EU court throws out NGO funding case brought by Israel-based group

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The European Court of Justice threw out a lawsuit filed nearly three years ago against the European Union that would have required the E.U. to release details of its funding of NGOs.

The lawsuit filed in January 2010 by the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor charged that the European Commission had failed to fulfill European Union transparency obligations after the group had tried for 13 months to secure documents detailing nongovernmental agency funding by the EC, the European Union’s executive branch.

Under the European Freedom of Information law, such funding details must be made available upon request. However, the EC cited “public security,” “privacy” and “commercial interests” in denying NGO Monitor’s information request.

NGO Monitor researchers identified nearly $48 million provided by the EC from June 2005 until the filling to nongovernmental organizations active in Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Many of these organizations, the group said, are active in efforts that seek to isolate Israel by legal means and through boycott campaigns.

The court based in Luxembourg last month ruled in favor of the EC, rejecting NGO Monitor’s claims for being “manifestly unfounded” or “manifestly lacking any foundation in law,” Ami Kaufman at the +972 magazine website reported on Monday. The court also ordered NGO Monitor to pay the costs incurred by the EC for defending itself.

NGO Monitor said in a statement released Monday that the decision "confirmed that the EU fails to act transparently in its funding of non-government organizations."

"For over a decade, the EU has acted with impunity in funding political advocacy NGOs with near total secrecy," said Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor. "Throughout, EU officials have attempted to justify the intense secrecy by using exaggerated claims of ‘public security’ and ‘commercial interest.’ The only reasonable conclusion is that the EU has something to hide."

NGO Monitor said in a statement that EU funding, amounting to millions of dollars annually, has gone to what it calls a small fringe of highly politicized groups.

"In addition to violating basic principles of transparency in government, this secret funding for Israeli NGOs grossly infringes on and seeks to manipulate the Israeli democratic process," Steinberg said.

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