On 19 January 2016 the Applicant, Client Earth, submitted a request to the European Commission (“EC”) for access to documents concerning the compatibility of the investor-State dispute settlement and the EU law. This request was based on the Regulation (EC) No. 1049/2001 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 May 2001 regarding public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents. In response, invoking exceptions related to the protection of the public interest as regards international relations, the protection of legal advice and the protection of the EC’s decision-making process, the EC refused access to certain documents, in whole or in part. Applicant brought proceedings before the European General Court (“EGC”) in order to annul the EC’s decision, relying on five pleas, namely errors of law, a manifest error of assessment and a failure to state reasons in the application of the applicable provisions of the abovementioned Regulation.
First, as a preliminary matter, the EGC recalls that the principle of strict interpretation of the disputed exceptions contained in the Regulation does not preclude the institution concerned from enjoying a wide discretion in deciding whether the disclosure would undermine interests protected by its provisions.
Second, it upholds the EC’s arguments with regard to the disclosure of the documents that may weaken the EU position in the ongoing negotiations of the new system of the investor-State dispute settlement (creation of a permanent investment court) and thus, harm interests of the EU in the field of international relations. Consequently, the EGC concludes that the EC has not erred in its application of the exception evoked.
Third, it rejects three other pleas related to exceptions since one exception is already sufficient to justify the refusal of disclosure.
Finally, the EGC judges that denial of total and partial access to the requested documents are in conformity with the principle of proportionality