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09.06.2016

Germany: Luxury shopping of Members of Parliament

by Katrin Welker
On 13 March 2016, the German Federal Administrative Court Bundesverwaltungsgericht decided that Members of Parliament have a right to confidentiality regarding their office supply purchases (no. 6 C 65.14).

The Parliamentary Act gives Members of the German Parliament (MP) the option to purchase office supply items for an amount of currently 12.000 € per year (material resources package). In 2009, there were press reports about luxury purchases by German MPs. On 6 December 2009, a journalist requested photocopies of all documents relating to non-cash benefits of the MPs addressed to the Administration of the German Parliament which refused to provide such information.

The journalist then filed a law suit based on the Freedom of Information Act, but his request for information was denied by the Administrative Court of Berlin on 11 November 2010 (case no. 2 K 35.10) and by the Higher Administrative Court of Berlin-Brandenburg on 07 June 2012 (case no. 12 B 34.10). Subsequently, the journalist filed an appeal to the Federal Administrative Court.

The Court outlined that the MPs would have a legitimate interest in the confidentiality of information on the use of their lump sum for office supplies. This was due to the fact that this information concerns personal data which is protected by the freedom of the parliamentary mandate. Since the requested information includes personal data the journalist should only be granted access if his interest in the information outweighs the legitimate interest of the MPs.

In the case at hand, the journalist cannot claim an overriding interest in the requested information because it is linked to the parliamentary activity of the MPs. According to § 5 para. 2 Freedom of Information Act there can be no overriding interest in information related to parliamentary mandate activities. This norm does not only protect the immediate area of the parliamentary mandate but also information directly related to it. According to the Court this rule is so broad that it does not even allow the providing of such information if the name of the respective MPs is blackended.

However, the Court stressed that the worthiness of protection of the interest in confidentiality would be reduced if there was a clear evidence of abuse related to the utilization of the lump sum for office materials. In such a case the balance of interests would change to the benefit of the journalist.

Katrin Welker works as a scientific researcher at the Institute of European Media Law (EMR), Saarbrücken/Brüssel.


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The press release of the judgement is available here.





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