On 8 February 2018, the General Court of the European Union handed down its judgment in cases T‑852/16 and T-851/16 which concerned several requests by Access Info Europe to the European Commission to access documents generated or received by the Commission containing the legal advice and/or analysis of the legality under EU and international law of the EU-Turkey statements.
Access Info Europe lodged an application to the General Court of the European Union seeking the annulment of the Commission’s decisions to refuse access to the documents, largely relying upon Regulation (EC) No. 1049/2001 (“Access to documents Regulation”).
The General Court recalled that the purpose of Regulation No. 1049/2001 is to give the public a right of access to documents of the institutions as widely as possible, but that this right is subject to certain limitations based on grounds of public or private interest. In the cases in question, the General Court generally understood that the European Commission did not make a manifest error of assessment in refusing access to most of the documents since they were strategic documents to the relations between the EU, its Member States and Turkey and fell, thus, within the “protection of international relations” under Article 4(1)(a) of Regulation No. 1049/2001.
Moreover, the General Court found that the “frankness, objectivity and comprehensiveness” of the interdepartmental consultations would have been affected if the drafters of those consultations, drafted in a situation of urgency, had to anticipate that such emails would be made available to the public.
The General Court also ruled that the Commission was entitled to rely on the exception relating to the protection of court proceedings when refusing access to the documents, since three sets of court proceedings were pending at the time, including those related to the legality of the EU-Turkey statement.
Therefore, the General Court dismissed the actions for annulment, with the exception of a refusal to grant partial access to two documents, which it considered not to be related to the EU’s international relations.