• European Union sued for lack of transparency

    Leading environmental law organisation, ClientEarth, is suing both the Council of the European Union and the European Commission over their failure to uphold EU transparency rules. The legal actions come as the European Union threatens to weaken its commitment to openness during a review of its own transparency regulations. The lawsuits indicate that a lack of transparency is becoming endemic among EU institutions.

    [mailchimp_signup][/mailchimp_signup]The first lawsuit relates to the European Union’s review of its regulations regarding public access to documents. Proposals put forward by the Commission would substantially restrict the number of documents made available to the public, including those containing environmental and other information relevant to EU policies. ClientEarth’s case against the Council relates to the refusal to release a key document about the review of EU transparency rules.

    Anais Berthier, environmental justice lawyer at ClientEarth, comments:

    “The fact that we have to sue the Council for lack of transparency during its review of EU transparency rules speaks volumes about the institution’s commitment to an open society.”

    “It is ironic and unsettling that the Council is considering restricting a citizen’s access to information while, at the same time that it entertains these restrictions, it is withholding the very information upon which it will base that decision. By the Council’s own admission the legal issues raised in the requested document are likely to be the subject of intense discussions within the Council and the European Parliament. If the Commission’s proposals are allowed to progress unchallenged the ramifications for freedom of information will be far-reaching.”

    The second lawsuit relates to Commission attempts to manipulate the science guiding European biofuels policy. The lawsuit, brought by ClientEarth, Transport & Environment, the European Environmental Bureau, and BirdLife International, challenges the Commission’s failure to release documents containing previously undisclosed information on the negative climate impacts of widespread biofuels use in the European Union. It is the second time the Commission has been sued for lack of transparency on EU biofuels policy. The first lawsuit was lodged on 8 March 2010 and is ongoing.

    Tim Grabiel, senior lawyer at ClientEarth, comments:

    “These cases call into question the openness and transparency on which the EU is based. In denying access to these documents EU institutions are flouting their own regulations and ignoring court rulings requiring a transparent and democratic Europe.”

    “Our efforts to understand and influence EU biofuel policy have been repeatedly hampered by attempts to restrict access to documents. The Commission is running an opaque operation. Citizens are being denied the right to participate in decisions that affect flagship climate policies and will not only affect their lives but those of future generations as well.”

    The lawsuits, ClientEarth v Council and ClientEarth and others v Commission, are a last resort for ClientEarth after the institutions’ repeated denials to grant access to documents. Under EU regulations citizens have the right to request documents held by European institutions. These regulations have been further strengthened by rulings in the European Court of Justice. They should ensure openness and transparency and allow citizens to be active in EU decision-making processes.