After four years of campaigning, the European Commission finally released uncensored letters between Porsche and the Commission, following the threat of legal action by Friends of the Earth Europe and environmental lawyers ClientEarth. Their release reveals that Porsche tried to convince the Commission that uniform emissions limits on all car manufacturers would threaten their very existence. But it also shows the Commission will only act transparently when litigation looms – a symptom of entrenched secretiveness, obstructing citizens' rights to engage in the legislative process.
During the four year campaign to obtain the documents, which should have been publicly accessible in the first place, the Commission has shown a strong commitment to protecting commercial interests. Manufacturers' interests have been allowed to inform the legislative process while the balancing influence of legitimate public participation on crucial environmental matters has been denied. Only the threat of being taken to court made the Commission comply with Regulation 1049/2001 on access to documents and act lawfully.
Background: Following the European Commission refusal to disclose the correspondence between car-maker Porsche and former Commission Vice-President G. Verheugen about proposals to reduce cars CO2 emissions in 2006, Friends of the Earth Europe successfully filed a complaint to the European Ombudsman. The Ombudsman pointed at the Commission for its "unco-operative attitude". More than 15 months after the Ombudsman asked the Commission to give access to the documents, it eventually sent the letters on 11 March 2010 but it failed to disclose the whole content of the correspondence. It was not until April 2011, following the threat of legal action, that the Commission released the full letters.