Access To Environmental Information – New Case expands access definition

A recent ruling Of The General Court In Case T-545-11 Stichting Greenpeace Nederland  and Pesticide Action Network Europe (PAN Europe) has far-reaching implications for the requests for environmental information outside of the traditional boundaries of an operational site.

The background to the case started in 2010, when Stichting Greenpeace Nederland and Pesticide Action Network Europe (PAN Europe) asked the European Commission for several documents, including test documents and a draft assessment report on the active substance glyphosate issued under the EU plant protection products Directive (PPPD).

Their request was rejected because the information was deemed confidential as it involved intellectual property rights – the detailed chemical composition of the active substance, information on impurities, and the composition of the finished products.

The two Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) appealed the rejection to the General Court by invoked their rights under the EU Regulation implementing the UN Aarhus Convention, and argued there was an overriding public interest in disclosure where information relates to emissions into the environment.

In its judgement from 8 October 2013, the General Court ruled in favour of the appeal and made two important conclusions with far-reaching consequences not only for the EU plant protection legislation.

  1. It stated that the public interest in access to information on emissions into the environment prevails over any private interest, including trade secrets and intellectual property rights. Furthermore, the EU’s obligation to comply with the WTO TRIPS Agreement’s provisions on the protection of regulatory information for plant protection products and the specific confidentiality regime set out in the PPPD is not capable of affecting the overriding interest in disclosure.
  2. The Court found that information on environmental emissions is not limited to information on the direct or indirect release of substances from installations. In other words, such information also includes data on purity, identity and quantity of impurities, and the analytical profile of the batches used for the tests and studies in view of obtaining regulatory approval.

The current outcome is that, any information that relates “sufficiently directly” to emissions into the environment must be disclosed, like the case with respect to information on pesticide active substances.

This may not be the last word on this issue of access to environmental information as the Commission are expected to appeal the judgment.

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