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Zhechev v Bulgaria, 21 June 2007 [ECtHR]

Case no 57045/00

56. If associations in Bulgaria could, when registered as such, participate in elections and accede to power, as was the case in Gorzelik and Others (cited above), it might be necessary to require some of them to register as political parties, so as to make them subject to, for instance, stricter rules concerning party financing, public control and transparency (see paragraph 20 above). However, under Bulgarian law, as it stood at the material time and as it stands at present, associations may not participate in national, local or European elections (see paragraph 21 above). There is therefore no “pressing social need” to require every association deemed by the courts to pursue “political” goals to register as a political party, especially in view of the fact that, as noted above, the exact meaning of that term under Bulgarian law appears to be quite vague. That would mean forcing the association to take a legal shape which its founders did not seek. It would also mean subjecting it to a number of additional requirements and restrictions, such as for instance the rule that a political party cannot be formed by less than fifty enfranchised citizens (see paragraph 19 above), which may in some cases prove an insurmountable obstacle for its founders. Moreover, such an approach runs counter to freedom of association, because, in case it is adopted, the liberty of action which will remain available to the founders of an association may become either non‑existent or so reduced as to be of no practical value (see, mutatis mutandis, Young, James and Webster v. the United Kingdom, judgment of 13 August 1981, Series A no. 44, p. 23, § 56; Sigurður A. Sigurjónsson v. Iceland, judgment of 30 June 1993, Series A no. 264, pp. 15‑16, § 35; and Chassagnou and Others v. France [GC], nos. 25088/94, 28331/95 and 28443/95, § 114 in fine, ECHR 1999‑III).

57. The Court therefore considers that alleged “political” character of the association's aims was also not a sufficient ground to refuse its registration.

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