In a recent case between campaign partner PAN-Europe, Greenpeace Nederland and the EU Commission, the General Court ruled that the EU Commission was required to disclose environmental pesticide-testing information to NGOs.
PAN-Europe and Greenpeace Nederland requested access to documents relating to the EU Commission’s decision to authorise the placing of the active substance, glyphosate, on the market. The Commission refused on the grounds that the disclosure of the documents requested would prejudice the commercial interests of the companies involved.
The request was based on a 2001 EU Commission Regulation regarding public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents, and on a 2006 Regulation on the application of the provisions of the Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters to Community institutions and bodies.
Article 4 of the 2001 Regulation provides that EU institutions must refuse access to a document where, inter alia, its disclosure would undermine the protection of commercial interests of a natural or legal person, including intellectual property, "unless there is an overriding public interest in disclosure".
The Commission considered that the information requested did not relate to emissions into the environment, and that there was no evidence of an overriding public interest in disclosure. The information requested in this case, however, did not relate to the release of substances from installations. Rather it concerned the composition of the active substance, the process by which the substance was produced, and the composition of the finished product, which would be released into the air, by spraying.
The Commission concluded that the need to protect the intellectual property rights of the companies involved outweighed the public interest in disclosure of the information. The General Court rejected the Commission’s claim that the notion of emissions into the environment should be interpreted restrictively.