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Goodbye from Brussels & my Ombudsman case against the European Commission

Yesterday has been my last day at the Transparency International EU Office, before returning into the world of political science in June. In fact, I will be starting Monday as a researcher at the Geschwister-Scholl-Institute of the Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich.

Funny coincidence that  also yesterday the European Ombudsman has decided to officially close my case against the European Commission regarding a request for documents I made almost 3 years ago (the complaint started about 2.5 years ago) to obtain documents for my PhD thesis (which I finally defended last month)

The Ombudsman’s press release summarises her findings as follows:

“The Commission followed the Ombudsman’s recommendation to release the documents, but only after an agreement on the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy had been reached in May 2013. She welcomed this outcome but made clear that in future cases, she expects the Commission to give access to similar documents immediately.”

I actually received the full documents back in October last year (see my blog post including the documents), but it took until now until the case itself could be formally closed because the European Commission continued to argue that I only should have received the documents after the full decision-making process had been finished.

If you read the full Ombudsman’s decision (para 49), it is obvious that I should have received the documents in 2011. The Ombudsman expects similar types of draft legislative documents of the Commission to be immediately released.

So if you are a researcher or citizen requesting access to documents containing draft legislative proposals of the Commission and you receive a refusal, use my case!

1st post-scriptum: I started the complaint to the Ombudsman before I joined Transparency International’s EU Office and it was closed just as I left Transparency International, so it has effectively been a “private” matter. Yet only because I became involved with Transparency International as a volunteer in 2010 I realised the rights I have as a citizen and that told me the necessity to fight such a case until the end, not just for me but also for those who come after me. If you are a researcher receiving similar kinds of refusal, I can only invite you take the time for such a complaint, because even if takes too long (as in my case) to be directly useful, it may be useful next time you or a colleague tries the same!

2nd post-scriptum: As a citizen-activist having fought for a more transparent European Union with more integrity, there is one paragraph in the Ombudsman decision that I find particularly important:

the Ombudsman strongly agreed with the complainant that there is a risk that “insiders”, with detailed knowledge and contacts, can enjoy privileged access to such documents, while the general public, who can rely only on their fundamental right of public access to documents, are denied the same privilege. It is difficult to see how such potential disparities could ensure that the general interest is promoted. As the complainant contends, it is only the general public who are negatively affected by non-disclosure.

Now that I leave the Brussels bubble, I want to highlight this as one major experience of recent years: When you are in the EU bubble or well-contected to the EU bubble, then a lot of crucial yet non-published information is available to you through leaks, gossip and contacts.

I recommend to read the full complaint decision to understand for why this is wrong and why this has to change, but the one paragraph above summarises how absurd this is and how detrimental this can be to the public interest.

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