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ClientEarth Communications

8th March 2017

Rule of law
Access to Justice for a Greener Europe

Commission breaches EU and international law with continued cover-up of environmental lawbreaking

The Commission is breaching EU and international law by failing to share reports on environmental law breaking by national governments.

On 6 March, ClientEarth complained to the European Ombudsman, the body responsible for investigating maladministration by EU institutions. ClientEarth first asked to see the reports – known as conformity checking studies – in 2010. The Commission refused, claiming they were confidential.

ClientEarth sued the Commission before the European Court, which made it clear that only studies followed by infringement proceedings against EU countries can be presumed to be confidential. All other studies must be assessed individually, and can only be kept secret if they meet strict legal criteria.

Despite this, the Commission still refuses to disclose many of the reports, and even refuses to carry out the individual assessments ordered by the Court.

ClientEarth lawyer Anne Friel said: “If countries are breaking environmental law, the public have a right to know. There is no reason to keep the studies secret. Publishing them would let individuals and campaigners play their part in making sure governments follow the law. This would make the Commission’s job easier, as well as being an effective way to protect people and the planet.”

The Commission’s refusal to release the studies requested by ClientEarth breaches the international treaty on access to environmental information, the Aarhus Convention. It also ignores the ruling of the European Court of Justice.

Friel added: “The Commission is obliged to actively share all conformity checking studies that are not covered by confidentiality exceptions, so their six-year bid to keep governments’ lawbreaking secret is doubly disappointing. The Ombudsman must call on the Commission to respect EU law and in doing so, ensure national governments are too.”

The European Ombudsman now has four weeks to decide whether to open an investigation into the matter. If she finds the Commission to be guilty of maladministration she may issue recommendations to the Commission to comply with the law.

Read the complaint to the European Ombudsman - Failure of the European Commission to disclose conformity checking documents in compliance with case C-612/13 P ClientEarth v Commission