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Summaries of EU Legislation

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Public access to environmental information

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Public access to environmental information


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



It fully adapts national laws to the 1998 Aarhus Convention on access to information.

  • It guarantees the public access to environmental information* held by, or for, public authorities*, both upon request and through active dissemination.
  • It sets out the basic terms, conditions and practical arrangements where access upon request may be exercised.


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 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:
    • international relations,
    • the course of justice,
    • intellectual property rights, or
    • commercial or industrial confidentiality.
  • Access to public registers or lists should be free. Public authorities may charge for the environmental information they make available, 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,
    • 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.


It entered into force on 14 February 2003. EU countries had to incorporate it into national law by 14 February 2005.


* 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.


The Aarhus Convention


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)


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)

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)

last update 03.02.2016