Cases nos 14331/88 and 14332/88
1. The applicants complainin the first place that compulsory membership of the Ordre des architectes infringes their right to freedom of association, as guaranteed by Article 11 of the Convention. In their view, that freedom includes the freedom not to associate, and they consider that the establishment of an association which architects are obliged to join and the obligation to pay membership fees cannot be justified ynder Article 11 para. 2 of the Convention.
However, the Commission points out that the Ordre des architectes is not a private organisation but a public law body established by the Law of 3 January 1977 on architecture. (...)
In this connection the Commission recalls that a similar problem arose in the case of Le Compte, Van Leuven and De Meyere (Eur. Court H.R., judgment of 23 June 1981, Series A no. 43, p. 26).
In that case, concerning membership of the Belgian the Ordre des médecins, the Court expressed the following opinion:
" [The Ordre des médecins] was founded not by individuals but by the legislature; it remains integrated within the structures of the State. (...) It pursues an aim which is in the general interest, namely the protection of health, by exercising under the relevant legislation a form of public control over the practice of medicine. Within the context of this latter function, the Ordre is required in particular to keep the register of medical practitioners. For the performance of the tasks conferred on it by the Belgian State, it is legally invested with administrative as well as rule-making and disciplinary prerogatives out of the orbit of the ordinary law (prerogatives exorbitantes du droit commun) and, in this capacity, employs processes of a public authority.
Having regard to these various factors taken together, the Ordre cannot be considered as an association within the meaning of Article 11. However, there is a further requirement: if there is not to be a violation, the setting up of the Ordre by the Belgian State must not prevent practitioners from forming together or joining professional associations. (...)
The Court notes that in Belgium there are several associations formed to protect the professional interests of medical practitioners and which they are completely free to join or not (see paragraph 22 above). In these circumstances, the existence of the Ordre and its attendant consequence - that is to say, the obligation on practitioners to be entered on the register of the Ordre and to be subject to the authority of its organs - clearly have neither the object nor the effect of limiting, even less suppressing, the right guaranteed by Article 11 par. 1 (paras 64 and 65 of the above-mentioned judgment)."
In the light of this case-law, the Commission considers that, as with the Ordre des médecins, the object of the obligation to join the Ordre des architectes, imposed on architects by law for the purpose of regulating the practice of their profession, is to regulate the public interest. Thus the present case possesses no specific feature which would justify a decision to depart from the line adopted in the caselaw recalled above.
The Commission would also wish to point out that the applicants retain the freedom to combine with their fellows in setting up professional associations for the defence of their professional interests and to join such associations or not, just as they see fit.
In the absence of any interference with the freedom guaranteed by paragraph 1 of Article 11 there is no need to examine the issue from the standpoint of paragraph 2, nor to consider whether the Convention guarantees the freedom not to associate.