Lack of transparency causing ‘unhealthily close’ links between EU and Airbus

Decisions that affect EU environmental legislation need to be far more transparent and open to public discussion. This is the argument at the heart of two legal actions initiated this month concerning a new global CO2 emissions standard for aircraft.


When establishing its aviation certification agency (EASA), Europe agreed that setting such emissions standards for international aircraft should be devolved to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). The result is that standards for the most climate intensive mode of transport are established behind closed doors at ICAO’s Montreal headquarters. To many in the environmental movement this is unacceptable, but the lack of access to even the information on which ICAO’s decisions are based has given rise to two legal challenges in the Netherlands.

One action by T&E’s Dutch member Natuur en Milieu – supported by T&E and the environmental lawyers collective ClientEarth – went to court in Utrecht earlier this month. Natuur en Milieu demands the Dutch government make certain documents public, including those which contain calculation methods and climate analyses used by ICAO for the new aircraft standard.

The other is a complaint by the Dutch Green MEP Bas Eickhout to the EU Ombudsman. Eickhout says the process for deciding the EU’s position in ICAO ‘lacks transparency, not meeting the most basic form of good administrative behaviour … EU negotiating positions as formulated by the Commission are not published or shared with the Parliament, which makes it difficult to determine the content of proposed measures.’

Eickhout says this lack of transparency has allowed links to develop between the European planemaker Airbus and the Commission, which he says are ‘unhealthily close’ and led to a lax CO2 standard for aircraft that does nothing to decarbonise aviation. In November, T&E revealed redacted emails between Airbus and Commission transport officials which suggested Airbus was either writing the EU’s negotiating position or at least setting ‘red lines’ that the EU was not to cross. Yet when Eickhout asked to see the documents on which the new CO2 standard for planes was based, he was told they are confidential. ICAO has also blocked delegations of MEPs from attending meetings of its environment committee.

T&E’s aviation manager Andrew Murphy said: ‘It’s bad enough that the EU lets Airbus write Europe’s rules on climate standards, but it ought to be totally unacceptable that the documentation on which these standards are based is never given to the public or their elected representatives. The weak CO2 deal for aircraft or the equally weak offset scheme for aircraft would have been harder to get through if there was transparency about the information and calculations on which the deal was based.

‘The EU has strict rules on democracy and transparency that its members must observe, yet here it allows an international body to pass legislation that goes straight into European law while the calculations and discussions that underpin it remain behind closed doors. It is a clear case of double standards, and EU member states should not tolerate it.’

The Natuur en Milieu case was heard by a Dutch court on 10 April, and the verdict is expected in mid-May. Bas Eickhout’s complaint was lodged on 4 April; the EU Ombudsman will take a few weeks to decide whether it is a legitimate case, and if it is, the evaluation of the complaint could take up to a year.