Case no 26695/95
31. The Court considers, as the applicants and the Commission did, that the Greek courts’ refusal to register the applicants’ association amounts to an interference by the authorities with the applicants’ exercise of their right to freedom of association; the refusal deprived the applicants of any possibility of jointly or individually pursuing the aims they had laid down in the association’s memorandum of association and of thus exercising the right in question. This interference was not denied by the Government. (...)
40. The Court points out that the right to form an association is an inherent part of the right set forth in Article 11, even if that Article only makes express reference to the right to form trade unions. That citizens should be able to form a legal entity in order to act collectively in a field of mutual interest is one of the most important aspects of the right to freedom of association, without which that right would be deprived of any meaning. The way in which national legislation enshrines this freedom and its practical application by the authorities reveal the state of democracy in the country concerned. Certainly States have a right to satisfy themselves that an association’s aim and activities are in conformity with the rules laid down in legislation, but they must do so in a manner compatible with their obligations under the Convention and subject to review by the Convention institutions.
Consequently, the exceptions set out in Article 11 are to be construed strictly; only convincing and compelling reasons can justify restrictions on freedom of association. In determining whether a necessity within the meaning of Article 11 § 2 exists, the States have only a limited margin of appreciation, which goes hand in hand with rigorous European supervision embracing both the law and the decisions applying it, including those given by independent courts.