European Court of Justice rejects NGO foreign funding case

02 January 2013

The European Union Court of Justice (ECJ) recently rejected a lawsuit concerning European Union (EU) funding for NGOs. The dismissal of the case marks the end of a four year battle over disclosure of EU funds for civil society projects.

In 2008, Israeli watchdog organization NGO Monitor requested to receive details of EU funding towards certain NGOs. Though the EU is obligated to respond to specific requests for information under the European Freedom of Information law, the European Commission only provided partial information to NGO Monitor’s inquiries.

NGO Monitor director Gerald Steinberg formally petitioned the ECJ for full access to the documents in 2010. Claiming that the European Commission had channeled around $48 million to “highly politicized” NGOs active in Israel and the Palestinian Authority, he argued that the funding was an attempt to “manipulate the Israeli democratic process”.

The ECJ dismissed the case in November 2012. According to the official ruling, the Commission’s partial withholding of funding documents was adequately covered under the “Exceptions” section of the European Freedom of Information legislation. Under these exceptions, the court is legally allowed to refuse access to documents that would: 1) undermine the protection of public interest as regards to public security, 2) threaten the privacy and integrity of the individual and 3) undermine the protection of the commercial interests of a natural or legal person. Based on these provisions, the court determined that the Commission had ample legal foundation to refuse NGO Monitor’s request due to the potential harm the NGOs could face should sensitive documents regarding their funding be made public.

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