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European Commission accepts recommendation from European Ombudsman to release studies on UK and Gibraltar compliance with EC environment law

The European Ombudsman, Jacob Söderman, welcomes the decision of the European Commission to give the environmental organisation Friends of the Earth full access to two environmental studies. This follows his recommendation earlier this year for the Commission to give access to the studies. The studies concern the UK and Gibraltar's compliance with environmental directives. M. Söderman underlined the importance of safeguarding the widest possible access for European citizens to information.

Friends of the Earth has expressed satisfaction with the action.

Details of the case

The two studies in question concern compliance with the directives on waste and hazardous waste by the UK and Gibraltar, as well as compliance with the Habitats Directive. They were prepared by an independent consultant. The Commission refused to grant Friends of the Earth access to the two studies. It agreed to release only selected parts of them. It referred to one of the exceptions provided for in the Code of Access to documents, namely the protection of the public interest. The Commission argued that the studies were relevant for future infringement proceedings and claimed that the information was part of the Commission's preliminary investigations into a Member State's compliance with Community law.

In his draft recommendation in March 2001, the Ombudsman considered that the Commission had used the exception which should only be applied when the requested documents have been drawn up in the course of an investigation connected to an infringement proceeding. The two studies in question were commissioned prior to any investigation. The Ombudsman recommended that the Commission release the documents in full before 30 June, 2001. The Commission has now informed the Ombudsman it had reconsidered its initial decision and given the complainant full access to the requested documents.

Background - safeguarding access to documents

The aim of the Code of Conduct on Public Access to Commission documents is to allow for the largest possible access for citizens to information. Access can only be refused on the basis of strictly applied exceptions. An interpretation of the scope of inspections and investigations, as first suggested by the Commission in this case, could mean that whole categories of documents whose content relates to Member States' compliance with Community law could be barred from public access.


The decision can be found on the Internet at:


For further information, please call José Martínez-Aragón, Principal Legal Adviser, tel. +33 (0) 3 88 17 24 01.

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For further information about the Ombudsman's media activities, please contact: Ms Honor Mahony, Acting Head of communication, Tel. +32 (0)2 283 47 33.