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Public access to EU documents and the role of the European Ombudsman

Transparency is a core priority of the European Ombudsman. As part of her mandate, the Ombudsman serves as a redress mechanism for those who have faced difficulties gaining public access to documents held by EU institutions, bodies, offices and agencies (institutions).

According to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, citizens and legal persons residing in the EU have a right to access to any document held by almost all EU institutions. This right is subject only to a limited number of exceptions. This applies to written documents (physical and electronic) and audio/audiovisual recordings related to policies (for example, legal advice), activities (for example, travel expenses of commissioners) or decisions (for example, records of votes) of the institutions.

Under the EU’s rules on public access to documents (Regulation 1049/2001), members of the public may contact the institutions to request access to specific documents (where they are aware of their existence) or to request that the institution identify documents on a specific matter to which they want access. Should the institution refuse access, by invoking one of the exceptions under Regulation 1049/2001, individuals may then request that the institution review their decision (a so-called ‘confirmatory application’).

Those seeking public access to documents may turn to the European Ombudsman if the institution has rejected, in full or in part, their confirmatory application. They can argue that the exceptions invoked do not apply or that there is an overriding public interest in the document(s) being disclosed. They may also turn to the Ombudsman where the institution does not reply to their request(s) within the applicable deadlines. The Ombudsman seeks to deal with such complaints as swiftly as possible and, to this end, has put in place a Fast-Track procedure.

More information on how to submit a complaint to the European Ombudsman.

See the Ombudsman’s Q&A for the public on the right of access to documents and the Ombudsman’s detailed guide for stakeholders.

See also the Ombudsman's short guide for the EU administration on policies and practices concerning public access to documents requests.