Key facts of the case:
The plaintiff challenged a demand for payment of service fees from October to December 2013 by the public service broadcasting corporation. The plaintiff was not exempt of the payment. Until the end of 2012 he paid the fees for a radio and car radio and then discontinued to pay.
Before the courts of the first and second instance the plaintiff argued that the demand for payment was not justified as the Interstate Treaty on Broadcasting Service Fees (Rundfunkbeitragsstaatsvertrag) was unconstitutional and the demand for payment violated the principle of equal treatment because every household is required to pay service fees without reference to the actual use of broadcasting services. The courts of the first and second instance did not follow this reasoning.
Before the Federal Administrative Court as court of appeal the plaintiff then argued that the demand for payment was not justified since it is not linked to the use of broadcast but linked to the use of one’s home. Therefore, the plaintiff claimed that the payment was a residential tax or a household fee since it is demanded without any service in return and thus not covered by the Interstate Treaty on Broadcasting Service Fees. Accordingly, the Interstate Treaty on Broadcasting Service Fees would have been needed to be presented to the European Commission according to Article 8 (1) of the EU Directive 98/34/EC, before coming into effect. The plaintiff also argued that the service fee violated the principle of equal burden (Gebot der Belastungsgleichheit) as households with only one income have to pay the same fees as households with more than one income. In addition, the plaintiff argued that the right to information also covers the right to escape from information for which fees are required. Thus, it needed to be clarified if the Interstate Treaty on Broadcasting Service Feesviolated Article 11 (1) of the Charter.
Outcome of the case:
The plaintiff’s appeal was not successful. The Federal Administrative Court decided that the broadcasting corporation did not violate the fundamental rights of the plaintiff by applying the Interstate Treaty on Broadcasting Service Fees as the treaty is considered constitutional. The court further argued that the treaty had not to be presented to the European Commission according to the Directive 98/34/EC because broadcasting services are not covered by the meaning of Article 1 No. 2 of the Directive.
Further, the court argues that Article 11 (1) of the Charter was not applicable because Article 51 (1) of the Charter limits its scope of application to the implementation of EU law by the Member States. In this case the national legislation neither intends to implement a provision of EU law nor pursues objectives other than those covered by EU law. Hence, national legislation is “autonomous” in relation to EU law. Beyond that there were neither any EU provisions which are specific on the matter nor any of them were capable of affecting the national act of state.
The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights in its version of 12 December 2017 (Offical Journal. C 303 p. 1) - CFREU -, whose Article 11 (1) guarantees freedom of information, is not applicable in this case. According to Article 51 (1) CFREU, the Charter of Fundamental Rights has to be considered by the Member States only when implementing EU law. According to Article 51 (2) CFREU the Charter of Fundamental Rights does not expand the scope of application of Union Law beyond the competences of the Union; it does neither establish any new powers nor task of the Union, nor does it modify powers and tasks defined by the Treaties. Thus, the law of the Member States only needs to be assessed in the light of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Charter if it is determined by the law of the Union. The law of the Union has to contain substantial provisions for national law; it especially has to state the obligation of transposition. Above that, the Charter is applicable if fundamental freedoms of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union are at risk. (Federal Constitutional Court, Judgment of 24 April 2013 - 1 BvR 1215/07 - BVerfGE 133, 277 paras. 88 and following; Federal Administrative Court, Judgments of 27 February 2014 - 2 C 1.13 - BVerwGE 149, 117 paras. 71 and of 21 September 2016 - 6 C 2.15 [ECLI:DE:BVerwG:2016:210916U6C2.15.0] - NVwZ 2017, 65 para. 26). (para. 58)
Die Charta der Grundrechte der Europäischen Union in der Fassung vom 12. Dezember 2007 (ABl. C 303 S. 1) - GRC -, deren Art. 11 Abs. 1 die Informationsfreiheit gewährleistet, ist im vorliegenden Fall nicht anwendbar. Nach Art. 51 Abs. 1 Satz 1 GRC gilt die Charta für die Mitgliedstaaten ausschließlich bei der Durchführung des Rechts der Union. Nach Art. 51 Abs. 2 GRC dehnt die Charta den Geltungsbereich des Unionsrechts nicht über die Zuständigkeiten der Union aus; sie begründet weder neue Zuständigkeiten noch neue Aufgaben für die Union, noch ändert sie die in den Verträgen festgelegten Zuständigkeiten und Aufgaben. Daher ist das Recht der Mitgliedstaaten nur dann an den Grundrechten der Charta zu messen, wenn es durch Unionsrecht determiniert ist. Das Unionsrecht muss inhaltliche Vorgaben für die Gestaltung des nationalen Rechts enthalten, insbesondere Umsetzungspflichten statuieren. Darüber hinaus ist die Charta anwendbar, wenn Grundfreiheiten des Vertrags über die Arbeitsweise der Europäischen Union in Rede stehen (BVerfG, Urteil vom 24. April 2013 - 1 BvR 1215/07 - BVerfGE 133, 277 Rn. 88 ff.; BVerwG, Urteile vom 27. Februar 2014 - 2 C 1.13 - BVerwGE 149, 117 Rn. 71 und vom 21. September 2016 - 6 C 2.15 [ECLI:DE:BVerwG:2016:210916U6C2.15.0] - NVwZ 2017, 65 Rn. 26). (Rn. 58)