The failure by the Community institutions to fulfil their obligation to examine the possibility of granting the public partial access to documents in their possession leads to the annulment of their decisions refusing to communicate those documents.
In March 1999, Mr Mattila, a Finnish citizen, asked the Commission and the Council for access to 11 documents concerning principally the relations of the European Union with Russia and Ukraine. Public access to documents in the possession of those two institutions was, at the time, governed by a code of conduct. The Commission and the Council refused to grant access to 10 documents on the ground that they were covered by the exception based on protection of the public interest in the field of international relations.
In its judgment of 12 July 2001, the Court of First Instance dismissed Mr Mattila's action seeking the annulment of those negative decisions. Mr Mattila brought an appeal against that judgment before the Court of Justice.
First, the Court observes that the Court of First Instance found that the Council and the Commission did not consider the possibility of granting partial access to the information which was not covered by the exception. The Court recalls that the examination of the possibility of partial access constitutes an obligation, under Community legislation and in accordance with the principle of proportionality, failure to comply with this obligation leads to the annulment of the decisions refusing to communicate the documents.
The Court considers that the Court of First Instance wrongly held that the fact that the institutions could not have allowed partial access, even if they had carried out such an examination, does not lead to the annulment of those negative decisions. The Court holds that communicating the reasons for the refusal to the person concerned for the first time before the Community courts is not compatible with the procedural guarantees provided by Community law, and with the right of the person concerned to know the immediate reasons for any decision adversely affecting him adopted by the Community institutions.
The Court sets aside the judgment of the Court of First Instance and annuls the negative decisions of the Council and the Commission.
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