Global Freedom of Expression

Internationaler Hilfsfonds v. Commission

Closed Expands Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Public Documents
  • Date of Decision
    January 26, 2010
  • Outcome
    Decision - Procedural Outcome, Remanded for Decision in Accordance with Ruling, Decision Outcome (Disposition/Ruling), Access to Information Granted
  • Case Number
  • Region & Country
    Germany, Europe and Central Asia
  • Judicial Body
    Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU)
  • Type of Law
    Administrative Law
  • Themes
    Access to Public Information
  • Tags

Content Attribution Policy

Global Freedom of Expression is an academic initiative and therefore, we encourage you to share and republish excerpts of our content so long as they are not used for commercial purposes and you respect the following policy:

  • Attribute Columbia Global Freedom of Expression as the source.
  • Link to the original URL of the specific case analysis, publication, update, blog or landing page of the down loadable content you are referencing.

Attribution, copyright, and license information for media used by Global Freedom of Expression is available on our Credits page.

Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

The European Court of Justice held that requiring an applicant to resubmit his request for information after the requested institution’s definitive refusal to provide access, is contrary to the objective of the two-stage process established by Regulation No 1049/2001, namely, to guarantee swift and straightforward processing of applications for access to documents.

This case analysis was contributed by


Internationaler Hilfsfonds (IH), a non-governmental organisation active in the field of humanitarian aid, asked the European Commission (Commission) for documents relating to the contract signed between IH and the Commission in 1999. The Commission provided access to some documents but rejected IH’s application in relation to other documents. The applicant applied for full access to the documents, but the Commission refused. The Commission re-examined its position following the draft recommendation of the European Ombudsman. The Commission agreed to provide access to five of the documents which it had previously refused to disclose. It maintained its initial decision with regard to the rest of the documents.

In its definitive decision, the Ombudsman found that the Commission’s failure to give valid reasons justifying its refusal to disclose the documents constituted maladministration. Following the Ombudsman’s definitive decision, the applicant applied for full disclosure. In a decision dated February 14, 2005 (the Commission’s decision), the Commission informed the applicant that it “does not intend to place other documents [except for the ones already provided] at [his] disposal”.

The applicant brought an action for annulment of the Commission’s decision before the Court of First Instance (CFI), but the CFI dismissed it as inadmissible. The applicant applied to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

Decision Overview

The ECJ disagreed with the CFI’s conclusion that the contested measure was not a definitive position of the Commission and could not be a subject of an action for annulment.

The ECJ pointed out that Regulation 1049/2001, specifically Articles 7 and 8, provided for a two-stage procedure, which enabled the institution to re-examine its position before taking a definitive refusal decision that could be the subject of an action before the EU courts. It aimed to guarantee swift and straightforward processing of applications for access to documents and prioritized a friendly settlement of disputes.

The Court further held that the Commission’s decision constituted a definitive refusal to disclose all the documents requested by IH. According to the Court, “[the Commission’s decision] brought to an end a long series of successive steps taken by IH over approximately three years, (…) seeking to obtain access to the documents relating to the contract and including several applications by it to that end”.

According to the Court, the Commission could not reasonably claim that IH should have made a new application and waited until a further refusal from the Commission before challenging it. The Commission made clear, in its detailed opinion and by disclosing five documents in the case instituted before the Ombudsman, that it had examined IH’s application in detail and “had clearly and definitively adopted its position with regard to the refusal of access to the documents sought”. Requiring the applicant to re-submit the application would also be contrary to the aim of the two-stage procedure established by the Regulation.

The ECJ concluded that the contested measure constituted a measure open to challenge and referred the case back to the lower court.

Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Expands Expression

Global Perspective

Quick Info

Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

Case Significance

Quick Info

Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

The decision establishes a binding or persuasive precedent within its jurisdiction.

The decision was cited in:

Official Case Documents

Have comments?

Let us know if you notice errors or if the case analysis needs revision.

Send Feedback