Estonia: Eurosceptic minister saved by Euronorm

By a recent ruling of the Estonian Supreme Court, a dispute between the current Estonian Minister of Foreign Trade and IT and her former employer, the Tax and Customs Board was resolved.

What is interesting about the story is that the minister, who belongs to a Eurosceptic party, won in court thanks to an EU regulation which had not been incorporated into Estonian law.

The dispute began with the Tax and Customs Board claiming that the then official and current minister was not managing her work. The official was in delay with leading the tax procedure and for that reason the claim expired. According to the Authority, the official also had communication problems with her colleagues.

In order to establish this, disciplinary proceedings were initiated during which it was discovered that the official had recorded her development interview with the superior official and forwarded it to the Director General of the Authority. The Authority found that by secretly recording and forwarding the result to third persons without the consent of the other person, the official had breached data protection rules and thus deserved the maximum penalty of dismissal.

The official lodged a complaint with the court alleging that she had been harassed at work with the aim of forcing her to resign her job. She applied for the dismissal decision to be revoked.

The courts of first and second instance declared the proceedings closed for protection of the privacy of the complainant, but dismissed the complaint. The courts agreed with the Tax and Customs Board in that there was no harassment of the official and that the recording during the development interview and forwarding of the result without the consent of the other party violated Estonian law. The dismissal was therefore considered lawful.

The Supreme Court annulled the decisions of the lower courts in part where they found that the recording of the development talk was unlawful.

In that regard, the Supreme Court relied on the Data Protection Directive of 24 October 1995, not transposed into Estonian law, according to which personal data may be processed where it is in the legitimate interest of the individual provided it does not outweigh the fundamental rights and freedoms of the data subject.

The Supreme Court found that as the official used the recording to prove harassment, the only option was to record the interview without the consent of the other person. The Supreme Court rejected the complaint regarding other aspects, conceding that there was no harassment and that the official’s violation of work obligations and non-performance had been duly proven. The Supreme Court also ruled that the decision did not contain any information relevant to protection of private life and so should be published in the general manner.

In summary, this is undoubtedly an important decision where a Eurosceptic official succeeded thanks to a European Union directive, to which she herself failed to pay notice.Hopefully this judgment will force Eurosceptics to reconsider their position on the European Union and its rules and encourage the representatives to think beyond borders.

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