Tuesday

26th Mar 2019

EU criticises Sweden over transparency move

The European Commission has taken the first step of legal action against Sweden for having given public access to a confidential document – a move that could ultimately see Stockholm defending its traditional policy of transparency in EU courts.

Late last month the commission sent a formal letter to the Swedish authorities asking for explanation as to why environment group Greenpeace in 2005 got access to a document about a new type of genetically modified corn feed to be launched by Monsanto - the world's leading producer of biotech seeds.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

The information had on Monsanto's request been classified as secret by the Dutch government where it had handed in its application.

The commission then contacted Sweden after the biotech firm had complained that the leak could have damaged the company.

Greenpeace had been refused access to the report in the Netherlands and therefore turned to Sweden where - after taking the issue to the highest court - the NGO finally got the report from the Swedish Board of Agriculture - the government's expert authority in the field of agricultural and food policy.

Article 25

The EU executive referred to an article laid out in an EU directive for genetically modified organisms, which says that if an application with a request to market a biotech product has been classified by one member states, then this confidentiality must also count when other member state authorities take part in the application.

"Such a system would not function if different competent authorities would be able to have different standpoints in the matter of whether information would be treated confidentially or not," the commission argues in its letter, according to Swedish newspaper MedieVärlden.

It is on these grounds that Brussels has asked Sweden to explain how it implemented the directive into national law; whether Sweden recognises decisions made by other member states concerning the directive and how they justify their own decision.

It is too early to say what the Swedish government will reply to the commission, Magnus Blücher from the legal office of Swedish environment ministry told EUobserver.

He said the government is expecting an explanation from the agriculture board next week after which officials from the environment, justice and foreign affairs ministries will work together on an answer for Brussels.

Stockholm has until the end of November to reply to the commission's letter.

Swedish transparency

The principle of free access to public records in Sweden is very important, said Per Hultengård - freedom of expression expert at the Swedish Newspaper Publishers' Association (TU).

It is part of Sweden's cultural, historical and legal background. It is very well established, he told this news-site.

Mr Hultengård argued that when dealing with public documents sent to the Swedish authorities from other countries they should be subject to Swedish law and sometimes that clashes with community law.

The issue was controversial when Sweden negotiated its EU membership in 1994, with Stockholm declaring several times that it would maintain the widest public access and that it would strongly defend this right.

"I assume the Swedish government will continue this position", Mr Hultengård said.

Slovakia puts squeeze on free press ahead of election

Smer, Slovakia's ruling party, wants the country's media to give politicians a right-of-reply, or face stiff fines. Advocates of a free press are alarmed, and it poses a problem for the European Commission, whose vice-president is a Smer presidential candidate.

Orban rejects Weber's plea to stop anti-EU posters

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban has pledged to put up new anti-migrant posters - despite hopes in his centre-right EU family that he might "apologise and put an end" to the campaign.

News in Brief

  1. European Parliament votes on reform of copyright
  2. New French-German parliament meets for first time
  3. EU parliament reduces polling ahead of elections
  4. UK parliament votes to take control of Brexit process
  5. EU publishes no-deal Brexit contingency plans
  6. EU urges Israel and Gaza to re-establish calm
  7. May admits 'not sufficient support' for third Brexit vote
  8. Orban vows more EU 'information campaigns'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Latest News

  1. France takes Chinese billions despite EU concerns
  2. Europe before the elections - heading back to the past?
  3. Romania presidency shatters EU line on Jerusalem
  4. The Spitzen process - a coup that was never accepted
  5. Russia and money laundering in Europe
  6. Italy takes China's new Silk Road to the heart of Europe
  7. What EU leaders agreed on climate - and what they mean
  8. Copyright and (another) new Brexit vote This WEEK

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us