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Public access to environmental information

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Public access to environmental information

 

SUMMARY OF:

Directive 2003/4/EC on public access to environmental information

WHAT IS THE AIM OF THE DIRECTIVE?

KEY POINTS

Access upon request

  • Public authorities must make available any environmental information they possess to an applicant without the person having to state a reason.
  • The information should be provided at the latest 1 month after the request is received. This may be extended to 2 months for voluminous and complex requests.
  • Public authorities must make every reasonable effort to ensure the information they have can be readily reproduced and accessed electronically.
  • The information should be supplied in the form or format the applicant specifies unless it is already publicly available in another format.
  • EU countries must ensure civil servants help the public seeking access to information and maintain a list of accessible public authorities.
  • Practical arrangements for dealing with requests include:
    • appointment of information officers;
    • facilities for examining the information; and
    • registers or lists of the information held and details of information points.
  • Requests may be refused if they are:
    • manifestly unreasonable;
    • too general;
    • relate to unfinished material; or
    • concern internal communications.
  • They may also be refused, in full or in part, if the disclosure could be damaging to one of the exhaustive grounds envisaged, for instance:
  • Access to public registers or lists should be free of charge. Public authorities may charge for the environmental information they make available upon request, but the amount should be reasonable.
  • Applicants who consider their request has been ignored or wrongfully refused may have access to remedies, including a court of law or another independent body.

Active dissemination

  • Electronically accessible environmental information must contain at least:
    • texts of international treaties, conventions or agreements, policies, plans and programmes relating to the environment;
    • progress reports on implementation of the above items;
    • reports on the state of the environment;
    • monitoring data of activities that could affect the environment;
    • authorisations which could have a significant impact on the environment;
    • impact studies and risk assessments.
  • For items other than those above, active dissemination may be done progressively taking account of the human, financial and technical resources required.
  • EU countries must ensure any information compiled by them or on their behalf is up-to-date, accurate and comparable.

FROM WHEN DOES THE DIRECTIVE APPLY?

It has applied since 14 February 2003. EU countries had to incorporate it into national law by 14 February 2005.

BACKGROUND

  • The Århus Convention has been in force since 2001. It is based on the premise that greater public awareness of and involvement in environmental matters will improve environmental protection. It is designed to help protect the right of every person of present and future generations to live in an environment adequate to his or her health and well-being. To this end, the Convention provides for action in 3 areas:
    • ensuring public access to environmental information held by or for the public authorities;
    • fostering public participation in decision-making which affects the environment;
    • extending the conditions of access to justice in environmental matters.
  • For more information, see:

* KEY TERMS

Environmental information: any written, visual, aural, electronic or other form of information on issues set out in Article 2(1) of Directive 2003/4/EC.

Public authority: in particular, government or other national, regional or local public administration, including public advisory bodies and individuals covered by the legislation. EU governments may decide that this definition does not include bodies when acting in a judicial or legislative capacity.

MAIN DOCUMENT

Directive 2003/4/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 28 January 2003 on public access to environmental information and repealing Council Directive 90/313/EEC (OJ L 41, 14.2.2003, pp. 26-32)

RELATED DOCUMENTS

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 (OJ L 145, 31.5.2001, pp. 43-48)

Council Decision 2005/370/EC of 17 February 2005 on the conclusion, on behalf of the European Community, of the Convention on access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters (OJ L 124, 17.5.2005, pp. 1-3)

Regulation (EC) No 1367/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 6 September 2006 on the application of the provisions of the Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters to Community institutions and bodies (OJ L 264, 25.9.2006, pp. 13-19)

Directive 2007/2/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 March 2007 establishing an Infrastructure for Spatial Information in the European Community (INSPIRE) (OJ L 108, 25.4.2007, pp. 1-14)

last update 26.01.2017

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