On November 23, 2016 the Court of Justice of the European Union decided in two cases (C-673/13 and C-442/14) that the public must have the right to access environmental documents related to the emissions of chemicals. A summary of the Court decisions was published in a press release. Data on emissions of products or substances into the environment, as they are requested under the Aarhus Convention (EC 1367/2006), must include all emissions emanating from industrial manufacture, application, and discharge of products or substances, according to the rulings. Furthermore, the Court stated that emission data shall not only be based on actual data, but information on foreseeable emissions under normal or realistic conditions of use shall also be available. It was additionally detailed in the decisions that the public shall be enabled to check whether the assessment of actual or foreseeable emissions is correct by making the relevant information available.

The two court cases ended long-running disputes. Case C-673/13 dealt with a request for data on the pesticide glyphosate that was submitted to the European Commission (EC) by Stichting Greenpeace Nederlands and Pesticides Action Network (PAN) Europe. In case C442/14, the Dutch bee-protection association Bijenstichting submitted a request for disclosure of 84 documents concerning marketing authorizations issued by the responsible Dutch authority for certain plant protection products and biocides, but Bayer CropScience, one major producer of these products, objected to this disclosure.

PAN Europe applauded the decision as a “landmark victory for transparency”. The environmental law organization Client Earth stated that this judgement puts the interests of the citizens first and that information on chemicals related to safety, health and the environment cannot be considered confidential. Client Earth further anticipates that this “decision will lead to further access to information cases, not just on chemicals and pesticides, but on all pieces of legislation relevant to chemicals, including REACH.” On the contrary, the European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC) called the ruling a potentially dangerous precedent, because companies will be exposed to a high competitive risk if their confidential business information is not protected anymore. CEFIC additionally refers to the confidentiality protection as a fundamental part of existing EU chemicals laws.

Read more

Court of Justice of the European Union (November 23, 2016). “Press release No 128/16.” (pdf)

Court of Justice of the European Union (November 23, 2016). “Judgement of the Court: Case C-673/13.

Court of Justice of the European Union (November 23, 2016). “Judgement of the Court: Case C-442/14.

PAN Europe (November 23, 2016). “Landmark victory for transparency at the European Court of Justice on access to the information on chemicals.” (pdf)

Client Earth (November 25, 2016). “Landmark European court decision grants access to pesticide tests.

EurAktiv (November 25, 2016). “Pesticide studies must be made public, EU court rules.

CEFIC (November 23, 2016). “EU Court rulings reduce confidentiality safeguards for chemical companies.

Luke Buxton (November 30, 2016). “ECJ ruling backs access to confidential data on chemicals.Chemical Watch