Swedish access laws more secretive than EU-regulations

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) has decided to take a closer look at Sweden’s compliance with UN-rules on information in environmental matters. The decision follows rejection on requested access to document by the Swedish Chemicals Agency and two Swedish courts.

Access could harm Sweden’s participation in international cooperation, the argument went. But this might run counter to the UN Aarhus Convention, signed by Sweden, 44 other countries and the EU. In the case of emissions to the environment release of information should be the default option, the convention states.

The documents held back in Sweden are relevant to a forthcoming decision whether to approve the pesticide chlorpyrifos or not.

A team of journalists has described how chlorpyrifos causes brain damage to human fetus and newly-born children, how the present EU-approval is based on studies made and filed by the producer, and how the producer´s study has been challenged by experts in environmental medicine and ecotoxicology.

These allegations where in August echoed by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), whose experts recommended zero tolerance for the disputed pesticide in the future. The present EU-approval expires in January 2020.

To prepare a forthcoming decision by an EU-committee in December, Spain and Poland have since 2017 been preparing a proposal for other member states to discuss and approve or reject.

This proposal was held back in Sweden in spite of the country’s legacy of public access since 1766, and in spite of the country’s ratification of the Aarhus Convention. Due to an EU-directive adopted in 2003, the convention is binding law in all EU-member states

This central document kept back by Sweden was released by the EU-agency EFSA in October turning the usual pattern upside down. Sweden has for years been seen as a frontrunner on transparency in contrast to other EU-member states and the EU-institutions. Not necessarily so any longer, it seems.

During an open session with the Aarhus Compliance Committee in Geneva, the Swedish government argued that the release of the document by EFSA made the complaint about Sweden irrelevant, and should be deemed inadmissible. The Compliance Committee did not agree.

This means the Swedish government now has five months to comment on the allegations of being too secretive, and not complying with the UN-rules.

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