NGOs file complaint with the Commission for denying access to documents

Evaluations of fisheries agreements are kept secret. NGOs consider taking the Commission to court.

In March this year 24 organisations requested access to all the reports held by the European Commission which provide evaluations of the fisheries agreements with non-EU countries.

“These evaluation documents are essential in order to understand what the impacts of these agreements have been,” said André Standing, who represents TransparentSea and initiated the original letter.

The request was refused by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG MARE), who stated that the documents are confidential so as to protect commercial interests and the international relations of the EU. Further, they claimed some of the documents could be edited to take out sensitive information, but this would take too long to do.

Following this refusal, TransparentSea and Client Earth sent a ‘confirmatory application’ to the Secretary General of the European Commission, Mrs Catherine Day, on 2 June. This letter was signed by 24 organisations.

“The Commission has committed to be more accountable. It is not clear why these documents remain confidential and what DG-MARE means by protecting commercial interests,” André Standing said.

He further claimed, the Aarhus Convention was established to ensure public authorities cannot deny access to information which is in the public interest.

The Aarhus Convention is also known as the UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters. It has been ratified by the EU.

“There is a concern that EU fisheries in African waters have caused depletion of fish stocks, so we want to know what these evaluations say about that. On the other hand, it is also possible that the documents show that the EU agreements have been responsible. Unless we see the documents, we don’t know,” André Standing said. “It’s also important to find out how the millions of Euros provided to third countries over the last few decades have been used by their governments—citizens of those countries have a right to know.”

A Commission spokesman confirmed that the Commission received the confirmatory application on 6 June, and that they are examining it in accordance with Regulations 1049/2001 and 1367/2006 (Aarhus Regulation).

The Commission has 15 working days within which to change or confirm its decision.

If the Commission confirms its denial of access to the evaluations, André Standing said an option is to take the case to the European General Court. “The Aarhus Convention was seen as a pioneering agreement to ensure environmental justice and accountability—there’s no point in having this legislation if citizens aren’t prepared to use it, and public authorities don’t take it seriously.”

Link: Download the letter

Axel Naver

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