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.”
That, according to legal experts that Space.com talked to, is common for intergovernmental organizations. But it creates a weird setup in which the taxpayers who fund the activities of these organizations have no legally enforceable insight into how their money is being spent.
Contrast that, for example, with the European Union (EU), which, contrary to some popular beliefs, has nothing to do with ESA. According to Article 15 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, citizens of EU countries have “a right of access to the documents of the European Parliament, the European Council and the European Commission.” Under this Act, journalists can even request access to personal emails and text messages of EU officials, if those might help shed light on suspicious activity.
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For example, in 2021, European…