PRESS RELEASE No 63/01
6 December 2001
Judgment of the Court of Justice in Case C-353/99 P
Council of the European Union v Hautala
THE COURT OF JUSTICE UPHOLDS THE JUDGMENT OF THE COURT OF
FIRST INSTANCE ANNULLING THE COUNCIL'S DECISION TO REFUSE
MS HAUTALA ACCESS TO A REPORT ON ARMS EXPORTS
The Council must promote the widest possible access of the public to the documents it holds.
If a document contains confidential information, the Council must consider whether partial
access is possible.
In its decision of 4 November 1997, the Council refused Ms Hautala access to the report, on the
ground that it contained sensitive information, disclosure of which would harm the European
Union's relations with non-member countries. Under Decision 93/731/EC on public access to
Council documents, 1 the Council may refuse access to a document in order to protect the public
interest in the field of international relations.
On 19 July 1999 the Court of First Instance annulled the Council's decision, on the ground that
the Council should have considered the possibility of partial access to documents. The Council,
supported by Spain, has appealed against the judgment of the Court of First Instance. Ms Hautala
is supported by Denmark, Finland and the United Kingdom.
The Court of Justice of the European Communities today dismissed the appeal and upheld the
judgment of the Court of First Instance.
The Court of Justice held that Decision 93/731 neither requires the Council to consider nor
expressly prohibits it from considering whether partial access to documents may be granted. It
pointed out that the public must have the widest possible access to the documents held by
the Commission and the Council and rejected the Council's argument that Decision 93/731
concerns only access to "documents" as such, not to the items of information contained in them.
Finally, the Court considered that the Court of First Instance was entitled to hold that the
principle of proportionality obliges the Council to consider partial access to a document
containing items of information whose disclosure would endanger one of the interests protected
by Decision 93/731.
The Court therefore found that the refusal of partial access constitutes a disproportionate
measure for protecting the items of information covered by the exceptions in the decision. The
protective aims pursued by the Council in refusing access to the report could have been attained
even if the Council had confined itself to censoring the passages in the report which could harm
Consequently, the Court of Justice upheld the decision of the Court of First Instance, and
concludes that the Council may not systematically limit the public's right of access to
documents. In the case of the exceptions listed in the codes of conduct of the Council and the
Commission, the possibility of partial disclosure must be considered.
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1 Official Journal 1993 L 340, p. 43.