Entities to which International Guarantees Apply

Slavic University in Bulgaria & Others v Bulgaria (decision), 18 November 2004 [ECtHR]


Case no 60781/00

1.  All the applicants complain under Article 11 of the Convention that the University ceased its operations as a result of the decision of the National Assembly to revoke its status as a higher education institution, which infringed their right to freedom of association. (...)
The Court considers that it is not necessary to decide on the specific complaints of infringement raised by the different groups of applicants, because it finds that they are all an integral part of one and the same body, namely the University.
According to the Court's case-law, a public law institution founded by the legislature is not an association within the meaning of Article 11 of the Convention (see Köll v. Austria (dec.), no. 43311/98, 4 July 2002; Sigurður A. Sigurjónsson v. Iceland, judgment of 30 June 1993, Series A no. 264, p. 13, § 31; Le Compte, Van Leuven and De Meyere v. Belgium, judgment of 23 June 1981, Series A no. 43, pp. 26-27, §§ 64-65).
In the Chassagnou and Others judgment the Court held that the term “association” in Article 11 of the Convention possesses an autonomous meaning and the classification in national law had only relative value (Chassagnou and Others v. France [GC], nos. 25088/94, 28331/95 and 28443/95, § 100, ECHR 1999‑III). In examining whether a specific organisation is an association within the meaning of Article 11 the Court must have regard to the reality of the situation and take into account various factors such as (1) whether it owes its existence to the will of parliament, (2)  whether it is set up in accordance with the law on private associations, (3)  whether it remains integrated within the structures of the State, (4)  whether it enjoys prerogatives outside the orbit of ordinary law, such as administrative, rule-making or disciplinary, and (5)  whether it employs processes of a public authority, like professional associations (Chassagnou and Others, cited above, § 101).
In addition, the Court notes that the Convention organs have previously stated that Swedish universities are public institutions (see M.A. v. Sweden, no. 32721/96, Commission decision of 14 January 1998, unreported).
In the present case, the University owed its existence to the will of the National Assembly, even though the initiative was a private one, by virtue of its decision of 21 July 1995. It differed from associations under private law as regards its structure and activities, its obligation to strictly comply with State policies in the field of higher education, its power to adopt internal rules and regulations with conflict resolutions provisions, the competences of the administrative authorities in supervising its teaching methods and the courses it offered, as well the social benefits provided to students. In particular, the National Assembly and the Government had special powers of supervision and control over the University's activities and the latter pursued aims which were in the general interest, namely the provision of higher education in compliance with and in adherence to State rules and requirements. Accordingly, the Court finds that during the relevant period the University “remained integrated within the structures of the State” and “enjoyed prerogatives outside the orbit of ordinary law” (Chassagnou and Others, cited above, § 101 and Le Compte, Van Leuven and De Meyere, cited above, § 64). In these circumstances, the Court concludes that the University was not an “association” within the meaning of Article 11 of the Convention.
It follows that this complaint is incompatible ratione materiae with the provisions of the Convention within the meaning of Article 35 § 3 and must be rejected in accordance with Article 35 § 4.

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