Greater transparency can help us address the EU’s troubled waters. Access to information about the state and quality of our water bodies is the first step towards ensuring clean and safe water for all. Information can also help us hold accountable those who are responsible for water pollution and related wrongdoing.

Access to information is a fundamental right in the EU. Here’s how you can exercise your right to information in order to protect European water bodies and the communities who depend on them.

I want to request information from the European Union. [1]

I want to request information from an EU country. [2]

[1] Requesting information from European Union institutions

The European Union has a transparency law of its own that you can use to request information from EU institutions. Any EU citizen or resident can file a request for information, for free.

Here’s a 3-step guide on how to do it:

1. Who holds the information?

When it comes to protecting and ensuring water quality in the EU, several bodies are responsible:

  • The European Environmental Agency (EEA): The EEA provides independent information on the environment; it gathers data and produces assessments on a wide range of topics related to the environment, including water quality.
  • The European Commission: The EU Commission is the EU’s executive branch. Within the Commission, the Directorate-General for Environment (the equivalent of an EU ministry for the environment) is responsible for environmental protection, including water quality.
  • The European Parliament: The EU Parliament is one of the EU’s legislative branches. The Parliament with its 705 members (Members of the European Parliament, or MEPs) legislate on all matters relevant to the EU, including water quality.
  • The Council of the European Union: The Council of the EU is, along with the Parliament, the second main legislative branch of the EU. The Council (composed of representatives of all EU countries) legislates on all matters relevant to the EU, including water quality.

Filing a request for information in the EU is free of limits and free of charge. This means that if you’re unsure about which of these bodies hold the information you need, you can file a request to each one of them.

2. What is the request process like?

There is no limit to how long your request can be or how much information you can request – but the shorter and the more precise your request is, the better. Below, we will provide you with a standard template of a request for information where all you need to do is add the information you’d like to obtain.

If you’d like to learn more about the state and quality of a water body, you might want to request, for example, the latest monitoring data available, or any reports, assessments, studies or evaluations.

Once you have filed your request you will receive a confirmation from the EU authority that they have received your e-mail. From this moment on, the EU authority will have 15 working days to respond to your request; if they need more time, they may apply a 15-working day deadline extension.

Eventually, you will receive a reply. If you have received the information you wanted: congratulations! On the other hand, if some of the information you wanted has been denied to you, you have the right to appeal. In your appeal, you will have to argue why you think the information should be disclosed to you in full.

EU institutions have 15 working days (plus a possible extension of another 15 working days) to respond to your appeal. If your appeal has been successful and you’re being given the information you asked for: well done and well deserved! If, however, the information is once again refused, you have the right to either file a complaint with the European Ombudsman, or to take the matter to court before the General Court of the European Union.

2. What is the request process like?

Are you ready to file your request?

Pick which EU body you’d like to request information from, and click to file your information request using!

If you still have questions or doubts about the process, you can look into FragDenStaat’s more detailed Q&A on filing information requests to EU institutions.

[2] Requesting information from EU countries

Each and every EU country has its own transparency law, but requesting information will be a different experience depending on where you ask. EU countries have some of the best and worst transparency laws in the world; some of these laws are three centuries old while others were approved only a couple of years ago.

However, regardless of where you are or which country you’re requesting information from, the right to information is a fundamental right everywhere in the EU. Here’s how you can exercise it.

3. Filing my request for information

Government bodies and structures vary from country to country across Europe, but when it comes to information regarding water quality, it is likely the relevant information will be held by:

  • The national ministry of environment
  • A national independent environmental protection agency
  • The national parliament

2. What is the request process like?

Every country has a different transparency law, and therefore a different approach on how to handle requests for information.

If you’d like to know more about a particular country and its transparency law, you can browse the Global Right to Information Rating Map.

Yet in spite of the differences in transparency laws, some similarities apply across countries:

  • A short and precise request for information will always be more productive than a long and vague one. Try the best that you can to be specific.
  • If the information you want is denied to you, you have the right to appeal this refusal. Authorities will inform you of how and when you can file an appeal when they respond to your request.

Meanwhile, these are some aspects you might keep in mind depending on where you’re requesting information:

  • Fees: in some countries, such as Germany, Hungary or Cyprus, filing a request is free, but authorities will ask for a fee in order to grant you access to the information. Here you can find a complete overview of the kind of fees countries might request.
  • In some countries, only nationals are allowed to request information. For example, Spain requires you to have a Spanish ID in order to file a request for information; similarly, in Malta, only Maltese citizens can request information.
  • Language: as a general rule, it is preferable to write your request of information in (one of) the country’s official language(s). However in some countries, such as Sweden or Finland, your request will be accepted if written in English.
  • Timeframes for receiving a response may vary widely depending on the country, ranging from just 24 to 48 hours, to over a month.

3. Filing my request for information

One of the best ways to file requests for information across Europe is to use civil society-led platforms.

You can easily file a request to information using one of these platforms in the following countries:

Alternatively, national governments will usually communicate on their websites how you can request information from them. In many countries, it is possible to request information with just an e-mail.