EU Puts Kibosh on Union’s Records Request

     (CN) – The public has no right to view documents exchanged by the European Commission and member-state authorities during a competition investigation, the EU’s lower court ruled Tuesday.
     A union representing iron warehousemen in Spain sued the commission for access to correspondence between EU regulators and Spanish competition authorities relating to an antitrust investigation.
     While the commission provided the union with some of the documents it requested, it refused to hand over draft decisions by the Spanish authorities as well as English summaries of the cases in question.
     The commission relied on the general presumption under EU law that releasing the documents would undermine both the commercial interests of the companies under investigation and the investigation itself.
     In a ruling issued on Tuesday, the General Court of the European Union dismissed the union’s action – despite finding that the commission did not carry out the required examination of the records request before denying it.
     The Luxembourg based court found that the commission’s justification that the companies and the investigation might be compromised by releasing the documents outweighed any error regulators made by not considering the union’s request.
     Furthermore, the presumption against disclosure continued even after the commission closed its investigation, the court said.
     And although Europe’s constitution calls for public access to EU government records, what the union requested involved an investigation by Spanish authorities and not the commission at the EU level, the court said in an opinion that was not made available in English.
     The union has 60 days to appeal the lower court’s decision to the European Court of Justice.

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