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No April Fools’ Day joke: Waiting eight months for one EU document

I would love to say that this is an April Fools’ Day joke, but it ain’t. Eight months ago, I have requested 1 document from the European Commission, and I still have not received anything.

Initially, access was refused and the ordinary deadlines prolonged, even beyond the legal limits set by EU law. At the same time, the Commission changed the classification of the type of documents I had requested that would make it more difficult to request them in the future. Finally, a promise was made in December that I might get a reply in January – after six months – but it was not kept.

After writing three emails, one in January, one last week and one at the end of this week, I received the following reply from the Commission:

“My appologies for not having reacted to your messages earlier. As you have been informed by us already in January, we aim at granting a very wide access to the document you have requested.

However, since the document concerned are minutes of a meeting of high-level officials dealing with a significant number of diverse issues, some of them rather sensitive, the process of internal consultation has proved to be particularly difficult and is still ongoing.

I am afraid I cannot provide you with a more specific timeline as this does not depend solely on me. Once again, my appologies for the delay.”

I honestly assume good will on the side of the Transparency Unit in the European Commission Secretariat. However, where is the sense in access to documents rights guaranteed by the Lisbon Treaty and clear procedures set by EU law on how to handle request for documents when they can be delayed even without detailed explanations of the why?

In March, the Working Party on Information of the EU Council has met twice to discuss the ongoing reform of the access to documents regulation. When you read the summary of these meetings, it is hard to identify any considerable will to strengthen citizens rights and nothing that would help in cases like mine.

What about immediate partial release of all parts of the document where there are no difficulties followed by a prolonged procedure for more difficult parts? What about detailed explanations which Directorates General are slowing down the process or which issues make it so difficult to release the document? What about changing the access to documents procedure in such a way that, unless a clear objection is formulated within the time limits set, the document is to be considered public automatically (‘access by default’)?

The problem is that 8 months in the life of an administration may seem short, in the life of a citizen and academic they are pretty long. And I am tired of waiting.

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