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The European Commission's refusal to give public access to an informal arrangement with the Gambia about returning migrants

The complainant asked the European Commission to give public access to the text of an informal arrangement with the Gambia about returning migrants. The Commission granted access to only parts of the document. In refusing access, it invoked an exception under the EU's legislation on public access to documents, arguing that disclosure could undermine international relations.

The Ombudsman inquiry team inspected the document at issue as well as, in the context of a parallel inquiry, five similar agreements with other non-EU countries and related documents. Based on these inspections and considering the wide margin of discretion that EU institutions enjoy where they consider that the public interest as regards international relations is at risk, the Ombudsman found that the Commission’s decision to refuse access was not manifestly wrong. Given that the public interest at stake cannot be superseded by another public interest that is deemed more important, the Ombudsman closed the case finding no maladministration. She noted, however, that every effort should be made to reassure the public that the fundamental rights of migrants are sufficiently protected and adequate safeguards are in place in this process.