• The EU says it upholds its high levels of transparency but others are less sure (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

EU sued over lack of transparency

21.09.10 @ 09:22

  1. By Andrew Willis

BRUSSELS - A group of environmental lawyers are suing the EU over alleged attempts to restrict access to information and a lack of transparency in the bloc's biofuels policy.

On Monday (20 September) ClientEarth filed a lawsuit against the European Commission in the EU's General Court in Luxembourg, charging the executive body with having failed to release "documents containing previously undisclosed information on the negative climate impacts of widespread biofuels use."

The case, taken jointly with Transport and Environment, the European Environmental Bureau and BirdLife International, focuses on a controversial study of biofuel use which the four groups claim was manipulated by the commission.

In April the International Food Policy Research Group (IFPRI) published the study which suggested that EU biofuel policy would reduce carbon emissions. But it later was claimed that the research was based on flawed assumptions, inserted at the request of the commission's energy department.

Climate Earth said it decided to take the case on Monday after repeated calls to see emails relating to the changes were ignored.

"The commission is running an opaque operation," said Tim Grabiel, a lawyer at ClientEarth. "Citizens are being denied the right to participate in decisions that affect flagship climate policies and will not only affect their lives but those of future generations as well."

In March the four environmental groups took a similar case against the commission for failing to release certain documents, with the bloc's biofuels policy coming under increased scrutiny in recent years.

The EU requires at least 10 percent of energy for road and rail transport in 2020 to come from renewable sources, with biofuels originally being hailed as a key strategy to reduce the use of fossil fuels, largely blamed for climate change.

A growing number of question marks have been raised, however. A recent World Bank report said that EU and US biofuels policies have resulted in a rush for land in Africa and other developing regions, taking over areas that had previously been used for food production.

Other studies note that the desire to grow fuel crops has contributed to deforestation.

"Second generation biofuels" using waste straw and forestry offcuts are seen as a solution to these problems and are said to be nearing commercialisation, but it may still be several years before they are rolled out across the globe.

Wider lack of EU transparency

In a separate case on Monday, ClientEarth also decided to sue the Council of Ministers (the EU institution representing member states) over an alleged failure to release documents.

The issue relates to EU plans to review its 'access-to-documents' law which dates back to 2002. The commission put forward plans to review the law in 2008 which ClientEarth says will restrict citizens' access to certain EU documents.

The case against the council relates to its refusal to hand over an internal legal opinion on the review.

Anais Berthier, environmental justice lawyer at ClientEarth, said: "The fact that we have to sue for lack of transparency during its review of EU transparency rules speaks volumes about the EU's commitment to an open society."

"If the commission's proposals are allowed to progress unchallenged the ramifications for freedom of information will be far-reaching."