When I sat on a panel together with the EU Ombudsman in Ireland in February this year discussing legal and practical aspects of the EU access to documents regulation (1049/2001*), I said to Mr Diamandouros (the Ombudsman) that it may well be that I’d have to make use of his office in the course of my research as a political scientist one day. What was said as kind of a joke at the time turned out to be necessary.
On 5 July of this year, I had requested a document – a late draft version of a Commission proposal for a new regulation – which I need for my research. Until today, I’ve not received a positive or negative decision whether I can get the document.
I actually waited two weeks longer with the complaint to the Ombudsman than I wanted because I had indications that I would get an answer earlier, but as the list of problematic issues in this request has piled up, I decided to use my citizen rights and go for the complaint now.
Here’s the list:
- The request for this document was first not answered with the correct document version requested, giving me the final version of the draft regulation that was anyway public although it was clear I wanted the draft.
- Once I made this even clearer, the responsible Commission’s Directorate General prolonged the time period it needed for a reply to take an official decision, but the 15 day time limit set by the EU regulation on access to documents passed without giving me any notice so I went into appeal (a ‘confirmatory application’).
- This appeal was not handled by the Commission within the 15 + 15 plus working day time limit set by the regulation. At the end of the time limit – in mid-October – I was told by the Commission that they had been unable to come to a decision in this matter. That is the time when one can start a complaint to the Ombudsman or go to the EU Court.
- In the meantime, because I had seen how long it took the Commission to get to decisions in this matter, I had started requests for related documents in September, including a request for an even earlier draft version of the document I was still waiting to get.
- The request made in (4) received a definite “No! Nada! Nothing!” in mid-October and I went into appeal against this decisions.
- About a week later, I was informed my initial appeal (1-3) had now been tied with a decision on the appeal (4) I only started in mid-October.
- And yesterday I received a letter telling me that the second appeal would need an additional 15 working days, prolonging also the time it would take to get a decision regarding the first document.
Now, more than four months after I first requested a document and after a process that did not look like the Commission was considering access to documents a right for me and the limits set by the law as an obligation for them, I felt it’s time to involve the instance that exists for these cases – the EU Ombudsman.
The law already demands a lot of patience whenever you request a document and have to go into appeal – 60 working days can be more than 12 weeks -, but the prolongation in this case beyond the legal time limits is bringing me into troubles with my research, as I expected some delays with such a request but not this kind of massive delay.
I actually also thought that the document I am requesting was clearly covered by the regulation on access to documents and the case law of the EU Court, so that I would get access to it from mid-July without problems. I have a hard time understanding that it takes such an enormous amount of time to get a reply for a single document, and the Commission’s explanations were very vague (‘it’s a particular sensitive area’) and not very convincing so far.
I’ve no idea whether this complaint to the Ombudsman will be in any way helpful in my personal case, but maybe it can at least be helpful for future cases, for other researchers, journalists, citizens etc. who may not have the time to wait four months for the Commission or any other EU institution to grant us our citizenship rights…
* Regulation 1049/2001 is currently – in fact since 2008 – under review and will be discussed in the EU Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee on 23 November 2011.
Update 16 November 2011: Today I’ve received a letter by the Ombudsman’s office confirming that my complaint has been officially registered on 9 November 2011. The letter indicates clearly which official will be dealing with my complaint, including the telephone number through which I can contact this person.