The European Space Agency has a transparency problem | Space


The European Space Agency has come under criticism from journalists for its reluctance to disclose information. But here’s the catch: The intergovernmental organization that redistributes billions of euros in taxpayer money is not obliged to comply with any Freedom of Information law. It stands above it. Here’s why.

The legal world of the European Space Agency (ESA) is a strange one. The organization, founded in 1975, is governed by its Convention, a 130-page document that outlines not only the space agency’s governing structure but also the many immunities and privileges its staff members and representatives enjoy. Above all, the document puts ESA above any jurisdiction — that is, it is not subject to the legal framework of any country that may have a stake in ESA and in which ESA facilities may reside. According to the Convention’s annex, all ESA staff members not only have “immunity from jurisdiction in respect of acts, including words written and spoken, done by them in the exercise of their functions” but also “enjoy inviolability for all their official papers and documents.”

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