EU throws out NGO Monitor case, tells Gerald Steinberg to pick up the tab

NGO Monitor and its director went all the way to Luxembourg to sue the EU for lack of transparency concerning the funds its gives NGOs in Israel and Palestine. Last month, the EU Court of Justice threw the case out saying the action was “manifestly lacking any foundation in law”

About three years ago, those lovely people over at NGO Monitor filed a suit in Luxembourg against the European Union to force the EU to release details of its funding of NGOs. NGO Monitor pulled out all the stops – hiring a top law firm, calling a press conference to announce the move, accusing the EU of a lack of transparency, with director Gerald Steinberg saying that the EU has funneled about $46 million to about 90 NGOs in Israel and the Palestinian territories over three years. This past January, NGO Monitor attacked the German Heinrich Böll Foundation for a grant of 6,000 euros it gave +972 Magazine in 2011.

Well, I’m happy to inform you that the court has thrown out the case, and Steinberg has been left with the bill. According to a ruling dated November 27, 2012 on the official website of the EU Court of Justice, Steinberg’s case against the EU has been thrown out, with Steinberg ordered to foot all legal costs. The judges ruled, “The action is dismissed as, in part, manifestly inadmissible and, in part, manifestly lacking any foundation in law and that “Mr. Gerald Steinberg shall bear his own costs and pay those incurred by the European Commission.”

At the January 2010 press conference, NGO Monitor said it filed the lawsuit at the European Court of Justice because the European Commission had failed to fulfill European Union transparency obligations after Steinberg & co tried for 13 months to secure documents on NGO funding decisions by the EC, the executive branch of the European Union. The Europeans had passed on documents, but not enough to satisfy Steinberg and with some parts redacted. Spokesman for the EU Delegation in Israel, David Kriss, said that “In line with the EU regulations on transparency, the European Commission has provided Prof. Steinberg with comprehensive information on the funding of projects in Israel and in the region. The extensive information at Prof. Steinberg’s disposal is proof of this.” But it wasn’t enough, so he took the Commission to court.

A year later, in an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post, Steinberg charged that Europe needs a parliamentary inquiry on NGO funding. He boasted that NGO Monitor had exposed “the massive and often secret funding for highly political NGOs from European governments, and the European Union in particular.” He talked of the ” impenetrable shroud of secrecy” around the processes by which the EU funds groups in Israel and Palestine and accused the EU “blatantly violating the basic rules of funding transparency.”

Understandably, the European Ambassador to Israel, Andrew Standley was angry. In response, he wrote to the editor that “funding of projects by the European Union worldwide is carried out by open and public calls for proposals published on EU websites,” providing the links for where to find the call for proposals as well as the full list of projects funded by the EU in Israel. His letter also states that Steinberg is “fully aware” of the processes undertaken by the EU from the numerous conversations the delegation has had with him on this issues. Far from there being an “impenetrable shroud of secrecy,” organizations that receive funding from the EU are “contractually obligated to make publicly known the source of this funding,” Standley noted.

Well, last month the Luxembourg court ruled in favor of the Commission. The lengthy ruling goes through each and every one of Steinberg’s claims, and repeatedly rejects them for being “manifestly unfounded” or “manifestly lacking any foundation in law.” The Commission claimed that it had to redact certain parts of the document to protect staff identities, or due to the sensitivity of some projects “which may go against the specific interests of or be in conflict with the convictions of certain groups of persons or bodies, situated both in Israel and in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.” In the OPT in particular, there was a risk that if they were identified, they “may be perceived by some radical groups as collaboration with Israel.” The Court ruled that Steinberg did not dispute such facts “nor does he put forward the slightest argument to show that the Commission made a manifest error of assessment in finding that there was a high risk that the activities of the NGOs in question would attract hostile attention which could result in threats to the moral and/or physical integrity of the various persons concerned and thus disturb public security, with the result that it was necessary to blank out certain detailed information on the projects in question in the requested documents. Essentially, he merely make general assertions.”

I wonder if NGO Monitor (who have their own transparency issues) will tell us how they manage to fund the payment of the legal fees…