Tagged: C-615/13 ClientEarth and PAN Europe v EFSA

Public access to documents: effective rear guard to a transparent EU?

By Elinor Pecsteen

Recently, journalists from all EU member states raised, for the first time ever, a joint voice before the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) against the refusal of the European Parliament (EP) to give access, on grounds of personal data protection, to information on how MEPs spend their allowances.

This development is no surprise as the endeavour by individuals and non-governmental organisations alike to hold the EU to its democratic imperative of openness and transparency has been a clearly increasing tendency over the years. However, meeting the expectations of the civil society is not always an easy task for the EU institutions, which must keep a fair balance between transparency and the protection of an individual’s privacy and integrity throughout their processes.

This balance has become essential in the present context of increasing numbers of requests for public access to EU institutions documents containing personal data. Yet, the question remains unclear as to when it is legitimate for an institution to refuse access to documents on the ground of personal data protection.

The following post attempts to shed some light on this question by discussing two recent CJEU judgments whose common threads allow for some interesting consistency to be found in the Court’s logic. On the basis of these judgments, it would seem that for the Court, the use of personal data protection as a justification for refusing requests for access to documents should be restricted. Such requests are essential to increase the confidence of citizens in the EU and require that, provided the conditions are fulfilled, full access be given to the institutions’ documents, personal data included. The Court specifies that the context of public mistrust in the EU and the potential dual role of its decision-makers must weigh in the institutions’ assessment of the conditions. Continue reading