European court hearing on access to information

We believe European citizens have the right to know whether or not Member States comply with EU environmental law. That’s why we appealed a decision of the General Court of the EU that would allow the European Commission to keep this information confidential. The hearing is on Thursday (15 January).

The Court had to decide whether studies made by private contractors at request of the European Commission, and which examined whether national laws complied with the requirements of EU law, could be made available to the public. The national laws investigated notably related to: hazardous waste; waste from extractive industries; drinking water and bathing water quality.

In September 2013, the Court decided that such studies were part of an investigation procedure and could therefore be kept confidential by the Commission. Furthermore, the Court decided that the EU was entitled to not apply the Aarhus Convention on access to environmental information in this case.

These studies are different from all the documents that have already been the subject of court rulings. They only contain objective data and do not feature any confidential information. The Commission is not in any way bound by these studies; it can ignore them or take them into consideration. The Commission can also decide to open an infringement proceeding against a Member State and base this on the findings of such studies – or not.

Anaïs Berthier, senior lawyer at ClientEarth, said: “It’s a bad day for democracy when the Commission can treat violation of EU law by Member States as confidential information. It is unacceptable that we still can’t find out whether governments are complying with EU environmental law on such important issues such as hazardous waste and water quality.”

The hearing is on Thursday and a judgment is expected later this year.

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Charles Edward

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