of a political group could be imputed to the European Parliament as an institution of the Communities .

15 It must be concluded that the distribution, by a political group, of a publication alleged to be defamatory does not give rise to the non-contractual liability of the Communities .

16 Therefore the answer to the question referred to the Court must be that Articles 178 and 183 of the EEC Treaty and Article 1 of the Protocol on the Privileges and Immunities of the European Communities should be interpreted as meaning that :

( a ) the Court has no jurisdiction to hear an action for non-contractual liability simply because the act complained of took place on the premises of the European Parliament;

( b ) the distribution by a political group, within the meaning of Rule 26 of the Rules of Procedure of the European Parliament, of a publication alleged to be defamatory does not give rise to the non-contractual liability of the Communities .

Decision on costs

Costs

17 The costs incurred by the Commission of the European Communities and the European Parliament are not recoverable . As these proceedings are, in so far as the parties to the main proceedings are concerned, in the nature of a step in the action pending before the national court, the decision on costs is a matter for that court .

Operative part

On those grounds,

THE COURT ( Sixth Chamber ),

in answer to the question submitted to it by the cour d' appel, Colmar, by judgment of 2 June 1989, hereby rules :

Articles 178 and 183 of the EEC Treaty and Article 1 of the Protocol on the Privileges and Immunities of the European Communities must be interpreted as meaning that :

( a ) the Court has no jurisdiction to hear an action for non-contractual liability simply because the act complained of took place on the premises of the European Parliament;

( b ) the distribution by a political group, within the meaning of Article 26 of the Rules of Procedure of the European Parliament, of a publication alleged to be defamatory does not give rise to the non-contractual liability of the Communities .

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