Justice for the reporter who dared take on Brussels
The EU's ham-fisted attempts to supress stories about corruption have been exposed after a court case in Belgium
A blow was struck for freedom this week. Hans-Martin Tillack, a German journalist who had been detained by the EU after investigating Brussels fraud, was definitively cleared by the courts. The Belgian government, whose police had raided Tillack's flat, was ordered to pay damages and costs.
Tillack was, for several years, the EU correspondent of the respected German magazine, Stern. Before he arrived, the press corps in Brussels had largely been made up of true believers. Copy was routinely submitted to Commission officials for approval; negative stories were suppressed; any criticism of the EU, even on narrow grounds of financial probity, was dismissed as populist.
Tillack thought of himself as a pro-European, but could see that such deference was doing the EU no favours. In the absence of critical scrutiny, the Brussels bureaucracy had become self-serving, bloated and sleazy. So he began to expose some of the more egregious corruption cases, such as how officials had diverted millions of euros from a body called Eurostat into private accounts.
The Euro-elites were furious. They expected such "anti-Europeanism" from British red-tops, but not from goody-goody Germans. When Tillack widened his investigation, and started to ask why the EU had failed to act on tip-offs, they pounced. Belgian police raided his flat and seized his laptop, files and address books. He was held for 10 hours without a lawyer, while his notebooks were confiscated, placing all his sources at risk. Even his private bank statements were ransacked.
Unbelievably, the raid was ordered by Olaf, the EU's anti-corruption unit. Needless to say, no such treatment has been meted out to the alleged fraudsters. In the looking-glass world of Brussels, it is those exposing sleaze, rather than those engaging in it, who find themselves in police custody. Tillack was implausibly accused of having procured some of his papers by bribery. No formal charges were brought. Yet it has taken him fully five years to be finally vindicated.
The lack of interest in this incident has been bewildering. Journalists, after all, are usually exercised by the mistreatment of other journalists. When similar things happen in Zimbabwe, they are the subject of stern editorials.
Yet here was the EU intimidating its critics with all the crudeness of a tin-pot dictatorship. A message was being semaphored to the Brussels press corps: stick to copying out the Commission's press releases and you'll be looked after; make a nuisance of yourself and you'll regret it. As the EU correspondent of a British newspaper told me mopily at the time: "If they can do this to a German Europhile and get away with it, people like me might as well pack up and go home."
On Tuesday, the Belgian state was ordered to pay Tillack €10,000 in compensation and €30,000 costs. At least the poor fellow will get his hands on the moolah while there still is a Belgian state to pay him. ·
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