This is an HTML version of an attachment to the Freedom of Information request 'Organic farming regulation'.


 
EUROPEAN COMMISSION 
 
 
 
Brussels, 22.3.2018 
C(2018) 1909 final 
 
Peter TEFFER 
EU Observer 
Rue Montoyer 18B 
1000 Brussels 
Belgium 
DECISION OF THE SECRETARY-GENERAL ON BEHALF OF THE EUROPEAN COMMISSION 
PURSUANT TO ARTICLE 4 OF THE IMPLEMENTING RULES TO REGULATION (EC) N° 
1049/20011 
Subject: 
Your confirmatory application for access to documents under 
Regulation (EC) No 1049/2001 - GESTDEM 2017/6695 

Dear Mr Teffer, 
I refer to your email of 8 January 2018, registered on the same date, in which you submit 
a confirmatory application in accordance with Article 7(2) of Regulation (EC) No 
1049/2001 regarding public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission 
documents2 ('Regulation 1049/2001').  
1. 
SCOPE OF YOUR REQUEST 
In your initial application of 6 November 2018, addressed to the Directorate-General for 
Agriculture and Rural Development, you requested access to [a]ll documents – including 
but not limited to e-mails, minutes and 4-column tables – related to the trilogue meetings 
between the Parliament and the Council on the organic farming regulation. 

The European Commission has identified 88 documents as falling under the scope of 
your request. 
These documents were drafted in the framework of 18 trilogues which took place 
between November 2015 and June 2017 following the European Commission Proposal 
                                                 

Official Journal L 345 of 29.12.2001, p. 94. 
 
Commission européenne/Europese Commissie, 1049 Bruxelles/Brussel, BELGIQUE/BELGIË - Tel. +32 22991111 
  
 

on organic production and labelling of organic products (2014/0100 (COD)3 which aims 
to revise the existing legislative framework provided by Regulation (EC) No 834/20074. 
The above-mentioned 18 trilogues led to a preliminary agreement between the Maltese 
Presidency and the European Parliament on the new regulation in the form of a revised 
text on 28 June 2018, after three years of negotiation. 
In its initial reply of 19 December 2017, the Directorate-General for Agriculture and 
Rural Development fully disclosed three out of the 88 identified documents5, and 
provided the link to one document which was already public6.  It refused, after 
consultation of the Parliament and the Council, access to the remaining 84 documents on 
the basis of the exception for the protection of the ongoing decision-making process 
which is provided under Article 4(3), first subparagraph of Regulation 1049/2001.  
 
More specifically as regards 34 documents consisting of 'four column documents' or their 
excepts7, the Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development refused to 
provide partial access to them, on the ground that the administrative burden generated by 
their redaction would be disproportionate in light of both the lengthy size of the 
documents (around 600 pages per trilogue) and the fact that the information proposed for 
disclosure was already public. 
 
Through your confirmatory application you request a review of this position. You do not 
contest the particularly heavy workload which would be entailed by a partial disclosure 
of the above-mentioned 34 documents, you argue that the Directorate-General for 
Agriculture and Rural Development's refusal to grant access to the 84 documents poses 
considerable problems for European democracy 
[as]  it would mean that the decision-
making process would only become public after the proposed regulation has already 
been adopted. 
 
Consequently the scope of this decision is limited to the 50 fully refused documents 
(consisting of agendas and non-papers) and the refused parts of the 34 four column tables 
(namely their fourth column) under the exception of Article 4(3), first subparagraph of 
Regulation 1049/2001. 
                                                                                                                                                 
2    Official Journal L 145 of 31.5.2001, p. 43. 
3 Procedure 2014/0100/COD. COM (2014) 180: Proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and 
of the Council on organic production and labelling of organic products, amending Regulation (EU) 
No XXX/XXX of the European Parliament and of the Council [Official controls Regulation] and 
repealing Council Regulation (EC) No 834/2007
, available at: http://eur-
lex.europa.eu/procedure/EN/2014_100.  Hereafter the ‘Commission Proposal on organic production and 
labelling of organic products’. 
4 Council Regulation (EC) No 834/2007 of 28 June 2007 on organic production and labelling of organic 
products and repealing Regulation (EEC) No 2092/91, Official Journal L 189, 20.7.2007, p. 1–23. 
5 Namely Documents 1, 2 and 88. 
6 Namely Document 85. 
7 Namely Documents 5, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17, 19, 20, 23, 24, 25, 28, 29, 30, 35, 36, 41, 42, 43, 44, 
47, 48, 49, 58, 71, 72, 76, 77, 80 and 81. 


2. 
ASSESSMENT AND CONCLUSIONS UNDER REGULATION 1049/2001 
When assessing a confirmatory application for access to documents submitted pursuant 
to Regulation 1049/2001, the Secretariat-General conducts a fresh review of the reply 
given by the Directorate-General concerned at the initial stage. 
The documents to which you request access consist of 18 agendas8, 32 informal 
documents or ‘non-papers’9 and 34 so-called 'four column documents'10, all of which are 
related to recently completed trilogues regarding the European Commission Proposal on 
organic production and labelling of organic products.   
Following the review of the assessment of the above-mentioned documents by the 
Secretariat-General, I am pleased to grant: 
-  full access to 9 of the requested agendas, namely Agendas 1 to 7, 9 and 14; and 
-  partial access to the remaining 9 agendas (amongst which, 8 of the requested 
agendas, namely Agendas 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16 and 17, are released, subject to 
the sole withholding of their attachments). 
I regret however to inform you that I have to confirm the initial decision of Directorate-
General for Agriculture and Rural Development to refuse access to the remaining 66 
documents (consisting of non-papers and four column documents, including annexes of 
Agendas 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17 and 18) on the basis of the exception for the 
protection of the decision-making process which is provided under Article 4(3), first 
subparagraph of Regulation 1049/2001, for the reasons set out below. 
Article 4(3), first subparagraph of Regulation 1049/2001 provides that [a]ccess to a 
document drawn up by an institution for internal use or received by an institution, which 
relates to a matter where the decision has not been taken by the institution, shall be 
refused if disclosure of the document would seriously undermine the institution's 
decision-making process, unless there is an overriding public interest in disclosure. 

In this instance, all above-mentioned 84 documents relate to the 18 trilogues which took 
place between November 2015 and June 2017. 
Trilogues consist of informal meetings between representatives of the three institutions 
designed to reach an agreement on proposed legislation. In the framework of trilogues, 
representatives of the co-legislators negotiate directly with each other in a spirit of 
conciliation of different opinions. Trilogues can occur at any stage during the legislative 
procedure following the submission of the European Commission's proposal. 
                                                 
8 Namely documents 3, 4, 6, 9, 14, 18, 22, 27, 34, 40, 46, 57, 63, 70, 73, 75, 79 and 84. For simplification 
purposes, these agendas will be referred to as per the number of the related trilogue: e.g.  Agenda 1, 
Agenda 2, and so forth. 
9 Namely documents 21, 26, 31, 32, 33, 37, 38, 39, 45, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 59, 60, 61, 62, 64, 65, 66, 
67, 68, 69, 74, 78, 82, 83, 86 and 87. 
10 Namely Documents 5, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17, 19, 20, 23, 24, 25, 28, 29, 30, 35, 36, 41, 42, 43, 
44, 47, 48, 49, 58, 71, 72, 76, 77, 80 and 81. 


Notwithstanding the fact that trilogues are not expressly provided for in the Treaties, they 
have proven to be a very effective means of reaching agreements between co-legislators 
and, as result, are at the origin of the adoption of most legislation nowadays. 
The issue of whether public disclosure of trilogue-related documents would seriously 
undermine the decision-making process within the meaning of Article 4(3), first 
subparagraph is at the core of the De Capitani v European Parliament case11.  
Pending the decision of the General Court in this case, in which it supports the 
Parliament, the European Commission maintains its position, pursuant to which the work 
of  trilogues should be surrounded by a minimum level of confidentiality, justifying, as 
long as the legislative procedure is ongoing, the temporary non-disclosure of trilogue-
related documents. 
In this instance, whereas a preliminary agreement was reached between the Maltese 
Presidency and the European Parliament on a new regulation on 28 June 2017, after three 
years of negotiation, this revised text still needs to be formally adopted by both 
institutions in order to become law. 
Both the Court of Justice and the General Court have acknowledged the possibility for 
the institution to rely on a general presumption against public disclosure, in order to 
refuse access to documents12, including those of a legislative nature13. 
As per the logic of the above-mentioned judgments, the European Commission considers 
that the fourth column of trilogue tables is protected by a general presumption against 
their public disclosure which is justified by the need to ensure the integrity of the conduct 
of the procedure. The latter can be best preserved by limiting unsolicited intervention by 
third parties until formal adoption of the legislative text. 
Pursuant to the principle of 'nothing is agreed until everything is agreed', which is of 
primary importance for the proper functioning of the legislative procedure, disclosure of 
trilogue-related documents before the formal adoption of the new legislation may have 
irremediable negative consequences on the latter. 
This is especially the case since the subject matter at the core of the draft legislation, 
namely organic production and labelling of organic products, is very sensitive. The new 
to-be-adopted legislation aims indeed at addressing the concern over the risk of the 
erosion of consumer confidence due to many exceptions which had the effect of diluting 
organic production rules, as well as shortcomings in the control system and import 
regime.  Extensive discussions took place during the trilogue negotiations and three years 
were necessary to reach a compromise on this sensitive issue which is directly linked to 
consumers’ awareness and public health. 
                                                 
11 Case T-540/15. 
12 Judgments of the Court of 1 July 2008, Sweden and Turco v Council, C-39/05 P and C-52/05 P, 
paragraph 50 and of 17 October 2013, Council v Access Info Europe, C-280/11 P, paragraph 72see also 
Judgment of 13 November 2015, ClientEarth v Commission, T-424/14 and T-425/14, EU:T:2015:848. 
13 Judgment of 13 November 2015, ClientEarth v Commission, T-424/14 and T-425/14, EU:T:2015:848 
paragraph 100. 


In light of the sensitivity of the legislative proposal in question, the numerous political 
interests involved, and the efforts of the institutions to reach a satisfactory compromise, it 
is of paramount importance to guarantee the conditions required for the final adoption of 
the draft regulation and to ensure therefore the temporary non-disclosure of the trilogue-
related documents. The latter should indeed remain protected, at least until the end of the 
legislative procedure, which will only be completed upon the formal adoption of the draft 
revised regulation by the co-legislators. 
Trilogue-related documents, and in particular the so-called 'four-column documents' are 
working tools used during the trilogues and cannot therefore be considered to be part of 
the ‘formal legislative process’ within the meaning of the Access Info Europe v Council 
judgment, which allows to draw a distinction between those informal documents and the 
documents which chart the formal decision-making process of the co-legislators, makes 
them subject to a different standard of transparency14. 
The European Commission considers that ‘four-column’ tables and the non-papers at 
issue are documents of the same nature which fall within the same category within the 
meaning of the case law, as explained below. 
The 34 so-called 'four-column documents' track the progress of the trilogues in question. 
They combine the initial positions of the three institutions (set out in the first three 
columns) with a fourth column which reflects the compromise text as it evolved during 
the discussions.  The completed and agreed upon fourth column constitutes the final 
compromise text which must still be adopted under the formal procedure by each co-
legislator in order to become enacted in law. 
The 32 informal documents or ‘non-papers’ (including the annexes to Agendas 8, 10, 11, 
12, 13, 15, 16, 17 and 18) were drafted by the European Commission, the Council or the 
European Parliament in the framework of preliminary discussions and were intended as 
preparatory documents aimed at clarifying discussion points so as to facilitate reaching a 
compromise. These documents therefore reflect preliminary views on specific aspects of 
the above-mentioned Commission proposal. 
Consequently, the above-mentioned 34 ‘four column documents’ and 32 ‘non-papers 
papers’ (including the annexes to Agendas 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17 and 18) cannot be 
released as they are protected under a general presumption pursuant to which their public 
disclosure, at this stage of the legislative procedure, would seriously undermine the 
decision-making process within the meaning of Article 4(3), first subparagraph of 
Regulation 1049/2001. 
As far as Agenda 18 is concerned, as stated in the Directorate-General for Agriculture 
and Rural Development’s initial reply, it contains explicit references to the negotiation 
procedure which has yet to be completed. 
                                                 
14 Judgment of 22 March 2011, T-233/09, EU:T:2011:105, paragraph 77. 


Against this background, I conclude that the premature disclosure of the requested 
Agenda 18, 32 ‘non-papers’ and the 34 so-called 'four-column documents', before the 
formal adoption of the Regulation on organic production and labelling of organic 
products, would seriously undermine the decision-making process of the institution 
within the meaning of Article 4(3), first subparagraph of Regulation 1049/2001, as well 
as the inter-institutional decision-making process. 
3. 
NO OVERRIDING PUBLIC INTEREST IN DISCLOSURE 
The exception laid down in Article 4(3), first subparagraph of Regulation 1049/2001 
must be waived if there is an overriding public interest in disclosure. Such an interest 
must, firstly, be public and, secondly, outweigh the harm caused by disclosure. 
In your confirmatory application, you argue that [i]f citizens, potentially via media, are 
not able to know the steps leading up to the final compromise text, they are not well-
informed enough to tell their MEPs or national governments representing them in the 
Council whether they would like the legislative proposal to be supported.  
According to 
you, [t]his could seriously undermine their potential to influence policy-making. 
The European Commission acknowledges that citizens’ effective participation into the 
EU legislative decision-making process of the institutions is an essential element of EU 
law-making legitimacy. As the Court of Justice has held, [o]penness in [the legislative 
process] contributes to strengthening democracy by allowing citizens to scrutinize all the 
information which has formed the basis of a legislative act. The possibility for citizens to 
find out the considerations underpinning legislative action is a precondition for the 
effective exercise of their democratic rights
15. 
In this instance, the European Commission considers nevertheless that citizens’ 
participation into the legislative process was duly ensured, as evidenced below. 
Since the very beginning of the legislative review process, citizens’ involvement has 
been welcome and solicited. As early as in 2013, the European Commission launched a 
public consultation on the organic sector which resulted in more than 45,000 answers 
from citizens. Subsequently, organic stakeholders from all sectors, including producers, 
the industry and consumers were all invited in the framework of the impact assessment 
exercise to share their views on the future of organics.  This is on the basis of their 
respective contributions that the Commission drafted its proposal for a revised 
legislation. This proposal was made public in March 2014.  
The general approach and the European Parliament’s amendments were published in 
2015.  When the trilogues started in November 2015, the European Parliament was 
involved not only at Rapporteur’s but also at Shadow Rapporteurs’ level, thus covering 
the whole political spectrum.  Moreover, the Rapporteur informed regularly other MEPs 
at the Committee of Agriculture (COMAGRI) which is in principle broadcasted in 
                                                 
15 Judgment of 1 July 2008, C-39/05 P and C-52/05 P, EU:C:2008:374, paragraph 46. 


streaming on the European Parliament’s website so as to keep citizens duly informed.  
Furthermore, the Commission received frequent contributions and position papers from 
the MEPs evidencing regular information and input from the various stakeholders. 
The successive Presidencies also represented the 28 Member States and their citizens, 
including producers, processors and consumers. They kept Member States informed at 
every Special Committee of Agriculture and requested renewed negotiating mandates 
whenever necessary to ensure maximal consistency with national positions.  Discussion 
tables were held at Member States’ level with the various stakeholders interested in the 
reform, so as to inform the latter on the outcome of the different steps and progress of the 
process. 
Against this background of (i) the publication of the European Commission’s Proposal 
following a wide public consultation, (ii) regular participation of elected MEPs and (iii) 
constant reporting of the Presidency of the European Council to the Member States, it 
must be concluded that the required transparency and regular information of the citizens 
was sufficiently safeguarded for the latter to meaningfully participate and influence the 
main steps of the legislative decision-making process. 
The three Institutions share a commitment to enhancing the transparency of the 
legislative process and for this reason are currently developing detailed technical 
specifications for the concept of a future Joint Legislative Portal. The latter is intended to 
be a way for a non-specialist audience to find information and documents relating to 
legislative files, linking up the different sources of information from the Institutions.  
Whereas it will continue its engagement with the co-legislators to fulfil the commitments 
to enhance transparency of the legislative process as set out in the Interinstitutional 
Agreement on Better Law-making, the European Commission considers that the general 
principle of the existence of an overriding public interest in the field of the legislative 
activities of the institutions, based on the transparency requirements stemming from 
Article 15 TFEU and Regulation 1049/2001, finds its limits in the interest of ensuring the 
proper functioning of the legislative procedure guaranteed by Article 294 TFEU.   
Consequently, the European Commission considers in this instance that documents 
underlying the trilogues should not be prematurely disclosed prior to the formal adoption 
of the organics review compromise text which, in light of the efforts deployed to ensure 
citizens’ continuous information and effective participation.  
Furthermore, it should be stressed that the European Commission does intend to ensure 
the confidentiality of the requested documents, especially of the ‘four column 
documents’, mainly until the adoption of the legislation. Such confidentiality does not 
mean that the public will never have the opportunity to be informed of and understand 
the evolution of the respective positions of the institutions during the negotiating process 
in question. Such access will be duly considered, following future requests thereto under 
Regulation 1049/2001, once the disclosure of the information concerned will no longer 
jeopardise the proper functioning of the legislative procedure. 


In light of the above, I must conclude that, in this instance, I have not been able to 
identify any public interest capable of overriding the above-mentioned interest protected 
by Article 4(3), first subparagraph of Regulation 1049/2001. 
4. 
PARTIAL ACCESS 
In accordance with Article 4(6) of Regulation 1049/2001, I have considered the 
possibility of granting partial access to the documents requested.  
Consequently, partial access is provided to Agendas 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16 and 17, 
subject to the sole redaction of their respective annexes (which are covered by a general 
presumption against public disclosure, as explained above.) 
As far as Agenda 18 is concerned, partial access is provided, subject to the redaction of: 
-   its parts containing explicit references to substantive contents of the negotiation 
procedure which has yet to be completed; and 
-   its three annexes which are covered by a general presumption against public 
disclosure, as explained above. 
According to settled case-law, the documents covered by a general presumption, such as 
the one referred to in section 2 of this decision, do not fall within an obligation of 
disclosure, in full, or in part16.  
The above-mentioned case law does not, however, exclude the right of applicants to 
demonstrate that a given document, disclosure of which has been requested, is not 
covered by that presumption17. 
In this instance, I note that, in the framework of your confirmatory application, you do 
not contest the particularly heavy workload which would be engendered by partial 
disclosure of the 34 ‘four column documents’, nor the fact that the information contained 
in their three columns would not be of any substantial value as it is already publicly 
known. 
Moreover, for the reasons explained above, no meaningful partial access is possible 
without undermining the interest described above or creating a disproportionate 
administrative burden in light of the fact that the documents to be redacted are very 
voluminous and the to-be released information contained therein would be of no 
substantial value as it is already of public knowledge. 
 
 
 
                                                 
16 Judgment of 28 June 2012, Editions Odile Jacob, C-404/10 P, EU:C:2012:393, paragraph 133. 
17 Judgment of 29 June 2010, Technische Glaswerke Ilmenau, C-139/07 P, EU:C:2010:376, paragraph 103. 


The fact that a document contains information which is already of public domain, far 
from being capable of justifying a refusal of partial access, requires in principle its partial 
disclosure18. However, pursuant to settled case-law, in exceptional circumstances: 
[A] derogation from the obligation to grant partial access might be permissible where 
the administrative burden of blanking out the parts that may not be disclosed proves to 
be particularly heavy, thereby exceeding the limits of what may reasonably be required
19. 
The General Court has further held that: 
[…] The principle of sound administration requires that the duty to grant partial access 
should not result in an administrative burden which is disproportionate to the applicant's 
interest in obtaining that information
20
Furthermore, detailed information pertaining to the legislative procedure in question, 
including concerning the respective positions of the institutions is available, inter alia
via the following link: 
http://eur-lex.europa.eu/procedure/EN/2014_100 
Consequently, I have come to the conclusion that the 32 ‘non-papers’ above-mentioned 
and the 34 ‘four column documents’ cannot be publicly disclosed under Regulation 
1049/2001.  As far as the latter documents are concerned, the administrative burden 
engendered by implementing such partial access would indeed not weigh up against your 
possible interest in obtaining the (already public) information contained in the parts that 
would remain unredacted. 
 
5. 
MEANS OF REDRESS 
Finally, I draw your attention to the means of redress available against this decision. You 
may either bring proceedings before the General Court or file a complaint with the  
                                                 
18 Judgment of 30 January 2008, Terezakis v Commission, T-380/04, EU:T:2008:19, paragraph 101. 
19 Judgment of 7 February 2002, Kuijer v Council, T-211/00, EU:T:2002:30, paragraph 57.   
20 Judgement of 12 July 2001, Mattila v Council and Commission, T-204/99, EU:T:2001:190, paragraph 
69. 



European Ombudsman under the conditions specified respectively in 263 and 228 of the 
Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. 
Yours sincerely, 
 
 
For the Commission 
Martin Selmayr 
Secretary-General 

 
 
 
 
Annexes: 18 (including 9 partially and 9 fully disclosed agendas) 
10 

Document Outline