European Ombudsman asks Parliament to act on Commission delays in dealing with access to documents requests

European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly has asked the European Parliament for formal support for her efforts to get the European Commission to act on her recommendations to reduce systemic delays in dealing with requests for public access to documents.

In a Special Report to Parliament, the Ombudsman noted that while the Commission indicated that it is already implementing most of her suggestions, Ombudsman inquiries related to public access continue to show significant delays.

These delays typically concern access requests related to areas of significant public importance. Recent examples show that it took the Commission over a year to deal with requests concerning documents relating to migration, EU recovery funds, and sanctions against Russia. At the same time, the Ombudsman has seen a sharp increase in complaints about access to document delays in the Commission, with the number in 2023 already four times higher than it was for the entirety of 2020. 

“Citizens rightly expect the EU administration to be open, modern, and service-minded - the Commission’s approach to access to documents falls far short of these expectations.”  

“These delays undermine citizens’ ability to scrutinise EU decisions and policies in a direct and timely way. The Commission needs fundamentally to rethink its approach in order to correct this systemic problem.”

“My ultimate aim is to help the public participate meaningfully in the democratic life of the EU which is a Treaty right. This is why I have called for Parliament’s support and action on this matter,” said the Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman’s inquiry, opened in 2022, found that when people ask the Commission to review its initial access decision - because it refused or granted only partial access to the requested documents - the transparency regulation (1049/2001) deadlines are missed in 85% of cases.

Over 60% of such review decisions took more than 60 working days, despite a maximum time limit of 30 working days.

In her recommendation, the Ombudsman suggested that the Commission dedicate more resources to dealing with confirmatory requests, engage constructively and openly with people requesting documents, and anticipate public-interest topics so it can be proactively transparent.

There have been 20 Special Reports from the Ombudsman to Parliament since the European Ombudsman was established in 1995 and all have been supported. The last Special Report, in 2018, concerned the lack of legislative transparency in the Council of the European Union. (source: ombudsman.europa.eu/ photo: freepik.com)

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Editorial

Editorial
George Kazoleas, Lawyer

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