Hoechst AG V Commission Of The European Communities Joined Cases 46/87 & 227/88

The fundamental right to the privacy and the right of legal persons to the inviolability of their commercial premises.

Everyone has the right to respect his private and family life, his home and his correspondence. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is following the law and is necessary for a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. (Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights).


Article 7 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union provides that  “Everyone has the right to respect for his or her private and family life, home and communications”.


In this case law, it was declared that the respect for private life and home, as protected under Article 8 of the ECHR, does not apply to business premises.


In this historical case, the European Court of Justice held that in all the legal systems of the Member States, any intervention by the public authorities in the sphere of private activities of any person, whether natural or legal, must have a lawful basis and be justified on the grounds laid down by law, and, consequently, those systems provide, albeit in different forms, protection against arbitrary or disproportionate intervention. The need for such protection must be recognized as a general principle of Community law. In that regard, it should be pointed out that the Court has held that it has the power to determine whether measures of investigation taken by the Commission under the ECSC Treaty are excessive.


Case Summary

Hoechst AG brought an action of annulment asking to annul the Commission decision of 15 January 1987 ordering an investigation under Article 14 (3) of Regulation No 17 of the Council of 6 February 1962, the first Regulation implementing Articles 85 and 86 of the EEC Treaty, and the Commission decision of 3 February 1987 imposing periodic penalty payments under Article 16 of Regulation No 17.


The applicant requested the Court to make an interim order primarily for the suspension of those decisions until the Court has given judgment on the main application.


The Commission inspected to investigate some companies for the existence of agreements or concerted practices between certain producers and suppliers of PVC and polyethene, including LDP, selling prices and quotas or the sales objectives for those products in the ECC that was not notified to the Commission. 


Hoechst AG refused to admit the Commission´s inspectors to search, arguing that it is impossible without judicial authorization. 


In response, the Commission imposed to Hoechst a periodic penalty payment for every day that they do not cooperate with the inspection. 


The applicant claims that the investigation breach of the fundamental right of legal persons to the inviolability of their commercial premises is unlawful, and consequently, the penalty payment to force the search is also unconstitutional and illegal


The president of the Court dismissed the application to the suspension of the operation of those decisions because the periodic penalty payment does not seem likely to cause the applicant severe and irreparable damage.


The ECJ also dismissed the application, claiming that “although the existence of such a right must be recognized in the Community legal order as a principle common to the laws of the Member States in regard to the private dwellings of natural persons, the same is not true in regard to undertakings, because there are not inconsiderable divergences between the legal systems of the Member States in regard to the nature and degree of protection afforded to business premises against intervention by the public authorities”.


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