EU Council Ordered to Release Legal Opinions on Legislation

Simona Mazzeo

EU Court orders the EU Council to disclose legal opinions on legislation, promoting transparency and public access to crucial information.

The General Court of the EU said that the European Council must make the views of its legal service on EU legislation public, following allied cases carried by environmental NGO ClientEarth and Professor Päivi Leino-Sandberg of Helsinki University. ClientEarth lawyers have praised the court ruling today, as it explains that people have the right to access the data they need to participate in EU legislative processes – even if they emanate from an international agreement.

ClientEarth contested the EU Council in 2021 after it declined to provide the opinion of its legal services on the modification of the Aarhus regulation on a pass to justice in environmental matters. The Council claimed that this information was connected with an international negotiation on access to justice – the Session of the Parties of the Aarhus Convention – and should remain hidden.  However, the Court countered, confirming that the public has a right to access legal thoughts on EU legislation. 

The fact there is a connection to ongoing international negotiations is insufficient to justify secrecy. ClientEarth senior lawyer and Head of Just Societies Anne Friel stated: “This ruling confirms that the EU legislative procedure has to be transparent and participative, and the Council’s legal opinions are no exception. We live in an age of multi-layered and globalized governance. A large portion of EU laws derive from international laws and processes – from environmental accords to the World Trade Organisation and other trade agreements – and they have big effects on people’s lives, their health, and the environment.

Moreover, the lawyer contended, “The EU cannot simply opt out of translucent law-making every time international relations are pledged. This approach is stopping members of the public from participating in these critical decisions, a right that is glorified in the EU Treaties. The EU Council must now abide by this order and increase transparency in all its legislative functions, particularly those that influence the environment – this is crucial for a healthy democracy and a healthy planet.”

In 2021, ClientEarth demanded access to the opinion of the EU Council’s Legal Service concerning the European Commission’s proposal for a Law amending the Aarhus Regulation on access to justice in environmental matters. This suggested reform was triggered by a complaint presented by ClientEarth at the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee – a United Nations body – which finished in 2017 that the EU was not in full adherence with the implementation of the Aarhus Convention at the EU level, especially with the access to justice provisions.

After these discoveries, ClientEarth advocated for an enterprising reform of access to justice at the EU level. The Council’s legal opinion was a very significant document in the legislative process, as one of the main queries being considered by decision-makers at the time was whether the EU legal order authorized full compliance with the ACCC’s findings.

The Aarhus Regulation was eventually amended in October 2021, opening the opportunity for members of the public and civil society institutions to challenge EU environmental decisions in court.

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Simona Mazzeo is a journalist at Brussels Morning News. She is covering European Parliament, European Council, European Commission & Italy News. She is a law graduate and lawyer residing in Agropoli, has carved out a multifaceted career dedicated to justice and social advocacy. She actively serves as a delegated councilor for the Equal Opportunities Committee of the Bar Association of Vallo della Lucania, championing fair and equal representation within the legal system. Recognized for her expertise and empathy, Simona is qualified for registration in the list of Special Curators of minors in civil and criminal matters at the Court of Vallo della Lucania, ensuring the rights and interests of vulnerable children are protected throughout legal proceedings. Beyond her legal practice, Simona demonstrates a strong commitment to social causes. She is a founding member of the Free Lawyer Movement, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing legal assistance to those who cannot afford it. Additionally, she leverages her knowledge and passion for social justice as a non-professional journalist, contributing insightful and informative pieces on relevant legal and societal issues. Through her diverse endeavors, Simona Mazzeo exemplifies dedication to legal excellence, social responsibility, and a fervent belief in equal access to justice for all.