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Ombudsman finds no evidence of confidentiality breach by the Commission in Ryanair/Aer Lingus case

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Press release no. 11/2009

04 May 2009

The European Ombudsman, P. Nikiforos Diamandouros, has found no evidence that the European Commission breached confidentiality during its review of Ryanair's planned takeover of Aer Lingus. This follows a complaint from Ryanair, alleging that the Commission had improperly disclosed highly sensitive information provided to it by Ryanair. During his investigation, the Ombudsman found that leaks to the press had indeed taken place, but concluded that they could not be attributed to the Commission. The Ombudsman criticised the Commission, however, for an inadequate Confidentiality Declaration it used during its review of the proposed merger. Third parties, such as Aer Lingus, were asked to sign this Declaration when the Commission sent them sensitive information received from Ryanair. The Ombudsman also asked the Commission to improve cooperation with national competition authorities to ensure that confidential documents sent to them are not leaked.

Leaks to the press during Ryanair's planned merger with Aer Lingus

In October 2006, Ryanair notified the European Commission of its plans to merge with Aer Lingus. The Commission opened an in-depth inquiry into this proposed merger and, in June 2007, declared that the merger would be incompatible with the common market.

In May 2007, Ryanair lodged a complaint with the Ombudsman alleging the Commission breached confidentiality during the inquiry. According to the airline, the Commission improperly disclosed to third parties highly sensitive information contained in several documents, including a so-called "remedies" document and the Statement of Objections.

The Ombudsman found that details of the documents had indeed been leaked to the press and concluded that such leaks constituted a serious breach of confidentiality. However, he did not find any evidence that the Commission was the source of the leak. He thus found no maladministration by the Commission.

The Ombudsman criticised the inadequate wording of the Commission's standard Confidentiality Declaration, which the Commission asked Aer Lingus to sign when providing it with a copy of the Ryanair remedies document. According to the Ombudsman, this Declaration did not sufficiently clarify the recipient's obligation to ensure that the document remain secret. The Ombudsman praised the fact that the Commission itself subsequently took the initiative to amend the Declaration. He also asked the Commission to enhance its cooperation with national competition authorities, with an eye to ensuring that confidential documents transmitted to them are not disclosed.

To see the full text of the Ombudsman's decision, please visit:

http://www.ombudsman.europa.eu/cases/decision.faces/en/3972/html.bookmark

The European Ombudsman investigates complaints about maladministration in the EU institutions and bodies. Any EU citizen, resident, or an enterprise or association in a Member State, can lodge a complaint with the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman offers a fast, flexible, and free means of solving problems with the EU administration. For more information: www.ombudsman.europa.eu

For press inquiries: Ms Gundi Gadesmann, Deputy Head of the Communication Unit, tel.: +32 2 284 26 09, Twitter: @EUombudsman