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Still too hard to access environmental information in the EU – EEB report

A new report by the European Environmental Bureau shows that it is still too difficult to access information on environmental matters across the European Union.

More and more citizens want to access information held by public authorities and governments. In 2018, the EU received 6,912 requests for information, a 9.5% increase compared to 2017. [1]

The new report – ‘For Your Information’ – shows that it remains difficult to obtain information on environmental matters, and details some notable examples.

The European Environmental Bureau (EEB) is Europe’s largest network of environmental organisations with around 150 members in over 30 countries.

The report presents an overview of the state of access to information and gathers case studies as well as recommendations for key actors: EU Member States, the European Commission and for citizens themselves.

Ahead of the release of the European Green Deal, which is expected to lead to a significant increase in environmental action, the authors stress the need for transparent and effective access to environmental information to ensure effective decision making.

Francesca Carlson, EEB legal officer said:

“The public are more likely to support decisions about the environment when the facts are clear and available for all. Any Green Deal should support improved access to information as an essential ingredient in any healthy democracy.”

“Unfortunately, in our research we discovered real gaps in practice. Citizens are gathering information to fill in these gaps but, it is the responsibility of public authorities to ensure that people have all the information necessary to be engaged in any meaningful way in decision making.”

Among other recommendations the report warns the Commission and Member States of the need to fully comply with the Aarhus Convention which requires public authorities to make environmental information available to the public.

The Aarhus Convention is an international treaty that grants rights to citizens to protect the environment by giving them a right to access information, a right to public participation and a right to access justice in environmental matters. In November 2017, the European Union was found to be in non-compliance with the Convention for limiting the possibilities for NGOs to bring cases before the Court of Justice. [2]

The report also highlights the need to keep the costs for requesting documents to be kept minimal, so that costs do not prevent citizens from exercising their right to access information. The report gives some examples of bad practices. In some German States, people were charged up to 180€ per request in 2017, for documents that should already have been made publicly and freely available. And in Sachsen, the cost for obtaining just one document on permits of 25 large combustion plants amounted to 2000€, summing to a grand total of 50,000€ for the request on all those plants.

The ‘For Your Information’ report is the third in a series of four reports about the role of NGOs in the implementation of EU environmental laws. Find out more about the Implement For LIFE project of the EEB.

 

[1] https://euobserver.com/institutional/145572

[2] https://meta.eeb.org/2017/11/01/whos-standing-in-the-way-of-environmental-justice/