Access to European Court legal submissions clarifies Google Spain case

The 2014 CJEU judgment in Google Spain represented an historic victory for privacy campaigners when it held that the individual right to privacy and data protection generally took precedence over freedom of expression, and the rights of users to access information published on the internet.

In its judgment the CJEU said that the Google search engine is subject to EU data protection law and that Google has a duty to uphold the rights of individuals to have personal data erased from its search results unless there is a legitimate interest in having public access to that information.

In an age where you are who Google says you are, the judgment was decisive in setting boundaries for the tech giants.

We were curious about the other arguments that had been raised before the CJEU and how they had been dealt with, so we requested the submissions made in the case from the European Commission Legal Service under Regulation (EC) 1049/2001, on public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents.

Before July 2017, the European Commission maintained that the written submissions of the parties did not come within the scope of Regulation 1049/2001. The CJEU decision in Commission v Patrick Breyer (Case C-213/15 P) changed this and allowed for access to documents submitted to the court by third parties to be released after a case had been decided. This increased transparency allows for greater understanding of the ECJ’s reasoning and the consideration it gives to the arguments made before it.

The Legal Service shared the written observations to the Court of :

  1. The European Commission,
  2. Google Spain SL and Google Inc. (the Appellants),
  3. the Greek Government,
  4. the Spanish Government,
  5. the Italian Government,
  6. the Austrian Government and
  7. the Polish Government.

The Commission’s response is set out in its letter:


Of interest was the summary treatment by the Court of arguments of proportionality and the right to operate a business; the “mere economic interest” of the search engine was dismissed despite the protection offered to the ‘freedom to run a business’ under article 16 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The concerns raised by Google that in singling it out, it would be unduly prejudiced, quickly dissipated when other search engines, such as Yahoo and Bing (operated by Microsoft) recognised the implications of the judgment for them and adapted.

The submissions are in French, as this is the working language of the European Court of Justice, but if there is something among the documents you’d like to examine in more detail, we’re happy to help – language is no barrier here!